Holy, Lowly

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Christmas swept into our midst again in its quiet, slow, lowly way. It began to seep in around the edges right after Thanksgiving, as it does, and it simply grew – the days more pregnant with glory and hope and sparkle and holiness after each subsequent night. Advent was minimalistic for us this year, out of happenstance rather than purpose, but in its own lowly way that too showed us the beauty of Christmas Day itself and the glories of this holy week following that holy day. With simple chocolates each night and reading Advent Scriptures & stories when I managed to sneak them in, with a small amount of baking and wrapping of gifts little by little – suddenly it was Christmas Eve. Worship on Christmas Eve morning was bright and sweet, joyful and peaceful. Being on this side of the story gives so much joy even in the here-but-not-yet atmosphere of a day like Christmas Eve. We know what follows on the heels of the Eve.

We spent the day with our church family, eating pizza and cookies and popcorn, ice skating on a hilltop in a backyard rink that made something simple utterly glorious. That evening came with our annual “webcam Christmas” of opening gifts and sharing joys across the miles through the gift of modern technology, followed by watching a movie as a family and flitting around accomplishing last minute touches on food and gifts for the following day.

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Once I had four little ones tucked into bed with books and flashlights, and strict instructions not to leave their beds until 7 o’clock the following morning, we filled stockings, sprinkled chocolate coins around the coffee table, and piled festive gifts around the base of our Christmas tree.

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The tree that is topped with a star, reminding us to follow the light of Jesus wherever it leads. The tree which reminds us of where our story began with Adam & Eve, and where our story will end with the Tree of Life. It reminds us of the fig tree, of the cross on which our Lord was crucified. It shows us so many things. The abundance of pretty packages simply a tiny foretaste of the abundant grace our Holy God pours upon us each day as His lowly children.

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And in the morning: cinnamon roll bread, reading, singing as a family (in three part harmony!!), opening gifts, sharing joys and generosity with one another, words of thanks and humble gratitude spilling everywhere, innumerable hugs and indomitable laughter.
When we said that it was time for presents, and our two year old ran to the tree and started grabbing for gifts and handing them to his siblings, Steven and I looked at each other: there is holy glory here in these joyfully lowly moments.

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I am a rich woman, given tremendous treasures. I am a lowly steward of incredible jewels. There is a holiness here as we celebrate the birth of our King, as we recall one of the earth-shattering events in history that God used to alter both time and creation. The dichotomy of holy and lowly, glory and gore. In a conversation with our children on Christmas morning, we mused about the idea of delivering a baby in a stable… the place where animals lived, ate, shed, and made all imaginable messes. No wonder Mary chose the feeding trough for the baby’s bed! At least it was only the animals’ mouths that frequented that spot! But even our little children, when thinking about it conversationally, could see the lowly humility Jesus willingly enfleshed. The Word Himself, going to sleep in the manger after growing within the body of a human girl and pressing into the world of oxygen through all the pain of a birth canal.

Our Jesus.
Our King.
The Holy Baby.
Savior and Servant.

Lewisquote

Ordinary

There are some days that, while filled with nothing but the ordinary, feel truly extraordinary nonetheless.

In the liturgical Church year, incidentally, today is the last day of Ordinary Time prior to tomorrow launching this year’s Advent season. Well, perhaps it is less than incidental: in fact, it may be the precise reason I thought of this in the first place.

One of my friends is at the hospital in labor today with her first child, after years of longing to be given the gift of motherhood.
One of my friends, who I babysat & taught piano to for years and then who was a flowergirl/maid in my own wedding, is getting married this afternoon.
And my one and only Grandpa will have his bones laid to rest in a couple of hours.

The intersection of some of life’s moments of highest pinnacle!

And here I am at my home, living in the very ordinary routine of my life.
Dishes, laundry, feeding my people, changing diapers, loading up crockpots, listening to a podcast while I walk around in circles between my own needy little people and my weary old brown boxes of Christmas decorations that I’m trying to unload into a semblance of celebratory beauty around my home.

Ordinary.

But just because it is ordinary does not mean it has no value. Some of the most monumental and majestic of events rely fully upon those who are holding down the forts in the world of the ordinary!

And so as I chop onions for chili and cut fat into flour for pie, as I transfer laundry loads and sweep up pineneedles from the family room rug, as I interact with my children and scatter Christmas decorations around my home, I wait for my ordinary little phone to buzz. I get updates from my friend waiting for her body to be delivered of her tiny son. I get updates from my mama who is waiting for her father’s body to be laid to rest. I watch the clock as I anticipate the covenant-making of my friend as two shall become one.

This is ordinary yet it is majestic.

On this last day of Ordinary Time prior to Advent, I am thinking about the power of the ordinary.
Ordinary things like life, birth, death, marriage, parenthood, homes, food, tangible, physical things.
And tomorrow when Advent bursts onto the scene, I anticipate one friend’s arms will be filled with her little son; another young friend entangled with her husband; and my grandpa will be planted in the earth awaiting the harvest of the Resurrection.
I will go to worship, partake of communion, sing, pray, and rejoice because the majestic King of creation came to earth in the ordinary form of a baby with human DNA just like me and lived a life full of ordinary, tangible, physical things.

Maybe it is the ordinary things, after all, which are the true pinnacle of the majestic.

The Printed Word

The five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in Europe is kind of a big deal right now. As in, I feel like I have seen it pretty much everywhere online, I attended a conference themed on it, I know local churches with Reformation Day parties this year (even ones that wouldn’t normally have gone to the trouble), etc. It is pretty amazing. Now, while I was trying to focus on United States history with my kids this year, for a two week period (last week and this coming week), we are putting it all aside and replacing it with a unit study on the Reformation. What a great time we have been having! Our focus in this Reformation unit is primarily art and literature, which necessarily includes copywork and theology and singing and other such wonderful things. Yesterday my children and I sang David Erb’s version of Psalm 46 (which they had learned at music camp in the summer), and then Martin Luther’s famous Mighty Fortress. And I think, especially for the big boys, it really meant a lot to them, having known more about the history of the music and the words and the musicianship represented there.
We are essentially jumping in deep with these books for our unit:

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I introduced the subject, era, and keynote people with ABCs of the Reformation and some excerpts of The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History. And the kids each had books on Martin Luther they read on their own. But as the kids asked questions about the “whys” behind the Reformation, we ended up leaving the theological men and their stances of the mid-1500s behind and stepped further back into the world of Johannes Gutenberg. We very much loved Fine Print and are currently enjoying Ink on His Fingers as well, plus some other little snippets on him, his life, his work that have simply repeated & filled out what we found in those books.

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Undoubtedly the most stunning thing we realized, though, is that my family has a unique bookcollector right next door… my father collects old Bibles… he has studied them, loved them, researched them, worked with other collectors, learned some dying craft of mending pages and bindings, and he has even traveled in order to acquire or restore Bibles. So I asked him if we could take a peek at one of his early copies. Not only did he allow us to take a peek at it, but he dropped it off so we could fully explore its pages at our leisure. What a gift! This particular copy was printed in 1549, using the sort of mechanisms, leather-over-wood binding, goldleaf, moveable type, handmade ink, etc. that Gutenberg himself created and implemented.

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The kids took turns gently turning pages, smelling & feeling the cotton paper, examining the old inks, following worm holes through sections of pages, fingering the thick embossed leather on the cover. This particular copy was not printed until 1549 (let’s be honest: that’s pretty old!! And to have it in the family, where we don’t need to wear special gloves or keep it under glass, etc. is a special gift we don’t take for granted), so the kids wanted to figure out if someone like Martin Luther or John Calvin could have touched this book. They wanted to know if this would have been chained up to keep it from being stolen; if it would have belonged to a church, a common family, or an elite; they wanted to know about the gold leaf & the leather – where would they have come from? While I don’t have specific answers to most of those specific questions about this specific copy of God’s Word, it was really fun to talk about and imagine and ponder. Who else has held this book and read its pages and had their soul fed in the last 468 years?!

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We then spent an hour over lunchtime yesterday watching this video, where Stephen Fry walked through a lot of Gutenberg’s footsteps and recreated his craft and science and system of creating the printing press which changed the world. It has been really fun to learn, through books and the video, about the process of setting the type. I love the odd spellings and letters in the old English copy here!! I read Psalm 23 to the kids, which even Evangeline knows by memory in the ESV, and had them all follow along with it in this book… which doesn’t even have verse designations… and they were impressed by the difficulty of discerning the words because of the spellings and the spacing and such. The video really touched on that too, so that was a helpful nuance.

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What a contrast I noticed… little Simeon had just received his own little tiny pocket-sized Bible this week… which I picked up for 49-cents when I was grabbing another armload of used children’s books at Goodwill… and this little thing has no real monetary value, no big dramatic story behind it, it was probably printed with very little effort along with thousands of identical copies… yet it is a treasure to this tiny boy who now walks around with it tucked in his arm, and sets it beside him while he plays (such as here, below, when he was playing in the little toy kitchen)…

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And it is the Reformation that makes this kind of thing possible. Where there was chaos, God brought order. Where there was unrest, God brought peace. With a family so deeply in love with books and written words, this is a unit study that hits home deeply. It makes me speechless and just boggles my brain. The world had only manuscripts reproduced by scribes and owned only by the truly elite. The “paper” (vellum from calf skins) was even hard to come by, let alone inks and reeds, and then the immensity of time it took to copy it all! Wow. It’s utterly phenomenal how God brought Johannes Gutenberg to the apex of art & science to bring us the printing press.

I guess I’d say personally speaking, the internet and the printing press are the two biggest things that I think God created through mankind to change the world. And while I am not ready yet to wrap my head around studying the history and creation and implementation of the internet with the kids, I am absolutely stunned by the breathtaking world of the printing press’s creation.

The printed words brought us the printed Word.
What better gift could the Reformation have brought us?!
And then, because this 1549 copy of course is in English, we have so very much to be thankful for in the Reformation fight for Scripture in the vulgate too. We get to worship in our native language, we get to have more copies of the Bible than we even need (and we even carry it around in our pockets, thanks to places like OliveTree!).

The Reformation was a tool our King used to give us these gifts.
As for me my household, we are grateful.

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Christ Died

While we were yet sinners.
Christ suffered for us.
Died for me.

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He was stricken. Smitted. Afflicted. Forsaken. Dead in a completely gory trauma.

 

And there was darkness.
Despair.
Agony.
Unknowns.
Hell.

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Many Questions

What about that tree–
the one that would be
sawn asunder,
its limbs
lashed to a T
to brace his
bruised body?
Did he plant it?
Give it water?
Did he bless
or curse it
like the fig?
As a sapling
did it foresee
a day when nails
would join
its marrow,
its meat,
to the hands
and feet
of the Lord?

One Answer

They made my sturdy limbs
a party to their mutiny.

Forgive Man, Lord,
and me.

~Nikki Grimes,
“The cross is often referred to as a tree – a poetic reference perhaps,
but a tree did provide the material
from which the cross was made.
According to John’s Gospel,
Jesus was the Lord of Creation.
Among other things, that means the tree on which he hung
owed its life to him.
I was intrigued by the idea of relationship
between Christ and the tree.
The first poem led to the second.”

Arise, Shine! Our Light has Come!

Christ was born! He fulfilled the prophecies!
The Incarnate King! God with us!

This last Sunday we celebrated the naming and circumcision of Jesus,
His presentation in the temple where Simeon (my son’s namesake) sang,


And today we celebrate the Magi coming to worship Him.
It’s Epiphany!

This day is our day. My day.
This day reminds me that Christ came for me.
May His grace, His light, reflect through me and over me
so that He is glorified and His Kingdom expanded!
May I arise! May I shine! May I praise Him with joy! May I offer gifts of highest value!

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He is the Light of the world.
He is the King.
He is my Lord.

Lord Jesus
may your light shine our way,
as once it guided the steps of the magi:
that we too may be led into your presence
and worship you,
the Child of Mary,
the Word of the Father,
the King of nations,
the Saviour of mankind;
to whom be glory for ever.
–Frank Colquhoun

The New Commandment

This morning over at Olive Tree, I have the privilege of sharing some thoughts on the new commandment Jesus gave His disciples before He was captured.

After Judas left Jesus and the other disciples at the table in the upper room, some of my favorite parts of the Holy Week narrative take place. They are common, familiar, lowly, home-centered—perhaps that is why they prick me especially poignantly, as I am a full time homemaker and homeschooling mama of four small children. I am daily surrounded by the common and the lowly. Morsels of bread, washing off dirt, and commands to love one another are tools of my own trade.

Come visit me there, as we contemplate the enormity of Christ’s commandment, with its new distinguishing factor of imaging our Savior… as we ask questions of ourselves, about taking up crosses and washing dirty feet… as we walk through Holy Week in anticipation of Good Friday, the darkness of Saturday, the brightness of Resurrection Sunday.

Palm Sunday Thoughts…

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. We were given little crosses made out of palm fronds at church. The liturgy was different. The vestment colors were different. And as I dealt with a 3 year old who threw up all over her church dress and her carseat… and as I bounced a fussy, overtired little 4 month old… I was happily comforted in the reminders that my Jesus, my King, is Lord over all things ~ both small and great. He came in lowly ways. He ministered in the daily things. He came to save.

My mind repeatedly wandered back to a year ago… six weeks pregnant with Sweet Teen… and the terrible dance of hope & doubt I was enduring…
So today, I am sharing with you something I wrote that day; last year on Palm Sunday. It’s as true today as it was 366 days ago. Hallelujah! Hosanna in the highest!

 

Today was Palm Sunday—a day full of good reminders of our King who reigns, of His lowly entry and faithful rule, of how we as His people can & should cry out to Him, hosanna! Save us now, Lord, we pray! One of my sons in heaven is named Hosanna, and I love the excuse to say his name. When I do, I am crying to the only One who can save to the uttermost. This morning’s church service, as we visited a church we love a couple hours away, began with the choir, pastors, and dozens of children processing through the sanctuary with palms in their hands while we all sang to the Lord of His glory and honor, lauding Him with our praise. We cried out to Him beseeching Him to save us! And since we are on the other side of the story, we know with confidence that He is the Savior! He has saved us! He didtriumphantly bear our sins and conquer death, saving us from the holds of those shackles! Amen!
But we are still in the midst of the story. This morning I felt painfully, acutely aware that the story continues.

I sat there with my family, in the midst still of our own story of asking the Lord to save and preserve and give us life in place of death, begging Him with every little panting breath to cause this baby to live…
In front of us was a family whose daughter suffered a terrible cancer some years ago, and the Lord preserved her precious life, and there she sat with parents and siblings, with health glowing in her cheeks and hair and the saving presence of the Lord spilling from her eyes as she sang…
In front of them sat a family who buried another son this very week—the Lord saved their little boy by ushering him to heaven, and now He saves this family every moment by upholding them even in the midst of horrible grief…

I cried repeatedly.
Suffering everywhere I looked. Sometimes already redeemed. Sometimes not yet.
It is hard to wait for the redemption, and wonder whether we will see it here in this life, or whether we will be yet waiting to see it in the next.

And then Pastor Sumpter preached on hope & joy.
He said, so much of joy is bound up in hope.
How painfully, purely accurate.

I am so afraid to hope and so afraid to be joyful. Even though there is a sliver of me that wants to shout from the rooftops that the Lord has filled my womb—I want to plan and prepare and anticipate and expect an autumn baby—I want to let the kids kiss my tummy and pray aloud all day for the little baby without wincing in my heart of anxiety—I want to talk about baby names for this little person, to embrace this pregnancy rather than moment by moment telling myself not to get attached.

Today we heard an exhortation to ignore the voices in our head that shout realism and logic and probabilities. We ought to rather take joy in hoping, and not to grow weary if we have to keep asking. It is exactly realism, logic probabilities, and my own history that causes me to limit my joy and squelch my hope. But we serve the Lord who delights in giving good gifts, who takes pleasure in acting outside the boundaries which people expect of Him, who came in order to redeem the broken places so that our joy could be full and our hope renewed.

So this week, even as I constantly preach truth to myself not to give in to anxiety just because it certainly doesn’t do any of us any good, I will also be reminding myself day by day to be joyful even when I don’t know the end of the story. Because that is why Christ came. I rejoice in hope—and this hope is not bound up or settled on the things of this world. This hope in which I rejoice is bound up and settled on the glory of God. And because of this, because of God’s glory, we can rejoice fully! Even when suffering comes. Even when endurance is necessary. When character is tried, tested, affirmed. (Romans 2:1-5)

This hope is not foolish. Hope that is grounded in God’s glory will not put us to shame. He died for me. So that I could have hope. So that I could rejoice.

So as I remind myself of these things this week, walking toward Easter as well as taking daily steps further and further into my pregnancy, I will remember the joy and the hope along with the suffering and the grief. It’s the dichotomy of living the Christian life. May He give us the strength and peace to glorify Him this week through all of this.

I want to hope with unabashed, reckless abandon. I want to have incalculable, irrepressible joy.

This is the Lord‘s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and He has made His light to shine upon us.
Psalm 118:23-27