Let Everything Happen To You

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Ranier Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59

Translated by Joanna Macy

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You do all things well.

I recently re-discovered Tenth Avenue North’s album The Struggle. Many of their songs focus on making sense out of suffering. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about these lyrics in the past few weeks:

All I hear is what they’re selling me
That God is love, He’s isn’t suffering
And what you need is a little faith in prosperity
But oh my God I know there’s more than this
If You promise pain, it can’t be meaningless
So make me poor if it’s the price for freedom

I wonder sometimes how innocently I’ve believed the lie that what God wants most is for me to be happy. Of course in my head I know this isn’t true; although God loves me, what he wants most for me is my joy in becoming holy, in becoming more like Christ. But to follow Christ means to follow the way of suffering. So why am I alarmed, as Paul says, that I must suffer as well, whether it may seem big or small? Continue reading

Ups & Downs

Sometimes life is a wild ride. Sometimes just when you think you’re regaining your control of it, it defies your illusions and shows you just how little control you really have.

I’m usually not someone who has trouble being flexible, but at the beginning of this year I was really holding tightly to my plans for the next 12 months. And instead, the past three months have felt like utter chaos and I”m still a bit woozy from the whiplash.

This last month has been encouraging in many ways. I’ve begun to feel better and am hopeful that I am finally on the upswing, even though it will still be a gradual road. I’ve also been blessed with a lot of sweet moments with friends, new and old. I’ve been given a glimpse into just how precious this life is here that I live, and this has made it much easier to let go of my thoughts of what this time was supposed to look like.

But when I’m totally honest, some days are still a struggle. I struggle with looking back and wondering what I could have done differently to bring a different outcome. I struggle with guilt over how my problems have impacted those closest to me in ways they didn’t deserve. I struggle with wanting to control the future–wanting to guarantee that the next few months will bring full healing, that our trip to Europe was merely postponed instead of cancelled, and that life will continue on like it was before February.

The problem is that nothing in this life is guaranteed. The only thing each of us can do anything about is the moment we’re in right here, right now. NOW is the only guarantee.

Except Jesus.

Because while I want to control the future and make amends for the past, the only thing I can cling to in utter assurance is Christ. No matter what the future days, minutes, hours hold, he will hold me fast. I am guaranteed his presence and his eternal life. I can rest confident in his faithfulness every moment, every day.

One of my continued prayers during this time is for this season to help me recognize even more the beauty and sufficiency of Christ. Years ago, I sort of claimed this verse to be my life’s theme, and now I pray that the Lord would help me understand the meaning even deeper and richer this year:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.    – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Thank you, Jesus!

The Beautiful & the Real

“Let this Lent dismantle everything that isn’t about eternal things.”

This week I read these words, and my spirit echoed yes. These are the words I am grasping for in an unexpected and difficult season of life.

Ever since we made the decision to postpone our trip to Europe, my prayer has been for this season to make me a more beautiful person. It sounds a bit strange to say it out loud, but I have always been strongly motivated by beauty. And that’s exactly what I found last time we were in Amsterdam–a beautiful city, beautiful people, and a beautiful glimpse into God’s redemption amidst brokenness. So as I imagined what I would miss most about cancelling our trip, I thought of the relationships with students & opportunities to serve. But I also thought, I’ll miss getting to see all the beauty. 

This week I really needed the reminder of words like these:

The most fulfilling lives seek out the meaningful — more than the beautiful. Meaningful over beautiful. 

The most fulfilling lives actually see the meaningfulas the most beautiful.

Any craving for the beautiful — is really a craving for Jesus.

Recently I finished reading The Lucky Few, a story of one family who chose to say “yes” to hard things, things most of us would struggle to accept and would hardly ever choose. In the book, the author talks about what they would have missed out on, had they been looking only for lives that were easy, comfortable, or beautiful. I was struck again by how quickly we see difficulty as misfortune, a barrier to our best life instead of a mysterious new gateway into it.

This Lent, this season of dismantling and giving up and letting go, is a picture of the Death that must precede the Resurrection, the most beautiful reality of all. And I pray that it will teach me what it means to embrace each day with arms wide open, welcoming the beauty in unexpected places. May it teach me to look for the meaning and find beauty there.

The Problem of Self-Forgetfulness

There is a strange intersection between prayer and weakness.

At first, most prayer requires me to immediately run up against a broken world. For many of the reasons I stop to pray are the reasons the world needs to be made new. There are many problems I would like to see solved, many societal systems I would like to see change, much suffering I would like to be eased.

But then, something deeper happens. Something offensive, even. For in the posture of humble prayer, I run up against many of the broken parts of myself as well.

Brennan Manning states that “Prayer is death to every identity that does not come from God.” I think what he might be trying to get at is this brokenness, this humbling that comes from genuine prayer. For as I hear myself pray, I recognize the part of myself that wants to run from suffering and pain. I recognize the pride that asks for success in my next public speaking event or leadership endeavor. I recognize the bruised ego, the selfish desires, the asking for God to give me just a little bit extra.

There is certainly a joy and an intimacy in prayer. Thankfulness and praise are such important responses to the greatness and graciousness of God! Yet even in my praise, I hear echos of what it did for ME. I find myself thankful only for the pleasant, the comfortable, the convenient. It doesn’t take long to recognize my own self-absorption.

And here is where the pendulum stops. Here is where the path is chosen. For once I run into an area of brokenness in myself, as we all do, I have three choices.

First, I can repress or ignore these feelings. I can focus on the more positive aspects of who I am, the gifts God has given me, who I am in Christ. This may work, for a time. The problem? It’s still just all about me.

My second option is to be hard on myself about it. Plagued by guilt or a deep sense of inferiority, which many would mistake for humility. Personally, this is probably more of my natural bent–and along with it, the desire to cover it up, keep anyone else from witnessing my brokenness. Yet once again, it’s still an endless cycle around me.

The third option is the antidote to pride and self-absorption. It is true freedom, a breaking out of the cycle. It is self-forgetfulness. For if I can finally bring myself to grasp the reality that it’s not all about me, and it never was, I am freed from the pressure I’ve placed on myself to play this starring role well. If I see myself as more of a background player, a supporting role, then whether I succeed or fail is much less important. If I truly understand my identity which is firmly rooted in the unchanging Christ, then whether I’m loving and admired or my every weakness is exposed, my confidence does not change.

And yet, the self dies so reluctantly! I crave the freedom it would bring to truly let go of my own self-importance. Yet at the slightest offense or failure, I’m right back at the beginning again, chafing under the restraint of my own weaknesses and inadequacies. Like Paul, I cry out, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer is important for many reasons, the main being a beautiful relationship between ourselves and the Creator and Sustainer of all. When I come before him in praise, thanksgiving, or petition, I am reminded that none of this is about me.  I think Henri Nouwen said it well:

“In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands–a life where we are not ashamed of our weaknesses but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by [God] than to try to hold everything in our own hands.”

I think this is what Paul meant when he later wrote that he rejoiced in his weaknesses, “that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!


Notes on Weariness

I’ve been working on my next post on prayer and pausing–a much needed lesson for me this year! However, I was so moved/encouraged by these reminders from my Newton book today, I just had to share them with you. May we seek to decrease as He increases!

On the subject of weariness & apathy in the Christian life:

“Soul weariness is not avoided by dismissing good gifts; rather, it’s avoided by properly placing Christ as the ultimate gift. …Those full of themselves are wearied by the fullness of Christ. This is the tragedy of a lost world…but it’s the kind of prescription that brings healing if we can turn from the lies that promise we will find our ultimate happiness and security in self-righteousness, self-power, and self-satisfaction in all its forms. This soul-wearying sickness can only be cured by turning to Christ, our daily all-sufficient treasure.”

“What makes the Christian life wearisome is me… An ‘amen’ to the doxology of Christ’s sufficiency requires our genuine humbled acknowledgement of our insufficiency.”

-Tony Reinke

Newton: “I find that many of my complaints arise more from the spirit of self, than I was formerly aware of. Self, as well as Satan, can transform itself into an angel of light…Too often a part of my grief has been [not for sin, but] a weariness of being so entirely dependent upon Jesus…I could have better liked to have some stock, ability, and power of my own, that I might do a little without Him; that I might sometimes come before him as a saint, as a servant that has done his duty, and not perpetually as a poor worthless sinner. Oh, that I could be content with what what is, and must be…that I could live more simply upon the freeness and fullness of his grace!!”


What I love about a cloudy morning is the way curls of steam rise like little white blossoms from the mug.

And how, when the wind blows up here on the third floor, the panes rock back and forth like a clumsy attempt to soothe all the stress and discouragement I’ve closed in.

I love how the world holds me like a blanket just long enough to feel that it’s OK to spend five extra Friday minutes staring out the window at the just-budding branches. Then suddenly, a few bright rays break through, land on my forehead like a brisk blessing, and it’s time to get back to work.

For several weeks I have felt at-odds with my desires, recognizing envy, discouragement, and selfishness in some vulnerable places. I cling to the words:

“You can’t have community with those you compete with,”


“We don’t need more things. We need more meaning.”

Unfurling from these two truths is a single word like a wisp of morning steam.


I walk through my house fingering it like a stone in my pocket.

This house-it is enough.

These daily tasks-enough.

This messy kitchen, this sticking door, the contents of these closets–enough, more than enough.

And the uncertain dreams? the middle spots with unknown endings? the relationships sometimes causing so much thought? Enormously, abundantly enough-if I choose to accept them.

Sometimes it seems the whole of life is remembering. I remind myself of these words last November, how this is the beginning of the fullest life, the biggest blessing: choosing to name this enough. I remind myself of what we read last December, what I struggled against like a cord wrapped tightly–“Embrace the small.” Embrace the downward life, because this is the way of the Kingdom.

What feels like compromise or constraint can turn out to be the greatest blessing.

What feels like “settling” can be the jar of clay with the treasure inside.

What seems insignificant  can be a gateway to glory.

What seems boring and ordinary may just be the very tool for a job this size.

“The meaning unfolds in the ordinary Wow. Thank You. Yes.”

Ann Voskamp

Why Good?

I wake this morning to a flood of February sunshine through the window.


Later, my phone will announce the astonishing news–10 degrees warmer today than yesterday. But for now, I simply slide my legs to a cool patch of the forest green sheets from our wedding shower. I curl my arms up to the pillow which has teased my hair into a mass of wild loop-de-loops all night. Outside the bedroom door, Ben makes coffee and scrolls through email under a bright-colored quilt with a view of the city skyline. My heart wants to burst.

Later, he’ll make me earl grey–my favorite way, with honey and cream–and I’ll sit on our IKEA couch that we wrestled together with our own hands, and eat bananas with nutella toast, just like the day so long ago when we first realized we belonged together.

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The cup feels heavy in my hand. Who can explain this?

So much of the world feels under siege– full of anger, violence, pain, defensiveness, hopelessness, emptiness, downright evil-ness. Who can explain the peace of a sunny morning, the joy of a day full of promise? In a world where so much has gone wrong, who can explain the astonishing ways in which they go right?

The flash of utter gratitude feels like a fire inside, feels the way the sunshine warms my toes through the open window. I can hear the truth of it echo all the way down my spine.

If we truly believe in a broken world, it’s not the pain and failures that should undo us.

If we truly believe we were hopeless without a Savior, it’s not the evil and suffering that should derail us.

Pain, failure, evil–our souls were never created to make sense of it all. The weight of this world can feel crushing, life-sucking, and I’ll be the first to admit it rather than downplay another’s suffering. Yet I can’t help but wonder why I’ve ever been surprised by pain and evil.

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Instead, as I walk up the slate-grey steps and slide into a pew, I’m astounded by good.

I’m overwhelmed that amidst this very broken, self-destructing world–this human race who has collectively denounced our dependence on anything but ourselves–that here I can still find the very presence of God. What overwhelming mercy from one who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” What love from one who breathes life into my lungs and whispers to the daffodils when to bloom. What faithfulness from one who still pulls the tide back and plants seeds of love and eternity in the self-seeking hearts of mankind.

The world would tell us to expect good, reach for the best, see suffering and pain as interrupting our best life. The world would tell us that mankind is basically good, that evil and violence should surprise and must be explained because the goal is always happiness.

But as the breeze floats in the open window, sending goosebumps up my arms, I see how blind I’ve really been.

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