Christmastide reflections

It is four o'clock in the morning on the sixth day of Christmas, and I am up - against my will and against my better judgment.  I can't sleep, and I can't figure out why - but as I've been sitting here, reading, thinking, trying to get past my frustration, I have realized some things.

Christmas, as I've shared before, has always been my favorite time of year.  Even before I truly understood the gift that this holiday is, there was something about the lights and the quietness and the colors and the smells and the hope (even on an ocean coast) of snow - that was simply magical.  Mysterious.  Right.  It was special; it was different; it was something I waited for all year.

I was so hopeful this year that the magic and the mystery would still capture my soul - and it has, in moments, here and there.  But the pervading sense of joy and peace and happiness that filled my soul on December 23rd has gotten lost somewhere in the craziness of the past few days.  The rest of the world has moved on past Christmas, and to a degree, I feel like I've been moving on right along with it.

But I'm not of that world, and as I've come in the past half hour to realize all the ways in which I've forgotten that this week, I have made a decision.  I refuse to be swept by that tide any longer.  It is Christmastide yet, and it is only half over.  There is still waiting and watching to be done.   There is still worship to offer.  Praise to bring.

And so here I am, at what is now almost five o'clock in the morning, watching and praying, enjoying the lights on my tree and a cup of chai, and thanking God that He's stopped me in my tracks for this moment.  I am, at last, putting down all the things that have distracted me all week, and am instead kneeling in my heart beside a manger, in awe of the tiny, quiet, perfect miracle that was actually the beginning of the greatest thing that has ever happened in the whole world.  The very Son of God was born - to us, the Scripture says.

To us.   For us.   With us.

He was here.

He is here.

...and He is coming back.

In this quiet moment, there is nothing more real or more true, and I am filled with gratitude and wonder.

Merry Christmas, friends.

comfort and joy

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him; and He helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song, I praise Him." (Psalm 28:7)

As we've been reading along in God's word and in The Uncluttered Heart this week, reflecting on joy, there is one idea that I've felt God driving home to me all week: whether or not you have joy is not dependent on whether or not you feel joyful.

It started with the reminder from Monday's reading about joy being a fruit of the Spirit.  "Hap, you have my Spirit; therefore, you have joy."  It isn't something I can produce on my own - it's something He grows in me.  I may not experience the emotional benefits of it all the time, anymore than I experience the benefits of wearing my favorite (and very warm) sweatshirt while it's in the laundry - but just because I'm not aware of it, doesn't mean I cease to have it.

Because Jesus is my Saviour, I have the Spirit of God in me (John 14:16-17).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Therefore, I have joy.

Awesome, right?  But it gets even better.  The Bible also tells us two other things about joy:

1. that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  (Nehemiah 8:10)
and 2.  that joy replaces sorrow.  (Esther 9:20-22, Isaiah 35:9-10, Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 31:12-13)

And this is a part of the good news of great joy that we wait for in this Advent season. (Luke 2:10).  Emmanuel, God with us - Jesus - came to this world for a little while, experienced first hand what life is like for us, paid the price for our sins, and rose from the dead.  Then, when He went back to His Father, He asked Him to send us His Spirit to help us - and one of the things the Spirit does is produce joy in our hearts - joy that strengthens us when we are weak and beaten down by the sorrows of this world; joy that foreshadows and is a promise of the lasting joy that will be ours, when all things fade away, and we are finally Home with Him.

Sorrow - no matter how deeply felt - is only temporary.  Joy will come.  Indeed, it is already here!

There is so much comfort in that.

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen" (and women).  It's been my favorite Christmas carol for ages, and I love those words.

"God rest ye" - may God cause you to rest.  "God rest ye merry" - may God cause you to rest with gladness in your heart.

Wherever you are today, friends, whatever the sorrows that burden your heart - my prayer for you is that you will remember the deeds of the Lord and His kindness toward you, that joy will flood your soul as you do, and that you will find at the end of this day that God really has rested ye merry.

on seeking peace

All week long, the Spirit has been whispering the same half of a verse, over and over again, to my soul:  "Seek peace and pursue it."  (Psalm 34:14b)

Seek peace and pursue it.  Seek peace and pursue it.

I've been trying.  In this week of Advent Peace, I've been pursuing peace as if it were the elusive White Stag of Narnia.  Every now and again, I've glimpsed it.  I've found it in some unlikely places: Christmas shopping, driving around in my car, cleaning the house, charting Christmas carols.  I've found it in likely places, too: the quiet moments when I've paused to worship, decorating Christmas cookies with our Tuesday night Advent group, having dinner with one of my best friends.  But then something would happen, and I would find myself wondering where that peace had gone.

Seek peace and pursue it.

I will not go into the details of why this week was so incredibly difficult.  I will simply say that I am so glad for the respite that this morning brought.  Saturday is my Sabbath day - a day to worship and rest and simply be.  For the first time since last Saturday, I did not roll out of bed with a task list.  There are things to do today - grocery shopping for the holiday dinner I'm cooking tomorrow, Christmas shopping, etc. - but they can happen whenever I get to them, and it doesn't really matter to anyone else.  Today there are no pressures, no demands, no responsibilities.  Today I am free to finish decorating my tree, and to be my introverted self.  Today... I can rest.

I am so glad God built Sabbath into our lives.  He knew how desperately we would need it.  A day to stop.  Breathe.  Remember Him.  Reorient.  Reprioritize.  Oh, wait - life isn't actually about all that stuff that seemed so important last week.  It's about glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.  Right.  Okay, let's try that, then.

And again, I find myself so grateful for Advent, and a week that forced me, by its liturgical rhythms, to remember peace.  I needed the daily reminder to be a shalom-bringer, and to look for the ways in which God was at work in the seeming chaos that was this week.   I needed that constant whisper: "seek peace and pursue it."

One of the things I am learning (again) is that peace and rest go hand-in-hand.  It is possible to be at peace in the midst of insanely busy seasons, to be internally at rest in the midst of complete craziness.  I don't always live that way - and at the end of weeks like this past one, I am extremely grateful for mercy and grace and the promise of a new day!  But if God tells us to seek peace and pursue it, it is because peace is something we need... and it is because peace is something that will be found for the seeking.

Our responsibility is not to "achieve" peace somehow - but to simply pursue it.  And as we seek it, peace will come.  For He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and it is His promise that if we seek Him, He will be found (1 Chronicles 28:9).

There is so much comfort and joy in that.  So God rest ye merry, friends - as we, with Hope and Peace, lean into Joy this coming week.

love, hope and habit

"May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you." - 1 Thessalonians 3:12

I read this verse this morning, and I'll confess - my first thought was, "what does this verse have to do with Advent?"  But as I reflected on this verse a little longer, it became clear to me that it might actually have everything to do with Advent.  And here's why.

This week, we're thinking about Advent hope, right?  The hope that we have because Christ was born - because "the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message).  Now think for a minute about the people you know who know this hope.  What kind of people are they?  What adjectives would you use to describe them?  (What adjectives do you think should describe them?)

People of hope have a positive outlook.  They're the staff you meet in the store in the middle of the Christmas rush who take the time to smile at you, and make you feel like you're their only customer, even tho there's ten people in line behind you.  They're the people who ring bells for the Salvation Army on street corners and wish all the people who don't seem to care a merry Christmas anyway.  They're the people who get really bad news and yet try their level best to find a bright spot in the middle of complete horrible situations.  They're the non-complainers.  They're the people with whom you find yourself wanting to spend time because just talking to them is incredibly life-giving.  They love you.

Are you a person of hope?

I'll admit it.  I am - but I don't always act like it.  But my attention was captured today by the words in the prayer from today's Uncluttered Heart post.  The idea that hope is something that I actually need to practice hit home.  When you practice something, you usually tend to get better at it over time.

So what will it take for me to practice hope today?  And in so doing, will I "increase and abound in love" for people, as so many people of hope have abounded in love for me?  Yes.

So that Scripture really does have everything to do with Advent...

One of the things I love most about Advent is that it isn't just about waiting for Christmas and remembering the Story.  It's also about remembering that the Story isn't over yet.  Here's another passage, written by the apostle John, that has everything to do with Advent, too:

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look, look!  God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women!  They're His people; He's their God.  He'll wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death is gone for good - tears gone, crying gone, pain gone - all the first order of things gone." (Revelation 21:3-4, The Message)

This gives me so much hope.  And today, I'm going to remember it, and with His help, try to love Him and love people better simply by practicing a positive, hopeful outlook - no matter what this day may bring.  And if I keep at it, one day being hopeful will simply be habit.  (I'm hoping for it, anyway.)  ;)

advent: stillness

The verses for our devotional study today are Isaiah 2:3-4.  In Verse 2, God says that "He will teach us His ways so that we may walk in His paths."  The Message paraphase of this verse says that "He'll show us the way He works so we can live the way we're made."

There's so much security in that, isn't there?  We were created to live life God's way, and He's promised to teach us everything we need to know to do that.  No more running around, trying to figure out what it is we're supposed to be doing that we're not doing that's leaving us with this empty, unsettled feeling that there's got to be more to life that "this" (whatever it is).  It is far more simple than that.  All we need to do is follow the directions that He's given/gives/will give us.

But here's the thing about directions: you actually have to listen to them and do what they say for things to go well.  I have a set of bookshelves I've put together myself, and let me tell you - the one I didn't read the instructions for is extremely unstable!  And life works the same way - if we're going to live it well, there's a set of instructions to follow, and we need to listen to them.

Listening for God's voice takes time, patience and practice.  It's possible to read His Word without actually understanding a word of it on the heart level where it's meant to instruct us.  It's possible to pray frantically for help in a situation for which we need specific direction and then rush off without waiting for an answer, still trying to figure out what we're supposed to do, on our own.

But God's Word says there's a better way:

"...In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength..." - Isaiah 30:15

We need to get quiet.

Quite some time ago, a good friend of mine picked up the phone and made a reservation for me at a retreat center.  I was leading a song at church that weekend, but there was something in the way - something that was blocking my ability to lead it from my heart.  And so my friend packed me off to a retreat center for 5 hours, to sit quietly with God, and find from Him the wisdom and instruction I needed.

The first 1/2 hour was painful.  I had about eighteen million things I was thinking about other than the task at hand.  Getting quiet, internally, seemed like an insurmountable task.  But my friend, far more seasoned in this sort of thing than I was, had warned me it would be like that, and I'd taken with me, on his advice, a notebook.  Every time something came into my head that could be labelled as a "distraction" (for example: things to add to the grocery list, emails I needed to write, phone calls to make, etc.) - I just wrote it down, so I could deal with it later.  And finally, all the head chatter faded, and I moved into silence, and waited.

And He spoke.  Through His Word, through the beauty of creation all around me, directly to my heart - and even through the nap I ended up taking that day.  And 5 hours later, I was so at peace, and knew what I needed to do to live the way I was made to live, instead of the way I'd been trying to live instead.  I'd confessed the sin I needed to, and walked straight out of the barren wilderness of it into the rich, full mercy of God.  It was beautiful.

And it began with being still.

Sometimes life can be so overwhelming.  It's busy, frantic, fast-paced, and loud.  It's tough to hear anything in an environment like that.  But if we could just be still...

"The Lord is my light and my salvation - of whom shall I be afraid?.... I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27:1, 13-14

But how do we do that?  How do we "be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord"?

Well, we repent for what we need to.  We slow down and rest (even when there's a million things to do, because they will still be there later).  We get quiet.  We choose to trust Him (no matter what).  And we listen.  We listen for the Voice that will always speak truth, whose words are life and light to all who hear them, and who promised us that all we see is not all there is.

And we keep on waiting on Him, day after day, because we know, no matter how dark things may seem some days, that there is always hope.

"Do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-12)

waiting. quietly, but with great joy...

It's almost here!

Tomorrow is the first day of Advent, and I have been waiting for this moment for almost two months.  No, actually, more like eleven and a half months.... I love Advent.

Some of my best childhood memories are centered around Advent.  Decorating the banisters of our New England church sanctuary with real evergreens and red ribbons and candles and a Christmas tree so tall you could barely see the top from the floor.  Replacing the green banners of Ordinary Time on the pulpit with the rich purple hues of Advent.  Taking a break for soup and crackers with the church family, and eating out of the church's fine china dishes.  (Washing and drying all those dishes after lunch!)  Making wreaths to take home and hang on our doors.  Waking up every morning to open the next little door on the Advent calendar that hung on the cabinet in the kitchen.  Watching the colored lights twinkle in our tree.  Setting up the Nativity scene on the bookshelf.  Putting out our Christmas decorations.  Listening to Kenny and Dolly and Amy Grant and Alabama and Bing Crosby and Manheim Steamroller and countless others sing Christmas carols, back in the days when we had actual records and cassette tapes.  Wrapping Christmas presents.  Popping popcorn and watching Christmas movies.  Lighting a candle every Sunday on the altar at church, marking one more theme celebrated, one week closer to Christmas.  Wondering why the third candle is pink.

And FINALLY - Christmas Eve.  Dressing up, leaving home in the dark.  Caroling outside the church for an hour before service for the people passing by and coming to church.  Caroling some more indoors.  The beauty of the Christmas story read aloud.  Hearing a soloist sing "O Holy Night" and hoping that someday I'd get to sing it (one day, finally, I did).  Lighting the Christ candle, and then passing the light of Christ's love from candle to candle through our historic church sanctuary and singing Silent Night together acapella.  Watching the familiar faces of friends and family shine with the mystery and beauty of it all as we ended our service in quietness, peace, and candlelit wonder.

And now that I'm older, this season has become even more special than the magical memories it held in my childhood.  For now I understand, in a way I didn't then, what this season is really all about.

Advent is a season of waiting.  A season of joy, hope, peace, love, wonder - and waiting, expectantly, for something to happen.  It's the pathway, the journey to Christmas.  And with Christmas, comes radiant, amazing, overwhelming love - in the form of a baby boy, born in a stable.  The very Son of God, laid in a manger, here to experience all that we do - and to make a way back to God for us.

God waited a long time to send His Son.  He waited for the perfect moment.  But while He was waiting, He did some things. He wrote it in the stars, that this baby was coming.  Remember the Magi, following that star?  Think about the fact that light takes time to travel, and that what you see in the sky is actually something that happened a really, really, REALLY long time ago - and think for a moment: God put a star in the heavens that would point the way to His Son AGES before His Son would be born.  Does the wonder of it floor you, even just a little bit?  He also promised us that a Saviour would come - His prophets foretold His coming, and His people waited, too.  And then, finally -  He came.  And He is coming again.

For these four weeks of Advent we wait.  We remember.  We hope, dream, imagine, wonder, experience the mystery that is the gift of God's Son, born in the city of David: Christ the Lord.  We sing special songs - songs we sing once a year.  We celebrate.  We give gifts that echo, tho they could never compare with, the Gift that we've been given.  We light candles.

We wait.  Quietly, but with great joy.

Last year for Advent, my friend Amanda and I did a devotional study together with a book and a website called The Uncluttered Heart, by Beth A. Richardson.  We loved it so much that we've invited our church family to go through it with us this year.  Nineteen people have signed up so far!  We are super-excited about this.  :)

And if you want to join us, we'd love that, too.  The Uncluttered Heart website has all the info you need to get started.

Hope to see you there!

and Happy Advent-Eve.  :)

you're welcome

Have you ever been in an ordinary run-of-the-mill conversation and found yourself suddenly floored by something you just said?

This happens to me frequently when I'm with close friends, but it's usually in the context of saying something I probably should have run thru the filter first, or saying something to be funny and then joking about, "oh, did I just say that out loud?"  But today it happened with two simple words that I've said thousands of times before without thinking about them at all:

"You're welcome."

It's just what you say, when someone says "thank you," right?  But think for a minute about what those two words mean when you put them together outside of the generic, rote conversation in which you usually find them.  "You're welcome."

You - are welcome.  You're welcome.


What does that mean?  In French, it's "bienvenue," which translates literally to "good coming."  You've come well; it's well that you came?  I was glad to do what you're thanking me for because I'm happy you're here, that you're a part of my life.

You're welcome here.

My heart's posture toward you is one of welcome.

We say it to a lot of people, strangers and friends alike.  But do we mean it?

Food for thought.  :)

honesty, prayer, and the power of song

Quite some time ago, I worked as a nanny for a family who had a little girl (who is now grown up and has graduated from college).  Sometimes, at the end of the day, if her parents were away or working late, I had the privilege of tucking her in and listening to her prayers.  They inevitably began one of two ways:

"God, thank You so much for this day!" (followed by an explanation of why said day was so awesome)


"God... (pause) ...this has not been the best day in the world." (followed by an explanation of why, but often followed by:) "BUT...."

and anything could happen then.  "BUT - thank You that tomorrow is another day."  or "BUT - thanks for being there with me anyway."  or "BUT - i know You have a plan for this."

She taught me a lot about prayer.  about God.  and about being honest with God in prayer.

And tonight, listening to the Tallis Canon for about the 25th time today (because I've needed it that much - this song centers me, re-orients me to the Truth and to Life and to the way things should be) - I find myself praying:

"God, this was really not the best day in the world.  There are so many things about it that I would go back and fix if I could.  But I know You are good, and Your timing is perfect, and I will wait on You.  I will to wait on You.  I choose it.  I will do this.  I will wait, and I will trust You, and I will be honest and I may yell and rage and tell You exactly what I think, but at the end of the day, Lord, You are GOD and You can do anything You like with me and with this day and with my life.  So here it is - and Glory to Thee, my God, this night, for all the blessings of the light - for there are so many, and they are all from You.  Forgive me, Lord, for Thy own Son, the ill that I this day have done...  I messed it up a lot today; I've messed it up a lot for ages.  But You are good, and Your love endures forever.  Your mercy knows no bounds.  Your grace is sufficient for me.  I trust You, Jesus."

Praise Him above angelic host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - for He is worthy to be worshiped and honored and praised and extolled and loved and adored and trusted.

Somehow, it will all work out okay.  And I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  So be still, o my soul, be still.  Be still, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.

Be still, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.

prayer request

it's been a crazy couple of days.  my mom is in the hospital.  two days ago she was at work, and she just coughed - and her lung collapsed.  she was in surgery within hours.  the surgery was successful, but she's going to be in the hospital for a few days, and is in a good deal of pain.  and my poor mom - she dislikes hospitals even more than i do.

it's been tough to be so far away.  my dad and my sister are there with her, but it's my mom, you know?  i just want to be there, even if all i can do is sit and read while she's sleeping, and just keep her company while she's awake.

please pray for my mom.  it's going to be a few weeks of recovery, and she's usually such an active person.  this is going to be - this IS - really hard for her.


meditation for worship and communion on All Saints Day

I had the privilege of teaching last night at worship and communion, and thought I'd share my thoughts with you as well.  :)

On the table next to my bed is a collection of things that are very special to me.  I half-jokingly refer to it as an altar, because most of the objects on this table are actually icons - objects that, at least for me, point past themselves to God.

There are a lot of things on this little altar, but here are just a few:

There's a birthday card from a friend and mentor.  On the inside, he wrote, "God does have a plan for your life, Happy, and it is greater than your dreams."  This card came at a time when I really needed to hear that, and he had no idea how timely his words were.  And now, every time I see it, I am reminded that it's true - that God's dreams for me are greater than my own, and that His plan is perfect and can be trusted.  The card is an icon that leads me into His presence and inspires me to worship Him for who He is: Jehovah Jireh, my Provider.

Another icon that reminds me of God's provision is a car key. My senior year in college, I took a job - the only job I could find - but it was across town, and I had no way to get there. I was telling a friend about my dilemma, and right then and there, he just gave me his car, for the whole year.  His generosity reminds me to be that ridiculously generous, and this key reminds me that even when I can't see a way, God always has a plan and will provide exactly what I need.

There's also a nickel - which reminds me of something a man named John Wimber said once.  He said, "I am just a nickel in God's pocket, and He can spend me any way He wants to."  That quote really hit me the first time I read it - and comes to mind often (usually when I don't want to be spent the way I'm pretty sure God wants to spend me...)  The quote reminds me that I belong to Jesus, not to myself, and that acknowledging His sovereignty - His Lordship over my life -  is always the best way to live, and that surrendering my life is actually an act of worship.  Again, it's an icon, connected to a story that points me to Jesus.

There are a lot of icons that the church has turned to over the years as well: things like the cross, stained glass images of Bible stories, sometimes even actual church buildings... We have to be careful with icons - it can be easy to turn an icon into an idol if we're not careful.  How can you tell if you're doing this?  The minute an icon becomes more important to us than the One to whom it is supposed to point us, we're in trouble - but icons can actually be very helpful in assisting us, as His word tells us in Psalm 77, to remember the deeds of the Lord.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about communion this weekend that Jesus gave us an incredible gift in this sacrament that we celebrate.  This loaf of bread and this cup are icons that point past themselves to Jesus, and remind us of what He's done.  We come to the Table, we see these two things, and we instantly remember that we are saved solely by grace through faith in Christ, and not by anything we've ever done.

This is the story: God's word tells us in Matthew 26 that "while they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."  Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

We know from Scripture, especially passages like 1 Corinthians 11, in which Paul gives instructions to the church as to how to celebrate it rightly, that the church very early on began to celebrate what God had done for them in Christ by eating bread and drinking the cup together.  Communion is a centuries-old feast of remembrance, and in coming to this Table tonight, we do, as Paul says, "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."  We remember the amazing grace that was given to us as Jesus went to the cross for OUR sins, and we give thanks.  And we come together, as Christians have always done, because this gift was for ALL of us.

So tonight, as you come to the Table, I simply want to encourage you to stop for a moment and remember.  This is a serious moment.  We come to this Table with great joy and gratitude, but Paul also warns us to come with a proper mindset.  He says, "...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." (1 Cor. 11:27-29)

So let's take a few minutes to pause and reflect.  What is it that Lord has done for us?  What has He saved us from?  Is there any sin in our hearts that we haven't confessed to Him yet?  Let's clear that up now, confess what we need to, and receive His forgiveness where we need it.  And then come joyfully, together, each of us as we're ready, to celebrate and remember the mercy and the grace that was given to us through His broken body and shed blood, represented by this loaf of bread and this cup - icons that remind us of a very simple, but very profound truth:  God loves us.

In the Reformed church, where I spent a lot of time in college, at this point in the service, they say, "come, for all things are now ready."  I love that - because the truth is, Jesus HAS prepared this table for you, in the presence of your enemies, and because of His death and resurrection - surely goodness and mercy WILL follow you, all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So come, for all things are now ready.

rest in peace

A friend of mine died on Monday.  It was an automobile accident, late at night, very sudden, very unexpected.

I didn't know him super well, not nearly as well as many of my friends did, but he was a great guy.  Shy.  Quiet.

Completely in love with the Lord.

And now he's home.

It's a little unreal.

My heart is breaking for the people who knew him best.  Who will miss him more than I can imagine missing anyone.  Who will need to say Kaddish.

Rest in peace, Rylan.  We are so very glad for you that you are home with Him, but you will be greatly missed.

random ramblings, vol. 5

it's been over a year since my last post to the random ramblings series, so here you go: random ramblings, in no particular order of importance (if any).

1) did you know chaos is actually orderly?  i'm pretty sure it's true.  i read part of an entire book about it for my AP Calculus class in high school.  and no, i can't recall a single time i've ever used anything else i learned in AP Calculus.  (actually I can't recall much of anything else i learned in that class, either.)  but i did retain that random fact, and one other: cauliflower is self-similar.  if you don't believe me, go look at a head of cauliflower.  every little piece of the cauliflower looks like a miniature version of the larger head of cauliflower.

i am pretty sure i've remembered this mostly because cauliflower is such a cool word.  and i have a vague recollection of actually writing an entire philosophy of ministry paper using the self-similarity of cauliflower as a major introductory illustration.  i don't remember what i argued or why, but i remember doing it....  if i ever find the paper, i may revisit this random rambling.  :)

2) those of you who have been reading my blog for some time will be happy (i hope!) to note that (drum roll, please...): there is no longer a single (basket/ container/ drawer/ bag/ box/ what-have-you) of junk mail anywhere in my flat.  (insert cheering noises here.)  this has, unfortunately, had a negative impact on my kitchen table.  but being as how i have people over every now and again, the pile tends to be eradicated at least once every two weeks, which, as you know, is a drastic improvement over times past.  it's the little things in life...  :)

3) i am sorry to report that i am once again not making coffee in the mornings.  :(  i love coffee.  i love it dearly.  but even decaf is not sitting well these days.  sadness.  (sniff) but yay for Mayan Chocolate Tea.

4) i am reading a book entitled Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (How To Become An Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures) by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima.  (i'm reading it for a book-club-ish type small group.)  it's actually not quite as gloom and doom as I feared from the title; lots of very interesting case studies.

but i'm about 3/4 of the way thru, and in the section you might consider "practical application," the authors are discussing the process by which you actually begin to deal with the darker side of your personality.  they've gone to great lengths to explain that having a dark side is normal, and that it's just part of being human.  now they're trying to take the edge off the fact that actually dealing with it can be (especially when you're starting out) a long and daunting, time-consuming, tough, emotional process - by explaining what the process doesn't entail.

And I quote:
the process does not require you to "utter cathartic screams of inner cleansing."

what does it say that I read that and felt disappointed?  lol.

personally, i think sometimes all you need is one great big long cathartic scream of inner cleansing.  it may not actually fix anything, but it IS actually somewhat cathartic.  (read - it makes you feel better.)  ;)

5) i have 22 lbs of apples in my kitchen, just waiting to be made into pies and applesauce.  YUM.

6) my third annual road trip with Jesus was awesome.  and it was in August.  i am sorry i did not take pictures this year, but i will still try to write about it a bit - hopefully this weekend.  :) 

7) i sat in a chair at a local coffee shop tonight that was labelled (by my friend) as "an epic fail."  who knew chairs could fail epically?  but this one did.  it looked like it was going to be an amazingly comfortable leather chair.  the sort you just sink into and don't want to get out of.  ever.

it wasn't.

leaving the sidelines

I had an unusual dream a couple nights ago. In a lot of ways, it was just one of those standard, wow, my brain just super-imposed a lot of different things from my normal day-to-day life in a really strange way sort of dreams. But as I've been thinking it over the past couple of days, it seems to me that God was actually speaking through it.

I dreamed that a very good friend of mine from another church came to lead worship for Torch one day, but we weren't in a theatre; we were in a small stadium, complete with tiered seats, sections, and seating along the sides of the stage. Rehearsal was going well. I remember being extremely happy as conversations took place, watching friends from two distinct parts of my life connect and become friends and serve the Lord together. I also remember being extremely busy, running about, getting things done, answering questions, managing details - you know, all the stuff that usually makes up my pre-service Sunday mornings. :)

And then it was time. People were filling the seats, the lights were about to come up, and the service was about to start. The band walked onstage, and I took a seat at the side of the stage, expecting a birds' eye view, and wanting to be close to the action.

And then this gigantic tent popped up and covered the entire stage, and I couldn't see anything. I could hear the music, and I could see the packed room erupting in heart-felt worship, but I couldn't see a thing except the side of this ridiculous tent. It was so disappointing. A friend from the band came to sit with me when they were done, but she sat where she could see and we talked across a gap of a few chairs. She was sympathetic, which was nice, but it didn't help me see, or connect to anything that was going on in the room.

And then my alarm went off.

Weird, I thought - and laughed a little at some of the strange superimpositions. The tent in particular amused me because I knew where it came from in real life (it's small and plastic, lol). And I didn't really think anything of it, at first - but the dream kept re-surfacing in my head all day, and I found myself thinking about it again last night as we were praying at a leadership meeting.

And I feel like what the Lord is saying to me through it is this: I have a choice about where I sit.

How often do I choose to sit on the sidelines, watching what's going on around me, instead of getting smack in the middle of it? I'm not saying this is always a bad choice - as an introvert and a wallflower, I rather like it, and it's emotionally healthy to be there... sometimes. But how much do I miss, when I choose the sidelines? Where do I need to take a risk and sit right in the middle of things, becoming an active participant instead of a passive observer?

I'm not 100% sure what the answers to those questions are, but I think mostly it's the principle of the thing - simply being aware that, while heaven knows I'm knee-deep and in the center of a lot of things, there are probably areas where I need to step out a little more. Maybe I need to be a little more intentional about talking to people I don't know very well and asking them to tell their stories. Maybe I need to comment a little more often (instead of being a silent reader) on the amazing blogs that my friends (both those I've met and those I haven't) write. Maybe I need to be a little more proactive about just telling people how good God is, without waiting to be asked to tell my story.

Maybe? No, I do.

What about you? Where do you sit? And where do you want to?

leading worship and learning to fly

I remember a night not so long ago, back in my rookie days of being a worship leader, walking out to my car one night after leading worship for our young adult group, and pretty much just weeping with frustration. There was (and is) little else I love more than leading worship, whether I'm doing it from stage or behind the scenes, with music or without - but on that particular night I felt like I'd failed so miserably. It wasn't that things had gone poorly or that people hadn't met with God - they had. But I felt so disconnected from everything that was going on, and it just seemed so... off.

How could I lead people in worship when I had absolutely no awareness or understanding of what God was doing in the room? And it had always been that way, every single time I'd ever led. I felt so... detached. I was certain there was something I was missing, that I was doing something wrong, and I began to question whether or not I was even really called to do this. I longed so much to help people connect relationally with the Lord in worship, but if I couldn't model it - if I couldn't connect - then how in the world could I ever expect to lead worship well?

My mentor, Matt, told me something that night that's stuck with me. "Hap," he said, "Leading worship is kind of like riding a bike. Once you take off the training wheels, you've got your hands full just trying not to fall off. There are so many things to think about - balance, speed, destination, where the brakes are, how and when to shift gears to make it up that hill - and it takes a ton of concentration. You don't see a whole lot of what's going on around you. But if you keep at it, if you keep practicing, there will come a day when you won't have to think about it quite so much. And you'll be biking along, and all of a sudden you'll feel the wind in your face, and you'll look up and there before you will be the most glorious sunset you've ever seen, and you'll take your hands of the handlebars, and you'll fly."

(I'm sure he said it much better than that, but that was the gist of it.) And it's given me so much hope.

I led worship this morning for the first time in awhile, and I walked into church rather wondering if today would be the day. There were moments in rehearsal this week when that metaphorical sunset was glorious; His Presence was so sweet. And every time I've played through this set over the past two weeks, joy has just bubbled up in my soul. It seemed so clear that there was going to be a moment to fly...

And from all reports, there was - and people did. And I'll be honest and say that I did sense His leading as I led, in a way that I haven't always - but it still wasn't quite the soaring I'd hoped for. It was still a lot of thinking about balance and timing and wondering if people were with us or if we'd lost them somewhere during that instrumental back there, and was I going to whack anyone with my guitar if I turned to signal our drummer to bring it down for the next verse? And why, oh, why hadn't I thought to bring a notebook for my music this morning like I usually do, and did we really have time to do both of those songs at the end of the service or should I cut one out on the fly, and.... Well. I'm sure you see where this is going. Lots of thinking, quite a bit of emotional detachment.

Oh, well. There will be other days. And honestly, I'm actually pretty happy that I can walk away from this morning knowing that in spite of the fact that there's still a constant stream of mental chatter when I'm leading, I did actually lead well today, and there's a sense in which I've finally grown up into this calling, however much growing I still have to do. I may not have felt the wind in my face - but I knew it was there.

Mark's told me more than once that he thinks God often doesn't let me see what He's doing when I lead in order to keep me humble and dependent on Him. And if that's what it takes, then I'm so okay with that. But I do have to say - those moments this week when I did fly? They were pretty amazing. Mostly because He's so amazing. And because there, in those moments, I caught the slightest glimpse of His glory.

And it was breathtaking...

so, about that "next thing"....

This morning marked the beginning of a whole new season in my life.

I have become an associate pastor at my church.


I feel suddenly and unexpectedly grown up.
(tho I will probably get over it...)

My actual tasks from week to week probably won't change much at first, tho there will undoubtedly be a few new things added over time. As Mark pointed out (in one of the many conversations we had this summer, leading up to this decision), becoming an associate pastor is - in many ways - simply giving a name to something God was already doing in my life. He's given me a shepherd's heart, and a lot of leadership gifts that I have slowly (and, at times, fitfully) grown into over the past few years. This morning, my pastor and my church acknowledged that, and they prayed and cheered me into a new season of stepping out into those giftings more fully.

I am... excited. terrified. humbled. joyful. I am certain that I will learn a lot, and that I will grow in ways I can't even imagine. And I am confident that this is "the next thing" in which I am to trust God and simply follow Him.

It's going to be an amazing season.

Happy Birthday, Torch Church!

It's hard to believe it's been a whole year already. It's been a wild ride, and full of God's favor. Here are a few fun facts in honor of Torch's first birthday:

1) 80 people gave their lives to Jesus this year at Torch.

2) We have gone from being a young adult ministry to being a multi-generational and ethnically diverse community in only a year.

3) We STILL have new people coming almost every week. (They don't always come back, but sometimes they do!) We began with a core group of about 40 people - some of whom are no longer with us - and our weekly attendance now averages 70-100 people per week.

4) It has not rained or snowed in any significant way during load-in or load-out AT ALL for an ENTIRE year of Sundays. (What are the odds of that?!)

For all its trials and tribulations, it has been one amazing year. We've all grown up a lot, I think - there was so much we didn't know when we started, and some of the learning curves were tough. We've learned - sometimes by fire - the importance of community, of intentionality in relationship, of sometimes setting aside the never-ending task lists to just hang out and have fun - and we have seen the glory of God on display in our services and in the refining He's done in our lives as we've brought our hearts and our giftings and offered them to Him. It's been a truly incredible year.

Next year looks to be pretty exciting, too... I'm looking forward to new adventures in simply trusting God, and doing the next thing. ;)

reconciling with Oswald

My Utmost for His Highest.

I started reading it when I was in college, but found I disliked it, rather intensely. There was truth in it, but I felt so judged. So short of the mark. So I put it back on the shelf, where it collected dust, until finally I admitted to myself that I was only keeping it because it was reportedly part of any well-read Christian's library. I "wasn't ever going to read it" - so I gave it away, probably to Goodwill - maybe to a friend who wanted it - I have no idea. Either way, it's gone now.

And I'm finally, years later, a little bit sorry.

I listened to an audiobook this spring - David McCasland's Abandoned to God - a biography of Oswald Chambers. I have no idea what on earth possessed me to download it. Likely it was more that Someone in heaven prompted me to do it. It is one of the best books I have ever heard, and I am looking forward to someday owning a print copy to mark up. As the story neared the end, I found myself hoping that Oswald would not die, even though I knew he would. I was sad to come to the end of the book - it felt like losing a dear friend. I think I will likely listen to it again this summer - it was that good.

Oswald and I would have been friends, I think. He had a passion for seeing the arts restored to the church. He loved nothing better than long walks in the country and the company of good friends, talking about the Lord and His great love for us. He wrote some pretty amazing letters. He was funny. He loved music. He loved to travel. He learned to trust God through some very tight financial times. And he exercised his faith. Feeling undeniably called to it, Oswald and his wife once rented an enormous house to serve as a school - before they ever had a single student or a stick of furniture to put in it. Eventually, the Chambers and several of their students would serve overseas as missionaries in Egypt during the war. Oswald died there, of complications from appendicitis - and his wife, who had transcribed almost every message he had ever taught, devoted much of the rest of her life to publishing them. My Utmost for His Highest is actually a collection of short summaries from hour-long messages he preached to soldiers camped in Egypt. Knowing that, and knowing more of the adventurous, kind spirit behind the words, makes me want to read it again - for now I know that the man who spoke those words would never have spoken condemnation into anyone's life.

Oswald and his wife lived their life together by a very simple mission statement: "Trust God, and do the next thing." They dreamed often of what could be - prayed over those dreams, and asked the Lord for direction - but at the end of the day, even when they were certain of what God was calling them to (and when they were not), they left the future in His hands, and simply did what they knew was in front of them to do for that day. This seems to me to be a very wise way to live one's life.

My pastor told me recently that over the past few months he's watched me let go of what seemed at one time to be an almost desperate desire to know the "destination" (where are You calling me, God? and what am I supposed to do with my life?!) in favor of embracing the journey - the life lessons and joys of the here and now. It made me glad to see that what God began working in my life last fall was actually visible to someone else. I still have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future - many of which seem ridiculously unattainable - but I am less concerned than I used to be with how I will get there, or when, or even if - and much more concerned with living this life I've been given well. I do not always succeed at it; I have a remarkable gift for mucking things up sometimes. But I find myself more watchful for what today holds than I used to be. And it is good.

So today? Laundry. Dishes. Picking up a little. Going for a good long bike ride this afternoon. Cooking. Reading. Being at rest. And getting some stuff done for Torch tomorrow. It's our last week of a nine week sermon series, the staging for which involved a great many live plants, which I have been schlepping back and forth weekly. I am giving most of them away to any home that will take them, and looking forward to getting my windowsill back. It's the little things in life.... ;)

Book Review - Plan B, by Pete Wilson

Pete Wilson's book, Plan B, is ultimately about walking with God through the toughest parts of life. Wilson writes compassionately and honestly as he discusses the question that all of us, in various ways, face in the midst of pain and disillusionment: "God, where are You?"

Wilson tells a lot of stories, from the Bible, from his own life, and from the lives of people he knows. It is evident that the compassion he feels as he writes comes from walking closely with a lot of people who have suffered through great heartache, and his constant encouragement throughout the book is to not give up, but to turn to the One who can help and heal us - and to trust Him with our lives.

I wanted to like this book; I really did. Unfortunately, I really had trouble getting my mind around the basic concept of the book. Just because things aren't going my way doesn't mean I'm stuck in some sort of "plan B" - which sounds to me like an inferior plan. The very "plan A" versus "plan B" analogy seems to me to walk some dangerous theological ground. Wilson did try to explain that by "plan B" he means that things aren't going the way we would have chosen - but what seems to us like "plan B" isn't a secondary plan to God at all, and I don't feel that Wilson explained that very clearly.

There is a lot of good truth in this book - I highly recommend the parts where he quotes Scripture! - but much of the book felt a little preachy to me, and there were parts of the book where I felt he was reading into Scripture through the lens of the point he was trying to make. Still, he tells some good stories that illustrate truth, and his heart is in the right place. So I'll give it 2.5 stars - no, actually, 3. The study guide at the end has some really great questions.

Disclosure in agreement with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising": I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review - Kaleidoscope: Seeing God's Wit and Wisdom In A Whole New Light - by Patsy Clairmont

With wit and wisdom of her own, Patsy Clairmont has written a tremendously engaging book about some of the truths found in the biblical book of Proverbs. Kaleidoscope: Seeing God's Wit and Wisdom in A Whole New Light is, in and of itself, a kaleidoscope of humor, honesty, truth, and humility that shows the reader not only the beauty of God's Word, but also the beauty of what He can do in the lives of those who seek to know Him and to walk in His ways.

The book of Proverbs includes a number of short and concise words pictures that communicate truth. Using a kaleidoscope as a word picture of her own, Patsy illustrates in short and concise chapters some of the ways in which even the most broken bits and pieces of our lives can be transformed into something beautiful, when held up to the light of God's Word. Each chapter contains a brief meditation on a single Proverb, complemented by humorous stories from Patsy's own life, followed by a "bits and pieces" section full of thought-provoking questions for either personal reflection or group discussion, and closing with a few other Scriptures that tie in with the theme of the chapter.

I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it. Patsy writes honestly and empathetically, and is so incredibly funny - and yet the truths she communicates from God's Word are deep and life-changing. There is so much depth and beauty in this book. I'm already looking forward to re-reading it! It's that good. Five stars out of five.

Disclosure in agreement with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising": I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

why i love music

music just says things you can't really say with words. sometimes Latin helps. and an international choir. and technology. but mostly it's the music. this ... is just achingly, prophetically... beautiful.

lenten journeys: self-control

Self-control is a big deal in Lent. I mean, you give up coffee for forty-seven days and you learn how automatically you tend to head for the kitchen first thing in the morning. You start to hear yourself say "NO!" a little more often, and (realizing this is very negative) begin to teach yourself to look at that nice healthy green tea and say "Yes...." (in a very cajoling "I know you don't want it, but it's good for you" sort of way). Thank heaven for soy chai tea lattes!

This year I'm finding the Lenten season to be teaching me self-control on a deeper, and probably more lasting level than the usual "giving something up" routine, tho, and I'm really glad for it. Part of what I'm doing this year, rather than simply giving things up, is trying to become a better steward of what I have - and so to begin, I made a decision to not go to the store until I'd eaten the food I already have.

Can I tell you how sick I am of frozen soup?

I love to cook. I don't have a ton of time to do it, so I tend to cook a lot over the weekend and eat leftovers all week. I also tend to make ginormous crock pots full of soup and freeze half of it for later. Kashi frozen entrees are also a staple item - and living 10 minutes from two really nice grocery stores is also handy.

It's been incredibly challenging these past couple of weeks. I don't think I realized how often I would just run to the store because I wanted something. So, after two weeks of eating mostly frozen soup, I have become a menu planner. Yes, there is still a week's worth of soup in my freezer. No, I would not starve. Yes, I might go batty if I don't eat something else. So I am going shopping today. At the small grocery store half an hour away that sells mostly organic and locally produced food, at far lower prices than the bigger and more convenient stores down the road. And I have a list.

Already, in just two weeks, I am watching my diet and my finances change for the better, just by exercising a little bit of self-control: a fruit of the Spirit that, while not absent from my life, did need a little tending to help it grow in some areas. It's been a good - if soup-y - journey thus far. And I am so looking forward to something different for dinner tonight! (Tho I will confess, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have been to the store a couple of times to pick up frozen pizza. But that was more because a frozen Kashi pizza is my Friday night thing, and not having one on hand was the result of very poor pre-Lenten planning. Next Friday's pizza is already in the freezer. And I am choosing not to have it for lunch...)

lenten journeys: rediscovering sabbath rest

Over the past couple of years, the rhythm of my life has changed frequently. A little less than two years ago, I was leading worship at another church on Sundays. A year ago, I wasn't going to church at all. Now I'm... well, I don't really have a title, but I do stuff for Torch.

Finding Sabbath rest in the varied rhythms of each of these three seasons has looked a little different. Two years ago, I think I sort of took a Sabbath on Saturdays, and once a month, tried to take a whole afternoon as a "Geneva Day." Last year, being temporarily "unchurched," I generally had all day Sunday, and was pretty serious about making that a Sabbath day. Now, being very churched on Sundays (and often several evenings per week), I've been pretty disciplined about taking a Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. I don't do it perfectly. Occasionally I sneak in a few emails and whatnot - but I do try really hard to make sure I have a large chunk of time that I'm not doing church stuff, and am intentionally resting, reading, reflecting, relaxing, etc. I spend time with friends, I watch movies, I cook dinner. It's nice.

Yesterday... yesterday, I did not do that. Yesterday I woke up, turned on the computer, and started catching up on a lot of administrative whatnot that I've been putting off, partly because I knew it was going to time-consuming and I didn't have time to get it done, and partly because I tend to procrastinate. I spent probably a good eight hours of my day yesterday getting stuff done that I needed to get done. I also talked to my mom, and watched the Olympics, and had dinner. I'd been up late on Friday, and toward evening, I began to get a little crabby because I was tired, but I caught a second wind and got back to work, and the evening ended up being really fun, rehearsing for what turned out to be a really good service this morning, and building a slideshow. It was fun and creative, worshipful even, and I went to bed tired, but happy - and feeling rested.

How did that happen? Is it possible that, while not keeping the Sabbath as I usually do, I didn't completely break it either? I'm not sure. There are all kinds of legalistic arguments running through my head on both sides of the issue. But here's what I know: I had a lot of stuff hanging over my head that really needed to get done, and it's done now, and I can relax and not worry about it anymore. I had an early and busy, but super-worshipful and fun day today, and then I got to come home and watch a movie and have some tea and blog for awhile, and today - for all that I "worked" in the morning" has been a super-restful day, at least internally. Yes, I'm tired. I can also go to bed early, because all my stuff is done.

So which day was my Sabbath? Yesterday, when I stayed home and got stuff done, but didn't have to go anywhere and was able to spend half the day in my pjs drinking tea and being productive? Or today, when I had to be out the door early and serve at my church, but spent quality time with people and had some down-time too?

I have no idea. Maybe they were both a bit of Sabbath and a bit not. But as I wrestled with guilt over not being lazy yesterday, I went back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees about Sabbath-keeping. No, my inbox wasn't a sheep in a pit that needed to be rescued. But honestly - I kind of felt like a sheep in a pit, and that pit is way less deep now than it was at midnight on Friday. I'm not intending to make a habit out of making Saturdays my catch-up days. As a matter of fact, next Saturday I am sleeping in, going to the grocery store (with a list), and meeting my friend Eric for coffee at a book store. (And by "coffee", I mean a soy chai tea latte.)

But for this week - well, as Jesus reminded the Pharisees, the Levites broke a lot of Sabbath laws. They had to, to do their jobs. God knew how much I needed a day just to plow through and get my stuff done, and while far from lazy, it was a really good day - and so was today.

lenten journeys: learning to breathe

Today is the first day of Lent, and as usual, I'm a little reflective. This is the beginning of a long season. 40 days (47 if you count Sundays) until we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus - one of the absolute best parts of the amazing Story we live in. I am looking forward to Holy Week! But between now and then.... 47 days.

Julie wrote a beautiful post this week about Lent and her journey with the practice of "giving something up" for Lent. Giving something up is, as she says, about sacrifice - but you're not supposed to do it just for the sake of doing it. The point is to allow the discipline of sacrificing something to be a tool in God's hands, to allow Him to transform you. It was a timely reminder as I begin my own Lenten journey: I am not giving up coffee and junk food and all the other various and sundry things I feel led to cut out of my diet just for the sake of doing it - nor even for the sake of becoming more healthy, tho that will likely happen. I am giving them up because the very act of doing so will teach me discipline and self-control and point me to Jesus, and in His presence, I will be changed for the better. I will become more of the person He means me to be. I will learn some things along this stretch of the road that, while it's possible I could learn elsewhere, I am choosing to learn here.

Lent often feels a little desert-like. I had a dream the other night, and in it was this vast desert-scape: mesas painted glorious shades of reds and browns and khakis, and tufts of dying grass. It was beautiful and barren. And I heard Him say, "I am the one who speaks life to the desert." And then I sensed, rather than saw, that it was all about to change. The desert was about to become a lush valley, full of trees in bloom and rushing streams. It was just about to happen...

And I believe this is part of what my journey this Lenten season will be - watching God speak life into me. It begins, I discovered this morning, with learning to breathe (again). Breathing out my contrition. Breathing in His mercy. Breathing out my frustration with how packed my schedule is right now. Breathing in His ability to walk with me through it and lead me to still waters, even in the midst of it all. Breathing out my whacked perspectives. Breathing in His wisdom. And sometimes - simply sitting still in the middle of all the chaos for 20 seconds and remembering to breathe. God once hovered over the chaos of the deep - and spoke life into it. So I pray with the words of this hymn:

Hover oe'r me, Holy Spirit,
Bathe my trembling heart and brow;
Fill me with Thy Hallowed Presence
Come, oh, come and fill me now.

Fill me now, fill me now,
Holy Spirit, fill me now.
Fill me with Thy Hallowed Presence,
Come, oh, come, and fill me now.

- Elwood H. Stokes, 1879
(c. Public Domain)

Come, oh, come, and fill me now. Amen.

*sidenote: courtesy of The Upper Room and The Uncluttered Heart, I found The Awkward Season this morning. I'll be using this as my devotional for Lent this year, if anyone wants to join me. (some of my thoughts here were sparked by her post this morning.)

on loving your neighbor - and loving yourself

I've been thinking a lot about love these past few days. Love is so simple, yet sometimes feels like such a complicated thing.

About two and a half years ago or so, a meme went around, asking questions about Christianity, addressing negative stereotypes, but also asking what it is that we should be known for. I said, that in a word, it's this: Love. Based on 1 Corinthians 13, I argued that it wasn't "the frilly, fancy, red paper hearts, sappy valentine type of love" that we should be known for, but rather, "Real love. Tough love."

Love that is patient when it could be easily frustrated. Love that is kind when it could have chosen to be cruel. Love that isn't envious of the blessings of others even in the absence of blessing to itself. Love that is humble and quiet, not boastful and self-centered. Love that chooses to forget the wrongs done to it; love that refuses to stay angry, even though it has every right to be upset. Love that rejoices with everything that is good and true and right in the world, and weeps over that which is not. Love that protects fiercely, that trusts unyieldingly even when it doesn't understand, that hopes unswervingly against all odds, and that perseveres no matter what. Love that refuses to fail. Love that embraces grace, that extends it, that doesn't give up. Love that recognizes it can't be earned. Love that mourns sin and celebrates repentance. Love that is meek enough - gentle enough - to both hear and tell the truth. Love that hungers for righteousness. Love that extends mercy. Love that is pure in heart. Love that seeks peace, at great cost to itself. Love that will not shy away from persecution of any kind, because its purpose is greater than any temporary pain. Love that is... Love. (He is also known as Jesus.)

I believe that. I do.

And yet here I am, faced with a situation in which I have no idea how to practically, actively love.

The details don't really matter. The briefest summation is that I have a friend who had ceased, by personal choice, to be my friend - but who now wants to
re-establish that connection.

Justice says, "No way."

God says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

But how do I do that?

It's taken me a long time to learn how to love myself. There's so much that God has healed in me - and so much more yet to heal. But I am learning to take care of myself. To choose friendships that are life-giving and not toxic. I am learning to guard my heart more carefully - to be open, but cautious. I am learning - sometimes sadly - to choose carefully whom I trust.

So what do I do? What do I do with this old friend who wants to be my friend again? History tells me that this is not a safe investment. Experience tells me that it is unwise.

But love tells me that rejecting him is not an option.

I have every right to be upset. To be cautious. To resist. To say no.

But love extends mercy. Holds unswervingly. Celebrates repentance. Embraces grace. Perseveres. Does not give up.

I want to. Oh, how I want to give up, to walk away, to say "NO! I am not risking again. I do not want to be hurt." But love will not let me say that. At least not to his face.

So how do I do it? How do I love my friend, but love myself too? How do I love him as I love myeslf? How do I protect him, show him the grace that God has given him, and stick with him as Jesus would, yet establish wise boundaries that will take care of me too?

Maybe it is simply by forgetting that it's possible I'll be hurt again. Maybe it's by knowing it is possible, but acting as if it weren't. (that whole "if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, then walk two" thing...) Or - maybe... maybe it's by gently and lovingly pointing out the truth: your actions (and lack thereof) have been hurtful, my friend. It is not okay that you left. I am glad you are back, but please - please, don't do that again....

I am not sure. I do not know what to do. But I am praying - oh, how I am praying! - that I will. For in spite of the hurt I have suffered by his absence, I do so love my friend.

Oh, Jesus. Please teach me how to love as You do. You so dearly loved Judas, despite what You knew was in his heart - You did not deny him Your friendship. Please give me the strength to love my friend that much.

Jemila wrote something yesterday that touched my heart so deeply as I've been praying about this. She said that it's possible to write "new endings to old story-lines." My friend and I have been down this road before, in different circumstances, but with the same basic plot. But maybe - maybe - this time will be different. I don't know. But walking away from this means loss. For both of us. There has already been loss. But maybe we can both learn and grow and become more like Jesus, if I stay. If I choose the way of love. A way that makes no sense in a world of justice, but makes so much sense in the world of mercy, which - He tells us - triumphs over justice anyway.

on discovering confidence

i had one of those moments this morning - one of those moments that doesn't have a name but really ought to. it was a moment where i saw myself doing something that six months ago i would never have done, and yet today it was so natural and normal... and i thought - wow, i've changed... but when did that *happen*?

i think i randomly mentioned a few months ago that i'd started taking a Zumba class at my gym. when i signed up for it, one of my BFFs told me to expect to feel like an idiot for the first month, but not to worry - i'd get the hang of it eventually. "oh, great..." i thought.

but i went anyway. and yes, i felt like an idiot. for much longer than a month! but it's been fun. and good exercise. and somehow knowing that i was going to feel like an idiot made it easier to feel that way. and, somewhere along the line, in spite of the fact that i still don't nail every step in every routine, i stopped competing with my perfectionistic self - and making mistakes and getting past them (without wasting time being embarrassed) became normal.

now if only i could transfer that to the rest of my life, lol...

this morning, i went to class, and was, for a change, early... and not only did i end up actually talking to people, but i also took a front row spot in the class. no more lurking in the back row, trying not to be noticed. people were watching me today, and i didn't care.

when did that happen? :)

i've thought about that, off and on, all day. taking Zumba has taught me to have confidence - but how did it do that?!

maybe it was simply survival. you look like a fool if you don't put at least a little bit of attitude into some of those steps. (tho it could be argued that i still look like a fool, lol!) or maybe it was the music.... i don't know. but i walk out of class every week feeling a little more confident in myself, and today, dancing in the front row - it felt good to be able to recognize what God's been doing in me all along these past few months, where i hadn't seen it. and it just makes me wonder - what else is God doing in me that i'm simply not seeing yet?

food for thought.