singing catechisms

The cold blue sky hugged the red bricks of all the buildings in the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon in February. Our Friday sleepover friends had just left and Zella Ruth was tucked away for a nap in her crib. 

Pat rolled the rocking chair back and forth, back and forth… with a hiccup where it caught the carpet. And I was there – curled up tight in his lap, with my head tucked under his chin and with my eyes weeping motherhood. I humiliated myself into a little cocoon on his chest, folding all my limbs as small as they would go. I had lost something, something very precious, at the laundromat and that hiccuping rock let me forget adulthood for a little bit.

I wanted to blame everything – the laundry ladies, the drudgery of schlepping overstuffed clothes bags on city streets, the baby strapped to my chest, the postpartum stuff I still don’t understand – but I didn’t have the energy. I wiped sad slobber all over one of his zip up sweaters and listened as he prayed, feeling very like a child.

That was months ago, before we sang the Heidelberg Catechism on Sundays for Eastertide and before the cherry blossoms peak bloomed and then swirled down like snow. It was before my bit of breakdown that happened in the hours stretching between endless walks and goo-gaw talks and failed attempts to get anything done except answering “present” when Zella Ruth gave roll call.

Heidelberg Catechism

I relax into that spot on the bathroom floor – the place where I sit as Z splashes wonder up from her little whale tub. I am slow. I sink into her gaze, round eyes and wet hair stuck to her little head – shining little bruises from little bonks. She splashes again for my reaction and I answer “present” to her roll call – mirroring her chin down, slow blinking face. She lingers. I take the soft, red measuring cup that doubles as bath toy and pour warm on her shoulders. She shudders with delight and follows the water to the breaking surface, slow blinking wet lashes while the warm trickles off her fingertips before looking up for more.

I hum around a few bath songs and settle on a catchy little tune her Papa made up. I sing it softly, touching her little wet features as if this is the only thing in life.

I love your nose, nose, nose
I love your nose
I love your lips, lips, lips
I love your lips
I love your eyes and your ears and your tiny, little tears
I love your nose

She pauses, lifting her nose up so my pointer can keep time on its tiny surface. She waits for the song to cycle again, letting the faint sounds of bath water fill the empty space. I start again, tapping on that nose and watching her open mouth grow into a half smile. There are other verses, of course. Endless verses.

It is Pentecost now and the liturgical season is green – for new life, for growth, for Jesus. The season is green because Jesus is the seed God threw to the earth to be planted in death and raised in new life. And this – this throwing down, dying, and raising is my only comfort in life and in death. It seems so singular – so exclusive and definitive – to say my only comfort at all, ever, always is that I belong to JesusIf that is so, I must belong in a way that isn’t attached to postpartum or marriage or geography or accomplishment or feelings. I must belong to Jesus so deeply that I am not my own anymore (and that is a comfort?).

It sounds messy and untrue because my gut says that comfort is when I am my own.

Sometimes, Z will cruise herself across a room, close enough for our foreheads to touch and then lean in between me and whatever has my attention to say, “Ah!” With raised eyebrows and an open mouth smile, she declares with one word, “Here I am, Mama! You must have forgotten about me, but it’s okay because I am here! And I am wonderful!”

The truth of it was more ethereal and less tactile before Z was born. (Not my own, uh sure. Yeah.) This tiny human sleeping a few feet from our marriage bed (and needing me in the most complete way I’ve ever been needed) made “not my own” less delicate and more… more desperately tangible.

I do the same thing I did in singleness: try to claim that I belong, body and soul, to me. My comfort is queen. But motherhood has been an especially physical response to that tendency – in its denial of what I want to do.

I cannot understand her words quite yet, but it sounds something like, “Be fully present, mama. Be completely here. Look at me long enough to notice the hair swooping over my eyes and the way I can make a bowl be a hat.”

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. It’s kind of an updated Westminster Catechism idea called Christian Hedonism and it’s what I think of when Zissou appears in front of me thinking she is the world (Sidenote: she is only 10 months, so I realize this analogy unravels really quickly – like in a month or so).

Zella is teaching me how to joyfully choose to not be my own, to be satisfied completely in the Lord. She is teaching me that there is comfort in being present for the banal moments of bath time and the tender night cries of teething because this is the way of the Father. He came all the way down to earth to be present with us.

He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my father in heaven. In fact all things must work together for my salvation.

My truest and most enduring comfort is belonging to Jesus, the one who watches over me in all the ways I can’t watch over Zella. He is the one who watches over me when I lose laundry and when I can’t sing another made up song. He knows exactly what I need and then He gives it abundantly. He is the only one who can grant salvation with belonging.

You won’t find it anywhere in red letters, but I hear it in this season – I hear God saying, “Be fully present when I take roll call because I am here and I am wonderful!” There is absolutely nothing that is more precious or more important than being with the One who set you free, the One who made you so deeply belong that it is a comfort to say, “I am not my own.”

In the spirit of being present, this blog post took weeks with plenty of breaks for giggle parties on the bed, forts in the living room, catechism sing-a-longs, tongue cluck contests and sweet, singing walk dances in the park. My living room is currently in an impressive display of unkept and the bed is not made. Just keeping it real.

a study in abundance

Usually, when I talk about abundance I am talking about the kind of life Jesus came to bring.

I’m talking about overflowing cups and about grace that is more than enough. I’m talking about bust-at-the-seams joy and about delight that chases sunlight. Usually, when I talk about abundance, it sounds like things you want to have seeping out from the pores of your life.

Then I read these words from Francis Schaeffer in True Spirituality,

“We are surrounded by a world that says no to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by binges and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying no to things and no to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us.” – Schaeffer, True Spirituality

This is a different, empty abundance, and it is everywhere. I can literally think of absolutely any desire and then indulge at some point on my commute home from work. Feeling sad? Eat cake. Feeling tired? Buy a latte. Feeling lonely? Arrange a meet up with friends. Feeling overcrowded? Pick up takeout and watch netflix. Feeling poor? Swipe your plastic to prove you can still splurge. Feeling bored at work? Job search on Linkedin while in transit. Feeling achy and sore? Swing by the corner store for medicines.

We don’t like to be limited.

We want an abundance we control – an abundance that serves us and gratifies our petty, momentary desires. We want an abundance that tastes like chocolate and comfort and success. We want an abundance that never hurts, never sweats, never needs anything but our desire for more of it. We want an abundance we can control.

Schaeffer is framing a concept in the second chapter that makes pretty much everyone uncomfortable. He doesn’t even try to ease into it… he titled the chapter The Centrality of Death. He pulls us into a conversation about the real issue at stake as we try to live out the Christian life. He writes,

“It is not, for example, a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather that in the midst of the moving of life, surrounded by a world that grabs everything in rebellion, first against God and then against fellow men, we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves with regard to that which is not rightfully ours.” – Francis Scaeffer, True Spirituality

in the midst of the moving of life … we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves

Yes, it is in the midst of the moving of life that we get especially uncomfortable with denying ourselves. Because that is when we reach for quick fixes. We have a very real empty filling, but we would prefer to orchestrate our own abundance.

This really got stuck in my soul this week. I would like to think otherwise, but this is my story as much as it is any average New Yorker’s. I self medicate with coffees and chocolates and plans and hipster toys. “Death by choice,” as Schaeffer calls it, does not sound appealing. But, his encouragement is that there is no way around it. If we want the kind of abundance Christ offered, it will come by way of death.

“The order – rejected, slain, raised – is also the order of the Christian life of true spirituality; there is no other.” Schaeffer, True Spirituality

What power is there in being raised if we were never buried? What miracle is there in new birth if the old is still around? The Christian life is an everyday dying of self, an everyday denying of selfish desires. But the Christian life is also an everyday revival and an everyday raising.

My soul is looking like a seesaw over this truth.

I am learning what it means to die to self everyday so that I can live the miracle of being raised. That is when abundance starts to make sense – when you know what you have died to and what you have been raised for.

this ain’t no kind of religion

If it was, I’d be doomed.

If this life is about religion, I’d be zonked, smothered, shriveled, beat up, dried out, and downcast. If yesterday was about measuring up and looking good and doing right, I failed.

I thought a run would cure my sour rhythm, but right before I left I opted for the rollerblades. I wanted to feel the wind faster in my face, I guess. Halfway around Gray’s Lake, after picking up speed on the perfect slope, a very large and very deep pool of water stretched over the path. I made a last minute decision to go off-roading on the grass, which ended as quickly as it started – with me on my back.

I jumped up and blade ran (sideways with arms pumping) across the rest of the grass until the path was clear. I’m not really sure why I did this because blade running is not a thing. No one runs on rollerblades in the grass.

But when I picked up speed again on the other side of that pool of water, I thought about a conversation I had with a colleague recently. She said, “Yeah, I just get sick of some Christians in my life saying they want to do more Christian stuff. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just stop talking about it and live it?’ I mean, I’m not much into religion, but I do it 40 hours a week. It’s my job.”

This colleague is my favorite, but I couldn’t make any sense of her statements. I think she was saying that she does what Christians talk about every work week – it’s her day job. Apparently, there are “Christians” in her life who have less humanitarian jobs and they feel guilty about their efforts to better humanity. She’s not a fan of religion, but she does it pretty well anyway.

In any case, I was thinking about this conversation when I was rollerblading (faster now to escape the humiliation of my fall) when night was settling on the city.

And I knew that every doomed day would stay doomed if it was about religion. Even if we all worked in the social services field all day, every day… even if we helped a thousand zillion people because of our efforts… even then we would be doomed if it was about religion.

THIS IS LOVE.

Christ breaks through every day that we fail to “do religion” perfectly (and that’s every day). He sets us free from human measurements and standards. He invites us to dance unashamed because our freedom was purchased by His love.

In every way we fall short, His grace extends far enough.

Can you feel it? It’s like rain, this love. It falls on the mighty and the weak, the smart and the simple, the famous and the obscure. His love falls on those who wrestle in doubt, cower in fear, and push back in anger. It’s like a downpour, this love.

His love accepts our incomplete efforts because the only measurement is Christ. He accomplished everything so I could accomplish anything at all.

Thursday is a good day to get soaked.

a willing heart, still incomplete

I want a lot of things. No surprise there, I suppose. The intensity might change and the objects of my wanting, but there’s no question: I want things.

And sometimes I get what I want. I will myself to do what needs doing in order to grasp what was once outside my reach. Like the limes I picked up today on the way home from church – I wanted fresh limeade, so I willed myself to drive out of the way to stop at the grocery store. In awhile, after I type out this bit of inspiration, I will sip the limeade that was only a thought a couple hours ago.

But steadfastness does not work that way.

This morning, as we were singing one of my favorite hymns, I stayed on these lines when everyone else sang the next stanza,

Gracious God, my heart renew
Make my spirit right and true
Thy salvation’s joy impart
Steadfast make my willing heart
Steadfast make my willing heart

Apart from God, my willing heart is incomplete – left wanting a faithfulness that is beyond my reach. Often (ahem, daily) my willingness wearies and wavers and no matter how sincere my resolve, I fail and fall. I will never be faithful on my own. No matter how much I want to be faithful, it will always be just outside my reach.

No matter how sincere, willingness does not a steadfast heart make.

There must be something outside of my will and outside of my sincerity that makes me steadfast, because my attempts at faithfulness will always fail.

What grace that God takes our willingness and adds His faithfulness to make us steadfast! Though we fall and fail, our steadfastness depends on His faithfulness and in this He never wavers or wearies.

We come willing and God makes us steadfast.

The exchange makes no sense because it is no exchange at all. We come with only a faltering “want” for faithfulness, but in Christ God adds His faithfulness and our hearts can be made steadfast.

Miraculous.

Your words, my sight

There is a mother bird feeding her baby birds outside our front window as the owl down the street sings his morning song. I don’t have a song to contribute, but I do have one to share. This song by Kye Kye is called, “My Sight” and it’s exactly the kind of seeing I need to do today. It reminds me of Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

The Word can become to us a joy and the delight of our hearts! Through the Truth of the Word we can believe fully, trust deeply, love fiercely – because in the Word we see the One whose grace empowers us and sustains us and loves us with a sanctifying love.

If the song isn’t your style, at least read the lyrics today and be encouraged as God shows Himself faithful in His Word to be your sight.

Lyrics:
Thoughts of cloth that lay on stone (Jon.20:6-7)(Ro.6:10-11, 8:6 ,12:2)
I am watching a cross that bled
alone to be the only valley of trust and hope we know (Ro.5:2)
we envision that place then watch it flow through us (Ro.15:4 &8:24-25)

Your words
Are my sight (2Cor.5:7)

Trails we walk then see them glow (Heb.11:1)
we are watching a church that builds
and grows to be a lovely picture with frames that hold so close
(Eph.4:12-13) (1Cor.12:12-13)
we imagine that place and watch it flow from us (1Jo.3:2)(Ro.8:29 & 12:2)(Eph.4:15)

 

I am not the fixer: a repeat lesson on grace and faith

No advice is ever new. It’s all been said before and probably many times. When she was growing up, my mom jokingly numbered her dad’s talks. He would sigh deep and launch into a lesson on life and she would say, “Oh, is this #642?” Because, of course, she’d heard them all (hasn’t every teenager?).

Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat. I don’t know what number lesson it is, but it’s the one I need almost every day and especially on this day. A couple cases were just stretching my heart to breaking. I found myself thinking up ways I could make things easier for the kids and for the parents and for the transitions. But, it’s just all so messy.

Broken relationships, broken trust, broken love, broken houses. Brokenness can never stay as is without someone suffering payment.

When things break, someone has to pay.

I don’t have to tell you about the brokenness. You see it, too. Your best friend, co-worker, dad, brother, cousin, neighbor, step-sister… you are familiar with brokenness and you know its high cost.

I had about an hour after a meeting yesterday and before my nightly rounds began. After work ended, I would have another very difficult personal conversation about brokenness. In the middle of work and personal messes, I needed to remember that messes are well beyond my power to fix them.

I am not the fixer.

The very best way I can respond when messes make their way to my door or crawl out of my own heart is to seek the Lord.

So, I sat with my computer in my lap and read this little devotional from Solid Joys on Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” I needed to hear the lesson on faith because it rightly positions my heart to seek sufficiency where it can be found. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it before, my heart needed to hear it again.

Because I am not the fixer. I don’t have the tools or the expertise. I don’t have the right words or the right timing. I don’t have the power to mend brokenness or pay for its destruction. I don’t have access to that kind of bounty.

Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God. (John Piper, Future Grace p. 182-183)

Oh, but I love my Jesus!

In faith, I can believe that He is the same grace-giver today that He was yesterday, the same sufficient provider and the same bondage breaker. His resources never end. All the cost of brokenness that ever was does not exceed the payment of the cross. But He does not just make payment for all the ways we’ve been in wrong relationship with God and man, He restores us and renews us and revives us once again. The broken are mended and made new in Christ.

By His grace, we believe He is capable of this kind of miraculous mending. As often as I hear the lesson, I cling to the grace that allows my belief. Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat.

And do you know what He did?

As I made a mess of nightly rounds, a colleague asked me, “You seem different, peaceful. You kinda strike me as the tree-hugger type…”

I didn’t really know what to do with that, but it felt like he was making a compliment. He backtracked and danced around political correctness (ah, government workers), but I kind of giggled, “Well, I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do feel at peace.”

And then I explained it was because of my faith that I could have any peace at all. I thought that might be the end of it. Nobody wants to hear about “religion” these days, so we’re told. But, he did and he started asking questions. We were both a captive audience in that car and I knew the clock said I was late to my next two appointments, but I felt a very perfect calmness.

He’d been brought up Baptist, but then he got “curious” and frustrated with a God who required punitive damages – the exchange of hellbound consequences for actions didn’t seem consistent with forgiveness and mercy.

I’m almost positive he did not take a direct route to our destination and the part of me that was antsy about the time was won over by the part of me that was excited about his questions. We talked about sin requiring payment (from somebody) and the mercy God showed in giving the payment on our behalf. In our line of work, we are familiar with brokenness and payment required… but the miracle of salvation is that a third party steps in to pay AND to mend. And God is the only one with the power and authority to do so.

I prayed for him and his family all the way to my next appointment – that they would soon be numbered as sons and daughters of the King. And I breathed deep the grace that gave me faith to believe it is possible – for him and for me. This is a lesson I need on repeat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the long walk

Someone asked me if I missed Honduras the other day… and I still struggle to know how to respond. This life is a strange thing, isn’t it? Time passes and phases fly faster than your ability to enjoy rightly while you are inside of them, and before you know it you are talking about 10-year-old memories.

It’s so strange to talk about things as though they have happened in a chronological sense. It is for me, anyway. Because Honduras, college, Austin, Ames, Des Moines – these phases are happening to me and in me all at once, presently. There are moments when I crave people and cities like homesickness, but there are other moments when I feel like I’m walking inside those memories again – close enough to touch.

I don’t miss Honduras like nostalgia. I miss it more like… like wishing it was one my errands today. I wish I could hear the crackle of the loudspeaker announcing early morning produce for sale out of the back of a truck. I wish I could meet up for coffee with students this afternoon. I wish I could worship in the courtyard tonight with the most beautiful ragamuffin group I’ve ever met. But I don’t wish it more than I wish to be in the present moment.

It’s been a long walk of three years, my coming back Stateside, but chronology does nothing to help in understanding the journey. I’ve always thought it was so funny to want to be anywhere different than where you are. I get it, a certain amount of discontent stirs up healthy ambition and productivity, but too much discontentedness makes every moment almost unbearable.

Do I miss Honduras? I suppose the best answer I can give is this: I love right now. I love the way the Lord writes a story and the way He opens our eyes to see bits of the masterpiece. I love His sovereignty. I love that I can believe in His moment-by-moment provision. I love that He surprises us with gifts of grace that we would never imagine.

I love thinking about His delight as He watches us delight in good gifts.

I love right now.

I can not believe the blessings that burst the moments of right now. And even when belief is impossible, God overcomes to grant me belief so that He is glorified as a promise keeper.

In this moment and the next, God is accomplishing a work of grace that confounds the wise. And if His grace confounds the wise, I am definitely bound to a constant and glorious state of blessed confusion.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy