The Creativity of Relationship

I find humanity a lovely, fascinating, complicated and sometimes frustrating thing.

I know you feel the same. I hear it in our laughter together over ridiculous viral videos, our confusion over a global crisis, and the love and loyalty we carry deep inside.

I hear it in words of loss, pain, and mourning; squeals of happiness or the silent smiles of deep joy. We all share this collective joy and pain of living. We all know what it’s like to be loved, and we know what it’s like to be lonely.

All my life I’ve felt what you might call the tug of the artist–the desire to be creating, inspiring, and making beauty. Only recently did it burst into my mind with sudden clarity–how every relationship is, in essence, an act of creativity. Taking two people who are completely unique and forming a relationship that has never existed exactly like this before. Continue reading

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!


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!!”

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.

Advent Longings

During this season of Advent, one particular idea has been weaving throughout my daily thoughts and prayers:

At its core, Advent teaches us what to do with our longings.

The coming of the Messiah was one of the most anticipated, longed-for events in history. Even now, we crave the story of a hero coming to save the world from destruction and evil. Yet in the moment of Christmas, all of that anticipation, that longing, found its conclusion in the tiny body of a frail baby named Jesus.

Tonight, I light the Advent candle and we bow our heads, and I think of all the longings I feel in this moment. How desire is such a universal language of mankind. Desire not just for physical items, even though this seems to have become one of the biggest symbols of Christmas. No, this confusing ache down in my soul is something present throughout the whole year, and simply highlighted in the holiday season. When I look closely, I find

  • the hunger for belonging
  • the longing to be valued and known
  • the cravings for happiness and meaningful experiences
  • the ache of wanting good to be clearly triumphing over every form of evil

This season, I’m meditating on one profound question:

What does it look like for these desires to be fulfilled in the person of Christ? 

Jen Pollock Michael has written a beautiful little book on Christian desire, called Teach Us To Want. Here is what she says:

“We orient our lives not according to our belief systems or worldview, but according to our desires. Every decision, big and small, is value driven, and consciously or subconsciously, we are pursuing what we love and value… To effect real and lasting change, we will have to be oriented toward better desires, even toward grace.

But that plunge into holy desire doesn’t remove us from earthly life; it implicates us, gets us busy in the business of loving and worshiping God in our neighborhoods and churches and cities…In wanting good, we also commit to channeling good— to bless others as liberally and as sacrificially as we have been blessed. After all, in Christ, we are Abraham’s children to whom the good-news promise is given: In you shall all the nations be blessed.

And here is how desire becomes corrupt: wanting derails into selfishness, greed and demanding ingratitude when we’ve failed to recognize and receive the good that God has already given. Trust is at the center of holy desire: trust that God is good and wills good for his people. We trust in asking; we trust in receiving. Holy trust believes that whatever God chooses to give is enough.

Christ has come–this is Christmas. That little baby named Jesus grew up to be a man who would change the course of history. In his coming, God fulfilled his promise and answered the longing of every human heart. Here was one who would begin to put things right–forever. Who would triumph over evil and death.

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” (John 6:35)

If there was ever a person to entrust our most deepest desires, and to allow to redirect and redeem even our selfish longings, it is Him. The ultimately satisfying Bread of Life. The Word Made Flesh. Emmanuel. The God who has come, and is coming again.

May our longings for more of Him replace our selfish and self-centered desires this season. May our hearts allow his gracious redirection of our many hungers. May we long for His coming and His kingdom during the rest of this Advent season, and in the year to come.


Redemptive Gratitude

” Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:3-5

Identity begets service.

There is an often-quoted (and very true!) saying in Christian circles: “You worship what you love.” Jesus himself said it: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” and “No man can serve two masters.”

But I would argue that before and amidst love often comes identity. We are self-oriented beings from birth, loving those who love us, and finding happiness in things that go our way. Perhaps we often find love, place the well-being of our hearts, precisely where we find our identity and meaning. From this root, therefore, flows our worship and our service.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God…”

This is the reason John gives for such an astounding act of service. The God who created the ever-expanding universe stoops low with a towel around his waist….and serves.


He had come from God, and was going back to God.

And so have we.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

1 Cor. 11:23-26

On this very same night, we get a second glimpse into the mind and mission of Christ. In the same moment Christ knelt as servant, in all the glorious humility of God-made-flesh, he knew one of those he served would betray him. And yet, he gives thanks.


It’s where we get the word Eucharist. Hidden in the midst is the Greek word charis, meaning “grace.” In the very act of giving thanks, Christ declares, “This too is grace.” Then he gives this broken bread out as a symbol of the sacrifice he would make with his broken body. Grace upon grace.

Gratitude begets generosity.

Gratitude begins not in the moment that I mouth the word “thankful,” but in the moment my heart declares “this is grace. This is enough–and more.” It begins in the moments of prying the white-knuckled grip around my life, and receiving it open-handed, a gift flowing both directions. It begins when I start each day with the knowledge that I have come from God, and I am going back to God. And so has everything and everyone around me.

In its deepest essence, gratitude is redemptive. It takes the ordinary, banged-up, imperfect lives we all live, and transform them into beauty. Into grace. Into enough.

So this season, may we be the people who clasp arms together and say honestly, “Sometimes, just God doesn’t feel like enough. But we choose to act on the knowledge that He is.”

May we be the people who, instead of making lists full of all we want this year, walk through our homes astounded at all the stuff we have, and who else out there could we share some with??

May we be the people who live lives that are joy-filled and overflowing, because even though things are so hard and the world is so broken and pain is so real it cannot and should not be ignored, we know where we have come from–and where we are going. And amidst it all is the unfailing grace of Christ. 

Identity and service. Gratitude and generosity. May these be the seeds we plant this season, and watch them grow throughout the new year.

Starting Simply.

“As we behold the glory of Jesus, we increasingly participate in his image, transformed into his resemblance and character.” -Tony Reinke

I just want to know how to live my one life well.

This summer Ben and I returned from what many would have called a “mission trip.” But it was our arrival back through the US Customs Border that we were really on a mission.

We had arrived in Amsterdam like thirsty sponges, ready to learn and soak up what we could of another culture, another viewpoint, another world. We had just begun asking ourselves those big questions–what is our life really about? What are our priorities? Now, after three months, we had found a few answers–and even more questions.

We wanted to learn what it meant to be ethical consumers. How we could leverage our time and resources for justice, right where we lived. What it meant to be generous and self-sacrificing, yet live simply.

I talked in my last post about how I’m learning that sometimes, this means starting small. It means humility and discipline. It means having the same grace for myself as I give out to others.

You want to know what else I’m (humbly) learning?

It means being a worshipper.

It’s finally starting to sink in for me. In every area of my life, in everything I want to be or do, all the questions I have, it all comes down to to the gospel. It all comes down to Jesus.

“The more you know [Christ], the better you will trust him; the more you trust him, the better you will love him; the more you love him, the better you will serve him.” –Newton

Or, as Jason Fileta (founder of one of my favorite Portland non-profits, Micah Challenge,), puts it: “The response is not to live as a Justice Pharisee, but we need to respond as an act of worship. We need to rediscover worship as what we do with our daily lives.” –Jason Fileta

Ultimately, living my life well means learning from the one who lived life perfectly. Instead of trying to do more, be more, give more– I just need more of Jesus. I just need to be captivated more by His beauty.

What does this mean for me, practically? It means more prayer. More thanksgiving. More meditating on the heart of Christ. More going back, every single day, to the message of the Gospel.

And hopefully, more of that will mean less time wasted with my own Justice Agenda, trying to fix the world on my own.


Starting Small

I came back from Amsterdam wanting to do BIG things. Start prayer groups. Raise money for organizations. Write amazing articles for my organization’s website. Grow my blog readership. Basically, become the NW’s version of Ann Voskamp overnight, mixed in with Scott Sauls and Micah Boyett. And if you don’t know who these amazingly gifted writers are yet, your homework for today starts here.

Yet in all my great hopes and dreams, I”m finding it hard to remain content, to remain humble, to remain ultimately centered on and fulfilled by Christ. I’m getting so caught up in my own ideas, plans, and the opinions of others. It’s time to go back to the roots.

Over and over again, the Lord has been reminding me this past month that although I have big dreams, I need to trust him first with the small things right in front of me. “You have been faithful with little, I will put you over many things,” as the parable of the talents states. And who knows what He considers “little” and “big” anyways?

Could it be that these “small” things are really the biggest of all? Being a wife, a friend, a church member–could these actually be my biggest work, wherever else life takes me?

It’s not that I believe big dreams are bad. I just think, sometimes, they can distract us from being present and faithful in what we already have. From always feeling the pressure to do more, be more, impress others with the radical amazing things we’re doing with our lives.

“And now these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.”

This year, I want to become a genuinely involved member of my community. I want to foster healthy and generous relationships. I want to keep reading books and articles that expand my vision, and write about what God is slowly unfolding in my heart.

I want to gather with women in my church and pray for “big” and “small” things–all the things that matter in our lives. I want to risk saying crazy things and getting humbly corrected later down the road as I continue to learn and grow. But most of all, I want to take advantage of the small. Small purchases, small moments, small interactions with others, small ways I can give sacrificially. And in it all, I want to take some deep breaths and allow myself to be OK with that.

“…But I also sense an invitation, one that brings a desire to commune with Jesus and with others in a way that the big I think I want may not allow. Daily I’m given the opportunity to recognize the gift of obscurity, trusting Christ is doing invisible kingdom work in the stairwells of my everyday life.

“Let’s stretch out in the fullness of small and move downward in gladness rather than upward in fear.
“Let’s let go of the constructed life and embrace a connected life, even if it leads to less.”
–Emily Freeman (read the full article, Hope For Your Soul When You Feel Small)

“God has not called you to be awesome. He has called you to be humble, faithful, and free. Leave the awesome to him.” Scott Sauls

I remind myself to breathe deep of the morning air, the scent of possibilities.

There is surely grace enough here.

Never Less Than Adequate

This book has been on my to-read list since the end of high school. Somehow in the timewarp of college I never got around to reading it, so now I finally am–and guys, it’s good.


I could go on for a while about how great it is, how I feel like I’m now reading it at the perfect time, just when I need it most. But mostly, I just want to share a portion today that really blessed/challenged me. I hope it does the same for you as well.

“It takes God to be a man, and that is why it takes Christ to be a Christian, because Christ puts God back into a man, the only way we can again become functional.”

” ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25), and this is what it means to walk in the Holy Spirit: to take one step at a time, and for every new situation into which every new step takes you, no matter what it may be, to hear Christ saying to your heart, ‘I AM,’ then to look up into His face by faith and say, ‘You are! That is all I need to know, Lord, and I thank You, for You are never less than adequate.’ ”

— Major Ian Thomas, The Indwelling Life of Christ