looking for a pilot

“To lament is to be utterly honest before a God whom our faith tells us we can trust.” from Journey to the Cross, lent devotional

When I am utterly honest, my lamenting needs trustworthy ears. If I am going to tell true words – even if they are scary or joyful or heavy or childlike – I need to tell them to the most trustworthy sort. And this is my journey through Lent, toward the throne of grace with confidence to lay down the burdens Christ wants to bear. This week the theme is lament.

I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest. I can and should lament the stretching divide my honesty reveals – all the ways I am an imperfect human. But I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest.

I can hear myself giving encouragement about honesty to close friends, “If you are truly honest, though your sadness will be great, your gladness will be greater.”

I still think that’s true. We should never sugarcoat struggle or sorrow or sin. We should not try to “get by” with whitewashed smiles and mustered courage. We should be honest about brokenness and shortcomings and tired bones.

We should be honest because He is trustworthy and ready to hear the deepest laments of our souls. If you’re like me, the lamenting process will make you want to follow someone – it will make you desperate to be swept up into someone else’s plan, someone whose plan doesn’t muck up or peter out or fade to gray.

Lamenting my own depravity during Lent is like opening my eyes to find how far I’ve foolishly paddled out to sea in my little rowboat. And it makes me look for a pilot.

like a heavy raindrop on my soul

My pastor is trying to trick us into memorizing Psalm 32, all of it. I guess I can’t call it a trick if he told us the plan and if we all recite it together once a week. The second Sunday I read it in the bulletin, my voice slipped into the lull of liturgy and my mind tried to wander. I mouthed the words in the light of stained glass and corporate contemplation. I wasn’t surprised when the reading ended and I felt like I could have just read a paragraph from any book. This past Sunday, we read chapter 32 again and I soaked it in.

I let each word fall like a heavy raindrop on my soul.

And I was not disappointed.

I am in a bit of a word desert right now. I don’t like to write when I have nothing to say and I think that is for the best. This morning I am content to hear words spoken over me – the same words God is speaking over all His creation in this very moment.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32 ESV)

updates from Gram

These are my favorite and so I can only guess they would be your favorite, too. Take a peek into my favorite correspondence and see if it doesn’t leave you grinning from ear to ear.

/CAROLINE  we are seeing all these pictures from the East Coast, especially the ones about New York.  How are you?  Have you been able to get around> The pictures and stories here on the TV are awful.  Schools, office buildings shut down, the roads are emply!  Then they show us other cities that have been affected.  Guess we have lucked out again.  We have had the really cold weather but only a minimum of snow.  And our 93 yeaar old friend, is worried about her grass and the perrenials that come up each spring.  Another neighbor Bobbie and Harold were planning to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Sat. now yesterday she went to the dr. because she had such a severe cough and he hospitalized her with whooping cough. Oh, dear!!!!!!!  Grampa and I are fine , a little bit of the sniffles.  Bus and van driving going along as predicted.  Want to hear some stories?One  third grade girl gets off the bus and tears her homework up and lets the wind take it.  Another one threw up in the aisle and the kids climbed over and under seats to keep from stepping in it.  One of his kindergarten girls was in the pee wee wrestling  tournament.  She  won, she lost, she cried.  Remember us telling about William when he was at his first tournament and he wrestled his friend and won.  Then when the other kid cried leaving the mat, William walked with him with his arm around him.  Caroline, do take are, stay warm, hug Patrick, and bake something.  One of these days the snow will quit and you will miss it?   Here in Griswold, people think we need more moisture as the ground stores it up for the spring and we have not had very much snow.  Much love, Gram and Gramps
I have read it three times (twice out loud) and it is still the same kind of wonderful.
I’m fine, Gram. I hope your friend’s perennials are not too affected by the weather and I hope the kids on Grandpa’s bus will stop throwing up in the aisles and throwing homework to the wind.
I also hope you both get over the sniffles super soon.

there is no master puppeteer

It happens to everyone’s life.

We think we’ve wrangled enough control away from the arms of fate to coordinate our own puppet strings. We convince ourselves we are more secure this way – directing our own destinies. If the pace gets too frantic, we say it is because we want it to be that way. If it is too slow, we say the same.

We are all trying to “make it” and none of us want to fail. That explains the mad wrangling to be master puppeteer. But that means somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter’s whirlwind, we lift up our stringless arms like we’ve seen them for the first time. We realize there are no puppets and no Master Puppeteer. We realize the fate controlling position we have been desperate to maintain is not a position at all.

It doesn’t matter if the ways we want to “make it” are worldly or heaven worthy. It doesn’t matter if our aspirations are corporate ladders or non-profit puzzles. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are clever. It doesn’t even matter if we have felt success.

What matters is that somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter’s whirlwind, we see that only God is sovereign.

Maybe in theory, we always knew. We read the verses and heard the sermons and listened to friends’ humbled tales. We looked up at that great blue expanse and at the speckled night sky. We blinked eyes open in the morning and held joy in our hands. In theory, we always knew this world was too mysterious and painful and beauty-drenched to be contained by strings we could hold.

The devil in us convinced us it was possible and we believed.

But there’s something about winter that unravels the belief that we can control anything. Maybe it is standing on a subway platform wondering if our ten toes are still in tact. Or maybe it is trudging miles every day against the wind to catch public transit so we can make it 3.7 miles across the borough. Maybe it is lugging laundry 3 blocks away in wintry snow/rain mix. Or maybe it is gaining weight and wearing layers like marshmallows.

And when winter does unravel this foolish belief that we can be the Master Puppeteer (and that there is such a thing at all), we collapse a little bit with a great sigh. We fold into relief that it doesn’t depend on our performance or our planning. We re-read the words we’ve already memorized in Scripture and we nestle in to a future we cannot control.

“My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

“Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.”
1 Corinthians 3:21-23

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:7

“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”
John 16:23-24

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”
Mark 11:24

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
Ephesians 1:3

“Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”
1 John 3:22

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation.”
Psalm 68:19

We bless the Lord who daily bears our burdens – not as a Puppeteer but as a Savior. We bless the Lord as we claim His control over the future and the past and the present. We bless the Lord as we live today believing He is able to make grace abound.

when the cold creeps in your bones

The cold wind is sneaky in this city. 

It crawls underneath and in between your layers. It wiggles under your collar and hugs your winter knees. The cold wind is sneaky and I’ve become a chain tea drinker as a result. Unfortunately, the wind always wins and now I’m pretty sure I have a fever. Obviously, the remedy is a big bowl of bean/carrot/garbanzo soup with rosemary, thyme, and cilantro. That and tea and the classic White Christmas. Obviously.

mmm soup

I kind of want to be done. Done with winter and done with commuting and done with the cold that creeps in my bones. Honestly, the best remedy for that “done” feeling is not soup or tea or seasonal movies indoors. The best remedy for any kind of mood is truth and that’s exactly what my friend reminded me about when I got this email today, perfectly timed and perfectly spoken. This is the kind of encouragement that reminds me there are bigger things, more beautiful things than what is making me “kind of want to be done.”

Read, friends and be encouraged by someone else’s words.

First of all, I would love to come to Pancake Monday. What a great idea!

Second-thank you. I was just flippin through your blog and came across a post from Feb of this year “saying no to things we like in favor of things He loves.”  I have been struggling mucho with this lately! It seems that I fit really well into this world.

Like I fit easily into the clothes of the world and I am rewarded for it by people who are deemed important by worldly standards. It’s easy for me to be admired for my looks and funny things I say. I learned early on that to make people laugh is a gift, but it is easily used incorrectly and for selfish gain. This isn’t bragging, it’s honestly a struggle. It’s a struggle because I know the truth that all these things that are so easily admired are nothing, and momentary. Yet in the moment the instant gratification is intoxicating.

The weight of it becomes fraudulent as if people are going to find out that I am a liar. Well, I am. And a sinner, and selfish and a long list of other things. And how it seems terrifying to be found out, but in reality there is freedom in that truth.  I have been wrestling in the legalism of “acting right” vs “acting wrong” and it drives me crazy.

But your post helped me to put down my judges gavel for myself and realize that to be obedient shouldn’t feel heavy. And if it is that I need to give it away. The price has been paid. To remember that to treasure Christ is worth more than momentary popularity. There is joy in the messiness and imperfection and that I am wonderfully made. That taking up my cross may seem heavy but that I’m not doing it alone.

The best part is that as I was struggling through this this morning I was honest and told God that I was having a hard time believing that he is better and asked to make my heart believe. Then I read that post and, if only for this moment, I am renewed. How amazing that He consistently and constantly pursues my heart and leads me back to his grace over and over again.

Yes, anticipation sometimes looks like work, but it is never without reward. Christ came. The One we anticipate came and is coming again. Our anticipation is never without reward because God keeps his promises.

best and hard, hard and best

Why do the words best and hard go so well together? Why is it that the pairing of bitter and sweet make so much sense?

It’s a delicious intensity – where all the moments hold more weight and all the minutes hold more heat. There is a cumbersome madness of more that is crowding my last days in Iowa and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Coffee dates and backyard parties, rooftop adventures and state fair strolls, breakfast meet-ups and star gazing gatherings, living room laughter and back porch devotions – with each last thing, more of the best and hard and bitter and sweet crowd my days.

I cannot remember leaving a place I did not love. What a fortunate thing to say! The Lord’s provision in my past has always been beyond what I can rightly appreciate or enjoy. From the farm to Michigan, Chicago, Austin, Honduras, Ames, Des Moines and back to the farm again, the Lord goes before me and stays with me. He is my first and best delight and He has never sent me to bed without a healthy helping of His grace and peace.

His provision is always more than I need because His provision is always Himself.

Always more, always Himself, always abundant. Always.

There are few things about which you can truly say “always” or “never” and feel confident about the assertion. God’s provision is one of those things. It’s not an unnecessary superlative or an excessive affirmation…

He truly is best and most and always.

And that is why all these last Iowa things are more complex than a trite phrase about bittersweet goodbyes. I consider it a blessing to love what I’m leaving as much as I love what I’m starting. There is too much joy surrounding me on all sides to get bitter about anything, even if it is both best and hard.

The memory verse for this week from Fighter Verses is from Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” And, as I reflected this morning on the devotional from Verses Project, I thought about what is best and most in this life. All other measuring systems and scales shrink in view of eternity. The only way to wake up (in whatever state or country) is with eternity in full view and the greatest inheritance in mind.

how to give the best advice

I was one of those high school students that teachers pulled aside and said, “You’re a natural leader…” The next sentence would usually be an invitation to partner with that teacher in some sort of classroom takeover.

I don’t know what it was they saw in me – whether it was my fearlessness in front of my peers or my willingness to participate in any sort of takeover plot. What I do know is that it planted a seed that grew into a grown-up me thinking I always have words to say (and that those words are worth listening to).

I ended up pursuing a career (and I use that term loosely to describe the general direction my professional life has gone) that is all about connecting to people. I graduated with degrees in psychology and communication and my joke has been, “Basically, I got a degree in figuring people out and then talking to them.” Every single job I’ve had – from printing shop to administrative assistant to guidance counselor to paint crew to service coordinator – has been about relationships. The most important moments (professional and personal) have always happened in conversations.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that all those times my teachers and family members and friends said, “You’re really one of those ‘natural’ leaders” kind of got under my skin and convinced me I had something to say and that people should listen.

That’s what born leaders do, right? Lead people.

Yes. But it’s both more and less. The secular world has its way of preaching its own religious message and this business of leadership is a popular sermon. There is a tendency, when people come to me for advice, to speak from my own pulpit – to guide and direct and advise from my own experiences and knowledge.

Along the bumpy and unconventional “career path” I’ve been walking, I have learned something very important about leadership and advice and relationships. It really boils down to one very simple thing.

Give me Jesus.

This is the sermon Paul preached to himself in Corinthians and Galatians and it summed up his life and ministry. He even later cautioned his listeners to filter out any worldly advice that might sneak in to sabotage the original message of the Gospel.

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

Paul was intensely aware of His need of the Gospel – his dependence on God’s grace shaped the way he spoke and listened and preached and led. His leadership did not look like more of his words or his knowledge or his expertise. His leadership looked like more Jesus. Because the more he filled his life with Jesus, the more it became the only thing he could give to others.

Give them Jesus.

Maybe there are natural born leaders – people who have the characteristics and personality to be presidents and prime ministers. But the longer I live, the more I’m convinced that the best leadership comes from people who are most concerned with following Jesus.

When we feel like we are failing as leaders or as communicators or advisors, we don’t need to work to be better at those things. We need to ask the Lord, “Give me more Jesus, so that I can give them more Jesus.”

I read this little nugget from Tim Keller in my devotional this morning. I like to think about my heart being melted by His love and that love overflowing to others. That’s the kind of leader I want to be.

“If we find ourselves unloving, the solution is not to seek to love better or more; it is to look at Christ, who gives us an unlosable, unshakable acceptance from the Father, and as we dwell on our hope, we will find our hearts melted by His love, and overflowing with His love to others.” Tim Keller in “Galatians for You”