an unexpected ampersand

I never thought Judi would be an ampersand.

A storyteller? Yes. An entertainer? Most definitely. An anecdote worth re-telling? Certainly.

But an ampersand? No. I thought she would just be a lady that led me into giggles in our prayer class on Tuesday nights. I thought she would just be the woman who sat by Barbara and said “what the hell” when she was telling the story about her class reunion. I thought she would be someone who sat across the circle and always raised her hand to add a comment about the topic or lean in with an “Mmmhmm” more frequently than the rest of us.

I have an affection towards ampersands (that little piece of font beauty that looks like & means “and“). They illustrate all the additions that are woven through the 28-year-old story of my life. I’ve collected quite a pile of ampersands and sometimes I try to just pick one up and marvel at the way I never expected to hold it.

I never thought Judi would be an ampersand.

But, then she took my hand and asked me to sit down next to her when prayer class had ended. She told me about the replacement windows she bought and the contractor she paid and the voicemails she left and the time she went to his house and “yoo-hoooed” inside his front door because a year later the windows still sat in her garage. She told me about his questionable health and stories and that a neighbor saw his truck at Lowe’s. She told me about calls to the lumberyard and the manufacturer and that the replacement windows still sat in her garage with winter approaching. She told me about the lawyer’s advice, the neighbors’ advice, and the carpenters’ advice. She told me all this without breathing much, but often asking, “What should I do?”

I fumbled and mumbled and blank-stared because I had no idea. I had absolutely no idea what to say or how to advise this sweet old woman about her windows. I found myself post-prayer class on a Tuesday night literally feeling like the only good piece of advice I could give this woman was to pray.

So, we did. We prayed last Tuesday that this man would return her call. We prayed that her windows would get installed. We prayed with the desperation of helplessness and then we kept praying.

This week, Judi came in with celebratory animal crackers to pass around, proclaiming, “Praise God, it works!” She walked up to me and said, “He returned my call! That’s our prayer answered!”

It took me a second, but when it sunk in I jumped up and squealed. Literally, I squealed.

The Lord answered our prayers for Judi’s windows and printed a bold, beautiful ampersand on my heart with her story.

I think I’ll need that giant carrying case – these ampersands are getting out of control.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

how does He love me? let me count the ways

Too much. Too full. Too wonderful. Too magnificent.

I don’t know where to put it all – the love, that is. It’s like I’m a bucket sitting under a faucet on full blast that someone forgot about. Except there is no mistake – no forgetfulness or neglect. The water running over all my edges is every bit intentional.

Maybe I can give a glimpse… a little slice of the millions of miracles that burst like the morning in my life. There is power in naming blessings, even if our attempts to name miracles make them sound like they are less than miraculous. May God be glorified by my grateful heart today.

You might read these and think, “I see a few things there I might call miraculous, but even those are stretches. I can explain most of these away with reason (or lack thereof) or chance.” To you I boldly say: “Friend, everything can always have a different ending. Always. These endings are miraculous because they happened when they didn’t have to. Join me in my gratitude or don’t, but let me know if your heart feels lighter if you choose the latter.”

I’ll start from last Thursday, just because this list must have a beginning and an end. But, I’d like to try to count the ways.

  • Praying with high school girls on the streets of Ames and sharing my heart for the harvest party on Saturday to be a time of love, community, fellowship, and blessing… and praying against the weather the meteorologist predicted because a fall party really must happen on a cool evening with the leaves dancing in a gentle breeze. (Miracle – ever thought that praying for miracles is a miracle?)
  • An impromptu gathering of friends to laugh and share and make decorations for said harvest party… which ended up also being a sleepover.
  • Sharing pumpkin apple pancakes with a beautiful friend while listening to her heart to love youth and grow in ministry… and praying again against Saturday’s weather, claiming clear skies with severe boldness. Miracle.
  • A volunteer on Friday with a heart of gold willing to share in all the tasks at work that drain energy from my veins. Nothing short of a miracle.
  • An afternoon of errands and baking and listening to the weatherman… and praying again against Saturday’s weather (tornadoes predicted and severe storms likely).
  • Despite numerous adjustments and a desperate lack of mathematical skills (one should not only multiply ingredients when changing a recipe, but also take into account the cooking method and container), chili for 40 was set to simmer in the crockpot and another pot safely stowed in the fridge.
  • A clumsy maneuvering around several kitchen mishaps (spilled liquid Crisco, sketchy ingredient substitutions and clumpy powdered sugar) still resulted in delicious desserts.
  • A phone call from across the world that came at the precise moment of baking, preparing, decorating, planning exhaustion when I needed just that kind of diversion.
  • The safe 2:00 am arrival of my Honduran sister and the hours of catching up that followed until we resigned ourselves to sleep at 4:30 am out of sheer willpower. Seriously, a miracle.
  • Baking pumpkin muffins early Saturday morning and filling the kitchen with the flavor of fall right before laughing every minute of a mile run for charity with a dear and silly friend who didn’t mind a threatening sky.
  • Sitting snuggled together in a wet stadium with family (new and old and adopted), cheering on our favorite team in our favorite colors at the 50 yard line. Miracle.
  • When we left the game, Alejandra and I had absolutely no idea where we parked in the residential area by the stadium. Not an idea. At the point of exasperation, we prayed. When we looked up, my car Eddie was looking back at me. Miracle.
  • Opening a trail of gifts from my Honduran sister that told the most beautiful story of friendship. Every card I opened had so much meaning and so much laughter. If you had told me 5 years ago that this former student would now be a close friend, I would have given you the crazy eye. Miracle.
  • Though the morning was full of rain, the afternoon cleared and cooled enough to hang lights outside and accomplish all our pre-party planning without any funnel clouds in the sky. Miracle.
  • Mulled spiced wine happened and it was just as delicious as I imagined. Seriously, that one is a miracle.
  • Invitations to +-25 people which read, “bring friends and a fall-inspired dish” draws the most beautiful and diverse crowd with the most delicious and surprising spread. The combination of people present at the harvest party last night will never happen again, but it was exactly the right and best group of friends and strangers. Miracle.
  • A sister who set up a photobooth to capture memories and laughter and stories like only a sister knows how. She knows exactly the kind of gift that makes the most sense to the person on the receiving end. Her creativity and thoughtfulness comes out in all sorts of joyful ways and blesses others like candy at a parade. Miracle.
  • Conversations with friends (new and old) that were just as delightful as the absolutely amazing spread of food. Moving in and out of conversations was a dance I’ll to any day. Miracle.
  • Flowers, coffee, and some of the best hugs I’ve had in a long time. Impromptu songs, piano playing, games, and the kind of laughter that makes strangers walk in wanting to be a part of whatever is happening (because that happened, too!). Miracle.
  • A gift that somehow appeared from around the world wrapped in all kinds of thoughtfulness, a card in the mail with sweet, sweet words of encouragement and love, hearing the voices of friends from different places and my niece say, “Happy Birthday.” Miracle.
  • Laughter is a category all its own. I could marvel at laughter all day if you’d let me. What a mysterious and wonderful thing it is to laugh. Miracle.
  • When the last person walked outside, the raindrops finally fell. But no tornados, no severe weather, no tropical catastrophes made a mess of the harvest party. Miracle.
  • Sunday morning coffee before college Sunday school class, where we thought about how Jesus stepped toward brokenness and evil and sin in order to speak Truth amidst confusion. Miracle.
  • A sermon that spoke to my heart – learning about friendship with God through the life of Jesus and understanding how that gives us a boldness that is out of this world. Miracle.
  • Sweet, uninterrupted conversation with one of my favorite miracles – hearing her heart and desire to seek the kingdom first and trust that “all else will be added.” Miracle.

Miracles, all of these.

My heart is full to overflowing with blessings and I know the Giver of all these gifts. I know the Maker of everything good before it was made.

How does He love me? Let me count the ways. Let me tell you all the benefits of having such a friend.

But, it might take forever. Just FYI.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

why a scrunched up nose is never becoming

Awhile back my brother said something that got under my skin. I mean, really got good and messy – hit a nerve I think because I flared up real defensive like.

He said he hoped I wasn’t becoming a cynic.

I scoffed and stuttered and scrunched up my nose in protest. Cynic? Me? The one who thinks optimistically about how many plans can be overlapped in one day and about how many grocery bags can be carried at once and that if you sing a song loud enough or dance a jig brave enough the whole world will notice? Me?

I didn’t take it very well.

He brought it up because I wasn’t really a fan of the newest social justice movement to hit social media. I wasn’t against it, necessarily, but I wasn’t throwing money in their direction either. The way I described it to my brother Sam was like this, “There are a lot of good things going on out there – a lot of people doing good. I just choose to support other causes.”

Recently, while reading “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller, I decided it was about the shape of my eyes and the scrunch of my nose when I look at the world. I would never describe myself as a cynic, but there are times when I look at the world like nothing is possible. Like we’re “headed to hell in a handbasket” and “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” – all the older folk, that is, who sit in the diners with 50 cent bottomless coffees and talk about how “everything’s gone to pot.”

Maybe that’s when having an old soul is unfortunate – when you feel like you’ve seen enough of life to know that people don’t follow through and good causes are corrupt and you can’t even trust your own resolve.

That’s when I realized the danger of furrowed eyebrows and a scrunched up nose. There’s no wonder in that facial expression; no joy in the possibility of ANYTHING being possible. The danger of furrowed eyebrows and a scrunched up nose is what we don’t want to grow up into. Because we never want to grow out of wide-eyed wonder. Never. Well, I don’t at least. I always want to breathe hope in with deep, lung-filling breaths.

I want to live like everything is possible – like one person really can move a mountain by faith or bring a rainstorm with prayer or heal a paralytic with petitions. I want to believe that God could paint the sky in new colors tonight and that tomorrow I could wake up and not need my glasses (I always squint like spiderman to see if I’m cured).

I want to live like everything is possible because a scrunched up nose is never becoming. It’s  not attractive to throw water on the fire in people’s bellies and I think that’s sometimes what I do with my scrunched up nose.

Today was gloriously opposite a scrunched up nose. Today FILLED to overflowing with possibility and I’m still drinking it in as my fingers stiffen with the cool, autumn air on the back porch. Today, my eyes were wide with the wonder of Creation singing the praise of its Creator while I breathed in deep so I could sing along.

I sent my brother a text the other day to thank him for calling me out. It probably seemed strange that it took me so long, but I’m thankful even if I am slow in learning.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy


Thanks, Amanda, for delighting my ears with this brilliance!

when the beat becomes the rhythm

I’m not sure what that means,

when the beat becomes the rhythm

but it seems like what’s happening to my prayers. I think I was trying to tackle 4/4 time –  to wrestle my prayer life into a disciplined and acceptable metronome pace. I’m not sure, but I think something beautiful is happening.

My prayers are sounding desperate.
My prayers are starting with, “Oh, I don’t know…” and “Oh, help me trust You…”
My prayers are getting frequent.

Have you ever found yourself bobbing your head to a song, without wanting to or meaning to bob your head at all?

Maybe there’s no disciplining or wrestling ourselves into the right kind of prayer life.

What if we’re drawn into the rhythm of prayer by the beat of our desperate hearts? What if, when we finally get good and helpless, prayer is the song we bob our hearts to in those moments of anxiety or months of indecision?

What if the beat becomes the rhythm?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

I’m reading A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller right now with a small group and loving the journey. I definitely encourage you to check it out.

I asked the Lord

Oh, friends.

What happens when you reach the end of your rope? What’s after the end – another rope?

Today, I’m asking the Lord.
Actually, I just kind of sat for a few minutes and let space pass between me and the Lord. I let this song do all the asking, because it seems to write the kind of lyric my heart is singing. Hymns pack a pretty hearty punch when it comes to expressing what feels hidden too deep for language. John Newton first penned these words in 1879, so their strength does not surprise me. What does surprise me is how accurate his description is (after 133 years) of the woeful condition of my heart. Even as I seek the Lord in earnest prayer, I often ask for what most benefits me – what most quickly satisfies or appeases or quiets or calms. I am earnest, but I am disappointed when what He gives is abundant in every opposite way.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

My conversation in quiet moments with the Lord that started with an honest desire to grow in grace and faith ends with frustrated confusion. God must not have understood – I wanted to grow in grace and faith. 

And here I feel, again, the guilt and weight of my sin – the hidden evils of my heart that lead even my prayer life away from the Lord. O, how gracious to set me free from self and pride – again and again so that I might seek my all in Him.

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

come awake in 2012

Waking up was hard to do this morning, but smiling at this golden beginning to a new year was pretty easy. Yesterday was an exhibition in overflow. Yesterday splashed like crazy with “my cup runnin’ over.” God keeps pouring more of Himself (Romans 5) out through His Spirit and I can’t help but burst with joy. The more the Spirit pours out into my life, the more overflows everywhere else.

.gelato and coffee and conversations with cousins, with the right overdose of laughter
.folding up into a perfect sized hide-and-seek closet, awaiting the spirited search and discovery
.the other side of sunset – the expanse of sky gathering up all the reflections and hiding them in clouds
.hay bales piled on top of hay bales and warming in the unseasonable sun
.car rides riddled with conversation with my sister, where our friendship is given deeper, livelier roots
.a NYE celebration with new friends who live spur-of-the-moment and believe that laughter can be holy
.neighbors with open doors and friendly greetings and stories to share
.sweet sleep in a warm cocoon and a dawn that brings a fresh start

overflow

The burnt, lifeless leaves sweep up into a circling wind outside the kitchen window and shake away some of the Sunday afternoon reverie. The chorus from this morning’s service seems stuck in my soul,

Christ is risen from the grave
trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

The bold dawn has cast out the shadows of this day, this year, this sickness, this fear, this life. We are living the already, not yet life where dawn claims victory over the darkness of night in prelude to the Forever song. Today is a post-Easter, pre-Eternity day where we can rise up from the grave of death because in Christ it has no sting!

Today, I’m praying my heart would come awake to God’s heart. I’m praying my mind would come awake to the Word. I’m praying my actions would come awake in obedience and my life would come awake in Truth.

I’m praying I will live 2012 awake, eyes wide open in search of blessings to name and receive and count and respond with a life of gratitude.

May you all be blessed in 2012 with awakened hearts and minds, that you would pursue the Lord with everything in you, knowing that He will be found by you.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy
in 2012!

the blessing and the mess of it

How is it that the political push for presidency has made a mad rush at the Advent stage?

I have friends – good friends of mine – who have reasons and schpeels and thoughtful arguments about who I should support in the next election. After being out of US politics for three years (not that there wasn’t plenty going on in Honduran politics to keep me occupied), walking around inside its borders feels like another case of the blind leading the blind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful.

I’m thankful I don’t have to worry if the policeman pulling me over is legit.
I’m thankful there aren’t men with large guns guarding every fast food restaurant.
I’m thankful I can open my Bible in a coffee shop.

But, it’s not perfect.

Liberties, freedoms, greed, possibilities, money, truth, defense, cause… sin – the blessing and the mess of it are mixed together like a good, Midwestern casserole and sometimes it’s hard to tell what ingredients were thrown in.

Reminds me of the human condition – the blessing and the mess of it.

We’ve got people occupying Wall Street because there’s a bunch of money they don’t have.
We’ve got people marching in support of our troops, who are marching in other countries.
We’ve got people rallying to bring those troops home – for good.
We’ve got people protesting abortion clinics and people protesting the elimination of them.

We’ve got a bunch of sinners in this country, can you believe it? I don’t know how that happened.

Wait, yes I do. And I know the way to redemption. His name is Jesus.

God knew, before the foundations of the world, that we would make a mess out of His perfect Creation. He knew we would kill our brothers and hate our neighbors; that we would spit in the face of His provision and throw away manna like it didn’t just fall miraculously from the sky. He knew and He still provided a way.

His name is Jesus.

Nowhere in history can we see a glowing story of human victory over evil. Nowhere in history have we ever been able to redeem ourselves or pull ourselves out of the deep, dark pit called evil with our own strength.

There is a way.

His name is Jesus and God planned that He would be born into the blessing made mess called Creation, so that He might restore us into right relationship with our Creator.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

God, come and be with us. Show us the way into beautiful. Come, disperse the gloomy clouds and put death’s dark clouds to flight. Bring the brilliant light of salvation.

Jesus is the only way to truly see beauty in the blessing and the mess of this life.