Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Come unto Me all who thirst. Come.

On the last day, the great day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink! As Scripture says, “From his heart shall flow streams of living water.”’ John 7:37

photo by Dylan Martin

I love you, O LORD my strength, O LORD my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. My God, my rock in whom I put my trust and my refuge; you are worthy of praise. Psalm 18:1-2

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How Even Pain & Division Can’t Steal our Merry Christmas

Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? be gracious to your servants. Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us and the years in which we suffered adversity. Show your servants your works and your splendor to their children. Psalm 90:13-16

A Reading: On December 28, the Church remembers with sorrow the slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem. They were indeed the first victims of the persecution of Christians.

Herod was furious on realizing that he had been fooled by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or less, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. Then were fulfilled the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more. Matthew 2:16–18

So yesterday was full of disparate readings such as Ann Voskamp’s Christmas greeting and Christians, Muslims and Jesus and Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. And it was full of walking with Everette to the downtown library and pretty much engaging at some level with every single person along our path and also having quite a few of those hedged conversations one step past the “Oh, I am doing great and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” sorts into the fears and struggles and questions that the New Year is ringing in.

And this particular Christmas season was particularly marked by meditations on the slaughter of the male infants. Rachel weeping bitterly for her children and refusing to be comforted. Or maybe my tender heart just heard them this year. But I think that actually that we as a Church are grieving through the pain of the other this year with more sensitivity. May it be so. But also each one of us might echo in the quiet of our heart the lament of the Psalmist that rather than being a joyous delight, our years sometimes feel like an affliction from the hand of the Most High.

Last night I walked over to Falora and met some of the Monday night ladies for pizza and salad. And it has not been an easy year for any of us, and we walked through it together in prayer and expectancy. But in each story we can see the work of His hands and His splendor to our children. And we are His servants, part of His household, joined in both the sufferings and the triumphs.

And I am grateful for their steadfast presence. That is one more thing that Nicole and I sort of started yesterday. Writing thank you notes. And while neither of us exactly wrote that many, although Nicole did produce a stack of beautiful cards, the point is that both of us are so very grateful for and to the myriad people who have been present, intentional and full of kindness in their walking alongside.

And that word “tarry.” How long? Somehow this psalmist is asking God to make us glad in the affliction and adversity. And while we await the grand rolling up of the mountains and the sky and the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth, He has gifted us with His presence in so many ways: In His glorious creation that gives me glimpses of His majesty, His entrance into the open door of my heart, and yes, His presence in His each image bearer and even more so in that of fellow Jesus followers.

And Miss Everette is glad in affliction and adversity. There are very few things she likes better than climbing up stairs. The more the better, the steeper the better. Up and up and up she marched to all the library levels yesterday. Stomp, stomp. With a big smile on her face although each step was just a little too high and she had to give a little tug on the handrail. Glad.
Make me glad as well dear Lord.
Advent means “expectation” and hope is our expectation, peace is our anticipation, and He is our transformation, and everywhere right now, even amongst us:
In the midst of our lament & our suffering we will be the humble and the brave who “prepare  the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And every valley shall be exalted & every mountain & hill shall be made low & the crooked shall be made straight & the rough places plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”-Ann Voskamp
Thus once again, I meet you in the morning and ask you once again to satisfy me by your loving-kindness; so shall I rejoice and be glad all the days of my life.


Monday, December 29, 2014

And I might have nicked my knuckles a few times too

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him;
The steadfast love of the Lord is
    from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him.
Bless the Lord, all His works,
    in all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! Psalm 103

So the night before last Yucheng cooked this masterpiece meal of pork belly. And it was really quite amazing to see the ingredients slide into the pot after our extended visit to the Oriental market at Prince and Stone. He started with a half a pound of butter and a cup of canola oil in which he sautéed star anise, cinnamon sticks and dried chile peppers. Then he swirled in a pound of brown sugar until it melted into one smoothness. Then five pounds of pork belly that I helped chop into one-inch slabs. And the whole thing stewed for several hours until it was time to add three bottles of beer and simmer it once again until the very last hour, when he added a pound of mushroom and half a pound of fried tofu and added both the soy sauce for flavor and the soy sauce for color and white pepper which is quite different than black pepper and just enough salt.  All this was served over white rice from Alan’s Korean rice bowls, and the whole thing was pretty amazing although probably not something to eat every day.

But man, all of this savoryness left a mess of a pot. There was a solid three inches of crud stuck on the bottom. And I scraped and dug and chopped for what seemed like forever. And simmered it again with water trying to soften some of the gunk. And then John suggested alcohol or acetone to eat away some of the sugar, so I figured if fingernail polish remover could work on it a bit in some inexplicable chemical way.

But really it came down steadfastness. I really wanted to just ditch the pan into the green dumpster and go pick up something else at Goodwill. But I finally got down to the where the metal scrubber pad and Ajax sorta did some good and I went around and around and around, and now, well it is good to go, with just a few more dents and scratches than before, but perfectly serviceable and even shiny.

And my God is steadfast. Even through my stuck-on gunk. And Psalm 103 reminds me over and over again of how this steadfast love never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.

Bless the LORD, oh my soul.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

And talk of poems, prayers and promises, and things that we believe in

Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things. With His right hand and His holy arm has He won for Himself the victory. Psalm 98:1

 So yesterday I decided to do the Big After Christmas Clean Up. Somehow it is ever so satisfying to wrap up the old beloved stories, whether they be The Grinch or the blue angel with “Christie 1964” painted on the hem with gold paint or the Sunday School Andrea ornament with her photo glued onto the lid of an orange juice can and a red rickrack loop to hang it on the tree.

And prepare for the new. The new song.

And He has indeed done marvelous things. But as Mary Anne and I sat next to the fireplace yesterday morning and considered the victory in His outstretched hand, sometimes it looks like a mustard seed. And as I look around the world and consider the big global prayers offered up and as I look at my immediate and intimate world of friends and relatives, I can see that tiny seed reaching down its roots into the rich soil of His love and a promise.

And I really only know one person who uses the word “marvelous,” Joy who was diagnosed in one stunning overnight with pancreatic cancer that had spread to liver.  Her prayers of faith for healing brought a peace that descended down around her like a golden blanket and I wonder, since I have only received one text from her since her move to Ohio, what is happening in her life. Every week at family dinner she would ask me what new thing happened in the classroom, and I would tell her a little story or lesson plan or discussion and she would roll, “Marvelous, simply marvelous.”

And this year has been so very full of stories, and all of God's promises have been fulfilled with a resounding "Yes!" And our "Amen" ascends to God for His glory. Through Christ, His Word comes to dwell among men. And Alan’s Christmas meditation reminded us that each of us is part of The Story rippling its way through humanity, and each of us chooses how to respond, whether in concert or opposition to the unfolding events. And he quoted John F. Kennedy (after Cameron and Heather read Luke one and two, of course) who said that when the word “crisis” is written in Chinese, it is composed of two characters, one that represents “danger” and the other “opportunity.”

And each of us told a story, a story of crisis this year, or a moment of transition or transformation, and its effect. How does this tie into the work of God in our life? What have we learned through this dangerous opportunity? And the stories covered the full spectrum of loss, of rejection, of discovery. And each one had at least whispers of hope in His goodness. The seeds have been planted, the promised victory is taking root. And let me sing a new song of blessing.

Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord, for He has visited His people, He has set them free, that He would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies, to serve Him in holiness and uprightness in His presence, all our days.” Luke 1:67–75

And I welcome Him into my newly swept parlor, with anticipation, expectation and a good deal of curiosity as to where it will all lead. All of my days.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The fish fountain splashes can drown out the sound of traffic down Broadway, if I let it

 The wonder of it all. Sometimes, um, like almost all of the time, I let the mundane settle in around me.  Like this morning for instance, 4:15 clicked on and I popped into the kitchen, drank two glasses of water, put on the expresso pot, unloaded the dishwasher and put away the dishes in the counter rack, tossed a load of clothes into the machine, wiped down the sink, and scanned over the stacks of recipes and shopping and to do lists before I knelt before Him and sat at His feet, ready to listen. 

And the guy wandering Mt. St. Francis Retreat reminds me of when suddenly His magnificence breaks in, and the impact it has on the ones who were noticing. When the nets came back loaded with fish and Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” for amazement had seized him. After the storm was quieted, everyone marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” When John saw Him, his eyes like blazing fire and   His right hand holding seven stars, he falls like a dead man, at this new glimpse of Who He Is.

But Jesus placed His right hand on him and said, "Stop being afraid! I am the first and the last.”

And today, once again, I ask, “May You be my First and my Last. The one who fills me with wonder as I pick up Miss Everette and head down Speedway Boulevard with my lists tucked in my pocket.”

May Your magnificence, Your face like the sun shining in all its brilliance, fill my heart as I truly celebrate Your great love today. May Your presence that quiets my storm and fills my nets with Your abundance be ever in my thoughts.

Hallowed by Thy name.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“Come in, -- come in! and know me better, man!

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:11

He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? This talks about the generous heart of God. This invites me to explore just how generous God is, and once we begin to see Him as generous, we ourselves get to express and emulate His generosity here on earth.  This is a great opportunity to freshly see Him and an opportunity to follow Him by what we say and do. And think. He thinks generously of me. Beyond my wildest imagination.

Thus, I ask You LORD to create in me a clean heart, with no cluttered and stacked-up-high resentments or stained memories or stinky low expectations this-is-what-always-happens. And renew a right spirit within me. The spirit of a safely tucked-up-under-your-wing child who is dearly beloved and thus can love unconditionally. Even as You have loved me, with every good gift and every perfect gift, coming down from You, the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness

Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. Psalm 126

And the guy standing on a roof in Kansas City reminds me that praising God is a verb, an action word, and his community is trying to be intentional about it all, and when someone says “Praise God,” what they mean is Tell me a story about what He is doing in your life, making Himself manifest.”

Let us silence the lies of the enemy and the fear of man, and let who God is and with what He is doing in our lives come in. Practice praise, engage in praise, make praise a verb in our lives. Because From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

And my childhood verse and Facebook password of Rejoice in the LORD always, I say it again rejoice is very closely tied together with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. And the prayers and praise are to be so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. Back, once again, to eucharisto. Giving thanks even as the bread is being broken. His name is hallowed before the request for daily bread and forgiveness of trespasses. From the mouths of infants and nursing babes underscores that this is not a complicated process, but rather a natural response in the created order, the restored order.

I love that Heather and Dustin are teaching Everette sign language because she even though she isn’t much of a talker she has a lot to say. May I too say much with not just words but with how I live out my day, carrying seed and shouldering my sheaves. With joy.