things I never ordered & things I never knew I needed

I fell asleep on the train home after work on Monday, but roused in time to jump out at the Winthrop stop and grab heavy whipping cream before climbing the stairs to our apartment. The sleeps shook off in the hustle of preparations – Tam posted signs on the neighbors’ doors and arranged the toppings table, Patrick toasted coconut and fried bacon, I started mixing up a new pancake recipe, and we all sang snippets of the songs in our heads. It was kind of a normal Monday ruckus, but that ruckus was provision.

It wasn’t all the “trial runs” of the new jamcake batter that made me so content. It was the very special and very specific provision that sustained me enough to overflow on our Pancake Mondays guests. It didn’t matter that I was tired or that I was procrastinating thank you notes or that I was dreading a full work week. As I stepped into each of these provisions, I knew I was cared for and loved by a God who has not forgotten us. God did not give sparse helpings and I am counting blessings.

deep clean // Things are a little crazy at our apartment. We are moving in a couple weeks, but Patrick also just barely moved all of his life in. Tam just got back, so now we are three almost-moving roommates, navigating sorrow and survival in this city. What I’m trying to say is: our apartment is cluttered and crazy. When I got home on Monday, Tam had cleaned the kitchen, emptied recycle bins, reorganized the common space, and tidied up all the corners. All I had to do was put my apron on. #provision

aprons // Speaking of aprons, all of mine have a story. And the one I wore on Monday was handmade by my sister as a wedding shower gift. She stitched out Iowa on the front with a heart where we grew up. It feels real good to host with it on, real good. #provision

pancake batter // There is something about getting out my most giant bowl, something about tripling a batch that thrills my heart. We never know how many are coming on Pancake Mondays, but I start with tripling. On Monday, I made two additional batches after we ran out of the tripled first! More batter means more bellies and it was quite a crowd. I think we had 21 in all and not a pancake left.

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cinnamon pancakes stuffed with jam, topped with toasted coconut, powdered sugar, strawberries, and blueberries

taste testers // They both make fun of me for my nervous antics, but every Monday (also every time I make/bake anything), I inevitably forget to read the second half of the instructions that says “chill for 13 hours” or I do things out of order or I make some crazy substitution. And that is why I love our Monday taste tests. Around 7:15 pm, I flip a few samples and ask for their honest opinion. I love watching their faces and deciphering what needs changing. If I ever own a pancake restaurant, every batch would be different and pancakes would need to be “tested” every hour. #provision

neighbors // First, I missed them – my neighbors, I mean. We share geography in common, but Pancake Mondays is space for conversations that can’t happen in hallways or elevators or sidewalks. And I missed them crowding the table and getting full on my pancake batter. This week the combination was prime: neighbors from Patrick’s old apartment + strangers (friends of friends) who are new to the city + our neighbors down the hall + friends of neighbors down the hall + some of our besties + one guy who saw the signs on his way up to a different floor. Such a precious combination.  #provision

open door // I know it isn’t for everyone, but for me an open door is therapy. I love leaving it cracked and saying, “Come on in!” from the kitchen when I hear someone hesitating. I love their faces when the pancake / bacon smell reaches them and I love that they love walking right in. #provision

the kitchen // It is a funny thing that Patrick has had to get used to, but I love hiding in the kitchen. I usually have good reason, like making more pancake batter, heating water for coffee/tea, or refilling toppings bowls. But, it’s not that I don’t love the noisy crowd huddled around pancakes in the other room. I just love so much that I get to feed that crowd. I have also found that people follow me. One or two at a time will wander in so I can ask questions about work or what books they are reading or what they miss about where they are from. We don’t do pleasantries in the kitchen and I like that. #provision

things I heard // There are the normal things, like, “These are seriously so good!” But then there are the things like I heard this week, when our neighbors were telling us how they talk about Pancake Mondays to recruit their friends. “You won’t believe what our neighbors do – no, seriously you have to rearrange your schedule to come here on Mondays. It’s so cool!” It was like we were their “show and tell” and I never thought I could be that in this city. #provision

invitations // It’s fun when our neighbors turn the tables. We got invitations to a board game night and to a viewing of American Ninja Warrior (which is, apparently, the greatest ninja show I never knew about). #provision

same neighborhood // Remember when I said we were moving? Well, it is one of the most stressful things you can do here in the city. Patrick and I were dreading the search (see this article for a sample of an apartment listing), but believing God would be faithful. In three days, we found an apartment on the exact corner where we had decided would be best to live – 377 feet from the train station, a view of the park from our window, walking distance to grocery stores, and (most importantly) the same neighborhood. I didn’t realize how important this was to me until Pat told me the address. We can invite the same neighbors on Mondays, visit the same coffee shop friends, and escape to the same park. I needed some “same” in my life and God knew it. #provision

prayer // Text messages, phone calls, emails, facebook posts… people are praying and I am being held up as they meet with Jesus on our behalf. The Lord is good and part of my joy in being so much prayed for is that I know people are getting into God’s presence and that is doing them good, too. #provision

husband // Sometimes, I can’t squeak out my thanks because I’m afraid it will sound trite, but walking this journey with such a man is a gift. God knew I would need such a man for laughing fits and for skipping across the street and for asking, “Why is skipping so much fun?” God knew. #provision

Pancake Mondays was about opening all this provision – things I never ordered and things I didn’t know I needed.

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

stand still

My morning devotional was not about the 4 train, but I’m going to pretend that the “Express track” was also taking direction from the Lord in Exodus 14:13, “Stand still – and see the salvation of the Lord” because it makes me feel like we have a common goal. Spurgeon writes,

“Faith … hears God say, ‘Stand still’ and immovable as a rock it stands. ‘Stand still’ – keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward!”

I get impatient for those “go forward” words and I am bad at standing still. If I must not be advancing, I end up stationary wrestling (like a stationary bike, without the bike and without the exercise) and that always makes a mess of emotional knots.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past three days: only God can speak the “Go forward” words with authority and only God has, for a time, said to me, “Stand still.” Only His words matter. My words, persistent though they may be, are light like feathers.

I will always be praying against unbelief, because being still and being patient will always be a struggle. I am learning that I sometimes fight repeat lessons with the same stationary wrestling. But God is so faithful. He gives grace upon grace so I can believe that what He says is true. It reminds me of the song my mom chose as a theme for all the three months of wedding planning.

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

He is not surprised or disappointed when I pray for more grace and more belief. He knows how much I need both and He is delighted to give without limit. When I am listening, I can hear him reminding me to stand still in faith so that I can go forward in faith when He is ready to give that direction.

this tornado loves you

I have to give credit to Neko.

Her song “this tornado loves you” was the inspiration for all the surprise birthday party craziness. Well, her and Patrick’s obsession with surprises. I wanted the whole night to feel like a tornado – the surprises, the plans, and the people. But, the best kind of tornado – the reason why Helen Hunt was one of those storm chasers in the movie Twister. Because there is something exciting about getting swept up in that spinning motion; there is something really thrilling about the energy in the air that can lift things off the ground.

That’s the kind of feeling I wanted to create.

The surprise-keeping was torture. Last night, after he walked in and looked like this:

photos courtesy of Chris!
photos courtesy of Chris!

…after that I started breathing again. Why was it so important for him to walk into a room full of people celebrating him unexpectedly? Because he loves surprises and I love him. 

All the weeks of knotted up insides and half-truth schemes and several versions of party themes… all of it was worth the look on his face when he realized his friends in this city will do crazy things to make him feel special.

He didn’t make it easy, though. He wanted to come over yesterday to help me deep clean my apartment (from the terrarium party the week before). After I had hidden the morning’s baked goods and refrigerated the first of many bacon treats and covered the rum bacon ice cream, I relented. He brought over fresh doughnuts and his Swiffer (the good kind that sprays) and immediately handy-manned a lamp we’ve been needing to fix. Then he spent a good 20 minutes beating my area rug on the fire escape before we cleaned all the floors. He almost insisted on carrying my laundry down, but I wiggled out of that one (because the laundry was a ruse to get him out for a few hours, but I legitimately need to do laundry desperately).

When he left, my party planners (and the best friends ever) arrived and we set the tornado in motion.

And then I changed our dinner plans so many times that he became very hangry. He got so frustrated (to be fair, we had planned to eat at 6:30 and I didn’t tell him where to meet us until 7:30). Instead of being suspicious, he was just a really severe combination of hungry and angry. I can thank his stomach for helping to keep the surprise, I guess. But I felt horrible. When he opened the door and I was dressed up, he still didn’t think anything of it. He was mostly still hangry.

But then he turned the corner and a room full of people sang to celebrate him. And that whole scene made me so happy!

People brought magnets (one of Patrick’s random favorite things) and wrote memories down on tornado cards. There was bacon ice cream and bacon wrapped dates and candied bacon and nutty bacon chocolate bark and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake. And there was laughter.

Midway through the party, Patrick read one of the tornado cards that said “this surprise has wheels.” And everyone grabbed coats in time to make the B43 a party bus (the driver even said Happy Birthday, Pat over the microphone when we got off). We caught a sweet concert that our friend Rebecka rocked out, where we met more friends and ANOTHER surprise cake. From there we headed to one of our favorite spots to close out the night with some multi-colored disco lights and some of Pat’s best dance moves. It was all so good, it almost felt like I  was the one unwrapping gifts all night.

But after all that, after all the party planning and party having and party traveling, my favorite part was this morning. It didn’t have anything to do with the party last night, but it was the most special thing.

We were sitting in church with big grins across our faces. We greeted our friends we had seen just hours before and we passed the peace to friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. We worshipped in song and through prayer and with full hearts as the sun reached through stain glass to warm the tops of our heads. And as we stood in line for communion, we heard “Jesus Paid It All” circling over our heads.

This was my favorite part. There is a bigger tornado of love that swallows up any we can create. It’s heavy and light and mysterious and reckless. And it happened this morning when I heard about Jesus healing the paralytic.

As much as we love surprises – giving and receiving and sharing – God must love them most. He made us to have that face we have when we walk into a roomful of people who want to celebrate us. He made us with insides that knot together in nervous excitement when we don’t want to spoil the story. He made us and we reflect Him. So He must love surprises. I wonder what face He wore when He surprised creation with His love.

I wonder what His delight looks like when we are surprised by His joy and grace every day.

I can’t help myself

I’ll confess the things I’m afraid of, even if it takes a little convincing and arm-twisting out of a host of self-sufficient habits.

I can’t help myself, and that’s the honest truth.

This is week two of a new job and day five in a new apartment and week three of a new life in the city where my love lives. I can be pretty confident about my inability to help myself – decidedly confident in that one, unsettling thing.

My roommate and I are kind-of, officially “moved in” to our beautiful, spacious, street-facing 3rd floor apartment, but we’re still trying to cure it of the empty echo. We’ve moved furniture in and out (thanks to a lot of Patrick’s sweat and muscle), raced to the houses of strangers with listings on Craigslist, and scavenged for gems on the sidewalk. We’ve navigated (and failed) the subways and the streets and the sidewalks in our neighborhood and beyond. We’ve made friends with the hardware store, the flower store, the fruit stand, and our very nice neighbors across the street who (we suspect) have a car dealership that fronts for a drug operation.

This is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, which is probably why I’m so aware that I can do absolutely nothing to help myself. This is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I am overwhelmed with the way God makes hard things beautiful and rough things lovely.

And this is so beautiful and so lovely – even so much so that I forget I’m inside a whirlwind of transition. Somehow, in the madness of moving across the country, God orchestrated events so that I would live two avenues from Patrick. Somehow, in the hazy hurricane of details, God arranged for Tamara and I to be the kind of roommates who hope to make our NYC apartment a home. Somehow, in the slew of job applications I electronically threw toward the East months ago, God remembered my love for laughter and passion for service.

The only reasonable “somehow” of all this beautiful mess, is that the Lord is sovereign. He is not surprised by anything and He loves to give good gifts to His children. Not easy gifts (not all the time anyway), but it is good gifts He loves to give.

This move is a good gift in the superlative sense.

His provision of peace always surpasses my fear, always. This move is a good gift, but not because it is easy. It is good because God is good and He never changes.

I am believing more today than yesterday in God’s mercy and grace and peace. I think this might be part of His good gift – that I am pressing in to who He is and needing Him (desperately) to be who He claims to be. And even though He continues to prove Himself faithful, my hope does not come from history. My hope comes from His promises that today and tomorrow and this weekend, He will continue to be faithful to give grace.

I can’t help myself and this is my hope: He is my help. I lift my eyes to the hills and my empty hands to the sky, because nothing I can do or see or say can help myself.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121, ESV)

He is my help and He can only be faithful.

You who are greater

I heard a sermon a couple weeks back and this little bit of Scripture in 1 John 3 keeps coming on back to steady my heart.

Because my heart sometimes feels pretty powerful – like it has the full force of Jeremiah 17:9 and that’s a scary danger.

“The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?”

I surely do not. Even when we think we are making unselfish sense, our heart still deceives and traps and tricks and we can still get buried in a place that is “beyond cure.” There is a place where cure can’t reach and that’s where you’ll find our hearts. Ouch.

Sounds impossible to cure a deceitful heart, doesn’t it? So, I must believe God for impossible things. I must believe in this moment through to the next that He is a promise keeper, that He knows everything, and that He is greater than my heart.

Though my heart is deceitful and fickle and incurable and fret-filled, God is greater than my heart. When my heart runs circles around the narrow path where my feet tread with doubts and taunts, I must remember who made my heart.

He that formed my heart calls me “child” and is always faithful to be greater than my fears.

He is always greater, always. God knows everything – there’s nothing about the darkest part of our hearts that surprises Him – and He is still greater than those secrets. In 1 John 3, we read that our salvation means confidence, that even the most fickle and incurable heart issues we have must bend to the One who abides in us.

I am not afraid of my dangerous heart. I believe that God is greater.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:18-24, ESV)

When I believe God to be greater than my heart, I trust that fear is replaced with obedience. I am not afraid of my dangerous heart because I believe God can overcome it and help me pursue holiness. I am not afraid because He has authored miracles that I can act out by living a life of love. I am not afraid because I know, in Christ, what it means to abide. Because of His grace, I am not afraid.

 

believing for rest

Christ is holding all things together and He is keeping my bones revived. It’s an active keeping that continually breathes salvation into my bones. And today, I am realizing that His keeping me revived is what allows me to rest.

I’m studying Galatians right now and my soul is sick with the tension of belief. For all the hundreds of ways I believe God is faithful and true and just, there are hundreds of other ways I doubt Him. For every little obstacle I believe Him able to overcome, there is another obstacle I doubt He can conquer.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

I believe in the historical event of the crucifixion and in the power of the resurrection and that Christ completed the work of my salvation. I believe. But the gospel is also about believing now – belief is happening as God breathes breath into my bones and as God breathes rest into my soul.

“The Spirits works as Christians don’t rely on their own works, but rather consciously and continuously rest in Christ alone for their acceptability and completeness.” Tim Keller in Galatians for You

When Christ said, “It is finished,” he accomplished a salvation that makes me complete and acceptable – and I remember it like the rhythm of my breathing. Always acceptable and always complete – what else is there to work for, to worry for, to weary for?

Every grace-empowered, believing action in the Christian life begins and ends in a place of rest.

We have not been saved in order to work for more salvation. We have been saved and are being saved by the power of the Spirit and the grace of the gospel in order to proclaim His glory.

Fret and frenzy do not proclaim that His finished work meant my acceptance and completeness. Rest does. Fret and frenzy are what you do when you are convinced something else will make you complete and accepted – that Christ’s work wasn’t finished enough.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

a willing heart, still incomplete

I want a lot of things. No surprise there, I suppose. The intensity might change and the objects of my wanting, but there’s no question: I want things.

And sometimes I get what I want. I will myself to do what needs doing in order to grasp what was once outside my reach. Like the limes I picked up today on the way home from church – I wanted fresh limeade, so I willed myself to drive out of the way to stop at the grocery store. In awhile, after I type out this bit of inspiration, I will sip the limeade that was only a thought a couple hours ago.

But steadfastness does not work that way.

This morning, as we were singing one of my favorite hymns, I stayed on these lines when everyone else sang the next stanza,

Gracious God, my heart renew
Make my spirit right and true
Thy salvation’s joy impart
Steadfast make my willing heart
Steadfast make my willing heart

Apart from God, my willing heart is incomplete – left wanting a faithfulness that is beyond my reach. Often (ahem, daily) my willingness wearies and wavers and no matter how sincere my resolve, I fail and fall. I will never be faithful on my own. No matter how much I want to be faithful, it will always be just outside my reach.

No matter how sincere, willingness does not a steadfast heart make.

There must be something outside of my will and outside of my sincerity that makes me steadfast, because my attempts at faithfulness will always fail.

What grace that God takes our willingness and adds His faithfulness to make us steadfast! Though we fall and fail, our steadfastness depends on His faithfulness and in this He never wavers or wearies.

We come willing and God makes us steadfast.

The exchange makes no sense because it is no exchange at all. We come with only a faltering “want” for faithfulness, but in Christ God adds His faithfulness and our hearts can be made steadfast.

Miraculous.