Held

When my daughter was born, I used to wrap her tightly to my body using a long strip of fabric. Wearing her helped me get things done throughout the day – whether household or work outside the home. I would wear her while doing laundry. I would wear her while washing dishes. I would wear her while typing emails; while running programs for 50+ elementary-aged children. My daughter went where I went, and watched what I was doing because she was bound to me.

When she was just a little older than two, I watched as she marched up to a couple of unfamiliar people one Sunday morning at church and introduced herself. She had been watching her father and I for her whole lives, often bound to our bodies as we went about life, and she had learned “this is simply what we do.” So when she no longer needed to be worn, she did it herself, on her own two feet – even as she wobbled and stumbled as toddlers are prone to do.

Now my daughter is five, many years removed from her days of being worn and held as I work and live. She is still with me most days though. After picking her up from school, we head over to the building our church meets in and roll out folding tables and chairs, we set places for kids to eat dinner and print worksheets and lay out books and board games. I pull chairs down off the stack, and she pushes them across the floor and around the tables. I fill pitchers with water at the sink and she sets one in the middle of each table. I print handouts for tutoring and she staples them together. Because this is simply what we do, this is how we live.

She frequently asks, when meeting someone new, if they “live alone” or with another family, because her whole life has been lived in the context of the community that exists in the little duplex on 45th Street. She thinks it’s sad some families live alone and without other friends upstairs. In her mind, this is simply what we do, it’s how we live.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have my life bound up in the life of God lately. What does it mean to have Christ mediate my life and the life of God? What does participation in the life of the Trinity look like?

And I wonder, does the mediation of Christ look like a parent wearing their infant? My daughter, learning to chop vegetables and work with children and plan events before she can even walk because she sees me working, her life bound to mine?
My daughter learning to love the outdoors, the smell of leaves and the cool air on her cheeks in the fall before she can even walk because her father wears her while he is hiking, her life bound to his?

Rather than attempting to do great things for God, what if we embraced the reality that in Christ, we are bound to God. Held in the arms of our Advocate. And we learn and grow and participate just by paying attention to what is before us that day. We learn to set longer tables first by noticing that the One who holds us has already been setting them for quite some time, we learn to appreciate the beauty of the trees and the sunlight by hiking with our Father.

It’s not taxing because we just attend to where we are. We open our eyes wide, and ask a million questions, because we already are where the life is at, where the great things are happening, where the Kingdom is coming, and we’re just learning how to participate with the one who has bound our life with their own.

I imagine as I go about my day, trying to pay attention, practicing the discipline of child-like wonder, that the One who holds me whispers along:
“This is simply what we do, it’s how we live.”

And every day, we’re invited again to open our eyes wide, and take it all in.

 

 

(Image credit: Suzanne Shahar)
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I Heard the Bells (an introduction to why I want you to join me in re-thinking the way we celebrate Christmas)

One of my favorite Christmas carols of all time is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  It’s beautiful, almost haunting at times as the song weaves the cosmic weight of the holiday with the traditional occurrences of celebration.

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail and the right prevail
with peace on earth good will to men”

bells

 

(credit)

It’s easy to get caught up.  To lose the weightiness of Christmas in the soreness of our arms and backs from toting around shopping bags and suitcases and children strung out on one too many Christmas cookies.  But the bells still ring.  Sometimes loud and deep from church steeples and sometimes shrill and soft and chiming on registers as yet another debt collects on our cards.

“God is not dead nor doth He sleep.”

We can’t always here it.  The muzak blares. The crowds rush. Bearded men in red velvet suits call out and our children squeal out of joy or terror, or some debilitating blend of the two.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, peace on earth.  Peace on earth.”

It takes effort to hear it.
It takes time to notice it.
And those are two things that we simply have not enough of around the holidays.

We have stress and headaches, heartaches and annoyances a plenty.
We so desire for it to just be perfect!  A page straight out of Martha Stewart or Better Homes and Gardens.

There are Pinterest projects galore to be completed.
Family we may or may not get along with to see.
And the gifts, oh the gifts!

Buying, wrapping, putting away, installing, organizing. MORE BATTERIES!

Target reminds us each time we rush in because we forgot to pick up toilet paper that Christmas is really only X number of days away.

This year though, let’s resolve that among us, it will be different.  

This year we will remember that our reason for celebration is that God put on skin and moved into our neighborhood.

Into our mess, our stress, our too busy, eating-string-cheese-and-gingerbread-cookies for dinner lives.

In the spirit of this season, I want to celebrate not by engaging in the lie that I need more, my daughter needs more, my husband needs more.

I want to celebrate the reminder that there is enough.  The debts are paid and we are being made whole once again, the latest, greatest and shiniest aside.

This season, I want to celebrate not by maintaining expectations and status quo.

I want to celebrate in a way that remembers the story of a Messiah who was the last thing people expected, who unapologetically broke social mores, who turned over tables in the house people had built to honor Him.

This season, I want to celebrate by echoing the declaration of Christ in the book of Luke

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Good news to the poor.  Release for those in captivity.  Liberation for the oppressed.

Rejoice!  Messiah is here!

This season, I want to hear the bells, but I want to ring them as well.

Sound it from the highest steeples, the retail cash boxes, the twinkling ornaments, the chiming of neighbors at our doorstep.

God is not dead nor doth He sleep.

No, and indeed God is making all things new

Setting all things right.

Because the Spirit of the Lord has been poured out

and a declaration is going forth to the poor, the captives, the oppressed.

Release, recovery, liberation.

This is Christmas.

A Love for the Book

I have a few goals as a parent. I want to teach my daughter to love deeply, to live fully, to value community, to consider the needs of others before her own.  I want her to know and own her strengths, to lean into her talents and callings, and to know also her weaknesses, to own them and to see them as ways in which we are reminded that life is not a lone ranger type of journey.

Simple to state, difficult to achieve.

Most of all, I want her to know the God that dreamed her up, formed her and sustains her every breath.  I want her to know that God is crazy about her.  That God is crazy in love with all of us humans.  I want her to love the God story – the Scripture.

IMG_8548

We’ve been reading from her Storybook Bible every night since she was about three months old.  It’s been a part of our bedtime ritual since before there was really even bedtime.  As she’s gotten older though, her love for the book has gotten rough at times.  Excited fingers have tattered the pages.

For months I have scolded her “No Cadence, we must be gentle with our books…and especially this book.”
I even resorted to putting her Bible high on the shelf where she could not reach it.

“Bible? Bible?”
She would ask as she reached up for the book.

“No baby, you must learn to be gentle first.”

I gave in the other day and handed her the book.

“Bible!” she cried, leafing through story after story with wide eyes.

I smiled.

Listening in from the other room as I worked, I heard her rythmically

“It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. It’s Jesus.”

as the pages turned.

I wondered…

What if I were only granted access to the Story once I could care for it with the respect it is due?

What if I were only allowed to read when God was certain I would not tear out my favorite pages with the eagerness of a small child, leaving the whole story lessened and tattered?

I doubt I would have even had the chance to read the Book yet if this were true.

Do I still look in amazement at the Story?

Do I hear the song, page after page in Scripture

“It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. It’s Jesus.”

Or am I too busy creating space on a dusty, high up shelf to make room for a book that I would one day hope to love.

When you are, in this moment, beautiful

makeup

I’ve been thinking a lot about our perceptions of beauty lately.

Last week, Kristen Howerton over at Rage Against the Minivan shared about wearing makeup everyday.

The next day, as Ben, Cadence and I were mooching the malls air conditioning during the biggest heat wave of the summer, we saw a line of women (and a few very bold men) lined up five storefronts long to see a Victoria’s Secret model in the flesh.

And it’s summer.

And in general I hear from so many of the women in my life about how they “need” to lose weight…

or they won’t wear tank tops/shorts/a swimsuit/etc. because some aspect of their body doesn’t measure up to a certain standard.

and pinterest boards are overflowing with the latest, greatest workouts to trim your thighs and whittle your middle.

six packs. toned arms. freaking thigh gap?????

And we spend close to 20 BILLION dollars on our appearance each year.

to which I would like to ask a resounding

Why???

Do you know that you, yes you, in this moment are beautiful?

Yoga pants, bed head, no make up, chin hairs, under eye circles and all?

You.
Are.
Beautiful.

Not because of what you have covered your body with.

Or painted your skin with.

Or scented your neck with.

Or the shape of your abdomen, arms or whether or not there is a gap between your thighs.

You are beautiful.

Because God is beautiful.

The Source and Author of all that is true beauty.

and you, are a tiny mirror of God.

You are beautiful.

And this,

this,

supermarket check out line. pinterest boards. maybe it’s Maybelline.

this is vanity.

this is false.

Sure, it can be fun.  But I think we sailed past the point of fun long ago.

How many of us can’t even run to Target without putting on a face?

We’ve moved from from something fun that celebrates the beauty we each inherently posses, to being a slave to the image in the mirror.

It dictates our time

our thoughts

our meal choices

our perception of ourselves

our perception of our very worth as a person.

Please hear me, beauty is not wrong or bad or shallow.  Beauty is a gift.

God chose to make things aesthetically pleasing.

For all the authority and holiness and power of God we love to dwell on, we’ve forgotten to see God’s beauty.

God’s grace.

God’s peace and joy.

And in doing so we’ve twisted and pinned and carved away at what beauty is and what beauty means and distorted the image in our heads and our mirrors.

By stripping our understanding of what beauty is of it’s Source, we have opened the door for so many others to define beauty.

As skeletons wrapped in skin.

As all that is sparkly and polished.

As flawless and faultless and youthful.

And every day that we neglect to look to the Source of beauty is a day that we are susceptible to the toxic vanity that we are literally assaulted with at every turn.

The lie that somehow we are worth less or, perhaps, completely worthless because of our reflection.

So you, in this moment

Yes, you.

You are beautiful.

Not because of what is on the outside…

or on the inside.

You are beautiful because you are.
Your very being is a reflection of Beauty itself.

Whether you polish or straighten or wax or tighten or smooth or moisturize.

Whether you write or design or calculate or lead or defend or mother or train.

You, because you exist, are beautiful.

Not because of how you look, what you do, how graceful, smart, talented, or wise…

You are beautiful.

You were created “very good.”

Today, in this moment, just try to hear the still small voice that sings that over you.

“You are beautiful.  You are loved.  You are worthy.”

Try to hear it.  Just that voice.

Even if only for a moment.

Even if only at a whisper.

I hope you can hear it.

“You’re beautiful.”

Distress. Freedom.

Shackles of the Past

“Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered by setting me free.”
(Psalm 118:5)

Sometimes I feel like life over the past two years has been one big season of crying out to the Lord.

Newly married.

Moving across the country.

Living intentionally (and as a racial minority to boot.).

Distress.

and I cry out.

New opportunities.

New baby.

New neighbors and friends.

Distress.

and I cry out.

Car accidents.

Robbery.

Loss and lament.

Distress.

and I cry out.

Over and over and over again I cried out.

The academic year of 2008-2009 was the sweetest, most abundant (and sometimes hellish) season of walking with the Lord to this point in my life.  The Everest of my mountain-top experiences.   What I never expected was that in the years following, the years journeying down that mountain the trek would be so painful.

Distress.

Good things.  Gifts and snippets of grace all around.

But distress still.

Feeling like a dried up bag of bones, stripped of strong muscles and supple flesh.

Like a rosebush in the dessert, blossoms wilting and crumbling.  Beauty and grace fading daily and all but forgotten.

Distress.

And I cried out.

God had been so near, I could not bear feeling as though I were far away.
I grieved the distance, but I didn’t know how to resolve it.

Distress.

And I cried out.

Faithfully.

Day after day.

I cried out.

 

It is only now that I am beginning to see, the distress was setting me free.

The things that I wanted to change

or didn’t understand why they were happening.

The things that were so sweet and so good

the things that I should have been happy about but were so hard to accept in reality…

The tension

The pain

The bitter times

These things were drawing me out of the prison I didn’t even know I was in.

Like salt rubbed in a wound draws out the contaminants.

The stresses of life and the moments when I felt God had forgotten were drawing out those things which contaminate my true self and bind me from embracing the gift of who I am meant to be.

 

Distress.

Crying out.

Freedom.

 

“Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered by setting me free.”

Cry out, dismay not.

God is answering.

You shall be free.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Peter E. Lee

A Series of Prayer (while we await our redemption)

“Then your light will break out like the dawn,
    and you will be healed quickly.”

It’s a dark, sick and broken world we live in.  You don’t have to look very hard to see how bad it is.

War.  Famine.  Rape. Abuse.

Broken families.  Broken hearts.

HIV/AIDS.  Malaria.  Cancer.

We all experience it in one way or another

…but there is hope.

Oh Great Light in whom there is no darkness, break into this night and shine like the dawn.

***********************************************************************

“Your own righteousness will walk before you,
    and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.”

 

The Messiah.

God’s glory revealed.  Creation restored.  Perfect Kingdom come.  Perfect rest achieved.

That’s what righteousness refers to here.  The Hebrew word is tsedeq.

Justice.

Things set right.

Messiah.

 

Messiah before us.  Messiah guarding us from behind.  We have no reason to fear as we venture out to bring justice in this dark and broken world.  Messiah hems us in.

God of Love revealed in Christ.  May Your presence of perfect love surround us before and behind.  May this perfect love cast far away every fear that binds us.

 

 

 

 ***********************************************************************

 

 

 

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say, ‘I’m here.’
If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
    if you open your heart to the hungry,
    and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted”

 

 

In the midst of the darkness and brokenness and shame, we find hope.

We find pieces slowly being put back together.

Shards of a kingdom’s lost glory gradually being aligned.

For wherever a burden is lifted, God says

    I AM here.

Wherever chains of addiction or abuse are broken, God says

I AM here.

Wherever we stop pointing fingers and placing blame

…on those people

…on that political party

…on a certain religion

…on those we hate

God says

I AM here.

Wherever there is food shared between brothers and sisters, some who have need and some who do not, God says

   I AM here.

Wherever we are spent.  Wherever we sacrifice.  Wherever we reject the myth of “more” to provide in abundance for the least among us, God says,

I AM here.

 

Oh God, gives us eyes to see where You are.  Give us ears to hear you call out that You are here.  Give us hands and feet to walk forward with boldness and open the doors that have been long locked to let you in.

 

 

 

 ***********************************************************************

 

 

 

 

“The Lord will guide you continually
    and provide for you, even in parched places.
   He will rescue your bones.”

 

 

Take heart, you who are weary.

Take heart, when you have lost your way.

Take heart, when even your bones feel dry and empty.

 

Your Messiah has come.

You are redeemed and called by name.

Light in the darkest of nights.

Hope bubbling up like springs in the wilderness all around.

“Then your light will break out like the dawn,
    and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
    and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say, ‘I’m here.’
If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
    if you open your heart to the hungry,
    and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
    your light will shine in the darkness,
    and your gloom will be like the noon.
The Lord will guide you continually
    and provide for you, even in parched places.
    He will rescue your bones.”

Isaiah 58:8-11

A Lenten Meditation: For fasting and fellowship.

Hamburgers Instant Service
“Is [true fasting] not to share your share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
  …and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Sometimes I wonder what archaeologist and anthropologists would think about our culture if they dug up ruins of 21st century America thousands of years from now.

What would they think we value?

Who or what would they think we worship?

Big box stores surrounded by fast food chains.

Starbucks on every corner.

Sit-down deals for a nice dinner out dotting our downtown landscapes.

Our lives are completely saturated with food.  So much so that American’s throw nearly half of it away.

$165 Billion from cart to fridge to trash annually.

While we have brothers and sisters literally starving to death around the world and in our own backyards.

952 million people today are hungry.

49 million of these are Americans.

Every five seconds a child will die due to hunger related causes.

…and the average American throws half their food away.

If food is not a idol that has blinded us, I don’t know what is.

We plan our days around it.

We hoard it.

We over-consume it.

We turn to it when we are sad or lonely.

True fasting is to share your share your food with the hungry.

The idea of a fast has been largely lost by the church and the scraps of the discipline that have survived often miss the mark of what is intended for fasting.

I don’t think Isaiah is telling the Israelites to not fast any more.

I also don’t think Isaiah is telling the Israelites to fast when they are about to make an important decision…

…or have a major pray request

…or for a youth group event

I think he is calling them deeper.

A physical fast with spiritual implications.

Abstaining from one thing so that we might be filled with another.

In many ways, fasting may be one of the most counter cultural actions we can take as believers.

It sends the message to the idol of food society has erected that he is not king any more.

It forces us to confront our own frailty and weakness.

It rejects the idea that scarcity and going without is something we should fear.

…and it just may free us up to share what we have with those who need it most.

But there is another type of starvation prevalent in this world today.

We are starved for each other.

We are more connected, but find ourselves in less actual community than ever before.

We can read the status updates, look at the photos and condense our days down to 140 characters or less and feel as though we’ve interacted with the world when really, we’ve just blasted some feelings out into the void of cyberspace.

“True fasting is to provide the poor wanderer with shelter.”

Dinner with friends

What if we killed two birds with one stone?

What if we ate together?   Shared our food and our space and our lives?

Really, we are not so unique as humans

we grive

we laugh

we celebrate

we are mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons.

One big cosmic family of sorts.  We all belong at this table.  Sisters and brothers all wandering this world together.  The same Creator singing the irresistible song of redemption over us.

True fasting is to not turn away from your own flesh and blood.

Do they have flesh?  Is there blood in their veins?

Then don’t turn away.

What if you invited your neighbors over?

What if you bought lunch for the homeless woman you walk by each day and then ate with her.

What if we dared to not just throw money at an issue and instead sat down and ate dinner with it?

Perhaps we would realize the “issue” is a person with gifts, dreams, talents and a story.

Just

like

us.

When is the last time you took a break?   When you said “no” to the god of food?

When is the last time you sat down with someone else?

When you said “no” to the lie that isolation is strength?

When you took time to see the bigger picture?  That we are all in this life together?  No matter what differences may try to fool us into thinking we should be apart.

“Is [true fasting] not to share your share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
  …and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Hunger stats from Bread for the World.

Photo credit: Hamburgers Instant Service (Matthew Rutledge)
Dinner with friends
(Scott Ogle)