singing catechisms

The cold blue sky hugged the red bricks of all the buildings in the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon in February. Our Friday sleepover friends had just left and Zella Ruth was tucked away for a nap in her crib. 

Pat rolled the rocking chair back and forth, back and forth… with a hiccup where it caught the carpet. And I was there – curled up tight in his lap, with my head tucked under his chin and with my eyes weeping motherhood. I humiliated myself into a little cocoon on his chest, folding all my limbs as small as they would go. I had lost something, something very precious, at the laundromat and that hiccuping rock let me forget adulthood for a little bit.

I wanted to blame everything – the laundry ladies, the drudgery of schlepping overstuffed clothes bags on city streets, the baby strapped to my chest, the postpartum stuff I still don’t understand – but I didn’t have the energy. I wiped sad slobber all over one of his zip up sweaters and listened as he prayed, feeling very like a child.

That was months ago, before we sang the Heidelberg Catechism on Sundays for Eastertide and before the cherry blossoms peak bloomed and then swirled down like snow. It was before my bit of breakdown that happened in the hours stretching between endless walks and goo-gaw talks and failed attempts to get anything done except answering “present” when Zella Ruth gave roll call.

Heidelberg Catechism

I relax into that spot on the bathroom floor – the place where I sit as Z splashes wonder up from her little whale tub. I am slow. I sink into her gaze, round eyes and wet hair stuck to her little head – shining little bruises from little bonks. She splashes again for my reaction and I answer “present” to her roll call – mirroring her chin down, slow blinking face. She lingers. I take the soft, red measuring cup that doubles as bath toy and pour warm on her shoulders. She shudders with delight and follows the water to the breaking surface, slow blinking wet lashes while the warm trickles off her fingertips before looking up for more.

I hum around a few bath songs and settle on a catchy little tune her Papa made up. I sing it softly, touching her little wet features as if this is the only thing in life.

I love your nose, nose, nose
I love your nose
I love your lips, lips, lips
I love your lips
I love your eyes and your ears and your tiny, little tears
I love your nose

She pauses, lifting her nose up so my pointer can keep time on its tiny surface. She waits for the song to cycle again, letting the faint sounds of bath water fill the empty space. I start again, tapping on that nose and watching her open mouth grow into a half smile. There are other verses, of course. Endless verses.

It is Pentecost now and the liturgical season is green – for new life, for growth, for Jesus. The season is green because Jesus is the seed God threw to the earth to be planted in death and raised in new life. And this – this throwing down, dying, and raising is my only comfort in life and in death. It seems so singular – so exclusive and definitive – to say my only comfort at all, ever, always is that I belong to JesusIf that is so, I must belong in a way that isn’t attached to postpartum or marriage or geography or accomplishment or feelings. I must belong to Jesus so deeply that I am not my own anymore (and that is a comfort?).

It sounds messy and untrue because my gut says that comfort is when I am my own.

Sometimes, Z will cruise herself across a room, close enough for our foreheads to touch and then lean in between me and whatever has my attention to say, “Ah!” With raised eyebrows and an open mouth smile, she declares with one word, “Here I am, Mama! You must have forgotten about me, but it’s okay because I am here! And I am wonderful!”

The truth of it was more ethereal and less tactile before Z was born. (Not my own, uh sure. Yeah.) This tiny human sleeping a few feet from our marriage bed (and needing me in the most complete way I’ve ever been needed) made “not my own” less delicate and more… more desperately tangible.

I do the same thing I did in singleness: try to claim that I belong, body and soul, to me. My comfort is queen. But motherhood has been an especially physical response to that tendency – in its denial of what I want to do.

I cannot understand her words quite yet, but it sounds something like, “Be fully present, mama. Be completely here. Look at me long enough to notice the hair swooping over my eyes and the way I can make a bowl be a hat.”

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. It’s kind of an updated Westminster Catechism idea called Christian Hedonism and it’s what I think of when Zissou appears in front of me thinking she is the world (Sidenote: she is only 10 months, so I realize this analogy unravels really quickly – like in a month or so).

Zella is teaching me how to joyfully choose to not be my own, to be satisfied completely in the Lord. She is teaching me that there is comfort in being present for the banal moments of bath time and the tender night cries of teething because this is the way of the Father. He came all the way down to earth to be present with us.

He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my father in heaven. In fact all things must work together for my salvation.

My truest and most enduring comfort is belonging to Jesus, the one who watches over me in all the ways I can’t watch over Zella. He is the one who watches over me when I lose laundry and when I can’t sing another made up song. He knows exactly what I need and then He gives it abundantly. He is the only one who can grant salvation with belonging.

You won’t find it anywhere in red letters, but I hear it in this season – I hear God saying, “Be fully present when I take roll call because I am here and I am wonderful!” There is absolutely nothing that is more precious or more important than being with the One who set you free, the One who made you so deeply belong that it is a comfort to say, “I am not my own.”

In the spirit of being present, this blog post took weeks with plenty of breaks for giggle parties on the bed, forts in the living room, catechism sing-a-longs, tongue cluck contests and sweet, singing walk dances in the park. My living room is currently in an impressive display of unkept and the bed is not made. Just keeping it real.

just keep singing

Okay, rough week.

Are you feeling more frail and fragile as you watch the news? Bad news seems like the only news this week – floods, explosions, man hunts, lockdowns, bombs. And we can get buried in the bad, squirming six feet under the weight of it.

But today God is the same promise keeper! He has not forgotten His good news and He has not forgotten His good promises to us. Meditate today on the Word of God that weaves good news of God’s promise keeping through horrible struggle of human failure.

The birds are singing outside my window as I write this and I tilt my head to hear their song. If creation is singing today (even as it is groaning for Christ’s return), will you sing along?

Psalm 91:14-16 is a good place to start. Scroll to the bottom of this link to hear the verses put to song by Robbie Seay and then download this song and 40 other songs to benefit relief efforts in West, Texas at Noisetrade.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

the answer is grace

It could all be over, it really could… this whole cosmos being held together thing doesn’t have to be a reality in this next moment.

Forget climate change, do you know that within atoms (the itty bitty stuff that makes up all “stuff”) are quarks that by definition are “believed” to be the basic building blocks of protons, neutrons, and hadrons? What I mean is, if we zoom in on the smallest physical reality and then slice it up, we are still mind boggled about how life is held together.

Unless we are believing Christ does the holding. Then those mind boggling beliefs about the basic building blocks of matter can make sense. And this is just exactly where I got stuck today in wonder. I don’t pretend to know anything about particles except what I’ve forgotten from high school Chemistry, but I do know that it’s wonderful. I know that the mysterious way things are held together is absolutely magical and inspiring.

This is the question that wedged in my throat as I wondered about things I don’t fully understand: Why? Why is Christ holding it together?

Jared C. Wilson quotes Lesslie Newbigin in Gospel Deeps when he talks about cosmic redemption,

But God in his patient and long-suffering love sustains the created world, and the world of human culture, in order that there may still be time and space for repentance and for the coming into being of the new creation within the womb of the old.

John Piper says that missions exist because worship doesn’t. Wow. God is literally holding all things together (every little quark of existence) in Christ so that there might be time for repentance.

If we are going to wonder like children, we might as well ask “Why?” like children, too. Why does God sustain the created world with such patience while creation actively aches to be restored? Why does God allow evil to continue and wars to erupt and people to die and diseases to destroy and nations to rage?

Why doesn’t Christ lift His finger or turn His head from “holding all things together” for one second so the cosmos collapse on themselves and He can rebuild from the ashes?

Only, only in the marvelous grace of God are we allowed to see a glorious because in the midst of this mystery.

Christ continues to hold all things together because God started writing this redemption narrative before a word was spoken into the formless void. He had already written the names of His children in the book of life before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20, Revelations 13:8), knowing they would have a desperate need for a Savior and providing just such a Savior.

Christ continues to hold all things together because God is sovereignly working out His will to gather His children from the ends of the earth to enter into eternity with Him (Mark 13:27)He will not stop until the gathering is complete because He is a promise keeper.

Christ continues to hold all things together because God is making His name known to His creation, even those who shake their fists at His goodness. Our need for a Savior points to God’s gracious giving of a Savior (Psalm 66:2, Psalm 79:9, Romans 2).

And within every reason we can imagine there are a million other reasons Christ is holding things together and each one of them is a gift of grace.

Why is Christ holding this crazy cosmos together?

All I can come up with is grace. We are held together by the grace of God, allowed to question by the grace of God, able to be restless by the grace of God, and longing for home by the grace of God.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

These reflections come as I read through Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson. I definitely encourage you to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. It’s one to read through slowly and process with other people (or on a blog!). Here are some other posts on my reflections on the book: Lord, I need Youmy heart will never not be Hisliving risen on a Mondayfurther up and further in you go, and our way into redemption.

our way into redemption

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1-3, ESV)

We are good at announcing victories. We have awards ceremonies and podiums and medals and elaborate speeches. We are good at announcing victories, but how do we announce our redemption? How do we talk about our soul’s resurrection?

Because I believe this is indeed the greatest cause for celebration. Redemption is the best reason to throw a festival or plan a party.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Let us commemorate our being found when we were lost, our being victorious when we were defeated, our being alive when we were dead! But our joyful, victorious entry into redemption is not carried by our proud steps of accomplishment but on the weary, beaten back of a perfect Savior. We are carried, limp and lifeless, by Christ to victory and we finish with the greatest reward.

Jared C. Wilson writes, “We disobeyed our way into fallenness, but we cannot obey our way into redemption.” (Gospel Deeps, p. 161)

He is our way into redemption. He is our victory and our celebration is in His name and for His fame. He is our way into redemption and He is the only way to announce victory in this life.

Wilson includes this list in his book Gospel Deeps and I think it pulls us into powerful proclamation as the redeemed children and inspires victorious living in the promises of our Redeemer. Wilson writes on page 160, “He has hemmed us in; he has us covered:

Christ is in us. (John 14:20; 17:23; Rom. 8:10-11; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27)

Christ is over us. (Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 1:18; 3:1; Heb. 3:6)

Christ is through us. (Rom. 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:14; 5:20)

Christ is with us. (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Eph. 2:5-6; 2 Tim. 4:17)

Christ is under us. (Luke 6:47-48; 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Cor. 3:11)

Christ is around us (that is to say, we are in and through him). (John 14:6; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 3:4, 14; 5:17; Gal. 3:27; Heb. 7:25)

We are good at announcing our victories, but this victory in Christ is like no other. We announce His victory in our redemption and we announce His sovereignty in our resurrected lives. I can imagine no greater speech than a life that speaks to this work.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

These reflections come as I read through Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson. I definitely encourage you to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. It’s one to read through slowly and process with other people (or on a blog!). Here are some other posts on my reflections on the book: Lord, I need Youmy heart will never not be His, living risen on a Monday, further up and further in you go.

when we pray, “Lord, I need You.”

A while back, I was reading this article at Desiring God, “No Longer an Orphan (but tempted to live like it” by Christine Hoover, which led me to order Rose Marie Miller’s book Nothing is impossible with God and write this post, “erase the ways of our orphanhood” about our freedom in discovering what it means to be called a child of God.

If I haven’t lost you to the above links (I kind of wish I have, btw), then sit with me a minute as I reflect on what’s squeezing my heart today: the gospel of adoption. Jared Wilson writes in Gospel Deeps,

“Only in the complex depths of the triune godhead are wrath-owed enemies also love-won children.”

My pen painted marks all over this sentence on page 152, but it got real messy on the next page and I decided the next person to read this book might have a hard time being objective. I’m not sure how I can explain my thoughts without giving you a full paragraph, so here it is,

“God turns rebels into family. He does this in deep love before time began (Eph. 1:5), through meticulous sovereignty throughout the old covenant (Rom. 9:4), by abundant grace in the new covenant offering of Christ (Gal. 4:4-5), and with affectionate power in the Spirit’s ongoing mission (Gal. 4:6). He is still on the surface of the deep, calling out order from the formless void of our hearts. And in this wonder is another incomprehensible wonder, namely that the Spirit’s conversion of us godward is characterized as both adoption and rebirth.” (Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps, p. 153)

Take a moment.

Maybe print off this paragraph so you can mark it up, too. Look up Ephesians and Romans and Galatians to test the assertions and hold on only to what is good (1 Thes. 5:21). What I am holding onto after reflecting is what is holding on to me: adoption papers.

I read it this morning and I can not shake it. I am adopted – a full-blown child with a new last name, an eternal inheritance, and a forever family – and I was at war with my Father when He signed the papers. He wanted me when I wanted nothing to do with him. While I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8), Christ chose me, loved me, and gave Himself up for me. I appreciate that Wilson uses the words “meticulous sovereignty” because I think it helps us picture just how intimately involved God is with the affairs of His people.

I often explain away my haphazard housekeeping by saying I am a “creative” person. For some reason “creative” people are off the hook when it comes to keeping things orderly. People will just say, “Oh, she’s artsy… you know, abstract” and that’s supposed to mean you shouldn’t expect that girl to have her life together. Maybe this makes God’s meticulous sovereignty even MORE amazing – creativity came from Him, but He is concerned with the littlest details of existence. From the broad strokes of orange-pink-purple sky to the number of raindrops in a storm, He is authoring all the beauty and also meticulously involved in orchestrating every atomic detail.

His powerful sovereignty runs like a thread throughout the old testament, reveals God’s love in Christ’s sacrifice, and weaves through the present to declare God’s glory. At the end of the paragraph I copied above, Wilson says that our conversion is characterized by both adoption and rebirth.

This. This is what is squeezing my heart today. God declares that we are His by what I imagine would be some divine paperwork and a holy signature dipped in Christ’s blood, but then He makes us His children as He sanctifies us every day. He is not an absent father, because even adoptive fathers can be absent. Instead, God declares us (His enemies) beloved children and then commits to making us more beautiful – to look more like the image of His perfect Son (Romans 8:29).

I see so many children in my work and they do not hide their fears. When parents have to leave (it doesn’t matter what the legal papers say), fear swims out of their eyes and clings in their hands. They get desperate and throw tantrums and ask impossible questions.

Today, I have been thinking about God declaring me His child and making me His child. My status is sealed in the work of Christ on my behalf, but my Father reminds me daily of His love efforts. He is relentless as He reminds me of His faithfulness that drives out fear. He is meticulous. And I need Him.

I need my Father to do more than sign papers that say I have access to forever with Him. I need Him to walk with me. I need Him to hold me up. I need Him to be strong for me. I need Him to be courage for me. I need Him to be hope for me. I need Him to be compassion for me. I need Him to be understanding for me. I need Him to teach me, correct me, rebuke me, love me, humble me, and chase me.

I need all these things in Him because I am empty otherwise. My need is not self-centered (though I suppose it can get twisted), but instead a declaration of my emptiness alone. The depth of my need would make me fearful if I didn’t know that his Fatherhood is more than abundant. His on-going, faithful adoption is a signature He writes on my heart every moment of today. The grace He has given will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory, so that His name would be praised and His perfect Fatherhood would be blessed!

The beautiful thing about singing, “Lord, I need You” is in knowing His response. When we say, “Lord, I need You,” God responds with, “I know. I am faithful to give Myself.” We can safely cry out our need for refuge while knowing we are safe inside the very refuge we seek.

I think my belly just smiled (is that where our souls are, in our bellies?) because I’m chasing this around in circles.

As we are praying our need of God, we believe His faithfulness in being what we need.

The horrors of 3801 Lancaster (the place where Kermit Gosnell (see The Atlantic article) destroyed the lives of so many women and babies), lead us to pray, “Lord, we need You.” And I think He is saying, “I know. I am faithful to give Myself.”

a new commandment: love one another

Today is Maundy Thursday, which wasn’t any more than a funny word pairing until I read my holy week reflection. Mandatum means “command” or “mandate” in Latin and we celebrate Maundy Thursday because on the night before Jesus was killed he gave a “new commandment” (John 13:34).

Love one another, as Christ loved us.

What a great and impossible command he gave as his parting exhortation! Love as Christ loved? The perfect and sinless Jesus, who didn’t curse his enemies or get impatient at the market or cover up a white lie for his cousin? We are to love like this Jesus, who saw pain and brokenness and stepped toward it? The Jesus who associated with the lowly and the losers and the little children?

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

The Lord has been so gracious in these past few days to pour out His grace. The deeper I dig for gospel mercies, the more I find to fill my days. And I need it – every last drop of grace, I need it.

The substance of my work is not something one prays away – it is the fruit of a world torn by sin and a people tangled in deception. The prince of darkness works 24/7 to battle the life-giving joy of the Gospel message and all the ugly will be there tomorrow morning and the next. Sin is a hungry monster – it eats disaster and spits it out. Sometimes it feels like my days are walking in sin’s vomit. Believe me, it feels as disgusting as it sounds.

The Lord has been gracious, though, to give grace when I’m knee deep in sin’s sticky sludge. At the day’s end when I am realizing that everything will look the same in the morning and my heart wants to despair, I remember that Jesus promised abundant life and then I say, “Yes, I believe it.” But, my belief doesn’t transform my circumstances… it transforms my heart.

And today as I reflect on Maundy Thursday – the new commandment Jesus gave to love as He loved us – I think this is exactly the place I need to be. This great and impossible command to love happens as we believe Christ for the glorious work of the cross.

Loving one another does not mean ignoring sin or downplaying deception or denying evil – Christ certainly didn’t ignore, downplay or deny. And anyone who works in social services must know it is impossible to make less of the helpless state of things. Please, don’t ask me to look an addict in the face and say sin really doesn’t have a hold of him. Instead, because Christ knew the depth of our sin, He also knew the cost of love towards us.

Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we are willing to walk toward the hurting.
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we see the sin and deception and evil as darkness, but we believe in the power of light to expose fruitless, dark deeds (Ephesians 5).
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we speak truth about the death grip of sin and speak truth about the offer of life.

Christ was not politically correct. He was not the greatest orator. He did not consult ratings before and after a public address. Christ concerned Himself with the Truth because He was the Truth. He held all things together and still does. But, he walked toward the hurting. He sat with the broken. He listened to the wicked. He held disobedient children in his lap.

Christ got so close to the hurting that they hurt him. His loving us cost Him his life. He got so close to the broken that they broke Him. We broke Him.

If we are really going to love one another, we have to get close enough that it will cost us our lives.