Commitment to Celebration

In autumn, death comes like a cinder paintbrush, lighting up the trees in flames of red, orange, and gold.


It’s as if the whole world has come together to celebrate the summer that was and the winter that will be. I think, when I’m honest, this is a challenge to me. How often do I find it easy to celebrate the summers in my life, and struggle to celebrate the seasons that feel more like death?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to commit to celebration in our lives, as a spiritual discipline that’s more than simply giving thanks. What would it look like to celebrate the stuff that’s keeping me up at night? What would it mean to throw a party not for the new job, the new house, or a new year, but for the things I’m not sure I want to claim, the things I’m afraid of or don’t understand?

“Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves–our strength, our resources, our comfort, our understanding and wisdom, our plans and control–but as it does so, it can drive us to the One whose very being is endless. We often despise our limitations because we want to be strong and self-sufficient, but our weaknesses fit perfectly into God’s gracious salvation plan. For it is only when we are bowed low before God in humility that we are exactly where he wants us to be, and, surprisingly, where we most need to be–powerless to help ourselves and totally dependent upon him.”  -Sarah Walton

Paul said it like this:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

I’m not sure I’ve learned yet what it means to rejoice in suffering, but I think it looks a lot like autumn. The leaves that blaze in piles of glory may die, but they know the true secret: that what seems like death is simply a preparing for spring.

Celebration in the midst of suffering is the truest way I know to speak of the truest thing I know: that redemption is coming, that in some mysterious way every death can be the preparing for a new kind of life. A hope that does not disappoint, like every tree aflame with a fire that does not consume.



Some time ago, I realized my normal modes of exercise–mainly biking and walking–were primarily benefiting a certain set of muscles. My legs. Although I felt in good physical shape, there was a whole half of my body that never received a very strenuous workout. In order to right this imbalance, I needed to seek out exercises that targeted these weaker areas.

In some ways, the choices I make in my life are similar to the exercises I choose. It may seem like I’m in good shape, but when I look closely I’m very heavily focused on certain areas, with whole areas of my life ignored or uncultivated. Just like my physical body, these “muscles,” if not used, will continue to stay stagnant.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about risk. After years of making choices, we are (often unconsciously) choosing what muscles in our life we want to be strongest. Years of making a safe, easy, or comfortable choice will cause those muscles to become my reflex response. The more I choose comfort and security over risk, the more I’m closing my heart off to all sorts of scary but wonderful things God might bring me.

Choosing to embrace risk, doing things that are good but scare me, is a way to begin building strength in other areas, knowing that more scary things will inevitably come and these extra muscles sure might come in handy. As reluctant as I might sometimes be, I want to keep doing something that scares me every year of my life. I want to keep saying yes and building my muscles of trust, creativity, prayer, and dependence upon Christ.


What are some things that really scare you? I’m not necessarily talking about spiders, snakes, or steep ledges–although I totally get that. But what really terrifies you deep down?

Rejection? Failure? Isolation? Meaninglessness? Not-enough-ness?

Me too.

There are some days we look at our life and think, why risk it?

The point is not that risk is inherently good, but that life is about these sort of small choices we make every year of our lives. This isn’t about gaining points by being a crazy risk-taker, but re-aligning our priorities so that we’re willing to take risks for the sake of big and beautiful things. Discerning when to step into this risk intentionally, and the process of embracing it, is what exercises our muscles of dependence on the Spirit. We learn to pray, live, and love Jesus differently when we’re out of our comfort zone.

Here’s who I want to be: someone who enters into risk with the full acknowledgement that I need both wisdom and courage, that I don’t have enough of either of these on my own. I want to step forward towards good/scary things because I know whether I fail or succeed, just the very act of stepping forward is a victory.

And once I’m there, I want to look back with a knowing smile on my face, recognizing that Jesus led me all the way, and turn my face towards the future and say,

“Let’s try again tomorrow.”


Only Love Remains

I heard once that in previous centuries time was not viewed as a line you move through, with a beginning and an end, but circular–the way the sun rises and sets, or the year always circles back to spring.

In my own heart I often recognize this circular pattern. I learn something true about living every day, and I do my best to remember it. But new thoughts come, distractions drift my mind away, and the sharpness of this truth becomes dulled. Months later, I’m reminded of these truths again and around the circle goes. My prayer is that each time becomes like the blow of a great hammer, driving it deeper and deeper into my soul. Like the unforced rhythms of grace.

When I first started this blog nearly three years ago, one of the first things I wrote about was love.  The more I live & pray about living, the more I’m convinced that this is each of our great lives’ works–the work of love.

Continue reading

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.

Confessions of a Distracted Do-Gooder

“Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, happy biiiiirrrrthhhdayyyyyyy….”

Her baby dimples and toothy grin could melt the heart of any scrooge who considers taking away the singing birthday card she clutches so tightly. As her sister opens gifts and jokes with her older brother, this little one wanders in pure delight, the card opening and closing amidst her attempts to swipe a drink of soda from someone’s glass.

To think that several days ago I wanted to give up on this all together. Continue reading