Moving

While it may not be an overstatement to describe my recent move as the hardest I have made in my life, that statement seems to beg for sympathy and neglects to mention that on the whole, I have had a wonderful life. Nevertheless, this season of my life has been filled with transitions and goodbyes and unasked for beginnings, which have made this city feel uncharted despite my 7 years spent in her care. Where the anonymity of the nation’s capital once felt bold and liberating, it now presses in on me, tightening my chest like the July humidity.

So to counter the ache that I feel for home and the longing I have to be known, I have taken to finding the good things. The blessings hidden in the city or the joy of finding unexpected familiar faces in the crowd.

- A storm came in today. One of those bend-the-trees-with-the-wind storms that lights up the sky enough for you to see waves of rain fanning from the sky. I watched the storm, safely perched in my 8th floor office with space to appreciate it’s terrifying beauty and engaging work to return to once it had passed.
– I write this on a train. A train taking me to see an old friend in the city. Amid transience and happy hour friendships, there are glimpse of longevity; of staying; of pressing in to the harder road.
– Although I am grateful for safe public transportation, I am even more grateful that my daily commute spans less than 1 mile. That my home-work-life circles overlap and that my life is not eaten by traffic or crowded trains, giving me the freedom to read, cook, write, rest.
– That coherent life led me to spend the weekend visiting with neighbors. To be sure, they were my friends before they were my neighbors, but reclaiming the life of a neighborhood is, as Wendell Berry says, a gift. Each step reinforces that these streets are my streets; these trees are my trees. I am not alone but have been bound up with others, if only by the same HOA.

And none of these tell of the ties of covenant relationships spoke of by James on Sunday or the meal shared with my oldest friend that same night. They don’t tell of the daily care that surrounds me or my family who loves me across the miles. And I am sure that still more graces will be given, more blessing will appear.

May we all have eyes to see.

Constraint.

I’ve been thinking a lot about constraint. Limitations. Boundaries. They are words that I chafe against; they make me bristle and put me on the defensive. But lately, they have also been defining me.

I just moved away from my safe, comfortable, known house of 5 Doors Down into a house of strangers. Technically, this was my choice. I wasn’t evicted and I’m not being held hostage. But I am here because of constraints. I am constrained by my income and my belief that living within my means is the best course of action. DC traffic forms a clear boundary and my attitude in traffic limits the time I should spend commuting. All of these constraints pooled together to drive me to my current situation.

On a broader level, everything that defines me constrains me. I live in DC, not somewhere else. That comes with transience and traffic and a perpetual election cycle. I am a member of just one church (as a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic kind), where vows I have taken bind me to service, to obedience, to accountability. I have a specific occupation that comes with unique assignments and a finite number of vacation days. Each of these things constrain me. They set the boundaries of my life. But in so doing, they also set me free. I am free to be involved in one church, one city. I am free to invest in this relationship and not that one. I am free to live a life of fullness and wholeness where God has placed me, and am also free from worrying about all of the vast facets of life that have not placed a boundary around me.

But even as I write that, I feel resentment toward those constraints sneaking in. There are days that I want to defy the laws of physics and the expectations of work and spend a year teleporting around to any friend who needs me. I have sat in inexplicable traffic jams as hot tears rolled down my face in protest of such an obstacle to relationships. But I am bound, in time and place, to the life that I have chosen, that God has given me.

The Psalmist writes, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” And that’s well and good for King David, but I often feel like my boundary lines have been gerrymandered to cause the most frustration.

I’ve been reading this little book by Kate Harris called Wonder Women. She lives in DC and just gets it. In it, she reminds me that I am not the first person in history to feel the impact of unpleasant constraints:

“One of the more radical claims of Christianity is that we worship a God who willingly took on constraints. We worship a God who bent low and took on flesh…And it has some pretty profound things to tell us about what God thinks of our so-called limitations — especially if you’re like me and prefer to greet limitations with kicking and screaming or maybe a good, long pout”

I have not given up heaven for earth; perfection for the fall. I have only known this broken world with these limitations. And though I fight against them, a wider story is at work; a deeper magic that the world has almost forgotten. Kate goes on to say:

“Still, Easter reminds us — even at the height of human limitations on the cross — that God does not perceive them as we do. God is not surprised by even the ultimate constraint of death, nor is He deterred by it…[And so] we consent to our constraints, trusting He will use them as He did at the incarnation, to bring forth abundance.”

I don’t know what sort of abundance might be waiting for me at the next turn, but I want to be open to it. Open arms, open hands, in one city, one place.

Belonging to Faithfulness

Lately, I’ve been pondering faithfulness.

Every six weeks or so, I get to teach junior high Sunday school. We’re studying Exodus and on Sunday, I taught on Exodus 24 – the confirmation of the covenant. We are a covenant people, secured as the people of God through His faithfulness; our lavish promises are dust. Yet even as we break the faith, echoes of covenant faithfulness still dance on my heart. The covenant teaches me that I belong to that which is bigger than myself. This plays out in numerous ways each day – I belong to my household and as such am bound up in the joys and sorrow of my roommates – sometimes multiplying the joys and sometimes adding to the sorrows. I belong to my church, through the gift of the blood of Christ and the vows I stood up and promised. But today, I’ve been pondering a more unusual fidelity of belonging.

There is a small community of people, tied together not by blood or geography or denomination or occupation, but through an abiding belief that beauty is found in unexpected places and that Christ plays in 10,000 places. They believe that in some small measure, the story of one of us is the story of us all. And because of that, fidelity plants fast roots.

Today, this community prepared to gather in Nashville. This year, I will not be joining them, as faithfulness to family must trump faithfulness to this band of kindred souls. It was at once a decision that was obvious and terribly hard. And so I am left pondering what it will look like to belong to these friends only from a distance. In fact, I spend most of the year belonging from a distance, with Facebook being used to its absolutely best potential to soften the blow of the miles. Occasional road trips, concerts, and impromptu gatherings are grace that bring me closer to a handful of these dear friends, but even these are dim reflections of the fullness that I know is possible.

So the question that I am left with is how to cultivate and grow my own faithfulness to these souls across time and space, with no promise of flesh-and-blood communion. What will it look like to belong to one another outside of shared meals on candlelit tables, or conversations on rickety swings or silence exhaled in unison on a concrete sidewalk? This sort of faithfulness seems harder. I am left to belong through prayers offered up for needs spoken and groaned for; through books poured over as imaginations are cultivated in the same soil; through music washing over me as it washes over you.

And so, I will abide in faithfulness and trust in the Lord to hold us all in the palm of His hand,

where we first belonged, and shall remain forever.

*click*

If I hadn’t already called dibs on teleportation, I would claim “photographic memory” as my superpower.

When I was a kid, I read the Cam Jansen books. The main character is a red-headed girl, so like Nancy Drew and Anne (of the green gables) you just knew she was going to be awesome. And sure enough, she was. Cam (real name: Jennifer) is a super detective, who uses her photographic memory to solve mysteries. Best as I can remember, she blinks her eyes and says *click* and can remember anything.

Sign me up.

I spent last week with high schoolers. First, teenage-sitting for two of my favorite people, then, on a retreat with 50 high school students, including twelve of my own. (I’ve known them for seven years and so feel like the possessive pronoun is appropriate.) And I so desperately want to remember each and every moment.

Musty copies of Emerson and Thoreau delicately leafed through to find the perfect poetry recitation on Valentine’s Day while I make two teenage boys omelets for breakfast.                *click*

Six girls sitting on basement barstools, with their backs to me, reaching over each other for bags of chocolate, half-eaten chips and one lone bag of carrots as their laughter melds together.                *click*

The face of the confident senior as he shouts out song lyrics in the middle of a crowded dance floor, with no care for being on key.                *click*

Late night cuddle fests on top of four interlocking sleeping bags when conversations are no longer coherent and I can no longer tell which limb belongs to which girl.                *click*

An iPod stuffed inside a cup for better amplification to accompany a Disney sing-along and dance party in between chopping vegetables in the kitchen.                *click*

Hands clasped in prayer as thanksgiving is offered up for honey nut cheerios in the same breath as God’s unfailing grace.                *click*

Seven years feels like a whole lifetime. How many snapshots of the Lord’s faithfulness have I already forgotten? What moments of joy lay dormant in my memory? Seven years ago, these faces were names on a page. Now, they are stories, tears, personalized laughter, brokenness and redemption, fears and hopes. Seven years is an eternity.

I am often asked why I spend so much of my free time with teenagers. Why I answer my phone when it rings at two in the morning. Why someone pushing 30 needs snapchat on her phone. Why I would drive an hour across town in rush hour traffic for a half hour conversation over coffee. For me, these snapshots are the reason. But perhaps for you, I need to go back a bit further.

I’m sitting in a semi-circle of girls, facing my choir teacher, listening to her tell a class full of public school show choir girls that irrespective of what we believed, she knew that the God of the universe had allowed her husband to spin circles on the snowy highway, hit the median and walk away without a scratch.                *click*

It is a warm night in Goshen, Virginia and I am sitting on the steps of a Rockbridge dorm, bombarding my Young Life leader with hard questions about heaven and hell, confident that even though the answers may allude her, she will be there to hear any of my hard questions.                *click*

A rambunctious group of junior high girls is piled into the second floor church bathroom – the one with the couches – ignoring our discussion questions and giggling about boys as our high school leaders smiled and followed along.                *click*

A table of eager fourth graders nervously eye each other’s frilly Bible covers and meticulously placed book tabs as we get ready to study Esther and Ruth with two women who have seemingly arbitrarily decided to invest in a small group of 10 year old girls.                *click*

I could start answering your questions by explaining that I was well-loved as a teenager. Older women opened their lives to me and let me ask hard questions and showed me that though life would be difficult, God had given us each other. I am simply following the model that was given me.

 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19, MSG

Isn’t it the model we have all been given? There are a million ways to love from love. But for as long as they will have me, I will choose this way. Seven years is just the beginning.

Darkness to Light

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

“Remember how much light you have.” Ben Shive

I don’t know when Christ was born. I don’t know the day that Mary and Joseph finally held their new baby in their arms or what the joyous celebration sounded like from the upper room. But I know that when God in his sovereignty allowed us to establish a feast in remembrance of Christ’s birth, midwinter was the perfect time.

Darkness and light take on new meaning as the sun sets at 5 o’clock and we sit down to dinner and rise to our work all in darkness. Cloudy, hazy days of snow and fog blot out the sun and our very bodies long for the darkness to at last yield to the light.

Into that void enters Advent. Isaiah foretold the light and John proclaimed it: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). All of Advent has been straining forward to the light; waiting for Christ’s glorious appearance to those who dwell in a land of deep darkness.

I love the rhythms of Advent, pointing backward and calling us to remember the groaning and longing, the disobedience of Israel and the faithfulness of God and the prophesies that promised a deliverer, against all odds. But, too often I camp in the first Advent, forgetting that we are still in darkness, waiting for Christ to come again. Only this time, the darkness has already been broken; the horizon has started to glow. And, still not content to leave us alone, God placed his own spirit, the spirit of Emmanuel, inside of us, that we might bear witness to the light and be the light to the world in darkness.

As Advent at last ushers in Christmas day, may you remember how much light you have.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

Amen and amen. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Wearing Thin

The kitchen table broke today.

The small wood fibers had worked so hard

to hold the cold, dark metal in place.

They had born the seasons, held the weight

of pumpkins waiting to be carved, steaming casseroles

and Christmas cookies left to cool.

One of the drilled holes grew tired

of being mistaken for a foot rest, of

fists pounded, of forced expansions for feasts unasked for

and it gave way.

The other held on as long as it could, but

left alone, its former strength seemed

only a liability. Presumed upon until

one

final

exhale

sent

Red flowers spilling to the floor.

Further Up and Further In: A Hutchmoot

I’ve just returned from a rich, engaging weekend, full of thoughtful people and packed with insight I have yet to fully process. But I returned to a head cold, absent roommates and an attitude that I thought I had left behind. All week, I have used my illness, the shuttered federal government, or a busy schedule as excuses from pressing in to the life that has been given me. I have resented the care of my home, cursed the work I have been given to do and squandered the time that I was given.

At Hutchmoot, Jonathan Rogers gave us some thoughts – for free, he said. Not what you paid for. He told a story of turning in his swivel chair to talk with his wife. When a “ding” sounded from behind him, it took all of his concentration not to turn his back on his bride and attend to his email. Charles Hummel has written about “the tyranny of the urgent.” But I think it’s more than that. It’s an inversion of importance, from the tangible to the intangible. And this isn’t an isolated problem; it pervades nearly every category of thinking.

Jonathan spoke not of the “sins of the flesh” but of the “sins of the fleshlessness.” We devote ourselves to disembodied devices trusting in them for entertainment, distraction, community. But in so doing, we miss the world around us that the God of the Universe spoke into being. We ignore the image of God as he stands behind us in the line at the grocery store. We sit at a restaurant, phones on the table, waiting to be called to something better, all the while missing the holiness of the community within arms’ reach.

Keith Getty and Kevin Twit talked about thinking about theology the way that scripture does, and presented, as an example, the idea that God is a rock. Scripture uses that metaphor time and time again, but we are much more comfortable applying vast theological terms to God, ascribing worth to Him because of His omnipotence. But to call Him a rock seems too small, too…earthy. Yet that is how God reveals Himself to us. The tangible takes precedence over the intangible. We serve a God who came in the flesh; who appeared to His creation in the most tangible way possible. Perhaps it should not surprise when, in our sin, we diminish the sacred in the earth, in each other.

This weekend realigned importance. Tables had been prepared and Lewis and company worked tirelessly, with great joy to set those tables with food worth savoring. The food itself was a reminder of the glorious earthiness of creation – no microwaves, no shortcuts, just delicious flavors getting to know one another over a gas range in a church basement. These were extravagant riches. In all of this, I was surrounded by no mere mortals, but the very image of God. His grace was all around me, in this community of weary saints, pressing in to the choice to learn to love what they’ve been given.

Bonhoeffer writes, “It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” And indeed, it was a weekend of grace. I was shown unmerited favor as people I did not know spoke about their worlds as if I inhabited them as well. New friends were as unguarded in their weariness as I am with only my dearest friends. This community that has formed would have very little in common if you sparked a political debate or grouped people by their chosen career. Family structure, family history, denominational affiliation – these would all divide us further. But for four days, we lean in to loving that which God has given us, in the hopes that when we return home, we will continue to find beauty and worth in the postage stamps God has placed us.

My confession to you, dear reader, is that I have not done this well. I have been restless, short-tempered and unimaginative. Meals have not been shared, books have not been opened and questions have not been asked. I have horded the riches of Hutchmoot, reluctant to open my hand and give them away, forgetting that I serve a God who draws manna from the sky and water from the desert. He multiplies our feeblest offerings and bids us only to come. I will fail, but I will press on: further up and further in!