rain & sadness

The drip, drip, drop little April showers are finally ushering in a Spring that will stay in the city – I think. I don’t mind pulling on my rain boots in the morning or carrying around an umbrella. I don’t mind at all because there are bird chirps in the morning and sun shines behind the clouds. I don’t mind because last night I wore a dress without tights for date night and lingered over coffee on the Lower East Side with my favorite human after going to an event with only tourists in attendance. I don’t mind that the rain started when we walked home because he covered me with his coat.

Rain is also the most fitting backdrop to this week of lament, nestled inside the forty day reflection of Lent. I have a hard time knowing where to store all the sadness that weighs like literal weight on my soul. I am sad for my own sin, heaped on the back of my Savior. I am sad because my sin makes the cross a necessity. But heaped upon those heaps is a sadness for whitewashed Christian fellowship.

Christ went to the cross for that, too – for all the ways we fail at Christian community, all the ways we do not trust and obey.

I’ve been thinking about Christian fellowship quite a bit lately and then I read this today in my devotional.

The way of Christian fellowship is empathy, which means we must not assume that everyone around us is fine. In our conversations, we must listen for complaints and cries and help them become laments. In our gathered worship, we must acknowledge the hurting and leave room for struggle and silence. In our counsel, we must pray with and over and for the hurting. This is essential to authentic Christian faith: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

We are not fine, that’s why Christ had to die. In his death and resurrection, He secured our freedom but we will not be truly “fine” until we meet Him in eternity. There is struggle here and the Christian community is not a place to hide that struggle, but instead a place to share it.

And, maybe, it is our ability to bear one another’s burdens well that looks different to the world. Maybe our joyful suffering together is the kind of testimony to the suffering of the cross that this generation would understand.

looking for a pilot

“To lament is to be utterly honest before a God whom our faith tells us we can trust.” from Journey to the Cross, lent devotional

When I am utterly honest, my lamenting needs trustworthy ears. If I am going to tell true words – even if they are scary or joyful or heavy or childlike – I need to tell them to the most trustworthy sort. And this is my journey through Lent, toward the throne of grace with confidence to lay down the burdens Christ wants to bear. This week the theme is lament.

I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest. I can and should lament the stretching divide my honesty reveals – all the ways I am an imperfect human. But I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest.

I can hear myself giving encouragement about honesty to close friends, “If you are truly honest, though your sadness will be great, your gladness will be greater.”

I still think that’s true. We should never sugarcoat struggle or sorrow or sin. We should not try to “get by” with whitewashed smiles and mustered courage. We should be honest about brokenness and shortcomings and tired bones.

We should be honest because He is trustworthy and ready to hear the deepest laments of our souls. If you’re like me, the lamenting process will make you want to follow someone – it will make you desperate to be swept up into someone else’s plan, someone whose plan doesn’t muck up or peter out or fade to gray.

Lamenting my own depravity during Lent is like opening my eyes to find how far I’ve foolishly paddled out to sea in my little rowboat. And it makes me look for a pilot.

humility is a sly fox

I am very aware of the difference between true humility and humiliation. The former, a heart chooses in secret before the watchful eye of my persistent inner boast. The latter, is not so subtle and usually comes about because of unfortunate circumstances (see yesterday’s post) a heart tries to avoid.

We are never really humble, or at least we would never know it. Our boasting nature would not let that knowledge sit long enough for it to remain true. Even as I was reading about humility in the Lent devotional this morning, I was thinking about publishing this post.

Then I got to the end and read this closing prayer out loud.

Humble my heart before thee, and replenish it with thy choicest gifts. As water rests not on barren hill summits, but flows down to fertilize lowest vales, So make me the lowest of the lowly, that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. When I leave duties undone, may condemning thought strip me of pride, deepen in me devotion to thy service, and quicken me to more watchful care. When I am tempted to think highly of myself, grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy; Help me to stand with wary eye on the watch-tower of faith, and to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord; If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace. Keep me humble, meek, lowly.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.
The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, UK. 2003.

I almost didn’t make it through to the end because I started to feel dishonest. I prayed for grace to finish the prayer as I tripped over the words. Make me the lowest of the lowly? So that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. And the lines I will repeat to the rest of this Saturday:

If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace.

Humility is a sly fox and I won’t try to scare him out from hiding. I will just keep praying for grace to pray these prayers, believing that God is always faithful.

#callingmeout

Oh, hey Lent devotional on the first day of Spring. #callingmeout

Our consumerism is rooted in a lack of faith. We are worried about what others think because we are not convinced that God delights in us (Psalm 149:4). We are anxious because we do not believe God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:32). We vie for attention because we do not think God rewards what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6). We compare ourselves to others because we forget that Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). A consumer is self-seeking because he is preoccupied with building his own kingdom in order to meet his own needs. During Lent, Jesus especially calls us to re-right our lives, to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Spring is here, officially. That’s what the calendar says, anyway. I want so badly for winter to be over – to emerge from all the caves we’ve been hiding inside. But when I read this paragraph this morning, I realized winter cannot be the scapegoat for a wayward heart.

I am a worried, anxious, attention-seeking, comparison complexing, self-seeking consumer. I can blame it on winter, but I would be wrong. Because I can lack faith in the middle of the best blooming Spring the same way I can lack faith in the wake of a forever winter.

This is the beauty of Lent, in the “re-righting” of our lives, God invites us to believe that He is full of miracles to overflow every season. Every season, miracles. Every season, faithfulness. Every season, provision. Every season, righteousness. Every season, abundance.

Every season, always joy.

I may not feel like pastel colors and singing in the rain, but God’s offer of abundance is not based on my feelings or my willingness to accept it. God’s offer of abundance is based on His goodness and I am missing out to believe in anything else. I am missing out because nothing else will fill me up and nothing else will give an overflow I can pour out in service to others.

The grace of God turns us into servants. Instead of demanding that we be served, we joyfully lay down our rights and seek to serve God and others.

*Excerpts from this Lent Devotional, Journey to the Cross.

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.

expose the monsters

I lived three whole days yesterday, three separate and beautiful days packed gently into one late winter weekend Saturday. It started with an introduction to the best new neighborhood coffee shop and then an early meet up at the Hilton in Manhattan, included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a good sit by the river, a ferry ride back up to Midtown, laundry with the roommate, my first Prospect Park rollerblade, and it all ended with good, solid conversation.

Packed to perfection like brown sugar, I’d say.

The people in my apartment building probably think we’re crazy for rollerblading in the lobby, but I think they probably have amused conversations about it later (I take that as an “everybody wins” scenario).

The air is colder, but the sun is still shining over the little Brooklyn buildings out my window and I can feel the newness of today. I love the Sabbath because it pulls my heart like a magnet toward restful, quiet, deeper things. I resist often, but the morning is always the best time to get myself in the right current.

This is the second Sunday of Lent and I am meeting my monsters. You know the ones, right? The greedy monsters that hide in your gut or your mind or your wallet, growling to get filled on things that don’t last. I am meeting my monsters as I fast and as I feast these forty days. Honest? I want to give up and give in (and I have here and there).

I didn’t even do anything drastic, I am just that weak!

Getting empty like Jesus in the wilderness is not just a mental battle of self-control. Getting empty is asking Jesus with the rich, young ruler to examine my heart and then matching his loving gaze. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage and missed the way Jesus looked at this man before responding, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Jesus saw through all the ways this man had been filled by the world and then he looked at him and loved him (v. 21). With tender love and compassion, Jesus invited the man into emptiness so that he could be full to overflowing. It doesn’t make sense to explain and it didn’t make sense to the man who walked away with sadness like a garment.

Jesus wants to draw us inside this miracle of empty abundance. He wants us to expose the monsters hiding out in our hearts and feeding on all that is unlovely, because those things do not fill. Jesus is inviting us to get empty so that we can be full of a love that doesn’t rust or run out.

It sounds like a fairy tale and it isn’t in real life.

In real life it is hard, but very good and very right. In real life it is the current I want to get inside on this Sabbath Sunday. Join me?

honesty about sin means honesty about salvation

I read this gem in my Lent devotional this morning, from philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard:

“Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.”

I don’t like thinking about my sin, even though it seems I’m always aware of it and always fighting shame against it. But it is a private shame, one I push beneath workflow and to the corners of social plans. I don’t like that I stumble and fail and forget lessons I learned the hard way. I don’t like that I require crazy amounts of patience from God, as He reteaches my heart to submit and love and serve and obey.

But, when I finally speak my sin into the light I realize how much energy I spent keeping it in the dark. Not that my efforts to hide selfishness and pride can keep anything from my Maker (and, of course I know that), but shame is a great and sly motivator.

When I confess my sin, I distance myself from any identity associated with rebellion and lean on the identity of the One who saves. But this relief only comes by way of honest confession.

So many times, I will kneel in church or pause for prayer and search my mind for something to confess. Satan somehow clears all the sin I have been shamefully hiding and replaces that elephant space in my mind with silent whiteness. My thoughts don’t even wander, there is just nothing there at all. Later, of course, the sins creep out from the corners to remind me that I am unworthy.

My heart needs confession (honesty about my sin) because my heart desperately needs forgiveness (honesty about salvation).

There is just no way around it, but there is also no greater glory to be found. God welcomes our confession and exchanges us a crown. He covers us in His grace and grants us inexplicable joy.

He leads us like a shepherd and chases us when we stray. What a beautiful friend we have in Jesus, friends – that He would chase down a forgetful and frightened heart to offer perfect freedom from shame.

because we have song, they said

The birds sang all over my coffee this morning, through the open window by the fire escape. I wish I knew their song. It seems like creation doesn’t hold back or get nervous or feel awkward about its praise.

It’s just the song inside and the only way is out.

The sunrise and the starlight and the sparrows under God’s watchful eye, all just singing out the songs buried inside. If I imagined myself into conversation with the birds outside my window and I asked them why they sang, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if they would think me silly and simple minded when they reply,

“…because we have song.”

This is the only option, but it is also the best and I love that the birds know that, and the mountains know that, and the life inside dead tree branches know that. Creation sings without shame or fear, but not to get glory.

Creation sings because the Creator gave them a song. And when creation sings, the songmaker is glorified.

I have a song inside, between doubts and delights and deserts. But the song is not for me. The singing is not so I can hear my own voice, but because I have a song. This, so that God would be glorified and others would see that I am also a part of the Spring chorus of sunlight and starlight and sparrows letting loose melodies into the sky.

Happy Sabbath day, friends.

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!