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.

you are not enough

What a funny word.
“Enough” means sufficient, even if it means barely squeaking by.

I wonder what happens when enough is a challenge. Are you man enough? Are you strong enough? Are you brave enough? Are you mom enough?

These questions issue a challenge to those places in us that can’t resist – those places in us that say, “I’ll show you…” in response. We might even get a little carried away in proving that we are, indeed, enough of whatever quality is in question. We might even, on the wild proving grounds of this challenge, reveal just how great is our need. Because when we start to think that our adequacy is found in what we do, we’re beat from the start.

We were never meant to rise to the challenge of enough. We were meant to see our not enough and recognize our need.
We were made to find our enough in Another who is always sufficient, always abundant, and always.

This little excerpt (thanks, Tim Challies) from John Piper’s book Pierced by God gives helpful perspective. I realize it’s a bit much for this morning, so if you don’t read the excerpt below, just know that you are not enough.

You will never be brave enough, strong enough, smart enough, or mom enough. You can’t reach down deep and muster up the willpower. It’s not in you. And it’s not failure to admit that – it’s just recognizing that you are not God. You are made to depend on God’s enough-ness (if you will) and bring Him glory.

We are not God. So by comparison to ultimate, absolute Reality, we are not much. Our existence is secondary and dependent on the absolute Reality of God. He is the only Given in the universe. We are derivative. …We were. He simply is. But we become, “I Am Who I Am” in His name (Exodus 3:14).

Nevertheless, because He made us with the highest creaturely purpose in mind—to enjoy and display the Creator’s glory—we may have a very substantial life that lasts forever. This is why we were made (“All things were created through Him and for Him”, Colossians 1:16). …This is why we eat and drink (“So whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”, 1 Cor. 10:31). …This is why we do good deeds, (“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”, Matthew 5:16).

That is why we exist—to display the glory of God. Human life is all about God. That is the meaning of being human. It is our created nature to make much of God. When we fulfill this reason for being, we have substance. There is weight and significance in our existence. Knowing, enjoying, and thus displaying the glory of God is a sharing in the glory of God. Not that we become God. But something of His greatness and beauty is on us as we realize this purpose for our being—to image-forth His excellence. This is our substance.

Not to fulfill this purpose for human existence is to be a mere shadow of the substance we were created to have. Not to display God’s worth by enjoying Him above all things is to be a mere echo of the music we were created to make.

This is a great tragedy. Humans are not meant to be mere shadows and echoes. We were to have God-like substance and make God-like music and have God-like impact. That is what it means to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But when humans forsake their Maker and love other things more, they become like the things they love—small, insignificant, weightless, inconsequential, and God-diminishing.

Human life is all about God, isn’t it? So, why do we love being enough more than the One who is enough? Piper continues,

Listen to the way the Psalmist put it: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes but they do not see; they have ears but they do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18: see also 115:4-8).

Think and tremble. You become like the man-made things that you trust: mute, blind, deaf. This is a shadow existence. It is an echo of what you were meant to be. It is an empty mime on the stage of history with much movement and no meaning.

Dear reader, be not shadows and echoes. Break free from the epidemic of the manward spirit of our age. Set your face like flint to see and know and enjoy and live in light of the Lord. “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5). In His light you will see Him and all things as they truly are. You will wake up from the slumbers of shadowland existence. You will crave and find substance. You will make God-like music with your life. Death will dispatch you to paradise. And what you leave behind will not be a mere shadow or echo, but a tribute on earth, written in heaven, to the triumphant grace of God.

In God, we find all our desire for enough so that our lives can be a tribute on earth to the triumphant grace of God. You are not enough, but in Him we have more than enough to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

more Jesus, less caroline

Today blusters. The wind rushes the trees and picks up crunchy leaves from ground that should be covered in snow. Wednesday is my morning for study and I’m glad I’m sitting by a window. When the books press my brain and my journal scrawls make no sense, I just look out the window and breathe in the gray of this day.

I have rough days every once in awhile – days where it’s hard to smile and a labor to laugh.  Last week, I had one of those days. A friend sent a text to see if I wanted to hang out and my response was, “Rough day. Sad. Need more Jesus.” She was sweet, even if I wasn’t making perfect sense.

Today is looking way less rough and way more beautiful, but I still need more Jesus. It’s so funny how I work hard to cheat myself out of joy. I fill up my day and scrunch all sorts of non-sense into spare minutes so that there is nothing left. I read and think and write and dance and laugh and sing and sound my barbaric yawp in the quiet community parks. …And I work hard to make more space for me and little space for Jesus.

By 9 am, I’ve sealed my fate: life abundant is aiming a little too high. There is just too much caroline going on to be distracted by Jesus.

Oh, man.
Jesus had something else in mind for my days. Something magnificent and unexplainable and bigger than minutes and bigger than the wind outside this window.

Jesus said he came to bring life and life abundant (John 10:10). The only way abundance is going to fit in my day is if I become less. The silly madness of it all is that my searching, loving, and longing for Jesus will mean the best and most JOY – not less. Though I pack my days (good and bad) with other things, only more Jesus can make my life overflow with a joy that seeps into the corners of my sadness and twirls in the spontaneity of surprises. Only more Jesus will make sense of my brokenness and the world’s failures. Only more Jesus will lift my spirit above catty gossip and exchange it for words of blessing. Only more Jesus.

I’m praying this will be a Romans 15:13 kind of day.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy.”

A day FILLED with ALL joy and peace, trusting in the Lord, OVERFLOWING with hope by the power of the Holy.

God LOVES so completely, so PERFECTLY, so winsomely. The wind blows and shakes the trees and I think…
How could I not want more in response?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

living in a miracle

I’m taking a crash course in living right now from one of the loveliest ladies I know. I’m following my textbook around as she lives and a more riveting account of a life you will not find.

I’ve always been told the best classroom is life itself, but I’ve never learned quite like this. This living autobiography dabbles in comedy and tragedy, philosophy and religion, history and modern culture. I’m flipping through pages like crazy in these days and overwhelmed that what follows is always just as genuine as what came before.

As we’re climbing over rocks or talking with protestors on the street, she’s not satisfied to accept an expected explanation. She’s a digger and she doesn’t stop until she hits gold, whether the topic is parties or pleasures or philosophies. And she doesn’t make things up, either, to make the digging easier. She does her research until arriving at a conclusion that fits the weight of the question and then she holds that conclusion humbly.

This girl’s life is not full of roses and robust resolution, but it is authentic (in the innocent sense we lost when “authentic” became fashionable) and it is teaching me great Truths.

Life is full of miracles.
Currently I’m living in a miracle called, “God transforms a life.”

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Who are some of your favorite teachers of life?