Magic of Beginnings

IMG_7664Quick life update and the “magic of beginnings.”

This summer, reality hit me just like that window. Suddenly, I knew it was time to start something new. Or a lot of things. All at once. Why?

Dear Mary, why not? Love, God.

I’m glad this sudden & jarring realization came smack dab in the middle of summer rest. In the midst of ocean views out my window with family. In between my best friend and wild bunnies. Where kayaks glided on glassy waters. When I sat with my dad next to the flowers by his grave. Or the time I opened a box of I do’s and yes’s to being Maid of Honor. Where coffee stands existed in Southern California on a hot day with my favorite people.

So, this blessed rest gave me the chance to process. Anticipate. Grieve. Plan. Hope for all the new. New car {with AC, amen}. New dwelling. New roommates. New {frightening} bills. New job. New classroom. New {precious} students. Brand new season.

And the Lord has gone before every single step. Every one. My mom often says to me when I call to tell her how things are, “you know this isn’t normal, right?” Rejoicing and in awe of what the Lord is doing, even in the small daily happenings. Teaching me to stop and praise my Maker, my Father. A reminder that God’s hand of provision is mighty and at work in the middle of big scary transitions in my life.

Despite the screw up I sometimes am. Despite my foolish mistakes {like how I accidentally subscribed to a year’s worth of commercial free Korean dramas for too much money and couldn’t get a refund, oops}. Despite my naivety and put it off personality, at times. Despite myself. The Lord keeps being Himself, and chooses to not just work in spite of me, but with me and for me, for His glory. What love is this?

So, in the words of fifth grade hero August Pullman, “I’m pretty much totally and completely petrified.” Of this new season. Of change. Of my own limitations and weaknesses in it all.

But my confidence is rooted in a God whose love is radical and whose provision is “not normal.” It’s what allows me to trust the magic of beginnings. Lots of them. All at once. Why?

Dear Mary, why not? Love, God.

The Garden

In the fourth grade, I was given “In The Garden” to sing for the hymnal concert.

I wanted to choose a different hymn. So badly. I had one picked out. But, this one seemed to choose me. So, I sang it with a smile and a just a hint of bitterness.

Years later, though, my childhood disappointment, would turn into one of my greatest appointments.

This time last year, I attended an event that swept me out of shadows and into the radiant light of Christ. The name of it? The Garden. My Jesus drew me in with color and life and spring and flowers. Enchanted me like a Rose of Sharon.

After the event, I hear the strum of a soft guitar and the voice of Johnny Cash fill the room, singing “In the Garden.”
I weep. The hymn I once rejected became the image I now clung to in hope and delight.

I come to the garden alone 
While the dew is still on the roses 
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear 
The Son of God discloses 
And He walks with me 
And He talks with me 
And He tells me I am His own 
And the joy we share as we tarry there 
None other has ever known.

I need the steps of Jesus, bidding me go, through the voice of woe, unto to green pastures.
I need the voice of Jesus, so sweet the birds hush their singing, reminding me I am His.

And while He walks with me and talks with me, I find that my joy, once stolen, is full.
Abundant.
Complete.

Recently, I came back to it after I found myself face to face with thorny disappointment.
The color of floral goodness dim and covered by brier.
Having tossed to and fro through the night, I lay restless under my quilt this morning.
While the dew is still on the roses, I hear my invitation in the ever quickening beat of my heart.

Come to the garden.

I roll back the covers and pull on my robe, noticeably covered in pink roses.
Sleepy eyed, I put the kettle on and pick up my tea cup, realizing it, too, had delicate pink roses painted on it (if you’re interested in learning more about the sweet back story of this tea cup of mine, I wrote a little something in I’m A Little Teacup on how it serves as a unique image of hope in suffering and disappointment).

I, quite literally, come to my own little garden. Alone.

And I think of Mary waiting beside the empty tomb early in the morning. Alone.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

We may not be quick to catch His presence in the midst of our pain, but He’s there.
Walking. Talking. Alive. Calling us by name.

Reminding us that every disappointment melts in light of the sweet truth of being completely and securely His.

This truth is magnified in His Word, but also in the words of Teresa of the Little Flower, which I rest upon this morning.

I wish to suffer for Love’s sake and for Love’s sake even to rejoice; thus shall I strew flowers. Not one shall I find without shedding its petals for Thee…and then I will sing, I will always sing, even if I must gather my roses in the very midst of thorns – and the longer and sharper the thorns the sweeter shall be my song.

And so, in the garden this morning, while the dew is still on the roses, I gather them among the thorns.
Even as they sting me with their prick, I will always sing.
I fill my little living room with the same soft strum of the guitar and the voice of Johnny Cash, singing “In the Garden.”
I go back and whisper to my fourth grade self, “Hear. Listen. You’ll need this.”

But now, I sing, with not even a hint of bitterness.
My smile, wider.
My song, sweeter.

Praise be to Him who turns our disappointments into provident appointments.
And turns our suffering into sweet, sweet songs.

 

 

Hello, Old Friend

Welcome, friend.

I’ve been away on business for quite some time, but I am pleased to return to this home of mine.

Come inside. Sit down in that chair by the window, would you? The kettle is on. Tea?

This is exactly how I hope you to feel { at home } when you find yourself here.

//

For a long time, I simply had words. Often too many of them and usually coming in at speeds my lips could not keep up with. If you listen closely, you can still catch me stuttering like a little girl.  And every now and then, I hear someone calling me by the name of my childhood, “Chatty Cathy.”

The Lord in His kindess, rather than silencing me, gave me a pen.
And with that pen, He gave me stories.
Stories of grace upon grace upon so much grace.

“The free and unmerrited favor of God.”

//

And so, despite changes and seemingly unfruitful seasons, this online abode continues to house such stories of free and umerrited favor from the Lord.
Sometimes big. Oftentimes small. Always treasured.

This is a place that seeks to capture God’s daily graces like a butterly, only to release it, spreading its color and joy wherever and to whomever it flutters.
I pray it lands right on the tip your nose and kisses the side of your cheek.

With that, I invite you to join me, and all my words, as I walk { still } through the seasons of life to the rhythms of grace.

 

I’m A Little Teacup

We all remember the tune of this nursery rhyme, the way we’d bring our hands to our sides and play pretend we as tipped over like a bubbling pot of tea.
But today, with anxieties swirling about, it resonated with me.

The Lord has been abundantly gracious this week to reveal Himself in the most tangible ways while I wrestled with anxiety something fierce.
In the ways He knew my heart would take notice to and garner with delight and thanksgiving. In the form of words and gifts.

The language of love He crafted uniquely in my heart.
Each day has brought about a new word. A new and actual gift.
And today seemed to be the most precious of all the days thus far.
This morning, I wrote down specific prayers, to grant peace in worry, to strengthen trust when doubt rises, to offer perspective when my eyes cannot make sense of what is before me.
I closed my journal.

Not a moment later, I received a call from my mother. I’m amazed how the Lord continues to use this woman and her sensitivity to the Spirit to speak to me in such specific times of need.
At the Throne, I find grace upon grace for a well-timed help.
She had a story to read to me.

I forgot the comfort of being read to by my mother.

She felt no need to explain her purpose behind this particular tale, and she simply began to read. To some, it is well known. But my ears heard it afresh today. And it resonated deep, deep, deep within the caverns of my soul. And it begins with a teacup.

“Once upon a time there was a quiet little shop tucked away amongst the busy streets of London. This shop was magic because from time to time, items in the shop ~ like wooden horses and over-stuffed elephants ~ would briefly come to life. One day a little girl and her mother were visiting London and got lost. They stumbled into the quiet little shop and began looking at the varied items found there.

The mom noticed high on a shelf sat a beautiful teacup. It was lovely! The mother reached for the cup to show her daughter. As they touched the delicate flowers and ran fingers across the cup’s rim, something surprising happened. The cup began to speak!

“I have not always been a teacup. You see, there was a time when I was just a lump of red clay. My master took me and rolled me, patted and pounded me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Let me alone.’ But he only smiled, and gently said, ‘Not yet!’”

“Then WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting so dizzy! I’m going to be sick,’ I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, quietly, ‘Not yet.’”

“He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself and then… then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. ‘Help! Get me out of here!’ I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, ‘Not yet.’”

“When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! Ah, this is much better, I thought. But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Oh, please, Stop it, Stop it!’ I cried. He only shook his head and said. ‘Not yet!’”

“Then suddenly he put me back into the oven. Only it was not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf, where I cooled and waited ——- and waited, wondering “What’s he going to do to me next?”

An hour later he handed me a mirror and said ‘Look at yourself.’ “And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me, that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!’”
Quietly he spoke: ‘I want you to remember. I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up.
I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled.

I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked.
I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life. If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Daughter, you are like that teacup. God is the Potter of your life. His plan and delight is to make something stunningly beautiful of you. But beauty doesn’t just happen. Beauty is shaped with intentionality. Beauty and purpose sometimes come only with force, fire, and discomfort.

If our teacups could talk to us right now, they would tell us it was all worth it. The shaping and the fumes, the fire and the heat. One day, you will be able to say the same thing.

For now, we must get to know our Potter. He is good, always… and always faithful. He knows what He’s doing.

In wisdom, He knows just what to bring into our lives to shape the beauty, color, and flavor He aims for us to have. He never takes His eyes off of you or forgets what you are going through. He never gets tired of His project or decides to quit. He promises to finish what He started in you. He even wrote you a letter so you can know for sure and never forget.

Oh daughter! I can see the beauty taking shape in you! I can see determination starting to shine through. I can see gentleness being formed. I even catch glimpses of compassion and service. Daughter, you are a masterpiece.
Whenever you are tempted to despair, whenever you are tossed about with doubt, this will be our tradition … we’ll pull out the teacups and reflect on our Potter.
Much love,
Mama”

I sat, listening to my own mother speak these words right to my heart, weeping at the sweet, sweet sound of it.
What peace, to hear her voice call me daughter again and again as truths are sung over me, reminding me of the good work my Father, our Father, is doing in my fragile heart.
I felt like a girl again. Tucked in next to my mother. Listening to her read me a story.
Only, I am far away. Not a child anymore. And the monsters under my bed now are bigger.

Yet, the Lord placed this story, this letter, right in her mailbox today.
For her to read. For me to hear. To soothe the ache that anxiety left.
She’s sending me a teacup in the mail. A tangible gift to go with her cherished words.
To pull it out whenever despair feels near and strong, and to remember the Potter.
And I feel His Spirit move throughout my entire being, like a whisper, saying,

“I see you. I feel how you ache. How you long. The work is not finished, still in process, but how much stronger you have already become, my Teacup. How you’ve taken form into the shape of whom I’m crafting you to be. You see in part, now, but then, you will see fully and completely. And you, when you finally behold the finished work, you will be amazed. Wait on Me and I will cheer your weary soul while I work. Wait while I work, my Daughter.”

And so I wait on my Potter, my Father.
The One who molds and loves me.
The One who shapes and sustains me.
The One whose hands are simultaneously creating me and holding me close.
For the glory of His name and for the good of my soul.

And so He does with you.
We are still but clay, yet we hold the immeasurable treasure of His Son, Jesus.
And one day, we’ll be finished work. Smooth, colorful, and complete.

Let us wait on Him, O Sons and Daughters of the Most High, for that day.
He’ll refresh our soul while we do.

*Excerpts by Arabah Joy from http://arabahjoy.com/when-you-need-some-perspective-a-tradition-for-difficult-times/

Lesser Lights

My bare feet swayed across the cool kitchen floor as I wept over the cold pizza I took out of the fridge for lunch.

Yet, never has a moment been more abundantly full of blessed and restful happiness.
The tune of Hillsong’s “So Will I” filled my stuffy apartment, alongside the gentle humming of the fan, mimicking a breeze I’d like to imagine the ocean was bringing in.

With teary eyes closed and an abandoned heart wide open, who’s to say the kitchen tile was not actually a sandy shore?

I twirl, hum, and cry, in between each savory bite of leftover lunch, and I ponder today’s word on Psalm 27.

“The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory. There I’ll be when troubles come.”

One thing.
We were made for a One Thing.
But only One Thing is secure.

The psalmist, David, holds fast to this One Thing.
The truth that only the Lord is His light.

All else, all other lights, will dim. Flicker. Fade.
And yet, when we hold the candle of another, however good and fragrant it is, we doom ourselves to a life of anxious toil, protecting the vulnerable flame at all cost.
For where will we be if that flame is snuffed out?
What darkness is sure to consume us if that light no longer shines?

If we seek another glow,
If we raise up the candle of some thing that was not meant to be our One Thing,
We will only know the fight. The tight-grip of fear. The ceaseless striving.
Because our mere candles, our some things, are not certain.
Not secure.
Not able to weather the winds of change and sorrow and sin.

But God invites us to trade our flickering flame for a torch that will never burn out.
What a beautiful exchange.
To release the fleeting that keeps you fighting to receive the infinite that keeps you indwelling.

I bowed my head before the Great Feast, the Lord’s Supper, repenting of lesser lights I’ve clung to, however splendent they may be.

I pondered over the night before, windows down and singing along to a sweet song of slow dancing and bright and pretty things.
I felt blissfully happy to be dreaming of such a love, one day, coming soon, maybe, perhaps.
The dream is good, one my Father cares for, but it is a lesser light.

I thought back to coffee with a dear friend, opening wrapped boxes and reading the words beautifully written on a just as beautiful card.
I hugged the warm mug of my most favorite drink as I laughed, listened, and shared thoughts with this gift of a Jesus sister.
The fellowship is good, one my Father blessed me with, but it, too, is a lesser light.

Oh, how we miss the brilliance of the torch when we put it down to pick up a mere candle.

Those good things are better seen and appreciated for all they are in the light of the torch, rather than the flicker of a small flame.

And so, I repented and came to the table.
I was satisfied with the fullness of Christ and all the promises He secured for me on the cross.
Promises to be known.
To be ever-loved.
To be saved from and for.
To be made new.
To be made an heir.
To see glory.
To be Home.
All my heart could crave was found in these covenants.

This brings me back home, eating a lesser but necessary meal, in my kitchen, bare footed in front of a breezy fan.

My feet danced upon the tiles to this song of praise.

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

Oh, and my heart couldn’t take it.
My little easy bake kitchen could barely contain the love swelling up inside of me.
My big blue eyes couldn’t hold back the flood of tears, beginning to rain down from my cheeks.
What else could my feet do but spin and sway and dance before this King?
What else could my hands do but fling wide open and high and ever reach toward the Lover of my soul?

The Creator of the stars in all their radiance, burning bright for Him and all His people to behold, shines a brighter light still.
A light that we are freely given to cherish and share.
A light that never runs out.
A light that burns brighter than the galaxies.
A light breaks through the engulfing bleak and black darkness.

And He came down to us, like one of us, as this very light.
The Light of the world.
The One Thing our hearts were made for.
The Only Thing that satisfies and causes our soul to find rest.

And I realized, sobbing over my pizza, that there is no other love, no other light, no other thing that can bring me this much overwhelming, all consuming, all around me, kind of joy and delight.

No other love makes me dance, foolish and undignified, barefooted, pizza in hand, weeping and singing and praising.
No other friendship turns my stuffy kitchen into a throne room of brilliant color and glowing grace.
No other thing brings me this much unwavering and steadying peace, the kind that opens my fighting hands to be held and stills my striving body to be enveloped by the arms of a Father.

So, I set down my candles, beautiful but flickering.
I pick up the torch, brilliant and steadfast.

And I let the light illuminate my heart, setting it ablaze, and ruining it for the lesser glow of any other thing.

Oh Lord, we repent of lesser things and lesser lights.
Come.
Be our One Thing and our One Light.
May we want for nothing but You.

Genesis

Here’s to beginnings.

My feet, still shaky from the unknown terrain of a wood I never imagined I’d drift far, far into, are walking out. Onto new ground.
Ground that is lush, instead of a murky mess.
Ground that is steady and beckons onward, rather than shifts and confuses.
Ground from where new life is born.
New springs well up.
New fruit blossoms.

How timely this spring equinox has been.
Praise the God of seasons, both of the heart and of the earth.

I recall a memory from a little over a year ago. A friend and I put on Disney’s Fantasia 2000, letting our nostalgia run wild with color and sound. And the best was saved for last, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Not only is the music breathtaking, but the story that accompanies it will forever be etched into my mind.

From the breath of the mighty stag, a beautiful nymph is born. The heartbeat of Genesis is present from the very beginning of the piece. He leads her out into the barren land, and she awakens as her very life is creating the masterpiece of spring all around her. Flourish. Abundance. Glory. Words that come to mind as the picture is painted to the sound of the composer’s handiwork. But, a fiery being, the “firebird,” stoops down to spread his wings of destruction over the creation of her new life. What is left is ashes and dust. The heart of Genesis beats on.

Tears begin to build behind the dam of my eyes. The film swirls together picture and symphony to ultimately point to the ancient story. A true story. The one of a mighty God. Of His creation, breathed into life. One of a garden. Of a snake. And the darkness that followed him. That followed us. Tragedy.

But, just as Stravinsky’s piece is unfinished, so is the story it shadows.

The stag searches through the rubble to find the nymph lying amidst the ruins. He breaths his life back into her fragile body. But she is weak. Stricken by grief. And unsure of what to do. Where to go. How to begin.

From there, he gently lifts her from the ground with his antlers, onto his back. As he carries her through what is left of the forest, her canvas of spring now devastated, she begins to cry over what has been lost. But her tears are soaking the scorched ground, and where they fall, life begins to sprout. What follows is the most beautiful and glorious unfolding. Regaining her strength, her hope, she soars over the land, her canvas. What was dead is now exploding with the color and fragrance of flowers and lush, green trees.

The dam holding back the flood of my tears gives way. And rightly so.

What the enemy left ravaged in my heart, my Heavenly Father is restoring. Is redeeming. Is making new.

Like the nymph, my tears are not wasted. They are kept. And not just to be remembered, but to be poured out over the dry places, so new life can spring up. I’m beginning to see the green emerge from ashes.

And as I do, I begin.
I dream again. I create again. I write again.

And if this is you, too, if you find yourself in the ruins, and you see the face of your Heavenly Father bending low to lift you from the shambles, take hold and begin again.

This is spring. This is genesis.

Serving Jesus While Serving French Fries

At 17 years old I got my first real job.
At 21 years old I still rock that adorable ascot and visor with the golden arches.
You’ve guessed it. McDonald’s.
Many have a negative connotation with fast food, McDonald’s in particular. Some people cringe. Some people laugh. Some people sue.
It’s the last place people would expect to find Jesus, but I have had the privilege of serving Him there.
“Wait a minute. Did you just say you served Jesus at McDonald’s?” 
Why yes, I did.
Whether I’m serving up Big Macs for the late night crowd or dishing out hash browns for the early morning regulars, I’m still serving Jesus.
It seems like the oddest place for Him to reveal His promises and statutes, but for over four years, I’ve encountered Him there.
While there are countless stories to share about my experience as a McDonald’s employee, here are three significant values that the Lord has taught me during my time there.

1. Love Your Enemies
Sometimes your enemy doesn’t always threaten your life. Sometimes your enemy threatens your patience, however, as he cusses you out because you forgot his Sweet and Sour sauce for his Chicken Nuggets.
It’s in those moments when Jesus whispers, “Show him My love, today.”
I’d like to show him something else.
As hot tears rolled down my cheeks, I walked away to recompose myself. I realized that it probably wasn’t even about the Sweet and Sour sauce.
I could not step into his shoes and know all the burdens he has carried in life. I will never know what made him lash out over something so, well…ridiculous. And, while I could never excuse this poor man’s behavior, I can extend grace and forgiveness.
can show him what my Jesus’ love looks like.
The love that poured out forgiveness on the ones that cursed and mocked Him as He hung on a rugged tree.

2. People Matter
French fries will get cold. Orders will be messed up. Our food may not always be considered “fast.” But, people matter. People are eternal. And I have the privilege of serving and working alongside them every day at work….Well, technically five days a week.
My mission field may not have brick red, dusty roads or shacks for homes, but the people I serve still need Jesus’ life breathed into them.
My co-workers that greet me as I walk through the doors at 5:45 in the morning need to be shown Jesus’ unwavering peace.
The young, single mother holding her child as she waits in line needs to be shown Jesus’ saving grace.
The tattered homeless man that searches for enough coins to pay for his coffee needs to be shown Jesus’ radical redemption.
The people who come in and out of McDonald’s doors every day, employee or customer, matter. Their lives have purpose.
And God loved them enough to send His Son to carry the weight of their sin in order that they might encounter true Freedom.
I have the absolute honor of serving those people. And while I may not be able to read them the Gospel, I am able show them what a person transformed by the Gospel looks like.
I am able to plant seeds of Freedom, one kind word and tender smile at a time.
And I pray that as I plant the seeds, the Holy Spirit causes them to bloom.

3. Small Things for God’s Glory Matter  
It took years before my eyes were opened to see God’s purpose for me at McDonald’s.
I spent my summer asking people, “Would you like to make that a large meal?” All the while, I was green with envy and filled with self-pity as I watched my friends travel to impoverished countries, eager to serve Jesus’ people and share with them His truth. I was just serving french fries.
This rotten attitude was the outcome of jealousy. The product of comparison.
“Why can’t I do something radical for Christ?” I asked myself.
My friend’s missional lives felt important. My fast food life felt…trivial.
It wasn’t until this summer that the Lord graciously revealed to me just how damaging that outlook was and just how precious my work is.
Before I left for home, a friend from my Grace Group lent me a copy of The Practice of the Presence of God. Little did she or I know how the Lord would use this book to reshape my heart.
As I read, I stumbled upon this.
“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
Brother Lawrence spent a good portion of his life working in the kitchen of a monastery. To some, his life may have looked insignificant. Small. Trivial.
But God looked upon his life with great honor, for Brother Lawrence had labored with great love.
The Lord sees whatever is done for His glory, whether you’re caring for orphans in Ethiopia, filing paper work in the office, or even flipping burgers.
So, just as Brother Lawrence happily washed dishes and scrubbed floors, aware of Whom he was truly serving, I too found joy in my own work.
Because I have learned to do it with God and for God.

And I’m lovin’ it.