The One who leads us into the new year

As we climb into the car I’m awed by the delicate ferns hand-drawn on the windshield. New every morning. God strews new beauty across the world each night. Does he do it for the sheer joy of creating? Or for the joy of surprising his beloved with never-fading, never-stale love? Does he smile when I sit in awe, letting the marvel of his unfailing kindness sink deep?
We run at the park and as the sun finally peeps her face above the horizon I pause. I have to. The tiniest lights are sprinkled across the grassy field, strung up and down each blackberry vine, draped on each twig of each bush. Winter’s barrenness has been transformed into a delicate, magical fairyland, only better because it’s real. It’s as though God’s joy could no longer be contained and he poured it all out like a child with a bottle of silver sparkles, making everything shimmer with glory. It’s as though his love could no longer be contained and he sprinkled it all over everything, willing me to notice and enter into his delight.

Above photo by Dapo Oni on Unsplash. Used with permission.



Today a new year begins. At the start of a year I often sense myself drawn to a word to focus on during the year. Until now, that word has been some way I wanted to grow: courage, for example, or faithfulnessLast year, my word was trust. I’m not ready to leave that word behind. I need another year with it, or, more probably, the rest of my lifetime.
But over the past few weeks, I’ve sensed myself invited to carry a different sort of phrase with me into the new year. This phrase is not about who I am or what I need to do. It’s about who God is and what He does. Isn’t that how trust develops, after all, not by looking at myself, but by looking at God? Not by trying to create trust, but by letting it grow naturally as I keep paying attention to His actions and discover that He is trustworthy?
The phrase comes in a psalm I’ve lived in and mostly memorized, but somehow these couple of words have never caught my attention before like they have now. They come in the last verse, a sort of summary of God’s character that has been lived and noticed throughout the psalm.

“He shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.” (Psalm 18: 50 NIV 1989)

This unfailing kindness is not just for David, nor even just for David’s biological descendants. We who are in Christ are all now David’s descendants, grafted into David’s line as we’re grafted into Christ. And the unfailing love is not a matter of who we are anyway, but of who God is. At the heart of God’s character is hesed, that wonderful Hebrew word that is sometimes translated love, and sometimes lovingkindness, and here in Psalm 18 is translated with that phrase that has caught my attention: unfailing kindness.
Kindness: God’s love is a practical love, at work on my behalf in ways that extend beyond the essentials, overflowing into extras that will make my moments a little more special.
Unfailing kindness: I don’t need to fear that this is a honeymoon, that God’s kindness will disappear once he has me hooked. His kindness will not fail. It’s a kindness that paints even ordinary moments (if there are such things) with extraordinary glimpses of beauty, wakening me to newly painted ferns frosted on the windows and sparkles strewn across the grass. It’s mercy new every morning, touching even the coldest and most barren of places with the tender truth of his love.
It’s a kindness that arranged (even in this busy travel season with mostly full flights) for two empty seats beside mine on the five-hour Toronto-Vancouver segment of my return flight, offering space for me to stretch out and nap between a lovely but busy time with family and a return to house-hunting and packing. It’s a kindness that is going before me into the future, an unfailing kindness that I can trust even when I don’t yet see exactly how that unfailing kindness is shaping the future.
The certainty of that unfailing kindness  is freeing me to enter this new year with deep joy, trusting the truth of the words written on the front of the journal my sister gave me for Christmas, words that showed up again in a hand-written card from a friend: The best is yet to come. That statement doesn’t imply the absence of challenge or suffering. It does declare that no matter what this year holds, there is someone stronger entering it with me, inviting me deeper into his heart that beats with unfailing kindness, bringing beauty wherever he goes.

The crazy mystery of our words

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I walked to the hospital in the bitter cold, those mornings on the other side of the world, layered in long underwear and wool sweaters and a down coat. Some of the children I passed wore bare feet in jelly shoes. The snow hadn’t yet begun to fall, and the ground lay brown and bare, frozen into hard bumps and ridges beneath the heavy grey sky. It was a few days before Christmas.
Someone had sent a tiny Christmas tree, and we’d woven red crosses and rigged some way to hang them on the painted mud wall of the dining room where we sat cross-legged on cushions and ate off a plastic tablecloth spread on the floor. Our Christmas decorations were the only ones in our little mountain village, the only ones in our whole region, probably. There were no white lights stringing the streets, no storefront trees with baubles and icicles.
I felt it most strongly those years when I woke up on Christmas morning and realized that the world around me was oblivious to the miracle that had just happened. God had come among us, and most of the world just kept going about their daily business, unaware.
There was a sort of sadness and emptiness about it, a wistfulness, the cold, short days of mid-winter begging for the hope of Light’s coming. But there was also a sense of wonder as I quietly watched the miracle unfold. This God who came, came hidden. He came, not seeking applause or affirmation but a backwoods stable in which to meet the woman and man who had quietly chosen to give their simple, difficult, yes to a crazy miracle of love. In the midst of the great silence, I am struck by their choice, by the power of their solitary voices.
And then as I begin again to read and listen, I hear more voices calling to me, speaking hope, singing invitation.
Angels inviting Mary and Joseph and the shepherds to play their part in the Grand Story.
Old Simeon speaking his life’s desire in the moment of its fulfillment.
John the Baptist calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
I headed toward Advent this year feeling the darkness in the world around me, aching for the Light to break through. I arrived at the first Sunday of Advent service hungry for hope. The lit wreathes helped, and the colorful banners, the organ and the row of children with their violins. But it was the voices, young and old and in between, speaking and singing, alone and together, that seemed to peel back the dark and reveal the light that will keep shining for all eternity.
Could this be one more layer of what it means to be made in the image of the Creator—that we are graced with the power to push back at least a corner of the darkness with our words, to help fill emptiness with love, to speak peace into inner chaos?
I return to the Story, and the mystery grows: the Word who created all things by his word did not only speak into us the power to change reality with our words, he then, for a while, silenced himself, letting us find our voices and feel the magnitude of this gift. The Word himself became speechless while those to whom he had given the power of speech spoke for him (“Prepare the way”) and to him (“It’s okay, little one, Mama’s here.”)
As I enter Advent, I am pondering the Word and the power of our words. I am praying my longing that the Word would grow within me and speak Himself through me, that my voice would sound with the echoes of his. I am asking for grace so that my silence is not cowardice, not hiding, but grace-filled space welcoming the hearts and words of others, and that my words, wherever they are planted, bear the fruit of hope and peace, freedom and life.

Oh, Living Word, grow in me! May I not silence the words You wish to speak through me, and may all the words I do speak be an overflow of Your life within.

The truth your heart is hungry for

IMG_3234It is Mother’s Day and Baby Dedication Day and on this sixth Sunday of Eastertide we’re still calling out the good news:

“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”

Pastor Justin stands at the front with three sets of parents, each accepting the holy joys and responsibilities of parenthood, the gifts of pain and delight.
The parents promise and the congregation promises and then Justin takes little Elliott in his arms. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The child is happy enough, looking all around, content in the safety of arms. “The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace, this day and always.” Baby Elliott gazes straight up into Justin’s face as though drawn by the light, turning like ivy leaves or the whole rosy bloom of a tulip toward the nearest window.
I smile. And I watch little River lift her face to Justin’s at the same words—”The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you”—turning to face the light as though reaching for it, called by it. The curtain has been pulled back and for a moment I’ve glimpsed again the truth at the center of the universe, God’s heart always pouring itself out in blessing, His face shining on us the purest of love. His delight, His longing, awakening in us a responsive seeking of His face.
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“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Baby Arthur sleeps right through the blessing, at peace in the light of the face turned toward his.
 
Taking it deeper:
What difference might it make in your day to know that the LORD’s face is turned toward you in blessing?

When you don’t have much to offer

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I ran along the garden path, wishing I’d brought my camera. The grasses bowed, shimmered, almost glowed in the early morning light.

I moved slowly, my run half walk, each step dragging the weight of my heart. There are times it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and skip the day.

I stopped to stretch and a tear slipped from my eye. I gave it to Jesus. It was all I had to give.

As I walked back past the grasses, almost other-worldly in their silvery shimmer, I sensed His nudge. “Look closer.”

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Sometimes you have strength to give, and sometimes willing weakness. And when your threadbare weakness has worn right through and all you have left is emptiness and tears, just bring Him those. But be warned: you might have to go for your camera. It’s nothing for this one who spoke the Milky Way out of empty space to string worlds of beauty from tears bent to his light.

For the moments you’re not feeling Easter

DSC_0015I confess: I got up yesterday morning—Easter Sunday—not feeling very Easter-ish. Which, by my definition, meant not feeling much joy. Which meant in turn that I felt guilty and ashamed of myself. There I was, someone who claims that my deepest longing is to know and love Jesus as intimately as I can, and on the morning we gathered to celebrate that He’s alive and present and knowable, I was struggling to feel anything more holy than self-pity. Yuck.

I gave Him myself anyway, right in the middle of the mess, told Him again I’m all His—even the messy, ugly bits that I’d rather hide. (Okay, I confess: I tried to fix myself first. It didn’t work. THEN I gave myself to Him again.)

And He met me.

First in Mark, where the earliest copies of the gospel end with the women’s response to the angel’s shocking news that Jesus is alive and they’re to go and tell his other disciples:

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

Then in Luke and John, where the women tell but the others don’t believe, where Peter goes to see and leaves the empty tomb puzzled, where the travelers to Emmaeus hear the news but walk along still sad and disappointed, unbelieving. Thomas doubts and Mary arrives at the tomb in the dark, weeping and wondering.

Easter always starts in the dark.

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And Jesus, who really is alive, meets them there, in the dark and the mess, in the fear and the tears and the unbelief, letting them touch him and feed him, calling Mary by name and guiding Thomas’ fingers to the holes in his own palms and side. He speaks to the travellers through Scripture and bread broken and to the disciples through fish filling long-empty nets and a meal together around a campfire.

And He meets me in meals alone with Him and I learn again that though it might take a while, the life that fills the risen Jesus is big enough to meet me where I’m at and make it beautiful, holy space just because He is there, loving me in it.

I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.

If I don’t wait for Him in the dark I won’t find Him making it light.

I’m so glad Easter isn’t just one day, glad that the church calendar stretches out the Easter season to seven weeks of space to come with the questions and the doubts and the fears and let the living Jesus meet me in just the way He knows I need to be met. Even more glad that the arms of the risen Jesus extend this welcome to a lifetime of promised patient love.