hot pressure heartburn

It felt like heartburn, but I am sure it wasn’t.

The hot pressure pushing against my rib cage on Monday might be as close as I have ever felt to groaning with creation for the coming of the Lord (Romans 8:19). My body craves Jesus’ return as much as my spirit, and together (I think) they press up against my bones to remind me of my true home.

This week is about death.

Even in the triumphal entry on Sunday, we know it is death toward which we process. Even as we sing “Hosanna!” on the road into Jerusalem with the redeemed, we save our breath for the “Crucify!” in the center of the city with the masses. The true drama of the scene churns up this hot pressure heartburn behind my rib cage.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. This God, who loved the world so much that He threw His seed to the earth to be sown in death. The evidence is in the palms of His hands and the scars on His sides.

The resurrection is waiting on the other side like the buds breaking through dead branches and the sprouts peeking out from dry ground. Resurrection is hiding, buried safe in God’s plan for redemption.

This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called  children of God; and so we are. In this the love of God was made manifest  among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live  through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us  and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 3:1, 4:9-10).

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For  one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person  one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we  were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be  slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Passages from the Journey to the Cross devotional.

preparing for Passover

I was distracted because my mom was on the phone. One of us was telling the other one of us updates about our equally crazy lives. She is pulling her classical friends Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven out of the cabinet archives in the music room in preparation for a wedding this weekend. Meanwhile, she is preparing students to sing in state contest on Saturday. Nbd. She organized a women’s ministry retreat last Saturday and the awesome train just keeps chugging along.

Anyway, between her telling me she will be playing piano in a literal zoo this weekend and me telling her about my Easter planning escapades, I got off at the wrong bus stop. I spent the next 27 minutes walking instead of riding to home group, navigating strollers and long black skirts and babies/boys/men with curls swirling out from under hats. I was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and I did not regret one minute in the nearly Spring sunshine.

Passover is coming.

The boxes in Williamsburg have overtaken the sidewalks for several weeks now. Aluminum pans and serving dishes and mountains of bags of potatoes are crowding pedestrians space. There are mobile trailer grocery stores outside the regular, freshly stocked Jewish grocery stores. I walked my purple pants past the bustling storefronts and smiled at all the similarly dressed children on unadulterated parade, riding scooters and trikes and other wheeled revelries.

Passover is coming and I felt a growing anticipation well up from somewhere my commute normally cannot touch.

Our Feast of the Resurrection will be a different kind of Passover celebration, but those sidewalks were pregnant with a very similar excitement. And all of a sudden, my excitement got multiplied by history. The same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the same God of Mary and Joseph and John the Baptist; the same God of Matthew and Moses is the God who sent His Son to be our forever Passover.

Are you ready to throw a party that is unlike any other party on your yearly calendar? Even if it is a small and simple gathering, are you ready to really supremely celebrate the way Jesus changed history?

If you are in the area, I would suggest a walk around Williamsburg to get you in the right spirit. I might get off at the wrong bus stop a few more times this week…

near to Jesus

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion on Matthew 24:15-28 last night, I realized how different it feels to be near to Jesus in Lent.

In Epiphany, I was jostling with the crowds to get nearer the miracle. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, trying to decipher the beauty and mystery of the God man. In Epiphany, I wanted to be near when Jesus touched lepers and saved harlots and spoke beauty and explained Truth. I wanted to be near Him like I wanted to be near beauty and like a magnet He pulled my soul closer.

In Lent, being near Jesus feels different because it means walking with Him to death.

He is no less beautiful or miraculous or True, but it feels somber to be beside Him as we go. I know it is for me that we’re on this journey – for my sin and hard heartedness that He has to set his eyes like flint on Jerusalem.

But I still want to be next to Him and I only want to be next to Him.

That is the repeat phrase I heard myself say after we finished prayers and I started off toward home last night. All those street preachers are right, at least partially: there is an end to this world and it is serious business. And in the end, I want to be found next to Christ – tucked under His provision and snuggled right up to His beauty when all that is somber thunders down.

If Christ is the most beautiful thing when the world folds in on its own desires, then He is definitely the most beautiful thing about this Wednesday morning.

choosing Love

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Something about leaving my dentist appointment in Chinatown to wait impatiently for the J train at Canal Street with my large Starbucks and NY Times made me feel especially New York this morning.

It’s all a miracle – the dentist in Chinatown, the daily subway navigation, the insurance coverage, the dreamy roommate situation, and the two avenues between Patrick and me. These are all daily, mysterious miracles from a gracious God who sees me in the middle of all these city lights.

But, I have also felt especially Austin and especially Chicago and especially Tegucigalpa  and especially Ames and especially Des Moines in the recent string of years and God’s grace has pursued me in every location with daily, mysterious miracles. I have not found God to be less wonderful or faithful or beautiful in any of these locations, but more so.

My pastor recently shared a story about the first time he saw the mountains. After a long road trip with friends, he finally saw the sharp peaks stretch out into the sky and they were all overwhelmed with emotion. Words didn’t seem to fit the new beauty standing like stone giants in front of them.

And then my pastor asked if we should have a similar response as we step into a crowded morning subway car. We all laughed because that’s ridiculous, but then we all got silent.

Because if we really believe humanity is as special as God claims – that He breathes life into our bones and thought into our brains and movement into our muscles to give Him glory in a way the rest of creation cannot – then every human is marvelous.

People ask me, “How do you like New York?” And I promise I’m not copping out when I say, “I choose to love it.”

I’m not saying something between the lines or hinting something inside those five words. I am just saying that loving New York is a choice and I am honest about choosing it.

I choose to love the crazy crowds of people and the commute (a fight I lose on the regular) and the millions of possibilities for social plans and the red hot ambition of artists and entrepreneurs and Wall Street analysts. I choose to love my neighbors and my strangers and my friends. I choose to love the sunlight through my third floor window and our little house plants and the guys who smoke weed in our stairwells.

But, I am learning about choosing love and about miracles and about all that makes creation marvelous.

Because my arms have not been twisted into this love and my days are not full of resignation, though my writing might read that way. I wish you could stand in the kitchen with me on a Monday night or sit at my desk with me during a crowded lunch period or sing next to me in Williamsburg during Sunday morning church or stumble up the subway steps at Winthrop on my way back home – then you would know what a joy it is to choose to love this place, full of marvelous people God created with great intention and care.

I choose to love NYC because this city is lovely. Depraved and thoughtful and broken and inspired and lost and scarred and… lovely. Love here (and everywhere) is not an emotion I can muster from my heart or an action I can force from my hands. It is what happens when you stand in front of a breathtaking miracle (and a crowded subway of them) and let awe seep out of your soul.

Choosing to love is believing all that God has said about humanity, and then believing Christ (on the cross) overcame my every desire to live like the opposite.

getting near the glowing heart of the Lord

In a tiny Williamsburg living room last Tuesday night, we all stared down at the Mark 9 passage printed on our laps. After three readings, we talked about the transfiguration of Jesus over hot tea and no one had it figured out.

These men, the closest friends of Jesus, saw humanity in full glory and they were scrambling for the right response. I’ve been trying all week, but I can not find the right imagination to stand on that holy ground and watch as glory made Jesus glow.

But I am so thankful for Peter.

I think we would be friends, Peter and me. It would be a reckless friendship, but an adventurous one. I imagine Peter’s immediate response to set up a worship service with three tabernacles bursting from his hope to usher in the kingdom with the light of Jesus’ transformed face. In the middle of these glowing moments of glory, maybe Peter was grasping for the best thing he could think to do.

In the presence of Jesus, don’t we all do that? I don’t actually know what Peter was thinking, but I know what sometimes happens when I sense Jesus is near. I kind of hyperventilate.

I might be in a group of friends or about to take communion or walking alone between Bedford and Fulton. It can really happen anywhere – the sense that Jesus is present and His glory is real. I am sad to say I don’t feel it all the time, but when I do I immediately want to do something. And I want that something to be the best thing.

I get nervous and flustered and hasty. At the same time that I want to savor the beauty and miracle of Jesus’ presence, my heart swells to take part in it – to be swallowed up by a beauty that covers everything ugly and wrong.

I fear I will miss those moments – that I’ll arrive at 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old and think back on all the times I didn’t choose the best thing in the presence of Jesus. I fear I will look back and realize I didn’t have eyes to see the miracles or that my response will be clumsy and cluttered.

And then I think about Peter. And I realize it is okay to tend towards hyperventilation in the presence of glory. It is okay to not know how to do the best thing or to not know exactly what the best thing is. All of this confusion about my response to God’s glory is okay because the transfiguration is about Jesus.

Lent is not about subtractions and additions as much as it is about getting near the glowing heart of the Lord.

The fasting makes room for the feasting. The fasting churns up hunger for the feast and it is not about our response to the taste but about the food we choose to eat.

all the rightness I am not

The ash on his thumb was black and wet and when he rubbed it across my forehead I really did feel like I came from dust. The priest’s words, “From dust you came and from dust you shall return” felt like a confirmation of something I try to forget on the regular.

I was working late Ash Wednesday night, so I went with a coworker to the noon service at the local Catholic church. She knew all the right hand motions, so I just followed close behind. No one seemed to think it was weird to have a blonde-haired, non-Catholic stranger visiting their bilingual service.

And so the Lent season began.
Now, here we are in the middle and I am tempted to rush these 40 days.

If I am honest, I feel ripe for a celebration and that doesn’t fit with this somber, Lenten attitude. I crammed introspection into commutes leading up to Wednesday because I didn’t want to be hasty or thoughtless about this season. I fought for brain space between subway rappers and social media distractions because I wanted to be the right kind of prepared.

I don’t know if I accomplished all the necessary Lent preparations. I had some conversations, made some pancakes, heard some sermons, and sang some songs. But then that priest told me I was dust and I knew he was right.

And I knew I could never be the right kind of prepared, at least I don’t think so. God is just calling me to say “Yes” to all His rightness. My heart looks like my apartment right now – boxes and disorder and confusion – but I don’t need to get right in these 40 days or in preparation for them.

I need to believe Christ is all the rightness I am not.

I need to follow Christ into the desert, to fast from distractions and feast on the Word, because He is all the rightness I am not. He is all the order I cannot muster and all the beauty I cannot duplicate.

I was truly unprepared in every way for these Lent feelings. I am the wet, black ash smeared across my forehead and there is nothing I can do to get more right. But God, in His grace is all the rightness I am not. He makes a way for me to feast as I fast. He makes a way for the lowly and the weak to praise His name.

Whoa. whoa. whoa.

I can stretch into that kind of praise, with a heart that looks like a hurricane and a house that looks haphazard. I can sing this song with a full heart and know that the God who formed me from dust hears my humble song!