Of Your Own Have We Given You

If I were to paint you one picture that I hoped you would carry through your life, it would be this:

The golden November light slants through a large, elegantly curved window onto a small wooden table. Behind the table is a person facing the window, their entire being lit up by the dancing rays. Arms lifted, they raise their cupped hands to the heavens in offering. And inside their hands is the entirety of the world. Continue reading

A Prayer Between Thanksgiving and Advent

Lord, we confess to you that in this season of abundance, we are still often slaves to our mentality of scarcity.

We thank you for the generosity of our Native brothers and sisters so many years ago, and continuing to this day. We confess that we and our fathers did not faithfully reciprocate this generosity, but have rather subjected this land and many different peoples to violence for our own gain. We have sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind of hatred, division, and bloodshed.

We confess that we still often lack this generous spirit to the poor, the immigrant, and the minority. Our mentality of scarcity has tricked us into a false dichotomy that believes enough for me must mean less for you.

We ask that you touch our hearts anew with the story of Christ, who became poor that all might become rich, who became marginalized that all might be included, and who became an immigrant that all might find their true home.

Teach us to live in the abundance of your kingdom, that in humility we may find more than enough in you.



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!


“All is Grace”–Really??

The thousands of pointed leaves have emerged like butterflies, suddenly wrestling themselves out from the cocoons of white blossoms. Grass is mowed and warm rains fall and it’s easy to be lulled by the quiet hum of it all. 

And yet just this week, earthquakes have shattered the earth of two countries. Children have gone missing in countless more. I walk down the street under these canopies of leaves only to see men and women digging through recycling bins or just bowed by the weight of it all.

All…it’s a word I’ve used before, saying “All is grace.”

What do I really mean by those words? When I hear them said by others, what do they mean?

Do they mean that every circumstance in our lives is a gift from the hand of God?

That there is no such thing as evil, only good which we struggle to recognize?

Does it excuse or wipe away the pain of abuse, betrayal, heartbreak, terror because really it was just the difficult grace of godly discipline?

I want you to know that the answer, for me anyway, is No.

I couldn’t have walked the last two and a half years of my life without recognizing the presence of evil in this world. I can’t stare in the face of someone who has survived horrific abuse, brainwashing, and pain and tell them that this was a gift from God. Even amidst his sovereignty, I cannot say to them God chose this.

What I can say, however, is that there is grace in the midst of it all. That choosing to re-interpret our lives through the lens of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit is a powerful testimony to resurrection. That there is no pain or evil beyond the scope of God’s redemptive and creative power.

What man intended for evil, God turned into good.

THIS is the story of Grace. This is the potential for every moment, every breath of our lives. We can speak the words “all is grace” because we trust in a God whose grace uses our enemies to turn us in reliance upon Him, who uses our failures to humble and teach us, who uses our disappointments to draw us back into the Everlasting Arms.

I believe this is part of what Paul meant when he described himself “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” The apostle John declares, “For from [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Grace, this gift of second chances and hope of redemption in the midst of death.

This story of wildly unexpected endings and the promise that evil is not the last word.

Our responsibility is to receive, and then obey.
And within it all is the germinating embryo of resurrection.


Sacred Pauses

The crow and I have become good friends.

He, remaining impressively quiet in the early morning hours (I’m sure just for me!) and I, sitting on the deck or staring out the window, mug in hand, simply appreciating his presence. We are witnesses together here, of the first spring blossoms and the changing colors of the sky.

I look ahead on all the possibilities of the day, the segments held together like the juicy flesh of an orange bound by a thin membrane. Each one that goes by I want to savor, notice, taste, appreciate. I want to recognize the gifts. I want to thank the Giver.

Rarely am I able to diagnose my own needs. But at the start of this year, looking ahead at all the blank boxes of the calendar, it wasn’t too hard to sort this one out: I needed more time to pray. Or, perhaps the real truth–I needed to pray more in my time.

How much I go to God in prayer is a much better indicator of my own self-sufficiency than I could ever diagnose on my own. The more I realized how much of my day I go through with an “I’ve got this” mentality, the more I’ve been humbled by my own pride and self-importance.

This is about remembering my hourly neediness, my constant dependence on Christ.

As ten o’clock nears, the crow caws louder, hopping from roof to branches. I look up from my work at the trees whose buds are now mysteriously becoming leaves. Soon the bells will chime again, calling me to pause, let go of my drive to achieve, and take time to remember.

They say it takes seven weeks to develop a new habit. If that’s true, then this post is a bit premature, for I’ve only been setting alarms for about two weeks. There are days when I’m in meetings or with friends, and those moments sweep by without notice. There are days when prayers happen while scrubbing floors or driving home, or in a simple breath of “thank you.” But I hope, whatever it looks like, I’ll be able to build this habit of pausing six times a day to recognize the holy ground I’m walking on.

Interestingly, having a natural division of the hours in my day is helping me stay a bit more organized, maybe even get more done. Taking a few minutes to breathe in between crossing off the to-do list has given me a chance to process emotions, evaluate priorities. And yet that’s not the point. Whether or not it’s beneficial to me, I want this to be about Christ. About worship. About re-orienting my life and perspective, reminding myself not to live for self-gratification or pleasure, reminding me to look around for opportunities to do good, opportunities to give thanks. It’s about preaching the gospel to myself over and over again, repenting quickly when I’ve sinned, filling my mind with truth and praise.

This is about not getting sidetracked by pursuing justice, and neglecting the pursuit of Christ.


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.

2016-02-15 (1)2016-02-15 (3)2016-02-15 (2)

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.

2016-02-15 (5)2016-02-15 (4)IMG_20150613_211417575_HDRIMG_20150530_134547454IMG_20150523_121928331_HDR

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.

Lanterns - EditedbeautyRainbowPhoto

A Prayer to Begin Lent

During (and after) the Advent season, I felt the need to focus on the theme of desire and longing. Now, here we are beginning the season of Lent, and what better word to sum up the experience than desire? Isn’t this much of what Lent is about–to give up that which we desire, in order to more clearly recognize the emptiness of all but Christ? The chance to see how desperately we long for a Savior, since our small earthly attempts at meaningful spiritual discipline are wobbly and incomplete at best?

But maybe Lent could be about more than just restraining a particular desire, as helpful as that may be. This weekend our pastor preached out of Isaiah 58-59, and I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of these words as I sit here today. I’m taping this prayer on my mirror for the 40 days and would invite you to join me, if you’d like.


We confess the many ways we have tried to please you, please others, and please ourselves through mere religious activity.

We confess the times we have thwarted or ignored justice out of ignorance, arrogance, or self interest.

We confess the times we’ve signed up or showed up with hearts without generosity or love.

We ask for you to give us new hearts and new desires.

Show us what it means to loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the yoke of oppression, and share our food with the hungry.

Let us be called the repairers of the ruins, the restorers of streets to dwell in. Help us see outside the narrow confines of our self-interest and seek the thriving of our city and community.

Instead of just trying harder, may we be forever ruined by your astounding love, eager to give the same love to others.

Teach us to pour ourselves out for the afflicted, knowing we will be fully satisfied in You.


God’s Dimension Coming to Birth Within Ours: On Longing and the Lord’s Prayer

Back in December, as we meditated on the season of Advent, I wrote about longing. Ever since then, I’ve still been asking myself the same question: What does it look like for Christ to be the answer to my longing? What does it mean to bring my desires (or fears) to Him?

Sometimes, I’m surprised by my desires.

Sometimes, I’m proud, even boastful of them.

Sometimes, I’m afraid or confused by conflicting desires.

Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit them.

When I take a step back and evaluate my every-day, get up and work, push-through-and-do-my-best kind of days, I’m surprised by how central I live to desire. I wake up in the morning with a clear sense of what I immediately want–to stay under the warm, comfortable nest I’ve built for myself until the last possible moment. 🙂 Then, when I’ve finally convinced myself it’s absolutely necessary to leave, I begin this mental dialogue:

What do I want to wear today?

What kind of tea do I want to make?

What do I want for breakfast?

And then the secret, subconscious whispers slip in:

I wish I could be doing ____ today instead of _______.

I wish my life was more/less  ________.

I wish I was one of those people who ________.

I wish this pain, frustration, hurt would end.

The truth is, we were created with desires. With needs. As much as I would like to be self-sufficient, sooner or later I come to the end of myself, a case of unmet desire where I am not in control. Left to ourselves, desire can turn rancid–birthing discontentment, envy, anxiety, self-centeredness. 

What does it mean to live every moment in the presence of Christ within me, living among and as Lord over all these desires?

I love what N.T. Wright says in The Lord and His Prayer:

“The whole point of the Kingdom . . . isn’t about shifting our wants and desires onto a non-physical level, moving away from the earthly to the supposedly “spiritual.” It is about God’s dimension coming to birth within ours…The Kingdom is to come in earth as it is in heaven.”

“The Lord’s Prayer is designed to help us make this change,” writes Jen Pollock Michael in Teach Us to Want,  “a change of priority, not a change of content. This prayer doesn’t pretend that pain and hunger aren’t real.”

Bringing my desires to Christ does not mean rejecting them, but rather releasing them. By recognizing Christ as the authority over all Creation, even my own desires, I allow them to be redeemed and transformed. I allow myself to confess the full force of my desires, humbly admit my needs, make peace with the strong hungers that make me human.

“Brave is the only way to write, and brave is the only way to pray…the untucked prayers— the prayers of our struggle— prepare the way for surrender, even praise.”

Surrendering my desires; this is an act of humility and grace. Through His eyes my priorities are aligned and this changes the way I want. This is not merely self-denial, but soul-transformation. It is freedom rather than obligation. God’s dimension coming to birth within ours.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

I love how Scripture is continually pointing us back to Christ as our tuning fork. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us,” writes Paul in Ephesians. “Consider him who endured,” encourages the author of Hebrews, “so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” “Abide in me,” asks Jesus in John 15, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

It is ultimately the magnificence of Christ that will eternally capture our hearts. He who is before all things, and in him all things hold together. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. May You redeem my desires so they are ultimately satisfied in You.