before all that: exploring a life of desperate dependence

Before the breakdown and before the last straw that falls on the camel’s back.

Before all that.

What if we got desperate and dependent before anxiety wrapped its cold, stubborn fingers around our hearts?

I’ve learned dependence before, many times. While boarding with  a leaky car in Austin and while bumming on a co-worker’s couch I learned some important things about dependence. But we have a tendency to label lessons like mile markers – things we’ve passed along the way. Once we’ve learned a lesson, we move on with a forward gaze, assuming the lesson is added to our lives like a scout badge on a vest.

Well, maybe it’s just me that does that – but I’m only cheating myself out of joy if I live treating lessons like mile markers or scout badges.

Oh, how I love my patient and faithful Savior! He is reminding me that “casting all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” is not merely for the SOS moments. Maybe let me rephrase: our lives are a string of SOS moments.

This is what I am learning and living.

We are made to be desperate, but not the kind of desperate that builds up to a breaking point and then explodes out of control. Not that kind of desperate.

We are made to depend desperately on the One who will trade our need for His provision.

That is His good design. Our dependence is deeper than bread and water, but our needs are all in the same well that His grace is sufficient to fill. That is His good design – desperate dependence, all the time.

We cast our cares on Him because He cares for us – because He has been faithful and promises to be faithful in the future. Our God has never broken a promise, not ever. My desperate dependence is evidence that I believe Him to be just that.

So, when a string of days fills with SOS moments, there is not less joy available. It is not a lesson of dependence that marks another mile walked on the faith road. Desperate dependence is the road we walk, the path we tread as we daily rejoice in His provision for us. He provides all that we need, according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) – and there is no bank with better credit. Our provision comes from the source of all things.

The deep well of His sufficient grace offers peace (Philippians 4:6) when we cast our cares (1 Peter 5:7), believing that God is the strength for our hearts and portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

Before the breakdown and before the last straw (but of course, in those times too), we are invited to desperately depend on the One who can sufficiently provide for our needs and overwhelm our lives with joy.

I could tell you about the past two days – about the car trouble and the appointments and the millions of ways that God gave me good gifts. I could tell you about the near disasters (averted, I know, by the grace of God) and the very friendly repair shop on SE 14th Street. I could tell you about the songs I sang in my car with littles in the backseat and the way they explained the songs to their parent. I could tell you about sitting around a coffee table in community and laughter.

I could tell you just a few of the millions of ways God is providing in the desperately dependent state, but then it might seem like this is something I “learned” in the past two days.

And I didn’t learn it, in the past tense way.

This desperate dependence is meant to be a lifestyle that flows like the lifeblood in my veins, keeping me existing here on earth. So, I’m exploring a life of desperate dependence, walking that road with eternity hidden in my heart.

there is a peace

This last day of April stretched out long and I stretched out to test the seams of it – to try to be as patient as the moments that crept by so I could experience each one fully. It has been some time since one day has had so many slow moments and I was content to savor them all. Maybe it was the sun that slowed things down, begging me to look extra long at the city as I sped from place to place.

There is a peace.

Maybe it’s irresponsible to be unafraid of the future and maybe it’s naive to hope for impossible things. Maybe the illusive peace this world craves with groans is not a thing my soul can feel. But, maybe not.

By grace (o, mysterious grace!), we can say, “There is a peace” both with certainty and with hope. Our belief that God is Redeemer, Promise-Keeper, Defender, Lover, Savior, and Friend prompts our certainty and his faithfulness to be all those things prompts our hope. The grace empowered cycle of certainty and hope is a fountain that wells up and overflows in peace that covers all uncertain and desperate moments.

There is a peace to settle your soul. Well, it’s settling mine anyway.

What shall I do with a settled soul? How can I make sure the certain and hopeful moments are not wasted? Our memory verse (from Fighter Verses) for this week is Romans 12:11-13,

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

There is a gracious peace that has settled my soul and the Lord is calling me to make my peace productive. The same grace that allows me peace makes provision for good works (2 Corinthians 9:8) that have been prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). As I savor the cycle of certainty and hope, God is breathing life into my bones so that I may live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28).

All this peace is for a purpose – that the Lord would be glorified in my dependence, my delight, and my diligence.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

There are many, many ways to serve our friends, family, and neighbors. This is May 1 and every May I try to accept the Every Day in May challenge. This year, I am going to use my love for creative writing to bless someone new each day. This might be through a story, card, special email, or clever joke. I may or may not post everything I do, but I might report some of the stories that happen as a result. I encourage you to take the challenge as well – for the month of May, choose to do something you love every day. My little addition is that you would use the “something you love” to bless others – that way you are both glorifying God with your gifts and blessing others with your offering!

from @frenchtoastgirl

when pounds of paperwork are proven wrong

Every once in a while, a day like today flies in the face of the cynic.
It blows up all the pounds of paperwork proving it’s not possible.

This day is a gift and it’s not even noon.

It’s called reunification, which is a lot of syllables packed into one word that means the court says it’s okay for a family to be together again. And that’s what happened at court.

I cried a little bit and tried to shield my eyes from all the legal people who claim detached objectivity. I try to claim it sometimes too, but I have a heart that likes to trot out on my sleeve on a regular basis (I am aware I may not be in the right profession). So, I cried a little bit when I saw parents reaching for tissues and looking at me with red-rimmed eyes.

I know it’s not the end. All my co-workers and any veterans of the public welfare system will tell you: it’s not over. And I get that. I know the road is long and the battle is intense, but today I got to say the word reunification and the six syllables will be on my tongue until 8:30 pm tonight when I finally drag myself home.

Now, to pray this reunified family into reconciled reunification with a forever family. That happy day would stretch for eternity!

Today, I know that every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights and this good gift called reunification was authored by His sovereign hand. These tearful moments were in the mind of God before the world began. He is in this, even this and always this. There is not a moment that surprises Him, not one good or evil thing that prompts a plan B.

This good thing today is one of many millions of merciful good gifts that God will pour out. 

Oh, this day can’t even contain them! We might feel ten raindrops in a downpour, but imagine the amount raindrops! Imagine that each raindrop is planned and counted, just like the hairs on our heads. Our Father knows all and showers down every good gift!

You are good. You are good, O Lord. You are good and Your love endures forever.

what the system cannot do

Paperwork. Bleh.

Yesterday my car was a freight train from 8:30 am – 7:30 pm, making a maze around Des Moines for appointments and meetings and visits. Today, my car Eddie has been parked in my driveway since 1 pm and I’m inside eating pistachios, watching the sun dance in my living room, and working on monthly reports. It feels way less productive, that’s for sure. But if I don’t finish the reports, all the speeding around is for nothing.

If a train never stops anywhere, what use is there to jump on board?

Apparently, I need a little blog therapy to stay stationary today. I need to remember that the words on paper are important to the little ones in my backseat. Sometimes the words on paper are what fight for them when everyone else has laid down their swords. So, I’ll write the words and finish my reports and respond to the emails and follow up on phone calls.

These frequent stops on the speeding train do make me wonder about the social transit grid – the systems and structures that make up child welfare. Where are we going to and coming from? And do those destinations make sense or are we all just rushing to get on board? The questions are too big for Tuesday late afternoon, so I won’t attempt an answer.

What I will say is working in the system has shed light on what the system cannot do. It cannot change people or convince people or heal people or cure people. It cannot offer forgiveness or grace (second chances are not the same).

Every time my speeding train stops and I get good and stationary, I am aware of what the system cannot do. Right about that time (now) I fix my eyes on the unseen miracles authored by the One who keeps His promises.

This grid of systems and structures is visible – in the paperwork and the gas mileage and the court costs – and it is limited. Meanwhile, I’m hanging my hope on something unseen. This is the grace-energized faith that makes my speeding and stationary days about more than the grid.

As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV)


Over-easy, hard, benedict… scrambled.

If you asked me to describe my life right now in terms of cooked eggs (which of course you wouldn’t), I would say scrambled.

These days are like opening my eyes underwater and finding a thick, slimy mud. I’m muscling through the grime for clearer deeps, but there is a thickness trying to steal my hope. Cynicism is cheap in this business where skeptics are trained by years of disappointment.

Working with broken people means getting broken yourself.

The first line of this song sticks to me as I walk around broken, reaching out to broken, “Lay your righteousness on the table…”

It’s like sitting down for negotiation and emptying my pockets of every bit of pride trying to play the cards in my favor. I don’t know what The Gin House intended the song to mean, but it feels like the “fire is alive” is about hope.

After honesty and justice has wrung out all my vices, there is hope … and not in what I’ve flung on the table. There is hope outside of what I have to offer.

It’s that kind of hope that will hold when I pull with all my might.
It’s that kind of hope that is secure when everything is scrambled.

making plans to waste my life

I’m making plans, friends. And why shouldn’t I get swept up in the wave of everyone making plans for the future (some full of hope and others full of dread)? I’m making plans, but they sometimes come out of an undignified and broken down place.

Have you ever been there?

It’s a place of exposure and pain, but it’s a place where desperation reaches for solid ground… and the reaching is revelry because the solid ground is so firm that it can be built upon.

The blueprints are looking like this and it’s feeling like beautiful.

Breaking Down by John Mark McMillan

I’m making plans to waste my life on You
I’m making plans to waste my life on You
Cause New York City and Hollywood combined
They ain’t got enough lights
To make me want change my mind about You

Cause I’m breaking down
I don’t even care if there’s anyone else around
Cause I’m breaking down
I always fall to pieces whenever You’re around

I’m Mary Magdalene and tonight is a bottle of perfume
I’m Mary Magdalene and tonight is a bottle of perfume
There’s not enough dignity to hold me now
When I know You’re going to meet me here
There’s not enough gravity
To keep me away from You

Cause I’m breaking down
I don’t even care if there’s anyone else around
Cause I’m breaking down
I always fall to pieces whenever You’re around

So, meet me here
Where we shine like gold
Like the light beneath the embers
Of the burning coals
And I will spill my bottle
Like in days of old
On the song that bleeds from the breaking down

in feast or fallow

It is not winter, not yet.

Now is the time for harvest. Now is the time for bounty and breaking bread and gatherings that overflow into more gatherings.
But sometimes in the middle of harvest one can feel the winter.

While seated at the abundant table, the soul can sometimes taste the bitter cold. It’s not that life is depressed and dreary – not necessarily a sudden dark night of the soul. But sometimes in the middle of harvest, our hearts stretch pained because we daily do battle with brokenness.

It’s a beautiful thing, really, to feel the brisk breeze of winter while seated at the table of abundance. Oh, how sweet it is to remember who provides and protects and presides over our broken assemblage! It is not the work of our hands, but the Lord’s alone that allows us to taste and see that He is good. In the harvest, we remember that “whatever comes, we shall endure” because He is good. And so, we give thanks. We delight in provision and give thanks for the warmth before winter, but we know that in winter our certain hope is found in the same place.

Our winters will surely come, but in Christ our hope is found.

For these times, we need a simple tune that invites us into praise for every season. We need a song that prays, “Come, Emmanuel.”
Sing with me today?

When the fields are dry, and the winter is long
Blessed are the meek, the hungry, the poor
When my soul is downcast, and my voice has no song
For mercy, for comfort, I wait on the Lord

In the harvest feast or the fallow ground,
My certain hope is in Jesus found
My lot, my cup, my portion sure
Whatever comes, we shall endure.
Whatever comes, we shall endure

On a cross of wood, His blood was outpoured
He Rose from the ground, like a bird to the sky
Bringing peace to our violence, and crushing death’s door
Our Maker incarnate, our God who provides.

come, oh come, Emman- u- el
come, oh come, Emman- u- el

When the earth beneath me crumbles and quakes
Not a sparrow falls, nor a hair from my head
Without His hand to guide me, my shield and my strength
In joy or in sorrow, in life or in death

te doy gloria

The chorus was like fingers playing my heart strings.
It was like a cool glass of something I forgot was my favorite.
It was like realizing I stood shoulder to shoulder with an old friend.

And it went something like this:

te doy gloria, gloria
te doy gloria, gloria
te doy gloria, gloria
a ti Jesus

I know what you’re thinking… “that’s it? that’s all it took?” And, yes. It was that simple. I was standing in the church service this morning with people from El Salvador and Mexico and Guatemala and the chorus came in like a wave on my soul’s shore.

I give you glory, glory
I give you glory, glory
I give you glory, glory
to you, Jesus

It is not a new truth – that the Lamb is worthy to receive glory – but it is a truth that feels weightier when felt the world over. This morning I sang it again in the language where I witnessed miracles, the language that made me desperate for miracles. And when I sing about giving Him glory, I do just that. I give Him the glory.

With each day, I’m tempted to write another chapter in Ecclesiastes and with each day God gives more reasons to be glorified. And so I sing. Sometimes the simplest phrases can best put all the tangled messes of daily toil into proper perspective. Sometimes the simplest chorus carries with it deep and complex theology about sovereignty and supremacy and hope. Yes. It’s that hope I pressed into as I sang with families in the chapel at the retreat center, because we are desperate to give glory to the only One worthy.

The bridge rings out a phrase weighty enough to follow all the glory giving:

con una corona de espinos
te hiciste Rey por siempre

That was it – one crown of thorns and it crowned the King of forever. So, today, I sang. I sang to give God the glory and I did just that.

I’ve decided I should sing more.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a hope that can be caught

There’s a reason hope  is described as an anchor in Hebrews 6.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,
(Hebrews 6:19 ESV)

An anchor is unmovable – it’s what holds the ship in place when the waves are doing their darndest to toss it out to sea. The anchor is solid, stubborn weight digging deep into the sand and there’s nothing slippery about it.

If this is how the Bible describes hope – sure, steadfast, and stored in the deepest place within us – why do we treat it like such a slippery thing? Why does our culture insist that hope is elusive and uncertain and temperamental?

This article, The Urgency of Hope by Chris Castaldo over at The Gospel Coalition captures this dreadful misunderstanding. He writes about the alarming suicide rates around the world and what we offer as substitutes for true Hope,

The great English journalist and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge, reflecting on forms of despair in the 20th century—particularly among proponents of Stalin in Russia and Western nihilists devoted to materialism and abortion—said modern man has a “suicidal impulse,” a type of self-hatred. This impulse has spawned a bewildering number of proposals to cure, or at least curb, the problem. Unfortunately, varied as they are, these remedies share a common thread: their ingenuity and power are limited to human resources.

We’ve replaced the anchor of hope with something like the Claw arcade game. The child stands and stares for several minutes with growing excitement – imagining the plush toy that could be hers in a few moments. Then, she puts two quarters in the machine and moves the joystick around  tentatively, preparing to make a move. She starts to breathe faster as she decides to go for the pink teddy bear. With one last shaky breath, she pushes the read button and watches speechless as the metal claw descends on the mound of stuffed treasures. The claw grabs the pink teddy’s right ear and her premature delight comes out in a squeal… quickly silenced by shock as the pink teddy wiggles out of the metal grasp to land in the pile once again.

Nothing about the child’s hope to walk away with the plush, pink teddy is certain.

This kind of hope is slippery. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to hold on tight enough to keep it around for another day.

This kind of Hope is nothing like an anchor. The next verse from Hebrews 6 reads like this:

where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 6:20 ESV)

There’s no speculation – nothing slippery or elusive about what Jesus did on the cross. Our HOPE is anchored in Christ’s definitive work on the cross. He went before as a forerunner on our behalf  – He walked right into the punishment we deserved, suffered in our place, and then sat down because the work is finished. Our Hope is seated, like an anchor, at the right hand of the Father because He is so sure that our future is secure in light of His sacrifice.

No other message of hope will steady a boat amidst the waves.
No other message will do. 

If it’s hope you are looking for, don’t look to a politician or a parent or a partner unless you want to anchor your ship with another ship being tossed about. Don’t reach for a medication or a work promotion or a new burst of self-esteem unless you are confident your ship can survive the strongest storm sailing solo.

If it’s hope you are looking for, you will only find it in Jesus – seated like an anchor next to the Father without even the slightest chance of movement.

If it’s HOPE you are looking for, reach for the one that can be caught.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Until the Dawn Appears

Well the man of sorrows walked the shores of Galilee
And his eyes were cast with joy towards the crystal sea
Well the shadows will be gone and all these bitter tears
And my heart will hang on that until the dawn appears

Matthew Perryman Jones is one of those folk singers. He croons with a heart outside “mainstream” and his new album makes me emotional. Every time I hear, “Until the Dawn Appears,” my heart hangs on the last verse because without it the song would be only sad. Jones has a way of singing sorrow. It kind of seeps out slowly and settles in deep. The last verse (above) transfers all the sorrows of this world onto the shoulders of one man. One man who will bring the dawn that banishes the shadows.

One man who will never let me go.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy