watch over us

In the past couple days, I have:

  • eaten a bag of popcorn for lunch
  • stood out on my fire escape in a snowstorm (a very underwhelming one)
  • used the mom voice to co-workers who are twice my age and raised my mom’s teacher eyebrows at them
  • gone to sleep early
  • had weird dream/nightmares about a giant pizza
  • eaten a personal, Brooklyn organic pizza for dinner (with a side of mint chip ice cream)
  • squatted in the middle of a crowded train after shedding a few winter layers – whatever it takes to prevent the unthinkable, folks
  • sang in every room of the apartment
  • talked for 1.5 hours with my uber wise grandparents
  • wrote and performed a rap over skype to my mom’s 6th grade class (who are in the middle of a hip-hop unit)
  • spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to coax Baby K into acrobatics with folk music
  • read a bedtime story to my favorite Michigan family, who were all snuggled into my nephew’s bed
  • sent a million urgent emails that my office won’t read, about what they are supposed to have done by Friday at 3 pm when the plug is pulled on our current office and we move into our new space

And that’s just the past couple days and that’s not even all of it. I just want to let you in, friend. I wanted you to know it’s not all saltines and sadness over here in the big city. Even though it’s been awhile since I’ve successfully buttoned my pants (let’s be honest, I haven’t done that for a LONG while), we’ve been able to fit a good amount of laughter into these winter days.

I can actually remember when the first laughter happened, after the very dark night of early pregnancy and the flu. I felt okay when I woke up that Saturday and we woke up slowly, smiling. We ate a bit and I still felt okay. (And all the while inside I was saying, “So far, winning!”). I remember, several times, hearing myself giggle and being surprised. What an unfamiliar sound – that laughter – and oh where has it been?

We ran a few errands and I still felt okay, so we got really ambitious. We went to Long Island City with our heads down against an unforgiving wind to get to my coworker’s birthday party. After mingling with the Irish, English, Polish and Spanish accents, we hit up a little cafe in the West Village where our friends were playing. By this time, it was getting respectably late and we were both impressed. On the way to the subway with our silly friends, we stopped to buy what I was craving (Cooler Ranch Doritos) and then took up the whole sidewalk like the younger version of ourselves – up to clean mischief.

I remember thinking how strange it was to be so surprised by my joy – surprised by the sound of laughter and surprised by the feel of a smile stretched across my face. It felt good and illusive all at once, like the longing the C.S. Lewis always talks about.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently, at the suggestion of my therapist. It was called, “Praying our Tears” and I should probably listen to it again. “Expect tears, invest tears, and pray your tears,” he said, after reading Psalm 39:12-13 and Psalm 126:1-6.

If we’re talking Psalms, there are more lamentations than any other kind. That makes sense to me – the weight of sorrow needs a place to land. The world is brimming full of it, with the words of even one story. And I have a hard time believing there will be a harvest from my sorrow (Psalm 126:5), if I plant my tears. I am okay to let my sorrow be an end in itself – that thing I crawl up inside when nothing makes sense. And I have been struggling to let sorrow and joy live together.

But God says I have to plant my sorrow. As Keller says, “to see my tears as an opportunity for fruit and growth.” That’s a far cry from where I am now, but I can hear it and that feels like progress. Joy will be the harvest when I plant my tears in compassion for others, in prayer, in love, in patience. Tears actually produce joy, he says. Again, I’m a critic. I believe tears can produce joy (2 Corinthians 4:17), but I am a critic in my weak flesh.

“There’s a kind of joy that comes through avoiding tears – that doesn’t really change you. Then there’s a kind of joy that comes through the tears that does.” – Keller

I’m learning.

His last point answers the question, How do we plant our tears? Prayer. Pray everything – all the biggest and worst and most confusing emotions. Pray them with shaking fists and pray them in the hot shower and pray them in confession kneeling in church on Sunday. Pray. Pray for opportunities and direction and fields and the right soil. Pray for strength to throw out the sloppy, wet messes and pray for belief in what is planted. Pray.

Praying has been hard for me. I’m a steadfast, headstrong believer … but praying is hard sometimes.

This song has been helping. It feels to me like a prayer – one without answers or a lot of boldness, but a prayer that is honest and believing. A prayer that lets me laugh and cry in the same day without having to sort it out.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

those who return to Him

As the father looked upon him, and kissed him much, there probably came another kiss, which seemed to say “There is no soreness left: I have not only forgiven, but I have forgotten too. It is all gone, clean gone. I will never accuse you of it any more. I will never love you any less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person.” Probably  at that there came another kiss; for do not forget that his father forgave him “and kissed him much,” to show that the sin was all forgiven. There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father’s goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, “I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine,” I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, “My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me.” This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. – Charles Spurgeon, “Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son”

This is sweet beauty. This is the “gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him,” this is His delight over diamonds that never lose their value. The Spring season is bursting with its own diamond offerings, of bright colors and bold raindrops and the warmth the winter was craving. Spring wears beauty so well and I am obliged to “waste” New York minutes admiring it.

There are too many kisses for us to gloss over the story of the Prodigal Son in a synopsis.

Greedy child asked Dad for inheritance early and then wildly wasted every penny before coming home, where Dad received him with a party.

The father’s undignified run was too brilliant to get smashed into the word “received” and the kisses were too many for this reunion to be an average greeting. He kissed the soreness out and the guilt and the shame and the worry – He kissed it all with the power of a Father who forgives.

I’ve been thinking about value and worth and (okay, fine) diamonds. There has never been a time in my life when I have thought more about what I don’t have. I suppose NYC does that to everyone, to some degree, but it has never been part of my rhythm. Contentment has carried me through the sparse and plentiful times in miraculous ways, so this thinking is throwing me for a loop.

People (particularly women) everywhere are obsessed with knowing what might make them more lovable and that manifests itself in all sorts of colorful and crazy ways in this city. My sister’s advice when I moved to New York was, “Care, you can wear anything and no one would bat an eye. That’s the nice thing about New York. You’ll sit next to someone in a suit and someone in fishnet stockings on the same subway ride.”

Turns out, she was right.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way my eyesight has changed. I am more aware of myself, my style (and lack of), and all the categories I do not fit inside. People say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” I’m still trying to find out what “make it” means to figure out if I passed. But I’m not trying too hard to understand that litmus test, because there are too many kisses in the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.

When my pastor preached on Luke 15 this past Sunday, I thought about the Father’s eyesight instead. His love that covers a multitude of sins looked out on that haphazard hellion of a son and broke with compassion. The worth of the son was not about the words he prepared or the way he presented himself. The worth of the son was bound up in the love and compassion of the Father when the son returned home. He lavished love and kisses and let all the neighbors talk about his ridiculous sprint when the son was still “a long way off.”

This is the beauty the spring shouts, because winter did not deserve to be reborn into Spring. Winter died because God blew in Spring with the power of His words.

We are worthy of the Father’s love because He has said it is so and we hear those words spoken over us when we return to him, haphazard and tangled and unkept. This is the freedom of Spring – that the tree did nothing to earn its blooms and the sky did nothing to earn its shine. God, in His grace, is speaking His love over creation. And those who return to Him will hear the words spoken directly over their souls.

Hello, Spring! Hello, Easter!

stay and wait for the “yet”

I wiggled my way into a Tuesday night home group with no-bake cookies stashed in all the tupperware containers I own. I guess when you are new in town and trying to find the (horribly cliché) “place you fit in,” baked goods are never a bad idea (Let’s be honest, baked goods are always a good idea).

I added my no-bake cookies to the offerings on the coffee table and made a couple bad jokes so the small gathering knew I wasn’t trying to play it cool and the cookies really were just a shameless way to endear myself into the group.

Sometime after the awkward introductions, we got buried in a discussion over doubt. The sermon the previous week had been about the doubt of John the Baptist in Matthew 11. From prison, the most sold out of all Jesus’s followers sent messengers to ask if Jesus really was the One he had been waiting for, preaching about, and prophesying of – John the Baptist sent messengers to find out if Jesus really was the Messiah his entire existence had proclaimed He was.

What a curveball, to think about doubt in this way with this group of strangers and to arrive at the place we did. I don’t mean thinking about doubt is a curveball – especially here in hipster heavy Brooklyn where knowing anything for sure is very unhip. We all agreed that our generation doesn’t have a problem accepting/engaging/encouraging doubts. We are top heavy with them and at times paralyzed by the balancing act.

The curvy part of the doubt equation is the tension it takes to stay when doubt comes. Because doubt gives way to fear very quickly. Christians often run to the hills and stand beside pagans shouting doubts at the cold, black sky and then run away before ever an answer can be returned.

Where are you, God?
Where were you when my sister died? and when my heart got broken? and when I failed at work and life and love?
Where were you, God and why don’t you answer?
Are you even real?

And as quickly as the one-sided conversation began, it ends as we pull away with smug satisfaction that we got no reply – as if to say to the cold, black sky and everyone else, “See, I was right. He isn’t there.”

But, that’s not doubt. That’s fear.

Doubt is buried somewhere in the middle of belief. It’s a tension that trains us to believe better, stronger, and deeper in the truths we know. Thomas wasn’t the only doubter and neither was John the Baptist. David doubted too, and he doubted well… and he stayed. He wandered out (of his own volition and not) into the hills and deserts and shouted out his doubts at the cold, black sky.

And then he stayed.

He stayed until his heart preached these true words to him:
Yet you are holy.

David wrestled and John the Baptist wrestled and Thomas wrestled and now we wrestle the same and different mysteries – all those things just outside the reach of our minds and hearts. And if we stay, we will also say with David, “Yet you are holy.”

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of mygroaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
(Psalm 22:1-11, ESV, emphasis mine)

When John the Baptist sent the messenger to ask Jesus if He was really the One, Jesus responded with Truth. He responded with the only thing that could come from His lips and the only thing that can come back from the cold, black sky if we stay long enough to listen: the Word.

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.'” Matthew 11:4-6

Sometimes fear runs our footsteps away from the hills and the cold, black sky before Truth can set us free where we stand.

John the Baptist was locked up in prison without any hope of freedom and his doubt was mixing fear like a cocktail. He wanted some confirmation that his life had not been lived in vain and he was hoping the sign would appear in the form of loosed chains.

His belief was tenuous, his doubt building tension in between and around the solid rock foundation of his faith. But he stayed to hear Jesus say, “Look at the ways I fulfilled the prophesies. Remember?”

John the Baptist believed, but doubt was threatening to give way to fear when belief didn’t seem to be holding up inside a jail cell. And the first and best Jesus could give him to bolster his belief was the Word – Himself as the fulfillment to prophecy and evidence of His faithfulness.

Just as Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame for the joy set before him, our duels with doubts are not without joy because we are never without God. Though he may seem far from us and far from our generation and far from our shouting, fist-shaking nights under a cold, black sky, He is never not present.

And in His presence is fullness of joy.

This, I believe, is what David and John the Baptist and Thomas experienced in the middle and on the other side of their wrestling. Because they stayed to see that God is present and in His presence is fullness of joy.

If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, we will stay and our tension will give way to greater belief that God is who He claims to be and keeps all His promises. If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, our greater belief will meet more doubt and tension and joy because God is always the same. His claims are never untrue. His promises are always fulfilled. His Word can always speak straight into the cold questions.

And here is hope for a generation who hasn’t the courage to stay and wait to hear the word, “Yet…”

*NOTE: My mom has since pointed out the irony of my calling no-bake cookies “baked goods.” Two points for the mom team. She got me there.

when He said, “walk with me”

The walls of my heart were near bursting in the middle of the evening service last night. If ever there was a sermon that hit the home I’m coming from as much as the home I’m headed to, it was this sermon.

The passage came from Matthew 9, when Jesus called Matthew to be a part of his motley crew. Jesus was just passing by Matthew’s shameful tax stand when he simply said, “Follow me.”

It was an invitation and a command and a whole bundle of things all rolled into one. Matthew didn’t have the luxury of reading over Jesus’ words to examine their meaning. He had only the moments flashing in front of his money-dirtied table to decide what to do. This man in front of him looked him in the eye and he didn’t just say “Follow me.”

He did, but Jesus said something else, too.

The invitation is much more than a cold command to walk behind a dictator. The invitation is nothing like that. The Greek word, akoloutheó, means not just to follow but to “accompany, attend” or literally, “to go the same way with.”

I squirmed in my pew when my pastor explained, “Jesus wasn’t just saying, ‘Walk with me.’ He was also saying, ‘I want to walk with you.'”

The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to accompany Him on the kingdom mission of heaven.

This invitation to follow Him means that He wants to walk in the same direction as me – that He is pleased to be going the same way. It is His perfect sovereignty that guides and directs our steps on the path, but He is not embarrassed to be seen at my side. He knows about my lopsided steps – about my clumsy, Amelia Bedelia ways. He knows that I’ve got baggage and that I get distracted.

He knows ALL these things and still He is pleased to invite me to walk with Him. And inside that invitation I know He wants to walk with me.

And do you know the first thing Matthew did as he walked alongside Jesus? He threw a party. He invited all the vagabonds and wanderers and outcasts and unlikely party guests to his house for the feast of all feasts and Jesus was at the center.

And there they walked together – Jesus and Matthew – hosting a beautiful gathering where more people could view the result of Matthew’s unlikely invitation to be a follower.

I’m still giddy with all this. Vito went on to preach a “party culture” into his congregation – a message of accountability that Christians should be hosting the craziest parties. Christians should be inviting the rich and poor and awkward and smooth into their homes to break bread and drink wine and give thanks to the Lord because we have been invited to accompany Him along the way.

We should be doing what Matthew did when Jesus called him to walk along the same path. This kind of thing is in my bones. I want to invite my car dealership/drug dealing neighbors and the owners of the cutest pizza place on Rogers Street and my co-workers and the young runner couple that lives on 2nd floor… I want to invite them all over for a party in honor of the Lord who has invited me to follow Him!

I know, I know – all my dear, safe Iowan friends are worried. I won’t go doing anything crazy until Patrick gets back in town and can make sure my ideas aren’t too dangerous. For now, I’ll just be giddy with the idea that Jesus called me to walk with Him, which means He is pleased to walk with me.

It’s good to be giddy about such things.

if you’re stuck in a well

Last week, the pastor preached on Ephesians 2 because we’re about to start a series in Matthew. The passage is one I know well and one my heart returns to often because it’s covered in grace.

For by grace I have been saved… grace is both the route of my salvation and the vehicle. And I’m overwhelmed by the ride. So, when we turned to Ephesians for the Scripture reading, my heart knew the way around the words.

But something about the way he introduced the sermon felt different and along the way he used an unfamiliar analogy that I’m still thinking about six days later. He said, “When you are stuck in the bottom of a well, you can have all the positive thinking in the world but you will still be stuck in the bottom of a well. You can say all the right things and even recite words of Scripture over yourself if you think that will help, but the words have no power if only you speak them.”

Here’s the nitty-gritty: If I’m stuck in the bottom of a well, my words are powerless to get me out. I can speak true words, false words, fake words, or frail words. It doesn’t matter what kinds of words I throw at my prison, they will all bounce off like the dark death of a deep well.

Words are powerful.

I believe we all have a conversation happening inside us – something the soul speaks to the heart and vice versa. There is a conversation happening and sometimes it is true and encouraging and edifying and sometimes it is the opposite. Words are powerful.

But words are only powerful to save when spoken by a certain One voice. I can repeat the words, but they are only powerful because God first spoke them over me. Scripture is not powerful because I memorize it or speak it aloud or love it or lean into it.

Scripture is powerful because God is faithful and the promises it spells out are blood bought.

God spoke over me when I was lost in a hopelessly deep, dark well. He spoke true words about breathing life into dead bones and then I came alive. And He speaks true words into my lungs every day to keep my dead bones breathing. No one else has that power.

No amount of counseling or advising or encouraging or tolerating can have the kind of power that His words possess. I can tell a friend a thousand times that she is freed from fear, but my words have no power. I can tell a brother he is freed from anxiety, but my words will always fall short.

As we read through Ephesians 2 last week, I thought about God authoring those words to His children who sat helplessly in the deep wells they’d dug for themselves. I thought about hearing those words of grace spoken over me by the only One whose words could change my reality – the only One whose words have the power to lift my feet to freedom.

Amazing grace.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV)

preach it [to yourself]

We hear a lot of words throughout the day – our morning to midnight is filled with them. Words to wake up to, to sing to, to argue with, to persuade, entice, battle, and play.

So many words.

But even if you didn’t have a single conversation, your day would still be full of words. Even if you were a hermit, words would wiggle inside. Because we’re all listening to sermons in our heads – words that motivate and teach and correct and guide.

My soul is speaking constantly and sometimes it sounds like a worldly sermon. It sounds like more questions than statements, more fear than courage, and more pride than humility. Sometimes it sounds like sin. But it is not a matter of making my soul mute, because that’s not possible. We are created with eternity in our hearts and my soul’s constant conversation is evidence of that. 

In conversations with friends and in reflection about my own inner conversations lately, I’m reminded again that if the message coming from our souls is not Truth, we need to find a different preacher (and I don’t mean at church).

A few years back, I read The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk by Shelly Beach and (in addition to the title’s brilliant alliteration) it brought a new awareness of the words my soul speaks constantly to my heart. More recently, after reading Joe Thorn’s book Note to Self (heavily influenced and inspired by Martin Lloyd Jones) I became even more intentional about using Scripture to guide those conversations.

My scripture memory verse this week is speaking the right words to my soul. I love reading the statement, “Hope in God” right after the psalmist has just probed for answers for his depression. That statement, “Hope in God” is an affirmation of who God is, a declaration of His worthiness, and a pronouncement of His grace to give such hope. I love that.

Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

This morning, I had an interview for a job in NYC and before/during/afterward my soul heard those words: Hope in God. Though I don’t have a downcast soul right now, I do often ask my soul about worry and fear and worth. And to these questions this morning, I preached: Hope in God.

He is trustworthy.
He is good.
He is faithful.

And I am satisfied in Him. I shall again praise Him – with or without a job. He is my hope!

Out of Your Heart… and little steps

Churchill College Chapel - TtV of the John Pip...
Image by dumbledad via Flickr

This past weekend we had a teachers’ retreat at a lake a few hours from the city. I split my time between staffing the snack shop, playing a few rousing card games, climbing trees, playing soccer, and taking one somewhat risky solitary run through a field and up a small mountain. Most of these activities involved much prayer, but I’m thankful for that, too.

I came back less refreshed, but very ready to tackle this week of pre-mission trip planning. Sunday night after a bit of baking, I tried to settle in to watch a sermon, but your bed is no place to take serious notes and stretch your mind. So, Monday morning I finally finished this sermon by John Piper. I’ve heard and said, “Come to Jesus” many times without grasping exactly what it means.

This sermon works through John 7:25-39 and examines that very question – what does it mean when Jesus gives this invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

I love this breakdown. It is so beautiful to try to understand why we thirst and why the person of Christ is exactly and only what will satisfy. Beyond satisfaction, RIVERS wil flow from us… rivers of living water! It’s Tuesday night and I still can’t get over it.

Well, yesterday afternoon I felt a bit of the living water flooding my living room, as the mission trip gathered to pound out some last minute details. I am continually blessed by the hearts and minds of these students. “Little steps,” they tell me, “Miss, you can’t expect us to change all sudden, but little steps.” It takes everything in me to keep from wrapping them in a crazy hug and singing one of the uber-embarrassing songs my mom would throw my way whenever she was proud. Because, friends, if you could see these little steps they are taking your heart would SWELL.

Today, the students spoke in chapel in front of their peers and I am still praising God for their courage. These “little steps,” they may not realize are HUGE leaps for the faith they have hidden deep in their hearts! These “little steps” are how they wear resolve so beautifully when classmates give them trouble for being involved in something so obviously, “Christian.” After our devotional on Monday (more on that in tomorrow morning’s post), I can now ask them, “Is it worth it? Is what you are doing worth those little comments?”

I wish you could look in their faces to see their response, “There’s no question, Miss.”

I believe God is working and He is gracious enough to give me reminders of His sovereignty and His mighty hand. I am humbled, humbled, humbled to be a part of this process!

Tonight, with a cake stashed in the fridge and cookies all packaged, I am literally on my floor in my bedroom typing this out and I can’t tell you why. I just know that daily God is calling me to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy!