October 01, 2018

Andrew's Ordination

Yesterday morning, Andrew preached at the English service of a local Chinese church. He turned our eyes to Jesus's parable of the mustard seed and the leaven... reminding us of the pervasiveness and the power of the kingdom of God. "A farmer knows the power of his seed," he told us. 

The power of His kingdom... And yet, some days it feels like the world is getting worse-- is His kingdom really coming to earth as it is in heaven?  

Andrew reminded this particular congregation, myself most of all, that God's kingdom had its beginnings in the seemingly small and ordinary. When the magi came searching for the Christ, they first burst through palace doors. And yet he was not found in royal chambers; He was found in a simple mother's arms, in a place where farm animals sheltered themselves from weather. 

And God's kingdom, like leaven in dough, pervasively went forth from the workings of a Father through His Son--in small, and ordinary, and very earthy ways. This is the blessing of incarnation: A God who puts on flesh.

One of the ways he takes care of us in our flesh is to give us shepherds on this side of heaven. While certainly flawed, our pastors are a means of grace to us. Andrew has always been a shadow of the Chief Shepherd to me and to our family. I'm so thankful the Lord has called him to shepherd others, too.

Last night we had the joy of participating in worship as Andrew was ordained as a PCA pastor. During the service, one of the pastors quoted Augustine: "A sacrament is a visible sign of God's invisible grace." Although not a sacrament, he was saying what we all felt: This visible sign of the charges and the laying on of hands was a sign pointing to the kind hands of Jesus leading Andrew into pastoral ministry. 

I'm thankful for the small and ordinary ways that Andrew has stepped into others' lives to shepherd and care for them. He has been a picture to me of a God who endures, a Shepherd who is faithfully present. 

We are so thankful for our short time here at Perimeter Church (and Christ Church Suwanee and Atlanta Chinese Christian Church). Last night was a visible reminder of how the Lord has cared for us in the in-between world we are living in. As the elders laid hands on Andrew, we could also feel the hands of so many not physically with us. What a kind God we serve! He has shown his kindness to us through so many of His people.

 I know that those who are reading this are those who have loved us so well. Thank you for your endless investments into our lives. Would you continue to pray with us as we ask God to call us to a place and a people to love?

July 19, 2018

On Hearing the Music

Andrew and I sat down in our seats at the Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. First, actually, mid-squatting, our heads were jarred back by a chuckle from two men who would sit behind us: "We were waiting to see who these unlucky folks would be." Because: the pole.

This turned out to be a "Who's laughing now?" scenario as our friends whose knees were folded into their chests began to side-eye our ability to stretch our legs into the nothingness on either side. And a little lean--Andrew to the right and I to the left-- would not be the rain on our parade.

But I chase rabbits.

Andrew immediately pulled up The Tabernacle on Wikipedia to give us some historical landscape and ground our feet a bit. (We like context.) A Baptist church built in 1910, sold to developers in 1994 who turned it into a House of Blues. We spy copper-coated organ pipes peeking out from behind the setup on stage and we sit in an ornate lower balcony with another balcony overhead. We've come to church.

The band we've come to see... (but gosh, that doesn't say it right). The artist we have come to enjoy... (but even still, the words don't hold). Because, it's the beauty we came for and any synonym of concert feels too small. The Punch Brothers were making music this night. 

I've followed Chris Thile for more than twenty years of his career, and, as the cliché goes, he could sing his way through the phonebook and I would pay my entrance fee. What I have always loved about his performance is the way Music becomes a separate entity in the room which we all behold, himself included. 

Chris T., Gabe, Noam, Chris E. and Paul all gave offerings with their respective instruments. The unlikely hero of the mandolin, smallest of all, led foot with melody and picked on all the heart-strings of this native Kentuckian. Guitar and fiddle (or violin depending on your vernacular flavor) colored the in-betweens and the bass held us from the bottom and rounded it all out. All the sounds tangled together in ways that gripped one's heart, left me chin-in-hands and elbows-on-knees. The prayerful posture for the ears, like I couldn't get them close enough to the magic. 

So mesmerized by the night was I... that I didn't get any fun pictures to share. 

The whole room was getting lost in the beauty and the magic and the fun, and the artists were, too. We watched all of them in different displays of wonder throughout the night. A smile overtaking Chris's face so heavily that it weighted his whole head downwards, chin to neck. Noam closing his eyes for a moment to listen, listen. 

And Chris Thile, in his typically sly way, was giving political commentary without giving political commentary: "It's tricky out there, isn't it?" 

Yes, we all nod.

"It's better in here." 

It was. 

And of all things, it made me think about liturgy. 

The cultural lean of the church worship service these days is to seem like a concert, feel like a mall, look like a coffee shop so that the unchurched would be led in by breadcrumbs--this feels normal, this also feels normal, still feeling normal--and then offer the gospel when everyone feels good and comfortable. (Or, in some cases, not presenting the gospel at all-- but that's a whole different animal.) 

But what if our worship were not a shadow of a good concert... what if a good concert were a shadow of what our worship could be? 

The beauty of that night with the Punch Brothers was that we were all enchanted with something bigger than us: the picking of the strings that became music, that became art, that became a tangible way we could hold onto the glory of God. It wasn't normal life; We didn't want it to be normal life. It was tricky outside. It was good in there. 

What if our worship services didn't remind us of the world we were stepping out of? What if we didn't apologize for the mystery of the gospel? When we sit at the table of the Lord's supper, when we  gaze on baptismal waters and remember our own, when we hear neighboring voices singing and pleading their own hearts to heaven, when we confess our sin and allow words of forgiveness to wash over us, when we hear the truth of God's Word which stands as a rock in the midst of our sinking sand... It's uncomfortably abnormal, but it's enchanting. 

In worship, we are able to align our hearts with the bigger story of God's kingdom and not confuse it with our own cultural or personal agendas. We come in saying: It's tricky out there. We sit saying: It's better in here. We leave saying: Now my heart has been tuned to take the music out with me... to sing the gospel to my own heart and to sow the seeds of its goodness for my neighbor's sake. 

And in six more days (or six more minutes), our hearts will need to be re-tuned. Our minds will need to be re-enchanted. Our bodies will need to be reminded of the posture of humility. 

It's tricky out there. It's better in here. 

** A PS to say that much of my thought in this area has recently been shaped by two incredible books: You are What You Love and its more scholarly counterpart, Imagining the Kingdom, both by James K.A. Smith. I heartily recommend You are What You Love unless you want a real challenge in Imagining the Kingdom. (I think I understood about 30% of that book but that 30% was worth the read!)

May 12, 2018

On Mountain Goats and Motherhood

It's that middle place for children, right after self-awareness and just before it's singed with pride and embarrassment... when they look back at you after a great or terrible act with a question in their eyes... "Did you see that?" Of course, it carries far past the little years, but there is this short period of time where their need to be seen is so... seen. They threw a ball! Did you see that? They pushed their brother. Did you see that? Their chubby little fingers stacked the third block and it didn't fall--- head turns and eyes grow: Did you see that?

Our seeing their accomplishment actually completes it for them... but it's more than that, isn't it? They feel at home in our gaze; They feel like a whole person with our eyes on them. To be seen is to be.

We would be fools to think that we somehow grew out of this basic human need... We've just figured out how to shade our eyes so that no one sees us looking around, trying to catch another's gaze. Did anyone see that?

We can feel this sorely (though not solely) as mothers. When every part of our body and brain and soul just needs to lie down.... and yet, we can't even remember what made us so tired.

We hurt from loving, we ache from longing, and no matter how incredibly affirmative our husbands might be--we can still feel unseen. Is anyone watching you make four lunches at once?? We may (I have) turn to sharing our moments on social media.... maybe a few hundred hearts and thumbs will quench this thirst. Maybe a comment of solidarity will pick me up off the ground--but it can't last, can it? I can't hold that person's face in my hands to fix their gaze forever.

And it's not just the hard things, like when two people need their bottoms wiped at the exact same time (always, always... law of nature!). But it's the beautiful moments, too-- when your baby hugs your leg and says, "I love you!" for the first time, unprompted. Oh, did anyone SEE that?!

And so, like I experienced as a young mother, our brains can spiral down into a philosophical depression-- Is my life of motherhood the proverbial tree that falls in the forest? Do these common, everyday moments mean anything outside of someone's gaze?

Now listen, I know and you know. I can recite with my children: "Does God see all things?" "YES! Nothing can be hidden from God." But for a long, long time... this truth was only swimming around in my head.

And then studying Job with a women's group at church, a verse actually took my breath away:

"Do you know when the mountain goats are born? Do you watch when the mother deer gives birth?Do you know how many months they must carry their babies? Do you know when it is the right time for them to be born?" Job 39:1-2

And maybe mountain goats aren't going to do the same for you, but this thought arrested me. There is a goat wandering the craggy cliffs of Montana who has never brushed the gaze of one human being. And yet-- my God watches her birth a new life.

And if my God follows the plight of this goat, how much more does His gaze intimately cover my entire life? We are seen. Hemmed in behind and before... there is Someone familiar with all of our ways; Even the darkness is not dark to Him!

And we don't have to be ashamed of this longing to be seen... it is woven into us. But the gaze that can actually complete a moment--that can breathe beauty and meaning--is the gaze of our Father.

Lift your heads up, mothers! Cry with Hagar, even in your wilderness-- "You are the God who SEES me!" Because, as with all attributes of God... His seeing is wrapped up in love. There is a kind gaze upon us. Our moments have meaning and our motherhood has meaning and we are someone because we are living under the watchful eye of Him who breathed us into life.

So ache, and be seen. Rejoice, and be seen. Long with longings too deep for words.... and know that there is One who sees what you can't even name. Run your race in the freedom of an eye fixed upon you, and have a very happy Mother's Day!