’tis so sweet

If my theme for 2014 is to trust Jesus in the flatlands, my prayer is for grace to trust Him more. 

One moment won in the flatlands rolls over into another moment in danger of being defeated. But we trust and we savor and we hope with eyes fixed above the moments, on the author and perfector of our faith who holds the world together – the King who upholds us with his righteous right hand. And so we can walk in the flatlands while our hearts are upheld to the heavens.

Yesterday, I tornadoed into the apartment after work to arrange my new griddle and make pancake batter from scratch. I used to think Pancake Mondays had to fit inside pinched pennies, but then my pastor funded my first week of maple syrup and I won’t go back. Hosting a weekly pancake party is now a priority and Hungry Jack/Bisquick is just not good enough for friends and neighbors. Pancakes from scratch with blueberries, marshmallows, honey, syrup, and fruit jams straight from my Gram’s kitchen for toppings.

pancakes
Pancakes getting golden while the apartment door stays open!

In the middle of the mix, I made plans with my neighbor Yeun to host a terrarium party in January. She walked through the open door in her slippers because she lives down the hall and I made sure to have the bacon ready (her fave). We talked about the flower shop where she works and about plans to develop plots in our apartment courtyard and about a potential secret roof party.

The apartment wasn’t full or crowded, but there were people and pancakes and assurances that Pancake Mondays is not going away. Because it is so sweet to trust in Jesus and I am praying this year for grace to trust Him more in the flatlands.

This is it – the everyday Mondays that everyone dreads and the inconsistencies of this city that keep anything from being regular. I will trust when it is awkward and when I am scared and when I would rather be inconsistent and illusive. And I’ll pray for grace to trust Him more.

photo

When the Rummikub game settled down and only a few people were left, we got stuck in conversation by the door. And when I finally closed the door to do the dishes, I remembered it is so sweet to trust in Jesus. It is so wonderful to take Him at His Word and rest upon His promises.

It is so sweet to be upheld by the word of the One whose words never fail. And so I’m praying for grace to trust Him more – with the little things like subways and the big things like my heart and the in between things like Pancake Mondays.

I’m praying for grace to believe that trusting Him will taste the sweetest even if everything else tastes sour.

Sing this song for the new year with me? Pray for grace to trust Him more so that we can live more extravagantly for His glory?

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Refrain

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Refrain

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Refrain

winter weight

Patrick is back in town and that means less time traipsing about solo and less time writing and less time sleeping and definitely more time smiling and laughing and feeling loved in this city. I don’t resent the trade off, but it makes keeping a consistent schedule a little difficult. It’s a good thing I love smiling and laughing and feeling loved.

And it’s a good thing that winter weight is not forever. I mean the cushion that forms from gingersnaps and pumpkin bread and sweet potato casserole, but I also mean the heaviness we drag around as we rush from event to party to celebration to gift exchange. Bake the cookies, make the cards, sing the songs, and tote the midnight-baked sweet potato casserole around on subways and to offices (where it rested while we ribbon cutted and grand ceremonied) and then finally to the party where I put it in the oven for the third time.

That was the day when I felt the holiday heaviest this week. I changed my shoes for the fourth time in a little cafe on a slushy street and the barista heard more than is New York appropriate – about my day and my work and my crazy New York life.

But I’m not special – everyone has a crazy life here.

Anyway… Before I changed shoes in that little cafe, I read the advent devotional for the day. It happened to be a reflection on Luke 1:38 and it happened to hit exactly where all my winter weight had settled.

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:38

Identity.

I was reading with a tangled hot mess of a heart – tired and frustrated and ready to be done being a trooper. In the middle of my heart’s tangled hot mess, I heard the kind of words that don’t change with winter.

Her virgin womb; her predictable life; her settled next steps—no longer hers to hold.  Maybe this would shake her??  Surely, there would be a crack in the commitment, in the promises, in the certainty, in the simplistic claim to be a follower—no, not merely a follower—but a bondslave, of the Most High.   This servitude is going too far . . .

What was never at stake for her was her identity:  she was, and always would be, the Lord’s servant.  Nothing had changed though everything had changed.  Even a visit from an angel could not shake this foundation.

All that was normal and known and safe may be shattered; but, her eye of the storm was this crazy certainty of her identity as the Lord’s servant.” – Shelly Cunningham, Director of Instructional Development (from The Advent Project)

If there ever was a reason to doubt your purpose or reputation or life trajectory, it would be the reality of an unbelievable pregnancy at the age of 14. Forget all those other plans and hopes and dreams. Forget all the regular stuff that happens at 15, 16, and 17. Forget the holiday parties and feasts. Mary’s identity got altered in many ways when that angel gave the news, but in one very particular way it never changed.

Mary identified herself as the Lord’s servant – before, during, and after the events that altered her existence.

Not a single slushy winter day can alter something that is carved in the Book of Life. Not a heap of tired bones or a string of sleepless days or a week packed too tightly can change a fact that is rooted in the soil of eternity.

God’s words are heavier than winter.

He speaks an identity over us that cannot be shattered or shaken. And that’s good because there are better people with more important problems and I need to know this about their identities, too. I need to know that the Lord listens and looks out for the hurting and broken and least of these.

The hurting and broken and ‘least of these’ are just exactly those who are looking for a Savior. And that kind of anticipation is what advent is all about.

find us faithful and find us ready

Simple prayers are the best because my words get in the way.

No one has ever accused me of being a woman of few words, though I have tried to be a woman of less. Maybe sometimes – no definitely sometimes – I complicate prayers  with too much vocabulary. I get flustered and the words fumble out sounding impressive or hollow or planned.

This advent season, my shoulders have a humble slump and it is making me appreciate simple prayers and spelled out liturgies. Because my words aren’t anything special, nothing revolutionary or new is streaming from my cyber pen. I am one in a million breaking winter silence with thoughts from my fickle, foolish heart. I join a history as old as the sun – a history of people who speak and explain and write and ponder. And we have many, many words to evidence our legitimacy… as word lovers.

I always wonder if we can come about true humility by way of humiliation. Can a person be truly humble as a result of feeling truly humiliated? No one loves humiliation. I try to stay away from it and all the rosy cheeked aftermath, but it still sneaks up on me with regular rhythm. I am always saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and both at all the wrong times. I know being awkward is all the hipster craze these days, but (let’s be honest) no one enjoys being humiliated.

And so my slumped shoulders find me meditating on the Messiah, knowing I am a little drummer boy with a pen and paper – standing at the entrance to the stable of my King.

I don’t have much to bring and even my words are weightless and wilty sometimes. What I do have to offer is sometimes the very thing that humiliates me. I am walking with those ancient wise men, following the miracle star to meet my Messiah, so that the Messiah can meet all my messes.

I lit the third advent candle today with slumped shoulders and a thankful heart, because I am not impressive and I do not have to be. The Lord was gracious to send a Savior, One who could handle all the words in the world – all the things we think we have to offer. I am thankful today to pray a simple prayer, believing God is the something special about advent and Christmas and salvation and redemption.

Christ is what makes this season glorious.

And my words cannot make more or less of that. So, I pray a simple prayer with slumped shoulders knowing the Lord cares tenderly for His children. He is gracious to invite me to worship at the stable and at the cross with my slumped shoulders, with my pen and paper.

Lord, find us faithful and find us ready. Amen.

getting comfortable with being ordinary

The oatmeal wheat dough is raising in the oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

It feels like someone just boxed my ears and if I knew who it was, I might just let loose some Scrooge on them. But, I don’t and that’s probably better. The upside of this whole sick thing (because there is always an upside) is that there is bread dough in the warm oven and I’m on my 13th cup of tea.

Making bread is a big commitment and probably why bread machines and bakeries and sliced situations are so popular. Who has hours to linger around a warming oven and who has patience to knead a ball of dough for 6-8 minutes? Few people.

And it might be easy to make assumptions about those few people with that kind of time on their hands – that they are smaller or less important or less interesting. Those ordinary folks with rugged hands and simple lives.

I’d like to be that kind of simple folk – just ordinary, you know.

I’m not saying I don’t want to be great or that I don’t want to pursue the passions buried in my gut or that I don’t want to marvel and chase dreams. I’m not saying that.

I just never want to make life more complicated than it was when God sent a celestial choir to a group of simple folks hanging out in the fields. These were the kinds of folks who spent long hours doing ordinary things and these were the kinds of folks God wanted to tell about the Savior’s birth. These were the folks who heard it first, in a glorious arrangement of God’s best choir.

Anyway, there are a lot of lights here – buildings and shops and trees lit up for the holidays. But the lights are always on and people are always working, always getting ahead and afraid of falling behind. The lights are always on and people are always looking for something other than ordinary.

I know I get sucked in just like everyone else. I want people to know me and like me and appreciate my creativity. But there is wisdom inside this slow day. And wisdom in an ordinary life, the most ordinary there is, that can point more easily to a Savior who makes all things glorious.

It was not the shepherds – their stature or accomplishments or reputation – that made that middle of the night song so superb. It was the Lord who sent the host of angels, the Lord who made the starry night display, the Lord who wrote the music and the Lord who directed the song.

Maybe if we can get comfortable with being ordinary, we’ll be more prepared to hear and listen and participate in what God is orchestrating in these days.

I’m going to go pour another cup of tea and see if I need to punch down the dough.

about hope

Hope is hard, sometimes.

But hope is what pulls our heads up from pillows and hope is what makes our footsteps to follow. It is what motivates us toward good things and what fills those things with joy.

The crazy hard thing about hope is it confirms that we are in some way lacking.

To hope for something means you do not have it and life will be better if/when you do. Every time we hope for something, we are aware again of our deficiencies. Hope means we are not self-sufficient, that we cannot manipulate the remedy of our lacking.

I am hoping for a lot of things, but today is the first day of Advent so I am thinking of just one. Because I am dreadfully lacking in every way – desperately in need for all the ways I fail as a human and for all the ways my willpower can’t fix those failures. Today, I am taking deep December breaths as my deficiencies rumble unsettled somewhere in my gut.

Jesus is my hope – a sure and steadfast anchor for my unsteady soul. He is the promise that remedies what I lack, my present and future hope.

Join me in singing advent songs as we hope for Christ’s coming, remembering again the miracle of the incarnation. We simply cannot remember it enough. Our hope is like watchmen waiting for the morning – expecting and anticipating so much so that the first rays are the highest delight.

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Psalm 130 ESV
5,6 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7,8 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

when you can’t get hidden enough

I don’t like people to see me when I’m out of sorts. I’d rather present a finished puzzle than dump jumbled pieces at someone’s feet, I guess.

But nobody is a finished puzzle and today I feel especially unfinished – especially jumbled and incomplete.

I don’t know what to blame, but I know there is a remedy. There are so many could-be culprits, but that’s a cop out and my heart knows it. Before I pull the covers over my head too early on a Friday night, I’m going to consult the shadows.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, ESV)

The words forming in my mouth hours ago were not praises or prayers because the tip of my tongue was too full of fears. I had shuffled my way out into the open, out from under the steady shelter and into the battlefield, unprotected.

It isn’t the city, though I would like to say it is. It isn’t the bare walls in my apartment or all the things I wish I made more time to accomplish. It isn’t the rumble of disappointment in my belly when I am not passionate about everything I am doing. It isn’t the bigger, nagging questions about living eternally significant days when I am anonymous. It isn’t any of those things, though they are the jumbled puzzle pieces I’ve got cluttered at my feet at the moment.

God is calling me and all my jumbled puzzle pieces under His shelter, inviting me to abide in His shadow tonight.

Any kind of shadow is exactly where I wanted to hide right around 4 pm. I started thinking about dark chocolate just after lunch and reached for jolly rancher fruit chews at 2:15 hoping they would tide me over (sidenote: never substitute anything for chocolate). I snapped at two of my favorite students and caught myself several times just staring at piles of papers on my desk.

I left work early in search of a shadow, any kind would do – something I could get behind or under – something I could disappear into would have been ideal.

I settled for some cheap chocolate at the subway station, a run in Prospect Park, some red wine, switched to holiday tea, then curled up for a doze and more red wine, but I couldn’t get hidden enough. I couldn’t find the right kind of shadow that would give the right kind of escape.

Then, this.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, ESV)

He who dwells… will abide.

If I dwell in the shelter of the Most High, then I will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I love that the fulfillment of this promise is wrapped in our obedience, though it does not depend on it.

God will always be shelter, but we must choose to stand underneath.

When we dwell in His shelter, we will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. His shadow is not one of escape, but one of refuge. I imagine the Almighty casts the best and friendliest shadow, like standing behind Sully from Monsters, Inc. – a shadow you are not afraid of because it means there is a friendly giant standing nearby who is strong enough to protect and preserve you.

What does my heart say when I run underneath His shelter, to claim the promise of His faithfulness? I suppose it says something like, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” And then quickly prays for more belief that these words are true.

Some nights (most nights… well, all nights), any kind of shadow will not do. My heart is searching to stand in the shadow of something more powerful than my petty cravings or fears or self-absorbed complaints. His is the shadow I want to get inside, so I might be found holding fast to Him in love.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:14-16, ESV)

always believing

We can be all kinds of emotional. All kinds – nervous, joyful, sad, fearful – all kinds. It seems like mine have run the gamut here in NYC. I can sink in sadness and in the very next moment be heaped in hope. They are all mixed up here in NYC; maybe emotions are mixed up everywhere.

But in every kind of emotion we must be always believing.

I think this is taking deep root in the soil of my soul these days and certainly as I read the lectionary reading this morning from Psalm 119.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart! (Psalm 119:30-32, ESV)

I love to read the conviction in David’s declarations, because I know he was an emotional guy and he had every right to be emotional. Chased by death and failing kingdoms and family matters and desert armies, David lived the kind of life that seemed to warrant fist shaking at the sky.

But inside his mixed up emotions, David chose the way of faithfulness. Because he was not helpless against the affections of his heart. David set the Lord’s rules before him and clung to the Lord’s testimonies.

In choosing and doing these things, David is actively believing that this is the best way to move forward with mixed emotions.

Sunk in sadness or heaped in hope, David chose to run in the way of the Lord’s commandments. I can almost hear the pulse of his feet pounding the desert path in the direction of the Lord’s commandments. It sounds strange, even as a word picture. Why would he run in the direction of commandments – in the direction of something that appears to fix his feet in one place? Why would David love the Lord’s rules that seem to restrict instead of set free?

Running is freedom, at least it seems so to me. It means throwing off hindrances and making steady progress in a particular direction. And David is running in the direction of the Lord’s commands because freedom gives birth to freedom. The Lord enlarged the heart that powered his running feet and with his freedom he ran in the direction of faithfulness. David believe that the Lord would keep His promises and that being near to the Lord was the best destination, the best lifestyle, the best routine – that meant being near to His commands.

David knew inside his heart of mixed emotions that the Lord’s commands were not a straight jacket but a mysterious wardrobe where marvelous things were hidden. David believed the Lord’s commands would grant him more freedom than anything the world could promise him.

The Lord granted David freedom to run and with that freedom, David ran in the direction of most delight – the way of pleasing the Freedom Giver.

I can’t imagine experiencing all the range of emotions tangled up inside David’s heart while he was hidden in caves or castles or closets. But I do know where he found strength when he was sunk with sadness or heaped with hope. He found strength as the Lord grew his heart and he ran in the way of faithfulness.

He chose to chase the mysteries of the Lord’s commands because He wanted to please the Freedom Giver… and because (I think) he knew that the most joy in this life would be found running toward and not away from God’s gracious constraints.

In every kind of emotion, God grants the grace that we can be always believing.