A Prayer of Introduction / Let Us All Be Hungry

God of the universe, creator and king, how funnily you work. To think the gospel, the good, the great news for the whole world would be entrusted to twelve fickle men from small, by-the-wayside towns. That you would spread out the news of your love and your interest and your attachment to us — all of us — through a handful of people whose lives were both perfectly ordinary yet drastically changed.

To say it is miraculous for something to spread so quickly and explosively like the early Christian church in a time when one had to walk dusty miles between towns and tell of healing and forgiveness and radical grace over broken bread and shared wine…is a little naive. I think I am quick to underestimate the hunger we all have for you, God, to discount the intentional creation in us to long for you.

And so I choose I see it. I choose an awareness of that poignant dissatisfaction I have gotten so good at ignoring or dressing up in shallow trappings.

We are hungry for you, God. May your Church wake up to that hunger.

This is a series of prayers for the church in hopes that we the beloved body of Christ will move and glow and pulse in this world for God’s great and wrecking glory.

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Prayers for the Church

I don’t think I could call myself a passionate person. And I use the word “passion” loosely. I use it the way we romantics use it: fervor, ardor, flushed cheeks and flashing eyes, pounding hearts and fists. There aren’t very many things that fill me with such passion, that boil my blood or move me enough to shake a man just to make him hear. Not politics, not religion, not science or art or civil rights. (I’m ashamed to admit that, truthfully.)

But — and this is a tentative “but” filled to the brim with disclaimers — lately I have felt an exhaustion when it comes to the topic of church. The Church and the church. On the surface, I seem to be falling into the precise opposite of “passion,” to be falling out of love almost. And let me be clear: I love the Church and my church and the several churches I’ve visited and have been a part of throughout my life. But I have grown complacent in how I love the Church. I love it, I appreciate it, I often forget to tell it thank you, or to stick up for it to the doubters and the scoffers. I am an appeaser of the highest order.

Complacency, as I am learning, is exhausting. It is exhausting to live with very little passion or purpose. That seems backwards; but it exhausts me in the most literal sense of the word. It drains me of the things that ought to fuel me. I am running low on the good stuff that moves this world, that makes this life and all that comes with it worth it.

So back to the Church and the doubters and scoffers and the passion that drives.

I don’t want to watch the Church grow weak, timid. I don’t want to see it placed on platforms just to be ripped apart from all sides. I don’t want to see it cower beneath political correctness, nor refuse to bend against things that might not matter much at all. And I cannot watch it grow arrogant and indignant, huffing at the naysayers beneath a banner of staunch righteousness, retreating into its own walls.

Neither do I feel needed or equipped to defend it. Neither do I feel the power to restore it in little, rebellious ways a girl like me could do. See, if God were most concerned about his image in this world, he never would have chosen yokels like us to bear it.

So all I have left to do for the Church is the pray for it, and to invite you to pray right along with me. We are the salt and the light of this world. We were formed apart from creation to make this world taste good, to make this world glow in the dark. Not for God’s neat and tidy public image, but for his great and wrecking glory, a glory that doesn’t need PR or marketing strategies or carefully sanitized statements, a glory that banishes fear and crashes into the brokenness. A glory that does not tread lightly but dares to overcome and redeem and reconcile even the ugliest of all.

I want to be a part of that. I want the Church to be a part of that.

So maybe we should begin.

Over the next few weeks (months, years, whatever, I am super at ambiguous timing), I’ll be posting prayers I have for the Church in hopes that you will read these words and be moved enough to fill in the cracks you see in the Church and your church. Not because I suspect I am eloquent enough to CHANGE THE WORLD. But because I am convinced prayer is ridiculously powerful.

I can’t exactly say, or even pretend, I really know the power of prayer. Most times I don’t even know what happens after I say “Amen,” if anything at all. I have never experienced a windfall, an immediate response to my prayers, even the ones that wrenched my gut.

But I am learning to love the act of prayer: the intentional, time-carved-out-for prayer. I’m not any good at it; I am only aware of it, of the gift of language to attach to my heart’s groanings.

I mutter reckless prayers often (though not often enough), but the richness of prayer — in my particular case — is most obvious when I sit down, breathe in deep, and write — actually write — the words I most carefully want to say to my King.

And that’s what these will be: letters to a king, words chosen for the formality and eloquence.

I admire those whose prayers are intimate conversations with a devoutly interested God. I am not there yet (or ever). So these will be my prayers to a sovereign God, the creator and artist of this broken world, prayers bold enough in my self-importance though hesitant to call too much attention to myself, to interrupt his majesty.

I hope you’ll find God here because I am certain he is listening.

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Eleven.

If I had known eleven or so years ago how hard and heartbreaking this parenting gig was going to be, I would never have signed on.

Well, that’s probably not really true. But I definitely would have given it a lot more thought than, “Yeah, okay, we’ve got this.”

How arrogant. How short-sighted and silly to think I’ve got any of this.

But I can wing it. Today we’re eleven years in and I’m pretty much just winging it.

My astounding Bug, my firstborn, my gift, the one who made me a mother, who gave me this purpose larger than myself…he has no idea all this time I’ve actually just been following his lead.

This kid is magic. And because we don’t trust the magic in ourselves or in others, we sometimes try to dim it. Magic makes us nervous; magic makes us suspicious. The world doesn’t often spin so kindly.

So sometimes I try to reign him in, worried the things that make him loud and bright and big and present will backfire. Sometimes I worry he is too much for the world around him, and the world around him will force him to shrink small and fit neat.

I want to protect him. From bullies, from concussions, from sunburns, from bad grades and sore losers, from feeling out of place. But at eleven years old he doesn’t want my protection…he probably doesn’t even really need it.

Realizing my space in his life is the tide receding…that’s something fierce. It cuts deep. So I force my protection on him, with sharp words and edges because I know I am running out of time with this ELEVEN-year-old. (ELEVEN. There is no possible way I’ve already had ELEVEN years with this kid.)

When he was a toddler and glued nicely to my hip, I never thought this day would come. I mean, I figured it would but it was so hard to imagine, so abstract from the way he and I — baby and new mama — actually spent each day. “Not us,” I’d think, “we’ll still be inseparable.”

But the thing is, even as independent as he is, he still slips effortlessly back by my side. He has his own life, like every other pre-teen, but for now he still happily invites me in. We are still inseparable. (And, kid, I am clutching that with both fists; you won’t be able to shake me loose. And I’m glad you haven’t tried.)

This kid is a superstar. He is laugh-out-loud funny (even if his go-to comedy is fart noises) and whip-smart (do NOT get him started talking about professional soccer unless you have at least thirty minutes to spare) and watch out, because he is changing the world.

He is literally the best eleven-year-old I know, and he is crushing me to pieces from the inside out.

Happy elevensies, Bug. You are my very favorite boy.

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The Magic Bean

I keep thinking maybe I’ll run out of words because sometimes when I look at her my breath catches in my throat.

She is my favorite girl in the whole world. I tell her that, ask her if she knows it, and she will sigh and say, “Yes, mommy, you tell me every, every day.”

And maybe it’s not so much so she will know, but because I need to know. I need to reassure myself I’m not missing something; I am still aware of this spunky little gift who never lets me use the bathroom in peace.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll get to keep her this close; under my foot and within my shadow. It didn’t last nearly long enough the first time around, so this time, I soak it up (most days).

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So today we celebrate her, our little Beanie-bell, the spitfire, the truth-teller, the silly-song singer, the fastest scooterer, the magic in the room. We celebrate how she completed our little family five years ago, how she slipped into this world and from that moment gathered us in like wildflowers.

She is magnetic and charming, mischievous and bold. I love to listen to her talk, because her mind is a secret garden, a tangle of dandelions and hidden doors and unlikely adventure and glow-in-the-dark enchantment. Everything is real to her and everything is magical, and boy, what a way for a tired, stretched-thin grown-up to see this world.

 

I wonder sometimes if this world is ready for her; I wonder if it will be kind, and soft, and forgiving. I never want her to lose the way she marvels at clouds and pinecones and fireflies. I never want her to believe the world is harsh and vengeful, greedy and mean. I want her to trust the good stuff, that there’s enough of it out there to far overwhelm the things that are hard. I want her to love this world, to see it and love it in all of the broken places and to know she was made to help it mend. I want her to realize her own smallness in this wide, wild universe, that she is the very favorite girl to only a handful of people out of billions, and that she takes up very little space on earth and in time. I want her to know that space and believe she can leave it better, brighter, more whole and healed.

I want her to know she is joy, she is heart, she is beauty, she is warmth.

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It’s her birthday, but this is my wish.

Happy fifth, Bean. I. Love. You.

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Jessie’s Journal, Part I

So I recently found an old journal of mine from when I was 17-ish. I’ve been writing in a journal ever since I was 11 or so, so this one is probably  Vol. CLVIIEKDV or something.

I covered this particular journal in pictures cut from an travel catalog a couple of hot Australians handed to me during one of those college & career fairs.

I covered this particular journal in pictures cut from a travel catalog a couple of hot Australians handed to me during one of those college & career fairs. BECAUSE ADVENTURE.

When I found it OF COURSE I immediately started reading it, and OF COURSE I immediately started cringing and breaking out into hives and nervous laughter. I was SEVENTEEN AGAIN, minus Zac Efron’s excruciating romantic encounter with his own daughter.

I promised the Twitter I would share excerpts, because I mean, HOW COULD I NOT? Seventeen-year-old Jessie was a GEM, you guys. And also a WELL of emotions and adverbs. Every single adverb.

There’s really no way to set up any of what’s about to happen, so let’s just dive right in.

On Love…Part I [ed. note: everything is in parts and EVERYTHING is in Roman numerals]

Today, I felt my heart beat faster and my stomach tingle and my toes curl when I thought of someone. Could this be it? I know that it isn’t physical attraction [ed. note: WAIT, NOT physical attraction? THAT’S SO MEAN.] So I am perfectly safe in that aspect. So obviously it is their personality. And isn’t that what we need to fall in love with first? [ed. note: NO, SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD ME, FALL IN LOVE WITH HIS PORCHE FIRST. What I mean is, maybe we should marry for money?][JUST KIDDING, marrying the guy while we’re both flat broke totally worked out.]

You guys, I fell in love with a different boy pretty much every other month. REAL, TRUE, LASTING LOVE, OBVI. What follows that delicious opener is a dissertation two solid pages long on dating vs. trusting God will drop my future husband (MY SOUL MATE) into my arms (or vice versa) because I probably had just finished reading I Kissed Dating Good-Bye and DUH, THAT’S BASICALLY WHAT HAPPENED TO JOSHUA HARRIS.

[Love] makes me seem weak and vulnerable and my heart is just bare, completely unprotected, waiting patiently on that line. Love is such a beautiful thing. [ed. note: wait for iiiiiiiiiiit…] Although I have never firsthand experienced it, through little tastes I’ve come to grasp concepts of love. [ed. note: GROAN. GROAN. GROAN GROAN GROOOOOOAN.]

You guys, I was SO FULL OF WISDOM AND EXPERIENCE AND TRUTH back then. I’m pretty sure every single teenage girl I know today is a thousand times cooler and more self-aware than I ever was at 17.

And is love truly a search or more of a stumbling, you just happen into it, you just stumble into someone’s life and something new happens.

THIS IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF TOO MANY MEG RYAN MOVIES. Thanks for NOTHING, ’90s Meg Ryan.

FINALLY, I wrap it up with some profound words:

But why do I need to know [ed. note: I’m talking about needing to know if the 17-year-old boy mentioned above was THE ONE] if I trust God will deliver me someone who I will love forever and perfectly [ed. note: please ask my husband — who is NOT the 17-year-old boy mentioned above — next time you see him if I love him perfectly HAHAHAHAHA]? Each situation is separate and different, so I guess it’s nearly impossible to generalize all situations with one theory or one solution. And about that pitter-patter of my heart? It felt nice…

OMG, THE ELLIPSES! This girl’s story isn’t over yet! Will she find THE ONE? Will she discover what it means to stumble into love? Will there be a Part II? Only time will tell!

(And me. I’ll tell. There will be a Part II, because I have a composition notebook quite literally filled with teenage wisdom, SUPER random poetry, and at LEAST a dozen more boys to fall in love with.)

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Easter Sunday; Oh, the Bliss!

It was still dark when the women rose that morning. But even if the sun had been up, their days would still feel black as night.

It was their new reality; after weeks or months or years at Jesus’ side, drinking in his goodness and his warmth so filling it spilled out onto the desert sand, they were suddenly parched. Drifting. Fearful and grief-stricken and hopeless.

At least today they can put their grief in motion.

So they go to the tomb where Jesus lay, both anxious to get there to anoint his body and fulfill their holy rituals, and dreading the brutal finality of his death.

How close did the women come, in the dusty pre-dawn light, before they realized someone had gotten there first? And who could possibly have beaten them there? They had left before anyone else had awoken, everyone who loved and mourned Jesus as thoroughly as they had and did had been left behind. These women were the first to go, the first to visit Jesus’ grave. Who could possibly have gone before them?

Those who followed Jesus during his ministry were no strangers to the supernatural. Though they witnessed countless miracles, had seen demons overthrown, nothing could have compared to walking beside Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, the unseen Yahweh with skin on, with calloused hands and dirty feet and flashing eyes and desperate conviction and untapped love.

But none of them could have known, not fully, who they followed, from whom they learned about God and man and God’s pursuit of man. Even as close as they stood, they couldn’t have known.

Not until the stone was rolled away. Not until they came face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected, the payer of our debt, the conqueror of our penalty.

Their faith had been so shaken. The very foundation of their beliefs and their new, fragile knowledge of God had crumbled beneath them, settling into the cracks of the earth as it shook open. Their hearts had been broken; their hope had been lost.

But then they saw the tomb. They heard the angel sitting on the stone. They held the cast-aside burial linens, they searched the barren, empty walls, they felt the frailest breath of hope catch in their throats, and they ran to tell the others what strange things were happening.

They’re still happening.

We still come face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected.

The tomb is still empty.

And hope, if we let it, still catches in our throats.

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Good Friday; It Is Finished

They suddenly find themselves untethered. The gravity that had pulled them in and held them there, that gave them purpose and hope and a name — is gone. 

Was it really just last night they celebrated the Passover together? Remembered God’s special favor for his chosen people together?

They were convinced — Jesus was sent from God. His own son, they were sure of it. Every miracle they witnessed, every quiet moment away from the crowds, every time Jesus reached his hands toward the untouchable, his evident, unquenchable love for humanity. 

They were convinced all right. Counted themselves blessed to walk beside this Jesus, this prophet, this rabbi who not only knew the holy scripture inside out but actually lived them, every impossible commandment, every challenging word. 

But now what? Their world is spinning. Nothing feels real. Were the last three years just a dream? How could they have seen the mysterious God so clearly through Jesus, how could a man so intimately acquainted with the almighty God be arrested like a common thief? How could a man so willing to heal and touch and teach be hated like a brutal murderer?

They mourn. They fear. Where is God now? Has he removed his favor from them, the chosen people? Did he fall silent yet again, angered by the way the world treated Jesus? Dismissal and disbelief, hatred and cruelty and glaring injustice. They watch as Jesus is taken in, arrested. Then ushered out and thrown to his knees as soldiers and guards attack him. They want to drown out the sound of the jeering crowd hurling insults and laughter, but if the crowds fall silent then they will hear the soldiers’ whips against bare flesh, tearing pieces of it as they pull up and away and swing for another lash. 

Their own cries of grief over the treatment of Jesus are swallowed by the hungry crowd; maybe that’s what’s saving them, keeping them from the same fate. To anyone listening, they seemed to be a part of it, united in the chants to crucify him. 

And even as they watch, Jesus, already covered and slick with his own blood, is forced to hoist that heavy cross onto his back, the rough rugged wood digging deep into his bones, his muscles weak and exposed and screaming in agony. Still, they hope. 

They have seen his miracles. They’ve seen him command demons and the sea. They’ve seen the sky and even death bow down to him, some of them even saw his earthliness fall away to reveal his Godhood in all its glory. 

They hope. Surely Jesus will put an end to this madness, this torture. Surely something huge is about to happen, and then everyone will see; then you’ll all believe. 

They follow Jesus yet again, the dirt behind him stained with rivers of his blood, the cross dragging deep, ominous gouges in the road, stirring up dust until their eyes sting with betrayal and disbelief. 

Anytime now, Jesus, they might have thought, hoped, prayed. Throw down that cross and rise, show them who you really are. Where is that power and might and authority they have seen firsthand? Show them, Jesus!

But they don’t know — that was never his plan. 

The sound of the hammer against rusted metal jars their very bones. They flinch with every swing, maybe even cover their ears and avert their eyes. It still isn’t over, they think, it can’t be. 

The soldiers raise the cross, Jesus now sufficiently nailed to the wooden planks. They drop the cross into the deep hole meant to steady it, and when it hits the earth, the momentum throws Jesus forward. But the nails do their job and his hands and feet are ripped further but not off. He is held there. 

They pray for it to be over soon. Their hope is gone, trickling down that hill with Jesus’ blood. So they pray the end comes quickly now, ending this anguish. 

They want to shake every single person in the crowd, grab their shoulders and shake until they are boneless. Do you realize what you’ve done? they want to shout. Why are you doing this? Get him down from there! Now!

But before they could muster up the courage, the earth shakes beneath their feet. First they think it’s their own bodies shivering in fear and grief. But the trembling grows stronger, and the shock in their neighbors’ eyes tells them it’s everywhere and underneath them all. Maybe this is it, Jesus’ big stand. Maybe the ground will open up and swallow whole the monsters who did this, who let this happen. An unearthly rumble splits the sky. 

But it isn’t the earthquake roaring but Jesus, his final dying breath rolling over them like thunder. 

“It is finished.”

Words everyone can’t help but hear, as if Jesus were right beside them all, speaking those words in their ear, their heart, their soul. 

The sun drops out of the sky, the world turns black, the earth shakes still, the son of God dies. 

Hope is lost. 

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