Psalm prayers + silent Saturdays

I am glad for Psalm prayers I don’t write and for Saturdays where silence can really stretch out. I didn’t realize I was whispering at the bagel shop until the sweet red-haired girl leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows over tortoise shell Warby Parkers, “Sorry, hon, what did you say?”

“Um, ehm.. I’d like an egg and avocado…”

“Oh, you want number 4 on 7 grain? Anything else?”

I felt like a child whose mom sent her out for eggs and this redhead knew I was breaking the rules. But I just bought a Dirt Devil and I’m hosting Thanksgiving, so I read the [free copy of the] New York Times like I belonged in the adult world. I picked up a few groceries on my way home. And when I got home, I stayed. I baked and pureed pumpkin, hand wrote a few cards, made brown sugar+cinnamon+chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow, put away dishes and drank tea. (Okay, I also ate four Oreos but I did not feel good about that). At some point in the middle of the candlelit silence, I read this:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7 ESV)

And I breathed prayers without any new words. All these Psalm words are prayers enough and my words can’t get that big. My words can’t make heavens and my breath can’t make host to fill them. The waters ignore my commands and the deeps don’t respond. Only God can do this. And only God would want to cause this kind of creation commotion when He needs no one and no thing.

I feel very created today, very in my place.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

Why is the One who gathers the waters in a heap also my help and shield? And how is He that?

The radiator is hissing in the corner, sputtering like antique apartment heaters do. It feels selfish to stay indoors, but I don’t feel well and I can’t remember the last day when I didn’t have plans. I suppose that is an excuse. Scripture needs silent space and time. I came to no conclusions and wrote no prayers; I don’t feel better or wiser. But I am remembering. I remember who the Lord says that He is. And I remember that I trust Him.

I trust that He is God and He has not given up on His redemption plan. He is very much in the middle of making all things new – old things and dead things and dry bones and this old, stubborn heart.

I’ve been a lot of inward lately. Last week, I was walking out of the subway after a frustrating stop-and-go “We are delayed because of train traffic ahead. We apologize for any inconvenience” situations. I was bundled and hunched and leaving sighs on the sidewalk when someone touched my arm and pulled me close. Patrick was leaving to go to work, but caught me just in time to say, “Hey, I love you.” I hoped that he couldn’t see all the self-pity in my face because the streetlight lit up his and it was full of the best husband love.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1 ESV)

Sometimes living is labor. I don’t mean working the 9-5. I mean just living. I let Psalm 127:1 sing over some of the silence today until it felt like my deeps started to listen.

And I remember. Unless the Lord builds the house (read: plans, days, vocation, prayer, family, community), I will labor in vain. My building efforts end up being for my own glory or my own preservation or my own pride. But, the Lord – He is a great builder and none of His plans go to waste. None.

It is still Saturday and there is a bit of it left to savor.


To read more from my grief journey, you can find those posts here.

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.

have you ever seen a tree dance?

Psalm 1 is one of my favorite word pictures in the Bible. Trees are a reminder of what happens when the Lord provides – the deep roots, lush leaves, and sprawling canopy flourish because of the Lord’s care.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1, ESV)

But every analogy has something in common: a limit.

A tree is inadequate to describe what we are completely “like” as we follow the Lord. As we move from one degree of holy to the next, we are not just rooted deep in the ground and stretched out to bear fruit. A tree as a picture of our sanctification is limited, even if it is a tree that prospers in and out of season and whose leaf does not wither.

Our Christian life is “like a tree,” but it is also more than this. We are rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17-19) but we have also inside of us the brilliant excitement that caused David to dance with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14). We have access to abundant life (John 10:10) in Christ, the kind that makes us want to sing and praise and laugh and shout (Acts 16:25, Psalm 98:4, Psalm 47).

Yes, loving the Lord and growing in this love means being like a tree, but it also means being like the bride and groom at the wedding I went to yesterday.

His gleeful squeals with outstretched arms and smile-covered face looked nothing like a tree. He was not composed and stately. He was drowning in joy and his bride was radiant with expectation. They were both very un-tree like when they bounded down the aisle after the “Mr. and Mrs. Groves” announcement and jumped into the air under the cloudy sky.

Their joy spilled out… it got into our hearts as we watched them celebrate. The love that was rooted and established in their identity as children of God was now displayed in their commitment to one another as united by God.

I have never seen trees dance.

have seen the glory of the Lord spilling over our ability to describe it. Yesterday, watching Riley and Brooke get married, was one of those times.

 

remembering the rhythm of Truth

I’m giving myself 15 minutes to write before I run this rhythm out. I somehow got in a sour mood today, is all. One of the little ones must have sensed it because my last appointment said, “Would you maybe wanna rap?” Apparently, she associates my rapping with my good moods… and I wasn’t in one.

We’re learning a new song in my car these days. It goes like this:

My God is so great,
so strong and so mighty
there’s nothing my God cannot do!

The mountains are His,
the valleys are His,
the skies are His handiwork too!

Naturally, it’s the song on repeat with the little ones and it’s all acapella. We mostly sing/shout it and today I was sing/shouting through the motions because I felt sour. When my last appointment asked me, “Would you maybe wanna rap?” I kind of snapped out of my stupor (for a minute at least) because the song needed a rap bridge and she knew it.

I realized anxiety had crawled inside and knotted all my muscles, so I was singing with furrowed brows. That’s no way to sing and she must have noticed. I can’t tell you which detail it was that really got under my skin, but I can tell you the bunch of them together was too much. I packed in too many visits and emails and reports and there weren’t enough minutes.

Have you ever felt like you ran through a day with shoes a couple sizes too big? Well, today was like a size 10 and I wear a size 6 (and I’m pretty clumsy wearing a 6). I looked like a clown and it all ended with my furrowed brow and this slump of a sour mood.

As fast-paced as I profess to be, I need a good bit of slow moving so my heart can catch up with my head (or the other way around, I’m not sure). I need to make my heart beat to the rhythm of Truth so my actions dance to the same beat. And this rhythm is never four sizes too big – it’s never out of reach or out of sight. The rhythm of Truth is as simple as two verses in a children’s song.

“My God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him.”
(Psalm 115:3)
“For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”
(Psalm 50:10)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,”
Matthew 10:29-32

I gotta go shake off this sour rhythm and remember what Truth feels like – pray I find it on the running path.

letting the light in

I’m not a photographer, not even close and not even pretend. But, I know a few and they love the light. And natural light is the best. If a photo can capture something illuminated by creation’s own lighting set-up, it will succeed in reaching outside its two dimensions.

I love the light, too, even though I probably don’t understand it like a photographer might. I love the way it scatters darkness. I love the way it makes things visible. I love the way it reveals paths and obstacles and backyard barbecues. I love the way light streams through our front windows and the way it warms the pavement.

I love the light.

But, light is impartial in its exposing, relentless in its illuminating. When light chases away the shadows from the corners of rooms, it reveals neglected spaces where dirt and clutter collect. Light stretches its bright fingers to reach those places you’re able to ignore in the dark.

And it’s harder to love light when you are staring at the dirt and clutter that has collected in the shadows. It makes pulling the shades back feel… risky. It makes sitting in the dark feel… safe. It’s harder to love light when you know it will reveal the bad with the good, when you know it will reveal your own failures and inconsistencies and fears.

It’s hard, but not impossible.

Because we serve a God who is sovereign over ever possibility.

Before the light reaches the darkest corners of our hearts, God knows what will be found. He knows the impossibility of human failures and inconsistencies and fears, and still He promises the light will show Him to be good (Psalm 34:8). And not good in the “I had a good day” sense, but good in the ultimate and eternally satisfying sense. The kind of good God meant when He looked at creation and said, “This is very good.”

Our exposure is our freedom. In the shadows, we are deceived into thinking that some things are too awful to see the light, too shameful. But, God promises that as children of light, we will revel in what is good and right and true and partner with him in His exposing work. In His light we see the light and reflect the light and delight in the light. See, reflect, delight.

It’s hard to let the light reach the corners, maybe sometimes it even feels impossible. But God is not constrained by possibilities. He delights in showing us all the ways He can write an unconventional story for His name’s sake.

By grace He exposes all the things we hide, grants us freedom from shame, and then invites us into a lovelit dance that exposes the neglected corners of our workplaces, coffeeshops, and city streets.

Are you going to let the light in today?

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitfulworks of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:6-21, ESV)

satisfied

Can winter really steal some of Spring’s joy?

Sometimes we have to claim Spring (for our souls) by squaring our shoulders and telling winter’s chill that a seed planted grows and blooms. We say it not to make it so, but to believe it true.

Have you ever done that?

Have you ever said something you believe is true, desperately hoping that what you believe is, indeed, true?

Like, maybe, “Lord, you are enough.” And as you are saying the words you are believing them… but you are also throwing all your hope at the Lord to make good on His promise to be enough.

In the face of an unlikely winter day in the middle of Spring, sometimes we just have to say, “I am satisfied in You” over and over again until our belief becomes our delight.