A Cradle Carol

Lord Jesus, Savior, infant weak,
Why come to earth as one so meek?
A newborn babe, helpless and small;
And yet Creator of us all.

Thou hast no beauty, form, nor grace;
No fortune, rank, no fame, no place
That men should see Thee and adore
A babe so humble and so poor.

But to the soul whose eyes are healed,
To whom the Truth has been revealed,
Thy glory challenges the sun;
Thou art a thousand joys in One.

Though strangers see a babe in straw,
Thy children see the Lord of all
Who laid aside His rightful reign
To take away our sin and shame.

This sacrifice of love divine,
This condescension to mankind
With beauty robes Thy lowly frame,
And sanctifies Thy simple name.

O aid my worship, Mighty King,
That I might with the angels sing,
“Glory to God on high!”
Now crowned again beyond the sky!

Oh, help me see Thee and adore
This little child, my God and Lord.

Lyrics by Rebekah Pringle

Hope

When my heart
Is torn asunder
And my world
Just falls apart
Lord You put
Me back together
And lift me up
To where You are

***
There is hope
Beyond the suffering
Joy beyond the tears
Peace in every tragedy
Love that conquers fear
I have found redemption
In the blood of Christ
My body might be dying
But I’ll always be alive

***
You have turned
Mourning to dancing
You have covered me with grace
The struggle here
May last a moment
But life with You
Will last always

***

When the age
Of death is over
And this world
Has been reborn
I’ll be there
Beside my Savior
This is our grace
And rich reward

***
There is hope
Beyond the suffering
Joy beyond the tears
Peace in every tragedy
Love that conquers fear
I have found redemption
In the blood of Christ
My body might be dying
But I’ll always be alive

~Phil Wickham, “When My Heart Is Torn Asunder”

Letters From An MBI Student – 10/22

Dear Family,

You’re the ones who listen to me when I’m rambling, right? That’s what family is for, right? Well, that and being the voice of reason on the other side of the table?

Because today I’m going to ramble. Here’s the brain dump, all under the verbose subtitle of “Thoughts On Being Sunshine When I Am Not.”

Our family was never big on nicknames, were we? Not when I was young, anyway, because I remember being inordinately proud of “Sunshine” and all that it entailed. Grandpa started it, I think, and I was always a little jealous if I ever heard him call someone else that name. It was special, it was mine (in my eyes), and it felt unique in our family of formalities (until Babes and her litany came along and the rest of us dissolved into the shortest versions possible, right? Heh.).

The new one is “Rae” here at school, unless you’re the dude at the counter at Joe’s last night who saw my ID and said my full name and threw me for a loop because only Lady and Nae really do that. I reintroduced my shortened self so it wouldn’t be awkward, which it was anyway. It was a bit of a jump, a blip in the day, a bumpy precursor to what happened today.

Something about a name…funny how a name wraps you up in a brand new wardrobe that you maybe used to wear. I’m my full name in certain workplaces, sometimes at home, and in a lot of old memories–some wonderful, some darkly less than that. Sometimes that name feels like a homecoming, sometimes it feels like an inside joke, but more often it feels far older than I am; something other than myself and what life is now.

I like “Rae,” though. I like being “Rae” at school and at home and at my new job. I like a new version to occupy, because so much of me feels new. Whether that is through the renewal of God or my own poor choices is still being sorted through.

But “Sunshine”…that is the old standby, the old spelling, the OG. The first other name I can remember that I wanted as mine. But sometimes it feels like the farthest thing from who I am now than I have ever been. I remember times when it was a glorious pinpoint of identity: times in middle school and early high school when someone else applied that designator without any idea of what it meant to me. But the flip side of that coin have been the times when that name was–is–dredged up like an old photograph: a toothless child, a version of me 50 lbs ago, myself in a tracksuit in garish 90s colors. I’ve never had a mirror quite like that name – a recalcitrant, encouraging, reflective, combative, warped, airbrushed, far-seeing mirror. A mirror that speaks back to me of pasts joys and past sins, present statuses and present failings, future possibilities and future impossibilities. I love and hate and don’t always want the expectation and promise and lingering of a name that doesn’t feel entirely mine but I can’t actually let go.

Sorry, I told you it was a ramble. Here’s the pb&j version, the 411, the juddering in my day after yesterday’s brief tremor: I was introduced to my replacement at a job. A lovely, lovely person: an older newlywed, new believer, excellent conversationalist, good listener, and already a friend (in the “I-just-met-you-today” sort of way). I was my work self, which means I can be chatty, laughing, engaging…all of those proper things that were made easier by her honest and friendly response. [Side note: I just realized that I have truly have the best sort of people to train. People who do my job far better than I and who allow me to exit with peace that the job will be done well, regardless of whether that means my way or not.] We laughed, talked, and will probably meet for coffee outside of our two Saturdays together, because her interests and mine converge in a way that can’t be explored when we’re talking about investments and securities.

Half an hour into the morning, after introductions and wheres and whys, she asked, “Is your family Christian?” –I nodded and smiled [and by the grace of God in your lives and mine, Parentals, I was able to be proud]–“because you have such joy.” The conversation blinked into something else and that comment didn’t initially register. Not until we left at the same time, after only two hours together, and walked out to see her husband waiting for her. She eagerly wanted to introduce me and in the quick, muddled conversation that happens in unexpected introductions, she said: “She’s such a ray of sunshine!”

And I returned the compliment–genuinely, because I’m looking forward to a longer time with her–and walked down my little alleyway to the train that takes me back to my home here in the city where I’m “Rae,” which she didn’t know, 520 miles away from where I used to be “Sunshine,” which no one here knows, where I’m not “[full name],” where I’m a version of myself that feels like all of those don’t coexist. I can’t describe to you what it feels like to have someone ignorantly, instantly apply those names to you as if they are the most natural thing in the world and of course these three iterations of myself are all the same person. Of course what’s on my birth certificate and what was my childhood and what is myself now are all the same person. Of course. Of course.

Funny how saying that doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile. Because I’m not “Sunshine,” and I haven’t been in a long, long while. I’m functioning in endless variations of different worlds: one where God is so, so good; the other where He is so, so incomprehensible. The former is external, my lexicon, the world of “Sunshine,” the world of Moody speech and Moody expectation, the world of conversation and pat answers, the world where I’m drawing from the words of faith that I have existed in for as long as I have been alive. The latter is the internal, the heart language, the world where names attack and answers falter and words feel as useless as paper promises that never become real.

Yeah, I should have probably warned you that this is not a brain dump; this is a heart dump, too. Someday I’ll write to you of the faithfulness of God that is continually and graciously walking me from the words of His goodness to the truth of it. Today I heard all of the names I have ever wanted for myself and today I heard all of the names I have that used to be myself and today I heard all of the names that are not myself. And they were all the same.

Final thought [Side note: if this letter were in ink you’d never receive it because the postage for this book would put me in the red]: I am not any of those names. I am not the name on birth certificate, I am not the name first written on a whiteboard inside a welding cell, I am not the nickname heard while smelling lacquer and sawdust. All of those are mine, but they are not always me. And I cannot return or embody all of the history and assumption that each of those names create.

I have to untie those threads of expectation, I have to acknowledge those old photographs, I have to confess those good and dark memories, but I do not have to occupy their paths, because they aren’t me. They’re part, not the whole, and not the fault of the label or the labeler; they exist and mean something but not everything and sometimes I forget that.

Sigh, sorry, I think this is actually the end of my ramble: Today I was jarred by the realization that I am not what I would like to be, but what I would like to be is not who I was. Today I was grabbed by an old and present and future self and saw my warped reflection in an unexpected mirror. Today I needed my God for the simple reason that I needed to be known better than anyone else has ever known me. Today all I wanted was to be named by the He Who calls me His. Today I needed to know that who I truly, truly am is a wavering sinner rescued by unwavering grace. Today I needed Isaiah 41.

 

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.'”

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”

“Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you;”

“Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

Maybe missing you and realizing again that you love me a little like Him,

~

Documenting Life

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I take pictures. Of stuff. And people, sometimes. I can’t really call myself a photographer, because I don’t try hard enough to be a good photographer. I don’t think of my photography as some careful art…I think of it as just…it.

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I just take pictures. Of scenes and slices of life that remind me of greater things. I take pictures of landscapes because the wider the horizon, the more I am able to breathe. I take pictures of things because the tiniest details can be captured and seen over and over again. I take pictures of people because I don’t want to forget. I take pictures because I document joy.

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Except when I don’t. I don’t take photos when I am angry, when I am sorrowful, when I am lost. Because in all of those times, I don’t know how to see those things in a photograph. I’m not looking at the world around me like it is beautiful, so I don’t bother to save a piece of it. There is no joy, so there is nothing kept. I don’t want to remember those times.

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And that’s the problem. Because it’s not because the beauty is gone or even tarnished. It’s just that my sight of it is a little dim. Eventually I come around to seeing the way the sun streaks through the clouds, and then I pull out my camera or pick up my pen, and I document joy once again.

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But shouldn’t we be documenting the not-joy moments, too? Shouldn’t we be telling of the days when life is less than glorious, when the sun-streaks are dull or not there at all? Look at the Bible. What if we were missing the lament of Job or the rebuke of Jeremiah? What if we were missing the tears of Lamentations or the repentance of Hosea? What if the only thing documented was joy?

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Psalm 51 is a photograph; a photograph without sunshine. At first.

“For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight–
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.”

Why take this picture? This is not a sunset that takes your breath away or a perfectly red rose. This photograph is snot and tears and mostly regret. And yet.

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“O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart–
These, O God, You will not despise.”

But these photographs are the ones we need, too. The ones that are just as honest as the rest. Because the truth is this: there is sunshine and sunsets and glorious horizons. There is laughter and joy and yes, please, document it.

But there is sorrow, and sadness, and brokenness, and loss. There is sin and chaos and yes, please document it.

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Because the times of the thunderstorms come before the times of the rainbow. Because the records of sin and sorrow come before the triumph of salvation. Documenting joy is wonderful and necessary and keeps our souls healthy, but it is not enough. It is not enough to say that God is only good, or only delightful, or only as present as the sun we can see. It is far more honest to say that God is greater than these, delightful and demanding, and present in every circumstance.

So here is my document of both. Of both pain and pleasure, for the grace of God exists in both.

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Share your joy, O saints and sinners,
Share your grief, O saved of God,
Share your home, O long sojourners,
Share your hope, O redeemed soul

What You Want

 

Every day I’ve been feeling the pressure
I always gotta know the plan
It’s a weight that I’ve tried to shoulder
I thought I could, but I can’t

And I’m so tired of chasing dreams
When I am wired to let You lead

You’re changing my heart
To what what You want
To love how You love
And that is enough
There’s no greater plan
That I need to know
You only ask me to follow

And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want

Oh, there’s freedom in this surrender
I feel myself come alive
And the burden feels like a feather
When I let my agenda die
And I get so tired of my own dreams
When I am wired to let You lead

So many leaders
You ask for followers
So keep on leading
‘Cause You’re my Father

~Tenth Avenue North

Empty My Hands

I’ve got voices in my head and they are so strong
And I’m getting sick of this oh Lord, how long
Will I be haunted by the fear that I believe
My hands like locks on cages
Of these dreams I can’t set free

But if I let these dreams die
If I lay down all my wounded pride
If I let these dreams die
Will I find that letting go lets me come alive

So empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

These voices speak instead and what’s right is wrong
And I’m giving into them, please Lord, how long
Will I be held captive by the lies that I believe
My heart’s in constant chaos and it keeps me so deceived

But if I let these dreams die
If I could just lay down my dark desire
If I let these dreams die
Will I find you brought me back to life

So empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

‘Cause my mind is like a building burning down
I need your grace to keep me, keep me from the ground
And my heart is just a prisoner of war
A slave to what it wants and to what I’m fighting for

So won’t you empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

Empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with you

With you
I need you now

~Tenth Avenue North

Born Again

I came into the world, into the wild
No place for a child
Used my voice to howl 
With the ghouls of night
In the dying light

Had to learn to get what I need
In the dark, empty
Instincts are guiding me 
Like a beast to some blood
And I can’t get enough

I’m losing control; my body, my soul
Are slowly fading away
But I’m ready now 
To feel the power of change

I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me awhile
But my time has come
To be born again

Running scared in between what I hate 
And what I need
Savior and enemy are both trying
To take my soul
And I can’t hide no more

Stumble out to the light
Raise my fist up to fight
Then I catch your eye 
So full of love
Lord, what have I done?

I cry at your feet, wounded for me 
And all of the monsters and men
But here in your light 
We can begin again

I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me a while
But my time has come
To be born again

“Born Again” by Josh Garrels