above, below, within

It feels good to be tucked inside my parents’ country farmhouse, away from apartment supers and monthly subway passes and all the financial details about adult life I would rather avoid. It feels good to be under someone else’s roof, especially two someone elses who somehow manage to make frugal feel abundant. We feast and play and laugh and revel in holiday spirit and there is always something in the cupboard to throw into the pot on the stove.

And it has me thinking about living above, below and within my means.

I remember having a phone conversation with my dad after his first mission trip to Kenya. He said, “Caroline, we have so much here. We just don’t have any idea. We can easily live on so much less than we do but we choose toys and vacations and excess instead.”

That was years ago.

I am typing out this post today while wearing a brand new pair of ice skates my dad found at a thrift store. It wasn’t even a Christmas gift. It’s just because he is a giver. He could do a lot of things with the money he makes in his second (or third?) career, but he and my mom choose to live like he is still milking 50 cows. Because they want to be givers.

My parents will always be one of my favorite studies as I try to figure out how to be a giver. It really doesn’t matter what I am making or the bills demanding payment. It’s about a heart condition. It’s about being ruled by anything or anyone other than the infant King.

So, how do I calculate intangible glorious riches into my budget? How do I prize what Jesus prized and value treasure that does not rust? How do I make my bank account better reflect those kind of priorities, without feeling like my bank account needs to have a giant cushion between it and negative numbers? (Or any sort of cushion at all).

I’m not sure, but I want to be a giver.

I always want to have enough to add another plate to the table. My Grandma Avonell was famous for that kind of abundance. She never turned away a stranger or a neighbor from the heavy oak table that now sits in my parents’ dining room.

Add a leaf to the table and water to the soup, because giving is always within our means.

Feeling poor is hard and it makes my generation uncomfortable. We don’t want to struggle… but if we have to, we don’t want anyone else to know about it. In NY, we don’t want our friends to see our sparsely furnished, cramped apartments or notice our hand-me-down trends. In Iowa, we don’t want our friends to know we are still renting or without a retirement fund. Everywhere, we fight hard to look like we get to enjoy the things of people with means.

We want the instagrammed vacations and the airport selfies. We want the newest version of the riding boot to pair with our pinterested ensemble. We don’t want to struggle and, I guess, who would?

I’m still in advent mode, still reflecting on the miracle of God planning from the beginning of time to send His only Son to earth as a baby… to later suffer and die.

It was the most extreme case of living below his means. He was a king with the deepest trust fund, royalty with the most lucrative inheritance, but he was a helpless baby in a crude manger born in the middle of nowhere. And this was God’s plan.

God intended struggle and suffering when He emptied His Son of everything royal in order to pour out royalty onto an undeserving creation.

I’m trying to understand how to joyfully choose struggle and suffering with the small sum in my bank account. God was not stingy with the greatest treasure and He was not arm twisted into giving. It was God’s delight to send love through His Son. He sent Love out of His great love … and then Jesus struggled and suffered “for the joy set before Him.”

I’m not good with numbers, but this means conversation is a heart condition that I want to figure out. I want to be a giver when it hurts and when it is easy. I want to be a giver when it doesn’t make sense and when it is obvious. I want to be a giver when what I really want is to be everything else.

The heart condition of a giver is really about belief. Do I believe God is a Provider – in Iowa and NYC and in harder to reach places? Do I believe God gives good gifts to His children and do I believe He has already given the best and most valuable gift?

I’m praying my heart into belief – belief that above, below, and within is a conversation that is not too big or complicated for the Lord.

breathe, step, Christ

The evil pressed in, breaking the seams of a gloriously beautiful, blue-sky day. It’s like poison warring to claim a body fighting for life and health.

The parking garages are always dark and quiet and cold, but today my brisk step met sunshine on the other side of the sidewalk. I stepped out from the garage’s shadows and under a warm blue sky for the 5 minutes it took to get inside the courthouse.

And in those 5 minutes, I claimed Christ – one promise after another in step with the clicking of my heels. Breathe, step, Christ. Breathe, step, Christ. Into the courtroom I went and out of the courtroom two and a half hours later into the same warm blue sky. Breathe, step, Christ. Breathe, step, Christ.

The joy of my slow, pre-work morning was distant and slippery now against the evil pressing in on all sides. I looked up and warmed my face against the sun and let my lungs fill with a heavy sigh.

No morning resolve will last the whole day through – it’s not strong enough to overcome the evil. My morning resolve wore off about one hour into my work day. One hour and I needed another promise to battle and overcome the opposition.

No, the gospel is not meant to be taken as a one-a-day prescription.

We’re meant to drink it all day long – to be satisfied in our souls with the richness of His grace. He pours it out and bids us come and drink. Today, I needed so many spoonfuls.

There is so much evil that threatens to rob us of joy and strength and resolve. And if we’re not drinking in the grace God has poured out, we will take a different medicine and fear will be our portion, worry will be our cup.

As I was driving away from one client and before I drive to the next, I rehearse the moments in which I need to believe.

In pain, Christ.
In fear, Christ.
In joy, Christ.
In hope, Christ.
In trembling, Christ.
In love, Christ.
In grief, Christ.
In failure, Christ.
In heartache, Christ.

Every moment, Christ.

I am being sanctified from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18) as this very moment rolls over into the next moment. And for all moments, Christ is sufficient and abundant to pour out grace enough to fill my soul to overflowing. For all the promises of God find their “Yes” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Breathe, step, Christ. Breathe, step, Christ.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Morning devotions are not enough.

praise is what we do when…

This day is a doozy – a still-in-process and not-quite-done-yet, full on doozy.

This is exactly the kind of day that is in need of serious praise. On days like these I like to call in old standards. You know? The classic kind that just settles deep and reminds you that your heart cannot run ahead of the Spirit’s rhythm.

Actually, I think the reminder is more that I shouldn’t want to run anywhere but here – in the middle of the Spirit’s metronome, singing the doxology.

Because praise is what we do when we remember that God is faithful and true and a keeper of promises. Praise is what we do when we believe God is full of grace extending out and covering this moment as well as the next.

Praise is what we do when our lives try to run ahead of the Spirit’s rhythm because praise dances in step to His grace.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow on this, the second day of Spring!

let LOVE fly like crAzY

if, then

If the prayers of a righteous man accomplish much (James 5:16), then what are we to think of the prayers of Jesus on our behalf (Luke 22:31-32, John 17)?

Jesus prayed for Simon, as Simon was on the brink of denying Him three times: “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

It wasn’t instantaneous – Simon’s faith victory. No, it came only after Simon appeared to have completely deserted. But Jesus didn’t pray for Simon to instantly overcome his unbelief, He prayed that Simon’s faith would not fail. And it didn’t.

It should be no surprise, but when Jesus prays on our behalf things happen. Always. If the prayers of a righteous man accomplish much, how much more the prayers of a perfect Savior and King?

I’m just sitting here a little blown away this morning that Jesus prays for me. He is praying against my unbelief when Satan demands to have me. He is praying that I may continue on believing that what He has promised will come to pass – that there will be victory in this moment and the next.

If Jesus is praying my faith may not fail, then what delight I must find in persevering. Christ has prayed for my delight and hope and joy and treasure to be found in Him!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

thoughts to make your heart sing

“Why does God need us to make a big deal of Him?”

Just take a listen to this devotional (designed for tikes) read by the author, Sally Lloyd-Jones. And then maybe spend some moments thinking about God’s invitation for you into His forever happiness. Today, He is inviting you to glorify Him because he knows what your heart needs to be happy… Him.

Sometimes, the simplest lessons are the most affecting. The mature believer is not one who is found to be the most well-read in doctrine or the most well-versed in competing theologies. No, the mature believer is one found accepting the invitation to glorify the Lord, believing boldly while knowing it is by grace that one receives.

Paul Tripp says it better in this clip, “Knowledge Does Not Mean Maturity.” He is speaking to pastors in the ministry, but I confess my puffed up chest about knowing things and “academizing the faith.”

He says, “You can be theologically astute and be dramatically spiritually immature.” That’s a crazy bold statement and it hits hard with the growing number of reformed thinkers.

And that is why I’m drawn humbly into the pages of a children’s devotional – knowing that I will come before the Lord always as a child. I will always need more of His wisdom, grace, strength, love, and kindness.

And He will always invite me to shake off my pretenses and dance with joy, unashamed, in His forever happiness.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of Thought To Make Your Heart Sing and don’t feel like you have to give it to a little one, either.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

like wrestling a jellyfish

We were sitting around a crowded table at the youth offices with plastic plates piled with Abbey’s ciabatta pesto creation and various other potluck offerings. Our Bibles and devotionals and journals were all spread open in the mix of things and we were talking about how Jesus learned things. He studied the Scriptures and realized what it was He was supposed to do. As he learned, he obeyed by submitting to what was prophesied about Him. Jesus learned things.

Doesn’t that sound crazy?

It could have been all the banana bread baking or the fumes of a newly refinished gym floor a few doors down, but as the realization settled in, we wrestled. We tried to make sense of Jesus being human – learning things from the Lord and learning things about life that he didn’t know before. We wrestled through the possibility of another human obeying perfectly and submitting to the Father’s will. Yes, we know it’s not possible. We know that Jesus fulfilled the law. But, we thought about it. We wrestled.

And that’s when I looked around and saw that we were thinking of things, imagining things, wrestling with things that made our minds hurt a little bit. It kind of just came out,

Sometimes, when we seek hard after the Lord in Scripture … sometimes it’s like wrestling a jellyfish.

They looked back at me blankly while the picture played in their minds. I probably should have, but I didn’t take it back, because I really do think that our searching sometimes feels slippery and even that sometimes we are surprised by what we find. Sometimes answers seem illusive or strange and sometimes they sting. But, we’re drawn into that wrestling match because there’s something incredibly beautiful about knowing more of something so wonderful.

Yes, the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do.

But, until someone gives me a good reason not to, I’ll keep wrestling the jellyfish as I seek to know more about my Savior, to find out what pleases Him, and then delight to do those things.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

sought

In tenderness He sought me
Weary and sick with sin
And on His shoulders brought me
Back to His fold again
While angels in His presence sang,
until the courts of heaven rang

Something about being sought in tenderness.
Something about being shown grace and favor while sick with sin.
Something about the vantage point of His shoulders and the heavenly accompaniment that swelled.

I imagine when Jesus chases after those prone to wander, his pace is not frenzied and his voice does not growl. I imagine His eyes set like flint (just as they were for the cross) and joy filling the creases in His face. I imagine He knows just where to look – all the best hiding places and dark corners. I imagine His touch tender as He cradles the fragile soul in the arms of His grace.

Oh the love that sought me!
Oh the blood that bought me!
Oh the grace that brought me to the fold of God
Grace that brought me to the fold of God

Oh the love.

It makes no sense and I’m the more grateful for it. He sought me out in my favorite, darkest corner and then swung me up on His shoulders and carried me out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And with tenderness He sought me.

What a glorious and merciful Savior!

This new song by Citizen is a beautiful reminder of how we came to know our Savior.