Joy to the heart

Well today was a joy-filled day. I love Easter. It’s one of my favorite holidays.

Yes, I prefer celebrating it with a group of family and friends. Yes, I like to see the sun rise on this Sunday. Yes, gathering together to worship and sing is best and good for my soul. And yes, holiday traditions are special and meaningful.

But I realized this morning that the reason this day brings me joy has very little to do with those things. In fact, the joy shone even a bit more brightly on this strange Easter Sunday precisely because what I normally do on this day was changed or gone, so the day was stripped down to WHO and WHAT I celebrate. And it was more than enough to rejoice in!

The world is bleak. There’s no doubt about it. This Easter Day doesn’t deny suffering nor does it simply provide a weak positive message of optimism.

As my pastor in Lexington said this morning, “Don’t think happy thoughts. Believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead… That it actually happened. And it happened as a preview and a guarantee of the destiny of every single one who trusts in Him.”

That is hope for another life and so much joy and peace and identity for this life. That infuses joy into this day and into every other day as well.

We acknowledge the heartbreak of this life, the difficulty, the impending death… and hold all of that in tension with the longing for the way things are meant to be, for God’s design and creation to be as it should. And rejoice in Jesus who is alive!

Life Today

I rolled out of bed with a headache this morning. Things are starting to catch up to all of us at this point.

The world continues to reel and we are dizzy with the spin of it. I ache for my affected friends and pray and continue to sit in my home.

My back is rebelling against all that time sitting combined with the unusual living room workouts I’ve been doing. Can’t sit and can’t stand and “I can’t wait until I can go for a walk to work out the kinks,” I thought to myself. Instead, I got creative with a standing desk for today and mentally braced myself for a few more weeks of this.

It is easy to feel as though this life we are living right now, this daily movement confined to a few hundred square feet, is a sort of half-life. Like life is on hold until things return back to “normal.”

But it’s not on hold! This very day is my life. This is no half-life! This is the real deal — today.

Henri Nouwen wisely said, “While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will get better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with deep trust that God will never leave us alone.”

And so while I long for future wholeness, I live in the present. Maybe a heart full of hope means not thinking about tomorrow much at all — not worrying about the hardships that are sure to come, nor pining with flimsy optimism for the good days we want.

Instead, I should live firmly planted in the present day, the life I’ve been given. I will ground my feet to the earth (or in my case, the floor) that’s beneath them and live this day as I’ve lived all the other ones of my life: with the grace and strength I’m given.

C.S. Lewis gives a great reminder for our overactive minds: ”Remember, one is given the strength to bear what happens, but not the 101 different things that might happen.”

I have strength for this very day and I’ll live it as if it were the realest day of my life! And it is. I was, quite literally, born for this day.

I’ll live this day in the same way and out of the same identity as I’ve lived all my other days. There is strength and mercy for this present day. Tomorrow morning I’ll get more.

‭ “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations‬ ‭3:21-23‬)‭

Palm Sunday in Lockdown

It’s Palm Sunday and the lockdown-life carries on here. Laundry is hung, kids are inside, streets are empty. Things move along at the same pace, now with a bit more of a cloud, knowing that we have another three weeks of lockdown or, as we say in Spanish, “confinement.”

But, today is Palm Sunday and I haven’t forgotten. Nor, it seems, has this city, where the roots of Holy Week tradition run deep. From the balconies and windows on our street, a few people beat and blow on the drums and trumpets typically played for Holy Week processions. I heard them as I sang and prayed and read scripture in my own living room. Let the King receive honor, regardless of where it comes from.

I went to listen and leaned dangerously far out of my window to get a glimpse of our drumming and trumpeting neighbors (and to catch sight of the sky if I could). As I hung out the window, I could hear the song of the birds as clearly as I heard the trumpets — them flying and chirping their own constant praise to their Creator, as easy as their breath. No doubt nature thanks Him more incessantly than I do.

The rocks are praising as well. If only I could hear all those stones and what they say, what they sing! There is so much beyond my scope of understanding, beyond my eye’s ability to see and my ear’s ability to hear.

Even with the cloud that has settled over the earth during these weeks, I rejoice with a constant hum of hope in my heart because the King came here. God did not wait for us to earn our way to Him, he came to earth and there he sat on a donkey. Hosanna, here is our saving, here is our shepherd.

Smile Lines

Who knew that I would come to love smile lines?

On Monday I stepped out of my apartment for the second time in 15 days. I slipped on the face mask that was given to us before we started stacking boxes at the food pantry. Four other pairs of gloved hands lifted boxes, handed them to me as we made a human chain. Four other pairs of eyes, smiling at me with their smile lines. I got to know them by their eyes and knew they were grinning when the beautiful wrinkles showed up.

Wearing that same mask, I went to the fruit and veggie store. The sign on the window reads: “Please, only one person inside.” After waiting my turn outside, I backed away as an elderly man, also wearing a face mask, exited. As I let him pass, I lifted my eyes and showed him my best smile lines. His crinkled up, too.

Inside, Julian the fruit man had his own mask. His muffled voice asked how many peppers I wanted and if I was going to eat both of my avocados today or wanted a less-ripe one for later this week.

I can’t wait to see the smiles behind these smile lines, but I also won’t forget to love these wrinkles — every single part of these beautiful faces.

Heartache

My heart aches and heaves with the slow pulse of the city. I smell the bleach in the hallway — an olfactory reminder of what we are dealing with. I put my hand on my chest.

It seems I’m always telling my heart to buck up and toughen up — it’s too vulnerable, takes on too much, breaks too easily, cries too much, and bears too quickly the burdens of others.

This time seems no different as tears spring up from my heart that is not broken nor hopeless nor joyless, but simply heavy with emotion. It’s heavy inside my chest, holding hurts that aren’t even directly my own.

I start to scold my tender heart for how quickly it takes on pain and burdens. Then I stop. Maybe the weight is for my good and the good of those I know.

If I let the weight of it all take me to Jesus — on my behalf as well as on behalf of those I love — it’s good and it’s a burden I will gladly bear. There I am, bringing things and people and situations to Him that I wouldn’t have brought if my heart didn’t ache.

And there I find myself with a secure identity and an unshakable joy, held up by Him who never changes and never fails. I will not shy away from the pain around me, because as it sends me to prayer, I bring the ones I love (and the ones I don’t know) over and over again to our kind Father.

We all carry on day by day, unaware of how much our own daily being is sustained and upheld by prayers we don’t even know are being prayed; by God’s intervention whether or not we see it or acknowledge it. I pray my own share of secret prayers, trusting not in my strength to pray them but in the Lord who hears them and cares.

The Helpless Trust Of Coronavirus

I heard the click-clacking of high-heeled shoes in the hallway — an eerie sound of normality among such silence and seclusion. Was she going to the grocery store? Probably. There’s really no other place we are allowed to go.

As I sat on my couch with a mug and a Bible, I imagined her: well-dressed like a good Spanish woman, color on her lips, purse on her arm, maybe carrying a grocery bag or wheelie cart. And now, most likely, wearing a face mask.

The streets are mostly empty when I look down from my balcony, but, among the police car that often circulates our block, a handful of cars can be spotted. Maybe they’re hospital staff, headed in to work. There are the occasional dog-walkers and grocery-shoppers, outside to do the only two things we can do outside. The ambulance sirens are loud, no longer hiding among other traffic noises.

And here I sit inside, working on my computer and writing and watching movies and studying the Bible and getting creative with living room workouts and reading in the sliver of sun that hits the balcony. And feeling very helpless.

It’s time for creative love, unceasing prayer, and kindness to my neighbor, which very well may only be the person I’m living with. And maybe most of all, it’s time for a new breed of trust in the Lord.

As I’m forced to embrace my helplessness and frailty right now, I remember that my strength was never the force that turned the universe anyway. I’ve always been helpless (it’s a human trait), but here it is, staring me in the face a bit more than usual.

So I’ll do what I can to creatively help and love those around me, but also really flex my trust muscle — standing on the Rock, putting my eyes on our faithful Jesus, and constantly bringing my burdens, and those of the people I love, to Him.

Then, I’ll keep sitting at home with peace and joy, knowing that Christ can never be taken from our hearts and knowing that He who has given grace over and over will give grace for whatever comes.

“For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” – 2 Chronicles 20:12

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge, and my savior.” – 2 Samuel 22:2-3

My Name

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” -John 10:3

What is God’s name for me? What does He call me? Am I Rebecca with one c or two? Or has He named me according to my deepest identity in some other-worldly language that I’ll only know once we are face-to-face?

I imagine myself in that moment, finally understanding myself fully — like He has known me all along — and not caring one bit because I’m with Him.

Either way, He knows me deeply and calls me lovingly by my truest name, whatever it is. With that name He calls and awakens the deepest parts of me like only the one who made me can do.

Refuge

My feet scuffed the dirt as my legs carried my heart down the trail and across the field, over and between the strong, solid rocks that reminded me of my Refuge.

I breathed Psalm 57:10 with every inhale and exhale. The very air I sucked into my lungs brimmed with His love and faithfulness that stretch up up into the sky above me.

Palms turned upward to the sky, I felt the sun touch them as the rays whisked away the beads of sweat. The wind played between my fingers.

I shut my eyes and opened my soul and imagined my heart in my upturned hands, holding it out and up to the One to whom it belongs. Knowing His hands are much safer than mine.

Coffee Money

I looked up from the work I was doing on my computer and he said to me, “Te lo prometo que no es para drogas.” It’s not for drugs, he said, the money he’s asking for.

I told him no, that I didn’t want to buy his trinkets or give him money. He asked again and I said it more firmly and averted my eyes from the pair of eyes staring back at me; turned away from the human being standing before me.

Steeling myself to stare at my computer until he went away, in the same instant something inside of me turned toward him to ask if I could buy him a cup of coffee. The words just came out of me. Un café solo is what he wanted and I hopped out of my chair to order it. Of course I would buy him a coffee. Why wouldn’t I?

Why didn’t I give him money? Several reasons (were they reasons or excuses or some of both?) ran through my head.

That night at Bible study we read Proverbs 3 and my heart listened: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”

I know all the reasons not to give money to panhandlers and beggars. I know them from a social work perspective as well. And they’re not necessarily incorrect. But still, God prompted me to check my heart.

Whether it’s a cup of coffee or cash, do I need to be a bit more reckless with giving my money when people ask me for it?

Throw it around more freely as if I don’t depend on it (I don’t).. as if I’m not the judge of what people do with it (I’m not).. as if it’s not mine in the end (it’s not).. and as if the other humans in front of me are as important, or more important, than me (they are).

2019

2019 was good! And it was weird. Very unusual. I’m having trouble coming up with another word for it.

And here I am, almost two weeks into 2020, and having the marker of an old year and a new year does seem appropriate as I figure out how to categorize 2019 and how to be in 2020.

I’m ending 2019 and counting it as the past. I move on from the unsure choices I made (even if I’m still unsure about them). I move on from the decisions that were made for me and the ones I didn’t want to make. I move on from the confusion and all questions I asked. I learned so much.

I leave those things behind, having grieved what needed to be grieved, knowing that I brought decisions to the Lord for guidance, trusting that I made the best choices I could, and rejoicing that I have been shaped in tangible ways by the things that happened to me.

Still open to learning from all that 2019 held, on a practical level, I leave it behind and focus on and look forward to the things to come. I don’t know what they are, but I know they’ll be good. Why?

La imagen puede contener: árbol, cielo, exterior y naturaleza

John Steinbeck said this in a letter to his son: “Nothing good gets away.” I don’t think he was thinking along the same lines as me when he wrote it, but I can get behind it. (If you’ve never read this lovely letter, read it here.)

Because for me, a daughter of God, secure in Christ, nothing good gets away! I strive toward goodness, holiness, and choices that honor Christ. I see God working in me and I actively receive the gifts I see the Lord giving me. And in the end, no matter what a given year holds, I can live freely and with great hope because none of my “good” gets away.

The best things in my life — my identity in Christ, the joy, hope, and love I have in God — are secure. I have them forever and always. There is no losing from here on out as I walk with Jesus. My future is bright. So, I process the past as I need to, then move forward to more learning, growing, and serving the Lord and those around me.

In 1 Samuel 16:1, the Lord says to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul…? Be on your way.”

Be on your way! Process it, mourn it, grieve what you need to, and then be on your way. Upward and onward to a good unknown.

I move forward unsure of myself, but sure of God. I move forward with a spirit of adventure, trusting as I live this story.