how to “do Christmas” like the little drummer boy

I am that little child with that flimsy toy drum strapped around his angular little boy shoulder. Come, they told him. The sticks strike that moon face, commanding air and passers-by to listen to the rhythm, the foolish parade of one. I am that simple, repeat refrain. And even then, he does it better. He found the drum and the sticks and the bravery to begin.

Honest talk, I’m getting a little worked up facing this blank page. I am sad for being gone, sad for not playing my song (foolish as it sounds), sad for hiding my gift under a bushel basket full of distractions – mindless social media and early bedtimes with a tired brain.

My wet mess of a face almost matches the mess I meant to clean in our apartment when Pat left with Zella two hours ago. I don’t know why, but imagining myself into the story of the little drummer boy is just so exactly where I am right now. I guess the small gesture – lifting strap over shoulder and calling on a hidden, inner repertoire – convicts all my defenses.

Whew, I didn’t know I needed this kind of cry – let me take a moment. Let’s all take a moment.

I know – it’s not technically Christmas music. But sometimes the song beating rhythms behind our ribcage isn’t jingling bells. Most times, in my case. The Advent season is not triumphant. It is precious beauty, but it is sad too. We are the reason Jesus came all the way down, all the terrifying way down, from celestial glory to stomachs growling and torrential storms. I am both loved by this act and reminded that there was reason for His condescension. I am the reason.

My proneness to wander so pressed on the heart of God until it broke Him and compassion poured out in the real life of a little babe.

 

Anyway, I salute you – little boy and your silly pa rum pum pum pum refrain. Thanks for being brave enough to bang on your drum and make a grown woman cry while thinking about it. Here is me striking my drum in your honor.

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.

a psalm for grief

What is this low, deep darkness –
where only apparitions play?
My hands grasp and find nothing;
my voice cries and the sound is soaked up.
Here I am! Inside the furthest dark,
and where are You?

O, be strong and steady –
do not disappear when I reach out
or go silent when I plea.
Be ever with me in this dark-
ever present in this death,
Be with me.

Restore to me the hope of resurrection
and the peace of a seated King.

You will not be shaken,
and You are keeping me.
There is no dark where your love is not light;
There is no light that is not yours.

I am found in You, my light
my home.


It’s been a while, but here are some writings as my family lives out the grief and sorrow of losing William. I do not usually write poetry, but this was an assignment when I was in grief counseling last year. I dug it up to help as I sit with sadness today.

It sounds too easy, too light and defined.

If I was a better poet, I would make it messy. I would make it say things like “wring the numbness out of me / and never forget to feel the pain of death” and “break morning light on this dark day to vanish the chills of night” and “wrestle and make my mind submit to a glory bigger, better and outside this pain”… or something. I would make it tangled and I would make it have the harsh sound of typing keys. click click clackety CLACK clack CLACK. The meter would feel staccato with something like a long cello line running through it. And the edges – the space around the words – would move in close to hug the anger out.

And still it would read wrong.

 

like a heavy raindrop on my soul

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

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

And I was not disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

free & unqualified

“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear His glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Yep. At the very moments when I feel the least qualified to do the work in front of me (waking up, working joyfully, serving, smiling, living), God reminds me that I am the kind of unqualified person who bears His glory.

But, I always end up talking about being “unqualified” when I am feeling especially humble or discouraged or low. Preaching “God is glorified in my weakness” kind of comes out like a statement Eeyore would make on a rainy day. It seems strange to praise God with hunched shoulders when I realize He is shining instead of me, almost like I’m giving up on getting my own glory.

Yesterday, in a conversation with a co-worker about circumstances we cannot control, I found myself saying, “…but there is really freedom when I start to trust that God has better plans.”

Really, self? Do I really believe that there is freedom in everything that makes me “unqualified” to do good work?

I suppose I do. But if that is true, then my being “unqualified” should sound less like defeat and more like victory. There is freedom in my own limitations because there is freedom in God’s power over limitations. I shouldn’t just talk about being “unqualified” when things aren’t working out/aren’t going well/aren’t progressing right.

I really do believe that anything good in me is Christ – any good I’ve done, words I’ve said, plans I’ve made – all of it is the abundance of Christ. Daily, I fight the urge to take back the glory, to appear qualified and equal to tasks before me. But that fight is unnecessary and it takes energy away from free, unqualified efforts. When I truly rest in what Christ accomplished on my behalf at the cross, I am free inside my unqualified life.

I am free to not chase glory or fame or fortune. I am free to not be successful. I am free to not rely on the praise of others.

the message of presence is not worn out

Every week of Epiphany season, I need to hear that Jesus is present – inside today and inside me and inside sunshine, storms, and celebrations. I need to believe He is present.

But belief is tricky.

Our “Yes, Lord” gets tangled up with our “Why, Lord” in a mess of circumstances. Even if life has leveled out and we feel good about our daily routine, career status, and financial situation – even if our questions and doubts are less about hardships and more about boredom or purpose.

Belief is slippery when things are going “well” and when things are not.

In whatever circumstance we find ourselves balancing our “Yes, Lord” and our “Why, Lord” – we will always have to answer the question of belief. Do we believe Jesus is present in the midst of it, whatever it is? I’d like to always answer yes. I would even say I am willing to fight for that yes – to fight for belief when I am downcast and when I am filled with delight.

Because belief is slippery, but God is not.

This morning, we read the passage from Matthew 14:22-33. You may know the story. The disciples get caught in a doozy of a storm, in the middle of the night, with no rescue in sight. Jesus had just sent them off in the boat hours earlier while he dismissed the crowds and prayed in the mountains. The storm raged the waves and the storm raged the little boat, but still Jesus did not come. In the fourth watch of night, Jesus appeared on the water and His presence terrified the disciples. Jesus announced Himself by saying,

“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

I love, love, love this. Because I am afraid often, in or outside of storms. I am afraid of taxes and of falling in front of subways and of wasting moments. I am afraid often. This morning, I learned that the most common command in Scripture is against fear.

I love that we are commanded not to fear by the One who casts fear out by His presence.

And Peter believes. He watches Jesus walking on top of the evil deeps and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” This is belief. He believed that the words of Jesus held power over fear and over the deeps and over the doozy of a storm. He is not free of doubt, but He believes in the power of Jesus’ word above all else.

Jesus said, “Come” and so Peter got out. Just like that. He put one leg over the edge and then the other. Or maybe he jumped. But, I love how simple we read the words. When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter physically moved from feet-on-the-boat to feet-on-the-water. This is belief!

What does it mean to believe Jesus is present?

>>It means I believe He is sovereign.
His presence – forever before and forever after this moment – is a proclamation of His sovereignty. When Peter stepped out there on the rumbly waves, he was saying that He believed Jesus had control over the wind and the waves and his life.

Life is ripe for adventure – for all the crazy, troubling, exciting ways Christ is saying, “Come.” When we believe He is strong over little and big evils, over little and big joys, we believe His sovereignty is more important than our feelings about circumstances. And we believe that strength is exactly where we are – here, present with us.

>>It means I believe He will hold me up.
Okay, so Peter was not perfect at believing, but Christ held him up. When the waves splashed at his ankles and when he started to wobble, Christ held him up. Peter believed in Christ enough to get his legs over the edge. He believed Christ cared for Him deeply and would keep His word.

I want to be held up and I want to need to be held up, because then I can know a more full God. I can know a little more of His power that I would never know if I stayed in the boat. It is good to be willfully in a place of need so God is praised for provision. In this case, the provision was life and Peter believed Jesus was able.

>>It means I will move toward Him.
I love to look at the movement in the gospels. The crowds come to Jesus, the disciples follow Jesus, and Jesus calls people to Himself. There is a movement of drawing near in the good news of the gospel and there is a movement in this life when we believe Jesus is present. As I believe Jesus is sovereign and able and good, I am always moving to be nearer to Him.

This morning in the sermon, my pastor talked about all Jesus’ miracles really being about the presence of Jesus. And I can see the beauty and weight of that statement when I think of the gospel moving today. Nearer still, my heart cries. Believe He is sovereign, believe He will hold me up, and believe He is calling, “Come.”

These are my Sunday thoughts, drenched in rare February sunshine and spread out over the full length of this Sabbath. The message of presence in the season of Epiphany is not worn out. It will never because we will never run out of Jesus.

claiming the abundance I cannot feel

This post is part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, scroll down to find out more!
This post is part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, scroll down to find out more!

I moved here in the sweltering heat of August for all the wrong reasons. Well, for the one main reason most rational people would caution you against moving across the country.

I moved to New York City for love.

It happened fast, but it had been building for something like 10 years so it didn’t feel completely irresponsible to fall in love with my best friend who showed up on my doorstep in Des Moines, Iowa after a year of not speaking to say “I love you.” (Yes, he led with that.)

The excited mess of planning over late night skype calls felt very silly and romantic. I flew out to visit and again for job interviews – a guest in his high-powered and hipster concrete city. I sold my car and purged my belongings, keeping important things like handmade crafts from high school and souvenirs from service trips. I finagled vacation time and work schedules and organized all the little roots I spread out in the two years of life in Iowa. I held my breath, quit my job, bought my ticket to La Guardia, and then found out I had an offer to start on the exact weekend I would be arriving in Brooklyn.

In March, it will be a year since that cold, brown night on my doorstep on Dunham Avenue. I feel pretty reckless and young and silly sometimes, but I am not a stranger to adventure. I chase it and it chases me, on the regular. That’s part of what makes Patrick and me a pretty perfect pair. We both love adventure.

But this is different. 

There is something very vulnerable about involving another person in my adventure – something unnerving about another someone walking through the good days and the bad days and caring which kind of day it was. I slip into silence often. I shake off questions I can’t give good answers to. I stack my schedule with good things. I slide into smiles when I can’t find anything better to do.

This year I learned I am picky about my adventures and selfish about how I would like them to play out. When I’ve had enough adventure, I want the freedom to hide away without anyone wondering why I’m hiding or where. I want to be reckless on my own schedule and I moved to a city where it could be done. Selfish recklessness. Self-centered, ambitious adventure. 

Sometimes, inside adventure, I am especially aware that nothing can be poured out from emptiness. No matter how many times you tip over an empty cup, nothing will always come out. Because we cannot make something from nothing, only God can do that.

Only God can take what is empty in me and fill it with abundance. But He is not just able, He has promised. Christ came to bring life abundant (John 10:10). God loves to give good gifts to His children who ask (Matthew 7:11), because He is the only One who can give good gifts (James 1:17). These truths remind my soul I cannot conjure up abundance on my own.

God promises to fill me up when adventure has left me empty and when I want to hide away. And I believe it. He promises that in His presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) and He will give us the desires of our hearts if we are delighting in Him (Psalm 37:3-4).

I can choose to believe the abundance I cannot feel.

And the most beautiful thing about abundance (apart from the miracle that it can happen in empty space) is that it cannot be contained. Overflow pushes out beyond boundaries. An abundant life reaches beyond self and into the lives of others with the good things I cannot own or create.

I am daily aware of my emptiness in Brooklyn and the emptiness of selfish adventure. But the bigger adventure and the greater delight is in adventuring while believing God for the next step. I can claim His promises of abundance when I feel most empty, because He is a promise keeper. He will not only fill me up, but He will overflow my life into joyful relationship with neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow adventurers. He is abundance and today I am believing.

Patrick is still my favorite person to adventure with. Heck, he is kind of my favorite person all together (I don’t know anyone else who would consistently walk me home at 2, 3, and 4 am). But this empty-to-abundance thing is something only God can offer and we both need that on a daily basis. Knowing and claiming God’s promises means I am not asking Patrick to be the miracle I need for emptiness.

Only God can do that.

I kind of feel like I should be in a good place, a better place, to write a blog post for the Skinny Dip Society blog tour. I should be more positive or more focused or more free. But it is winter in Brooklyn and I don’t feel those things and I refuse to be dishonest. I am in the place I am in today. Profound, I know.

Right here is a good place to claim the abundance I cannot feel.

I am a work in progress, but I am learning to believe abundance is something that can overflow every moment, even the forever winter Brooklyn moments. I am shaking the should be’s and the more of’s to believe abundance can happen here, where I am.

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This post is part of a series of 25 bloggers over 25 days sharing as part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, hosted by Katie Den Ouden. Be sure to check out Lauren’s post from yesterday, on Forgiveness, and Bonnie’s post tomorrow. Katie will also finish up a 21-Day Freedom challenge tomorrow, but don’t worry you can still get in on some of the wild and free action! Find out how you can enroll in her 12 week immersion program. She is a beautiful inspiration, so you won’t regret spending time checking out her stuff. You can catch up on the past few weeks of her blog tour–over here