frivolous friday

In the spirit of lavishing love “just because,” I set out to soak as much in as possible this morning before I leave for Iowa in about an hour. I woke up to run in the park, dropped off my laundry, biked over to chat with Lele in our other favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and wrote out some thoughts. Then, when the responsible and predictable part of Caroline said, “Go home and pack” the carefree and whimsical Caroline looked at my beautiful bike with a basket and said, “Adventure instead.”

So, I did. I biked up Bedford and through Fort Greene. I meandered away the minutes I didn’t have walking the streets where no stores were yet open. I swayed under the shade and I smiled for no reason. I closed my eyes and walked with my head toward the cotton candy clouds, just because.

I jumped back on my bike, noting the ridiculousness of my summer dress and the goofiness of my grin, and biked over to Park Slope where I did more aimless walking. And all the time, it was okay that my joy didn’t have direction. It was okay that I wasn’t frantically checking and re-checking my bags I packed last night while watching Runaway Bride (it was free on Amazon Prime and who doesn’t love Julia Roberts with Richard Gere?).

It was more than okay, it was perfect.

What is the dumbest thing a bride can do one week before her wedding? Ride down the big hill in Prospect Park with her hands outstretched and her knees/elbows/face exposed to possible catastrophic collision. And that’s exactly what I did. I spread out my hands and embraced the breeze and it was exactly the best way to leave Brooklyn before coming back a Mrs.

I know it doesn’t make sense and I promise it isn’t just because I’m in love. I think I am finally realizing that adventures, a lot of times, are not planned. And receiving love brings joy to the giver as much as it does the receiver (if not more). So, when God gives good gifts like this absolutely beautiful day, it delights Him when I step completely into it.

Turns out, His delight is my delight. Let the adventures begin!

not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I’ve battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it “at once,” I think. I’d rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.
This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

when the Spirit says

I was in the church choir a couple weeks ago and we sang a beautiful song. It had few words, but the melody moved like little children’s feet. I could see bodies swaying in my peripheral vision and then I realized my hips were moving, too. It is that kind of song.

Our choir director sent us this version to encourage a few minutes of preparation before we came together as a group for the hour rehearsal on Sunday morning.

I love the simplicity.

It sounds like a child vowing to do a very noble and impossible thing without knowing how impossible it is (but believing the nobility warrants dramatic commitment). Simple, noble, honest, and impossible.

And that little chorus has been playing across my soul for the weeks since. And I started to wonder “when the Spirit says” pray in my life, because those are the times when my dramatic commitment is tested.

Do I become dishonest when I do not pray when the Spirit says pray? Am I less honest when I bury my worries or when I share joys with friends or when I sing grief in sad songs?

Redemption is wrapped up in the “I’m gonna,” or at least that’s how I read it. Like a child who forgot (again) to clean up his toys or help her brother or stay inside the fence, we look up with round, noble eyes and present our honest “I’m gonna” to the Father who knows how many times we have strayed.

He is the one who makes us honest. Because of redemption, because of His mercies new every morning, we can claim freedom to pray and sing and serve and love and dance in the ways Christ has called us to do those things.

In Christ, our sanctification is a hard and honest refining, a grace covered progress where all our “I’m gonna’s” depend on all His “I did’s.”

 

our striving would be losing

If there ever was someone who deserved the distinction of being absolute, that someone is Jesus. He declared himself the absolute, only way to enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 14:6). In this question, there is no grey area – not a single drop of ying yang to dilute what He has spelled out explicitly in His word.

Christ is salvation for those who believe, but salvation is bigger than we think. It is not just a salvation from judgment. Christ’s salvation is also salvation into righteousness. In the same moment that He freed us from the bloody (literal) cycle of sacrifices, He freed us into obedience by way of His righteousness. We are no longer ruled by the destruction of our secret hearts and the destruction of our sinful humanity. We are not ruled by the darkness that seems to rule the world.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

We are freed from judgment by Christ’s atoning sacrifice and freed into obedience by Christ’s imputing righteousness.

What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because our lives could never stand up to God’s righteous judgment. My sin goes before me and follows close behind. The good I want to do gets muddled up in my own schemes and I am daily reminded of my sin that leads to death. I am weak against greed and pride and lust and fear and faithlessness. There is not a day I could stand upright in the face of God’s righteous judgment.

But God, being rich in mercy called His children before the foundations of the world into freedom from the judgment that is due our dead bones.

I need for Christ to offer a salvation that is more than just a courtroom scene where He takes my guilty sentence. I need for Him to be the justice I act and the mercy I show and the love I share. I need for Him to be the righteousness that roots out my fear and greed and lust and pride and I need Him as replacement. I need for Christ to be who God sees when I stand before the throne of judgment. AND HE IS, dear friends!

What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because His sacrifice both atones for our sin (receiving the judgment we are due) AND imputes our righteousness (replacing ours with the perfect life Christ lived).

He is the perfect heart condition when I try to muster compassion. He is the perfect generosity when I scrounge for change. He is the perfect host when I frenzy about with overlapping plans. He is the perfect listener, counselor, and encourager when I am trying very hard and very imperfectly to be all those things.

Yesterday, I sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” with a group of strangers in a beautiful church near Union Square. This second verse really tore apart my spirit.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

I do a lot of striving – a lot of confiding in my own strength – and none of it gets me closer to a better salvation. Absolutely not one single attempt (or many) at righteousness will be the reason Christ invites or denies me into His kingdom. Because there is only one right Man, a Man of God’s own choosing, who has the power and perfection to be condemned in my guilty place so that I can become the righteousness of God. Salvation doesn’t get any better than that.

No matter how many hungry folks we feed or naked people we clothe or strangers we invite in, we would never do it perfectly and we would never do it enough. I would never do righteousness enough and (if I could be so bold) you wouldn’t either. We are always striving and our striving is always losing, but God made a way for us to be free of judgment and freed to righteousness. And that way is Jesus.

What we believe about Him is the most pressing, most prominent, most permanent thing today. He makes perfect all our imperfect attempts because He gave us His righteousness. We are freed from striving for perfection and freed from losing at that game. We are freed into obedience because salvation doesn’t depend on our righteous performance. Salvation depends on the cross and Christ performed that perfectly… so that we could enter into His joy and invite others to the banquet table to meet the Man of God’s own choosing.

As I click at my keyboard, wet and sloppy tears are tracking through the blush on my cheeks. Everything is snot-messy because salvation will always be a mystery. I don’t understand why I get to know Christ. I don’t understand why my sin does not banish me forever from His presence. I don’t understand why I never have a better response. I don’t understand why my daily song doesn’t sound like worship. I don’t understand why my heart can be so resistant to miracles.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)

truth is like gravity

C.S. Lewis calls it “chronological snobbery.” I call it imagined progress or fake sanctification or foolishness. His words are better, I know (are we surprised?). He only needed two words to pinpoint our pride in the tick marks of a timeline, but I’m going to use this whole blog post to pound out my thoughts.

We are not the Israelites complaining in the desert and we are not Hitler’s Germany in 1914 and we are not our more segregated relatives and we are no longer our 15-year-old selves. Chronology cancels things out – time does not allow us to live in minutes that have already passed.

But chronology does not cancel out Truth.

Truth is always the same because God is always the same. What was true for the Israelites and wartime Germany and Rosa Parks and high school youth group – all of that is true right now, because truth does not change. Humanity is depraved and that depravity rears its ugly head in every generation. We will always fall short, always fail at perfection, always choose our own way. But God, being rich in mercy…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

Somehow, with all our progress, we have not developed out of a need for salvation and we never will. We still very much need God to be rich in mercy. We will always need for Him to show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes, it seems like our tendency is to talk down to our 15-year-old selves – like the truth we heard in our youth was too simple, too naive, and too old-fashioned. It is tempting for my generation to look back on history and be proud that we don’t segregate water fountains or worship golden calves or let our taxes build incinerators. But truth doesn’t change like gravity doesn’t change. It just is. We will always need salvation and we will always need truth – the same truth the Israelites needed and the same truth Hitler needed and the same truth my youth pastor taught my 15-year-old self every Sunday night.

Depravity needs truth and truth never changes. We should be neither proud of our progress nor discouraged by our sinful state because depravity has an antidote. We are sanctified from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), but it is more like lights turning on in a farmhouse than mile markers passed on a highway.

We are not better than our ancestors or our younger selves; we all are faced with the same Truth. Little children and old grandparents and 15-year-olds in youth group and post modern hipsters in Brooklyn – by God’s grace we can all know the kind of truth that sets us free. And the truth of Jesus Christ never changes, ever. As we mature and grow in knowledge of the Lord, we are diving deeper into the same well.

If I read Ephesians 2 every day, I would be overwhelmed by the same Truth – different lights in the same house of my soul and none of the lights would cancel out.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:8-22 ESV)

These are my morning musings – the things I can pound out in the 30-45 minutes before leaving for work. I do not pretend they make every kind of sense, but I do hope they inspire thought and response and a deeper examination of the Word. 

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.

if concrete tears could hang like a cloud

If all of New York City’s concrete tears could hang like a cloud across the concrete streets, it would be the heavy haze of this early evening. My homeward bound steps felt like sadness tonight, which is unusual because I have learned to love my commute (and the love came easily).

I felt deeper the tension of people in close proximity absent any affinity for one another. I felt that tension on the subway platform and on the J train and when the crowd of people threw elbows and pained expressions at Broadway Junction. I felt it more tonight than I have before.

Perhaps it was the fog – because when I stepped off the B44 on Nostrand, I promise I looked the city in her face and her eyes were brimming but her face was dry. It was like she was holding back, trying to hem in whatever hurt had happened on Thursday. And the hurt that happened was thick.

It’s getting darker. These days turn to night before I am ready. That might be the only sad thing about autumn – it sleeps too early.

I could blame the melodrama on the quesadilla I ate today, from the Mexican place by my work that is run by a nice Chinese couple. But I’d be lying if I said the tension didn’t feel real. It does. But, who is surprised? The city is a ruthless place. But, there is always tenderness. 

There is always beauty inside and around ruthless. Always. And every once in a while, when I let the stubbornness of my soul soften up, the Lord shows grace so I can see. Grace to see His provision and grace to believe His provision is enough.

Grace.

The end of this day is full of grace because the whole day was full of it but my soul was just now soft enough to see. When I knocked on my neighbor Elsa’s door to respond to the note she taped on mine, I found her with a beautiful flowering plant to share. Later, when I opened my door to a knock, I found Patrick with a bag of groceries and dinner plans. When we sat in our now a-little-less-empty living room drinking cinnamon and nutmeg, I found laughter.

And this is grace. Sweet grace when the concrete tears hang like a cloud on concrete streets.