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.

we do the living

I’m early to work.

How often does one say that in a city that depends on an unreliable transportation system? Well… pretty often if you are this girl. I think it has something to do with my insistence in taking a different route every day compounded with the fact that I don’t conform well to the minutes on the clock. I leave when I’m ready and sometimes that’s well before I need to. And so it was this morning. But, I’m not bothered. I wonder how long it will be until I know the commute down to the minute, because then I can imagine being very frustrated when those minutes don’t work out.

For today, I am spending my extra minutes thinking about Lazarus as I read “Finally Alive” by John Piper.

In John 11:43, Jesus says to the dead Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out.” And the next verse says, “The man who had died came out.” So Lazarus takes part in this resurrection. He comes out. Christ causes it. Lazarus does it. He is the one who rises from the dead! Christ brings about the resurrection. Lazarus acts out the resurrection. The instant Christ commands Lazarus to rise, Lazarus does the rising. The instant God gives new life, we do the living. The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing. (Finally Alive, John Piper)

The instant God gives new life, we do the living. Now that is magnificent. That is life altering in the most literal, formerly dead sense. Though we have no part in causing new life to happen inside us, we very much are a part of the acting out of that miraculous gift.

The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing.

I may be in an early-to-work, commuter stupor, but this is most definitely the brilliance that was shining through the stained glass at my Broadway Junction transfer this morning. As the sermon from Sunday night is still marinating in the marrow of my soul, I am thinking about what the death-to-life call meant for Matthew.

When Jesus said, “Walk the same path with me” to Matthew, He was calling him out of a life of darkness and into a life of light. And Matthew rose up and followed.

He acted out Jesus’ calling by joining him on the narrow foot path. He believed this man as a result of the Spirit’s gift of faith.

And today, whether I notice the minutes passing or not, God has authored transformation as he breathes life into my bones.

And as He miraculously sustains my life, I walk.

I walk and run and laugh and dance and as I do, I stretch out the fingers of this miracle. Because I was dead but He made me alive and He keeps me alive!

O the deep, deep love

The words and bars and notes and very standard rhythm all drifted bigger into the center until the hymn swam in front of me last Sunday.

And now, mid-week, I’m remembering the blurry words all over again. I read this devotional from John Piper, “When Will I Be Satisfied?” because it was one of many emails waiting when I got back from vacation. I finally got around to it today and I think it goes deeper into the question I posed Monday night about bliss. It’s all tangled together, actually – the joy and the work and the sweat and the bliss. Vacations give time and space for these kinds of questions, I guess.

Piper reflects on John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” in these powerful statements:

If God’s pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating. No greater treasure can be conceived than the Son of God.

Did you follow that? If God’s pleasure (Jesus) becomes our pleasure, then our pleasure can NEVER BE EXHAUSTED.

Joy doesn’t end (vacation or otherwise) because Jesus doesn’t end. Isn’t that magnificent? You will never want more joy than is available, because the pleasure you find in Jesus is inexhaustible.

The joy is INSIDE Jesus and He is INSIDE us.

This is the greater depth I needed to plumb! When I came up and got un-swallowed from vacation bliss, I was revived to work with redeemed blood coursing through my veins. But that didn’t necessarily solve the joy question. Was my bliss sequestered in vacation – is it only there that joy can live?

Praise God the answer is “No!” He is not only my redemption, but my joy. The kind of joy that makes me dance on the beach and makes me dance in my car and makes me dance with my co-workers and makes me dance with the children on my caseload. THIS is the joy of salvation that David wanted to be restored to him – the joy that makes us dance through the work and sweat and troublesome weekdays.

The love of Christ is that deep.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

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.

standing, living, moving, being

I wrote a few weeks ago about the firm foundation that woos us many times into love. That foundation, the truth of God’s word, is still doing it’s wooing work today on my soul – gently shaking and drawing and whispering sweetness into this overcast Sunday afternoon.

I love the smell after the rain. I love to watch the earth drink up the Lord’s provision and I love to breathe it in. Clouds can seem ominous, but they often accompany the rain and they did today while I was in church. I walked out to puddles and gray skies and … that smell.

Before I left for church this morning, I listened to John Piper’s last message as Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church and this little nugget wooed my little wandering heart back into love with a fragrance like the rain.

… stop thinking of God merely as the foundation of the building of their life, because foundations are hidden, forgotten things. Foundations are taken for granted while people love the food of the kitchen and sex in the bedroom and the family in the den — too often the real gods of our lives while we pay token tribute to the unseen, unloved, uncelebrated, unexalted cement block foundation in the basement called God Almighty.

And my point was: God does not like to be taken for granted. The heavens are not telling the glory of God because he likes to be taken for granted. From him and through him and to him are all things, to be conscious, hourly glory (Romans 11:36).

I had foundations on my brain as I sped through a deserted Des Moines downtown. God does not like to be taken for granted. Yes, the foundations are the most important part of the house. Without the foundation, we could not enjoy dinner in the dining room or hide-and-seek in the attic. It would not be a reality because it would not be a possibility – the joy within any room is made possible by the sound structure of the foundation. But, the foundations are not visible, not recognized, not cherished.

Hm.

We read from Ephesians 5:18-33 in the service this morning because the sermon series is called, “Marriage, Sex, and Singleness” and Ephesians is one of the obvious texts. I cringe at the way I think I know how a sermon is going to go before I open the Word, like I think I can’t be wooed again. How foolish I am!

This morning, with foundations on the brain, I read the passage with freshly wet eyes and with a soul newly tied up in knots.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The pastor said something about Christ empowering “staying in love” and it was like someone crushed fresh herbs in front of my nose. One moment you have sprigs of rosemary or lavendar and the next the smell explodes into the air and covers your fingers, waking up your senses. I scribbled in my journal, Christ is not just the foundation of the house called relationships, Christ is also the air in every room. He is both the structure that makes each room possible AND the air that makes the rooms delightful and full of life.

The One whose love has miraculously stayed on us empowers our staying in love – our standing on the foundations and our living on top of them.

The scent of crushed rosemary sticks around and I’ve been breathing these truths all day. I had a 80 minute round-trip drive to an appointment today and my heart was churning up all these things. Along the way (while getting gas), I saw Tim Challies posted a new “Hymn Stories” on his blog about the song Rock of Ages.

That got me to singing and thinking about the architecture involved in the “cleft of the rock.” There’s a reason Moses was able to be hidden inside it in Exodus 33 – it was more than a foundation. In fact, a cleft is a space you can only squeeze into, covered on all but one side by craggy rock. This illustration of being hidden and secure in the Rock of Ages who both gives us the refuge and maintains its structural soundness reminded me of Christ’s perfect maintenance of His love. Christ provides the escape and then in His power keeps it secure.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4, ESV)

I hope I never roll my eyes at Colossians 1:17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” All things hold together. Every room built on top of every foundation and every breath inside and outside the walls. Everything we see and everything we don’t see is held together with the staying power of a risen King.

We do not merely proclaim the glory of a solid foundation. No, we proclaim the excellent depths of His glory as we breathe in the rooms built upon the firm foundation. As we play and sing and shout and dance and question and study and laugh and mourn and… as we live, we proclaim with confidence that the foundation will hold.

God’s grace empowers us not just to stand on top of a firm foundation, but to live and move and have our being.

The rest of the Ephesians passage from morning church is still swimming around in my soul, asking me to push the limits of God’s empowering my “staying in love.” The way that He has woven everything in life to reach for Him is more mystery than my mind can entertain.

And it is beautiful.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her bythe washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)

I’m breathing in deep the grace that empowers me to stand on solid ground… and the same grace that empowers me to live and to move and to have my being (Acts 17:28).

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

torn apart, You paid my price

I didn’t get to go to a Good Friday service last night.

I worked until 8:30 pm and then chased the last rays of Spring sunshine back to my neighborhood. I had my belly full of joy, satisfied with the abundance of His grace that carried me from Monday to Friday dusk.

The death didn’t set in until this morning and now I cannot dry my eyes. Jesus died. He was torn apart to satisfy God’s wrath and to secure my place of forever joy with Him. Jesus died and the next day He was still dead.

I don’t understand it.

John Piper tweeted this morning: “Still sovereign while dead. ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ (John 2:19)” What does that mean – that He was sovereign even while He was dead? How could my Savior die?

I don’t pretend to understand it – the mystery of it all – but I do understand this: my belly fills with joy because I am redeemed. I am set free by the grace of God as He looks on the perfect sacrifice of His Son that satisfies His wrath.

I am set free because my Savior was torn apart and humiliated in death to pay the price of my ugly heart. Today, I’ll let the tears roll because my belly full of joy came at great cost.

My complete and abundant joy was secured when God’s complete and perfect wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I don’t understand this Holy Saturday, but I do understand this: the dead weight of Friday looks to Sunday for relief in the resurrection.

Torn apart you paid my price,
The wrath of God was satisfied
I traded sin, you gave me life
My hope is found on Jesus Christ

“The happy ending of the Resurrection is so enormous that it swallows up even the sorrow of the Cross.” – Tim Keller

grappling with treasuring

This is not about knowing.
The very idea of treasuring is cheapened by suggesting it is only about knowing.

When the man found out there was a treasure in the field, he was not content to know about it. He was not content to go about his days the same, knowing what he knew about a treasure. He was not content to know about the treasure. He wanted to have the treasure – to hold it in his hands and delight in it. He wanted it so much that no sacrifice was too great.

I’m grappling with treasuring.

I know that I know that I know Christ is my treasure. The beauty of this day, the gifts of grace in this moment, the promises that make my future secure – all these treasures are found in the person of Christ.

Christ is my treasure – statement of fact. So, why is it so hard for me to say with certainty: I treasure Christ. When treasure becomes a verb – something I do with the benefits of knowing Christ is my treasure – I am not quite sure I am doing that.

I can’t help but think a child treasures best. When they discover something beautiful, they hold it in their hands gently and rush around whispering its greatness to anyone who will listen. Their excitement flickers across their eyes and the treasure goes everywhere with them. They present it to visitors, explain it to their parents (again and again), and hide it under their pillow so it’s the first thing they see in the morning. They might put the treasure on display, but it will always be within reach because even the sight of it brings joy.

This, this kind of treasuring is not merely about knowing a treasure exists, but about living like we have in our hands the source of all delight.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)

“Then, in his joy…”
This is what it means to treasure beyond knowing a treasure exists.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

If you would like to dig deeper, these thoughts came out of a sermon by John Piper called, “Quest for Joy: Six Biblical Truths” and I highly recommend you check it out!