“The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.”

I do not have comment wars here on the blog. I barely need to screen for spam because most of the comments are the sweetest encouragement. Yesterday, I read this comment out loud to friends and I read it out loud again today so the conversation could continue. Here is just a little snippet of what Lexi said, but you should definitely read the rest.

It is hard to put ourself second, or third, or ninetieth because of the fact that that is still ultimately where ‘we’ ‘I’ want to be. There is no complete Joy in the thought of putting yourself anywhere. You say ‘I love you’ to someone–or a thing– because you desire it–fully. It brings you to a place of desire for that moment in which you can speak to it and let it be known how you desire to be with it. You are not thinking about how much you are loving that thing– or person– more than the last- Or how well you are doing it on that day. You are thinking of it. Solely the ‘it’. It’s a longing–and it’s deep–and very very Joyful.

You are not first because you are providing pancakes (or your house) and the other is not second for eating them. You enjoyed baking them (or else you would not have done it) and the friend enjoyed eating them (because we all must eat and what better to eat than breakfast for dinner!) You both are at the crux of love in the form of friendship, neighborhood and company. It is in Jesus’ delight (if I may boldly dare to say what he feels) that you both are simply enjoying. The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.

Maybe I am chasing after “second” when I really should be chasing after Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). It seems like the life of Jesus was about the pleasure of His father – the joy always before Him actually changed the circumstances around him.

We never hear Jesus say, “I must be thoughtful about putting others ahead of myself.” He lived a life of love in all the ways He enjoyed pleasing His Father and we are supposed to imitate his life. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)

Sometimes I aspire to endure. I aspire to get joy by way of inconvenience and hardship instead of enduring all circumstances for the joy already set before me. Jesus longed for something that already existed (joy) through the grace and provision of the Father, and in doing so He served and loved well.

Joy is not something you strive to have, but something that happens when you are longing for something else.

Joy happens as we realize there is an eternity and that eternity is imprinted on our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Joy might happen when we see someone smile or when we hold a child or when we meet the neighbors or when we set a full table or when we walk around a rainy city all day with friends from home.

That’s where I was today, slopping around on rainy sidewalks with people I love. I didn’t set out to get joy or to be inconvenienced. I set out because joy was waiting to happen and then it did. We were a sloppy wet mess of joy soaking in spring rain.

Lexi’s comment yesterday made me think about the way I think about joy (too much thinking, I know). Or maybe it made me think about it less. Mainly, it made me admit that it is okay not to concentrate on inconvenience and hardship and pain as it relates to being first or second or ninetieth.

It is better best to concentrate on taking joy in what pleases the Father, whether you are holding a spatula or a fork.

———

There was another comment I read out loud, but it was because Sue Barnett, BA English thought I wanted the whole world on LSD. I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion, but you can read the comment at this post what if the grass was pink.

slow Sabbath

Today is a new day and today is the Sabbath, so it has two things going for it and the clock still says 8 am.

The Lord welcomes me when days have weight I do not understand.
The Lord is faithful and He is strong.

And today I will not pretend to steal strength.

Maybe if I start off admitting my weakness, I will not be so surprised when I need to lean on His strength. More than just admitting, though, this day’s beginning needs believing that it is good to not be God. It is good to believe God is completely and uniquely God, that all things rest on His shoulders and all things are held together in His hand.

“In our giving heed to God’s power there rises up in us a realization that God created the universe for this: So that we could have the supremely satisfying experience of not being God, but admiring the Godness of God — the strength of God. There settles over us a peaceful realization that admiration of the infinite is the final end of all things.” Solid Joys DevotionalGladly Not God

It is good to believe that being human is okay and even just the way God planned things. It is good to praise God for the strength it takes to hold the world together. And as I praise this God of strength today, I will not pretend to steal strength away because it never works.

Being human and weak is the only way we can rejoice in the freedom of God being God and strong.

In His strength, we are held up.

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.

chin up, child

I had been looking out at the rain because I could not wait to wear my rain boots. I was supposed to do laundry but instead I spent yesterday drinking french press in oversized flannel, making pancake invitations by candlelight and trying to forget that Monday is a regular work day.

By the time I left the apartment for church, I had forgotten my umbrella and my sense of New York direction. A hundred puddles and one wet coat later, I found the familiar old church on 5th and Rodney.

And not even cold, winter rain could keep the delight out.

Because that’s what happens when you meet with Jesus. It may not always look like bright colored bits of NYE confetti in Times Square. It may never look like that, but God promised delight in the flatlands when He promised abundant life (John 10:10).

Today is a regular day and I would lie if I didn’t say it was hard to get dressed in this routine. This is the flatlands, but there is delight hidden here. I’m going to choose belief all day long, going to chase delight while I run on level ground. 

Things and people and plans seem slippery these days, but there is one thing I can confidently hold tightly. The tighter I hold Jesus – the more I purpose to know Him and find out what pleases Him – the greater I will experience the best delight.

God promises to sustain in ways we don’t know we need, to fill in places we don’t know are empty.

Delight is something I choose when I believe Jesus is my greatest treasure. It’s something that spills over when I can’t hold the abundance inside any longer. Delight is a face I wear on the subway and in the office and flipping pancakes in my apartment. It is what happens when God meets needs I didn’t know I had and fills places I didn’t know were empty.

Delight is dependent on one thing: God being a promise keeper.
And today, He is saying, “Chin up, child. There is delight in this day!

 

lemme give you some advice

I know, you didn’t ask for it – but it’s comin’ atcha anyway. You don’t have to take my advice, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t.

Don’t ever (no matter how confident you feel or how cool you look), EVER point your rollerblades down the hill in the middle of the Iowa State campus by the MU. Seriously – don’t do it. You might end up with matching 5 inch abrasions on either thigh, a twisted knee, a banged up elbow, and a severely bruised pride. Yes, that happened.

Apparently, I won’t hit my humility quotient this month for quitting my job and moving across the country without a job or an apartment. Everybody needs a good spill every once in a while, even if just to remember that walking a normal straight line without a limp is a precious thing that should be appreciated. The wipeout was unfortunately epic and witnessed by several innocent bystanders. Don’t worry – I jumped up quick and bladed off so they didn’t feel awkward about leaving a struggling, crashed blader spread out on the pavement.

But, let’s get serious (because all my advice isn’t rollerblade-related).

I had dinner with my Uncle Tom tonight because I’m crashing at his house again – this time for just a couple weeks. It was home for a year, so living here again feels like putting on a favorite pair of jeans. Right now my favorite pair of jeans is literally soaking under an ice pack, so I’ve got time to process some of the wheels spinning circles in my mind.

We talked about belief tonight over drinks and guacamole and pizza and lettuce wraps – about what kind of belief pushes out fear and worry and anxiety and shame. Because we’re all believing something, Tom said, but we’re not all believing the right thing. And it’s true.

Only the right belief can displace all the ugly monsters wrestling for space in our hearts. Only the right belief is comfort when you realize all those catchy phrases your fifth grade teacher told you about “shooting for the stars” sound way easier inside the imagination station.

Only the right belief about who God is will give us the right belief about the power of our circumstances.

I’ve had my share of breakdowns. I am familiar with the questions that pound like downpours. I know the rhythm of a panicked heartbeat.

But there is hope in the middle and not just on the other end of all these wrestling wars for my peace. It’s never about getting over a phase or through a season or on top of the details. It’s never about any of that because it’s always about having the right belief about who God is in the middle of it all.

He is Protector.
He is Provider.
He is Comforter.
He is Healer.
He is Peace.
He is Joy.

And He is not these things only when my life makes sense – He never changes. If I believe He is who He says He is, then my belief makes room for joy where ugly monsters once wrestled for my peace. By His grace, I believe He is Protector enough, Provider enough, Comforter enough, Healer enough, Peace enough, and Joy enough.

He is SO ENOUGH that in this uncertain slice of August, the joy is bursting out my rollerblade seams and climbing into my borrowed bed.

He is that good. And He never changes.

I believe, I believe, I believe.

And my right belief about God is jettisoning my doubts as I pick up more trust in the One who overwhelms me with joy.

trying to rightly rejoice

My cheeks hurt like madness this morning and my sides a little bit, too.
And it feels like bliss.

Oh, I guess I don’t know what to call it. But have you ever looked around and wondered how things got so good? How did I find myself here – smack dab in the middle of a world of blessing? How did I end up with such joyful creases across my face and such painful aches across my abs. Several hours of straight smiles and laughter, I guess.

Last night, I felt the fullest kind of content… so much that I had trouble counting them out to the Lord in thanks. I hoped He could hear my heartbeat because that seemed to be making the most sense. After a LONG day of work, I sat with the greatest laughing companions and the scene-making followed us all night.

I forgot we were in a public place because our laughter was busting out the doors. From the restaurant to the frozen custard stand to our eclectic living room to the bike paths around Gray’s Lake – I kept wanting more of whatever was bubbling up inside of me. It wasn’t a wanting that came from lack, but a wanting that came from a glorious abundance.

Is bliss a Biblical concept? Is this the longing that C.S. Lewis spoke so fondly about in Surprised by Joy? Whatever it is that is churning inside my heart, it’s not of this world. I’ll tell you that. This contented, blissful, beauty is not something you can calculate, coordinate or capture.

I slept very little but very soundly last night after a day that stretched beyond the normal limit. I am (clearly) overwhelmed as I consider the beauty making itself known like the 4th of July in my life. I’ll be spending the next week “oohing” and “ahhing” at all the ways the Lord loves – all the beautiful, blissful ways that we can be content in Him and His glorious abundance.

I say all this gobbledigook because I am trying to righty rejoice. I am trying to breathe in the blessings slowly and then be a blessing with all the magic bliss brings. I am trying to rightly rejoice in the Giver of these good gifts.

Maybe sometimes right rejoicing sounds like smiles and laughter and contented feelings in my soul. 

all the million other reasons

My friend Nicole and I often recount the impossibility of our becoming friends. We love the silly madness of it – Nicole was looking to transfer schools during our first semester at Hope College and I was reveling in independent bliss with my new best friend Meghan.

Meghan and I were next door neighbors in the dorm and fast friends. It just so happened that we were assigned to the same Bible study group, where we learned that someone named Nicole wanted to transfer.

Meghan and I decided Nicole would be our friend, even though we knew very little about her. One day, we were biking from a football game and we spotted Nicole on the sidewalk. In our excitement, we fell over in front of her while trying to explain that we would all soon be friends. There are many surprising things – like that it was actually Nicole we saw (there weren’t many Asian students) and that she didn’t run in the other direction when we made a scene.

But we love that story because here we are in the present, remembering that first year of Bible study and the following years of friendship. Here we are, right now, playing phone tag because our friendship is the kindred kind.

And from such an unlikely beginning.

I have always recounted stories like these (it seems I collect them like kids collect seashells at the beach) and praised God for His sovereignty. How amazing that He cared about all the little details – all the punctuation in the writing of our beautiful story of friendship.

Recently, I rediscovered a friendship from childhood and I was praising God in the same way – expressing wonder that He would bless us in such an unlikely and surprising way. My new/old friend lost no time in being the iron that sharpens iron. She mentioned a Tim Keller sermon that had changed how she thought about unlikely circumstances in her life. Instead of thinking about all the reasons things happened for her benefit as God was writing her story, Keller challenged my friend to think about all the million little things He was doing in the stories of the people around her and in the greater and bigger story of Creation.

Think about that for a second.

God is, indeed, working out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But, I can only look back on my life and see the tiniest number of reasons why God might have worked the way He did. Naturally, we rush to explain that what we didn’t know then and do know now gives us a glimpse of His perfect plan. What about all the other hundreds of people who have stepped in and out of my little story… couldn’t some of the unlikely details and detours of my life play a part in their stories?

Most importantly, when we marvel at the way God is sovereignly writing the narrative of creation and holding it together in Christ, we must never be at the center.

Every unlikely detail of our lives followed by every unlikely consequence are sentences in a story about God’s grace and God’s love toward us.

His name and renown are always at the center of the story, even though we are the recipients. My unlikely friendship with Nicole might have started because our bikes tipped over by Holland Municipal Stadium, but there might be a million other reasons God started our story the way He did – for His name’s sake. I will never know all the reasons God blessed my life the way He has, but the little I do know has produced joy in overwhelming abundance. Maybe that’s why we don’t know all the million other reasons – the joy at His goodness would be too much.

Here are some reminders from Josh Etter at Desiring God that we are created, saved, and sanctified for God’s name’s sake.

We are created for God’s name’s sake:

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory (Isaiah 43:6-7).

We are saved for God’s name’s sake:

I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).

We are sanctified for God’s name’s sake:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:10-11).

joy blooms

My grandma is incredible at noticing the little things about flowers. She has a beautiful garden in her backyard, but she often brings in the blooms to set on the counter. She watches and often narrates the process as the bud breaks out into full splendor. I love hearing her talk about her blooming flowers, because that’s what flowers were made to do: bloom.

There are drought years and there are flood years and there are late years and early years, but the fact remains: flowers are made to bloom.

I think we are made for joy.

It may not manifest at all times in the very same ways, but God has designed us to enjoy Him. We are growing and budding and reaching for the sun as His grace builds the bloom, but it’s always in there – even in droughts and floods and in years where seeds are planted late.

We are made for joy and I’m not sure when we feel it more, when we are desperate in drought times or when we are displaying the glory of a full bloom. But it doesn’t really matter when we feel it, it matters that we are made for it – made for enjoying God.

The weight of this enjoyment is like gravity – pulling us ground-ward as we walk out life on earth, but lifting our eyes upward as we marvel at the power of such force.

Joy is in full bloom and I am made to display the splendor.

This is that post where I ask you to excuse me for being absent – where I tell you I have been living life away from my keyboard and I’m not sorry. Well, maybe I’m a little bit sorry because “living life” means I have a very long list of inspiration that needs to find its way on here soon.

What have you been up to, meanwhile?

raced the river

Last night, I raced the river (chasing the current like I thought I could catch up) with a silly smile across my face. The trees had shaken off the snow from the mysterious Spring storm and I shared the path with bikers, runners, dogs, and the most adorable lady with a walker. I threw my smile at all of them, giggling at the children who roamed unaware of the etiquette I assume is standard on any city path (don’t walk directly towards someone running in your direction).

I raced the river and caught several times on the breeze what C.S. Lewis would describe as “joy.” It was an excitement that fluttered with a “heaven-like longing” that cannot be fully satisfied on earth, but even the presence of the longing overflowed in delight.

Dr. Jerry Root explains one of the central themes in Lewis’s writing, heavily influenced from his own experiences with Joy. He spoke reverently in “Surprised by Joy,” his autobiography, about the brief passing moments where he experienced an unexplainable bliss and then was left to figure out how to experience it again.

Well, anyway… as I raced the river last night I knew I wouldn’t catch it. I knew I could not really take in the beauty of the cool early evening in the way I wanted to, the way the evening wanted me to. I think that was part of the blissful moment – knowing there was too much beauty to take in, even if I drank in every scene as I ran on the path.

So, my joy bubbled out because it couldn’t be contained. The river, the overcast sky, the families, the bikers, the little old lady with her walker, and the children wandering out into the middle of the action – all these very simple and mundane threads in the fabric of a Sunday night, but every bit a reason to smile.

Sunday evenings are great medicine for Monday mornings, yes? The scenes are different, but there is joy hidden in this day – the sunshine, the birds, and that crazy owl that is trying to tell me a story. I’m on my way to a staff meeting, but I’ll first be dropping off these little love bundles for “every day in May” creative challenge.

blessings, stamped and ready for sending
blessings, stamped and ready for sending

 

Death in His Grave

Whoa-oa. Whoa-o-o-oa.

Just a string of sad days here in the middle of Iowa and “whoa-o-oa” is about all I want to sing. It’s just not getting better – the circumstances, I mean.

The bad news just keeps coming and it feels like death. It feels like thick, heavy, black death.

Whoa.

So, how is it that my soul can again feel light and breathe freedom? Honestly, today I wondered. I was clinging to God’s promises through tears… but still clinging.

There was once a death that killed death. The death that my sin deserved was nailed to the only One undeserving of wrath so that the debt could be paid and I could be free. God sent Jesus to feel the full weight of His wrath and to embrace the full victory of His glory. 

Christ stepped into the place of wrath where we should have stood so that we can step into the place of light where He now stands.

Whoa.

God sent Jesus, who buried death in His grave.

Whoa.

I’ll sing when it feels like death because Jesus buried death in His grave and then He rose again.