Jesu Juva

Jesu juva (Jesus, help!)

Over the past few months, I have slowly worked my way through a book called Adorning the Dark. Written by a favorite artist, Andrew Peterson, I knew I’d love this book. Everything he puts his mind and pen to turns my heart to Jesus. Many of us feel deep, personal connection to certain authors/musicians/artists, and for me, Andrew Peterson is the one who speaks clearest.

The book is bursting with encouragement and wisdom, but I keep holding onto one phrase: Jesu juva; Jesus, help.

If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials “S.D.G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone”. What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts, he wrote “Jesu Juva,” which is Latin for “Jesus, help!” There’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure. Jesus, you’re the source of beauty: help us make something beautiful; Jesus you’re the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that made all creation: give us words and be with us in this beginning of this creation; Jesus, you’re the light of the world: light our way into this mystery; Jesus, you love perfectly and with perfect humility: let this imperfect music bear your perfect love to every ear that hears it. – Adorning the Dark, p. 8

I am not a song writer, and you may not be one either. But we’re all creators. Some put their hands to the work of painting, writing, or music-making. Others create business plans that make companies run well. I know friends that create spaces in their homes that provide peace and sanctuary for all who enter. Whether you’ve literally created children or subtly created a culture in your workplace, you get to enter into God’s work.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set into place, what is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…” (Psalm 8:3-6)

The God who put everything intentionally in its place also put us in our work. He cares for us, and he gives us good work to attend to. Work is a gift. Creating is a privilege awarded to us by a kind Father. This invitation to participate is a beautiful piece of God’s character. But we don’t take this charge and push our way into the work. We listen. We read God’s truth in the Bible. We say, Jesu juva. And we work in obedience and humility. This is the work of his hands.

Like many, I am embarking on a new year of possibility. I want to do everything: eat good food, read books that fill me up, write more, exercise often, and live with my people in love and peace. I may do bits of this, but when I pause before the big adventure of another year, I must ask again: Jesus juva; Jesus, help. Help me to pursue you, not the high of achievement and projects. Help me to listen and pay attention as I create. Help me to think of you often – don’t let me get so caught up in my own stuff or my own schedule that I forget you. I pray that there are so many good things ahead. I want fun and laughter and exciting experiences. But I also want discipline; or rather, I want to want discipline. Jesus juva. Help me listen. Help me obey. Help me serve the work that you have put before me.

In Days of Questions

Recently, I spent a night fighting sleep. Reed and I had ended the day talking about our future plans, a topic that was coming up a lot lately. We did our usual cycle of “what if…?” and “then what?” and found ourselves unsettled again. Lots of questions; very few answers. And with that, I fell asleep.

It was a night of stressful dreams – the ones where the same thing keeps happening and you can’t escape the endless loop your brain is on. I woke up early, partially to just make the night end and partially to spend some time reading before Bo got up. I settled myself on the couch and opened up to Matthew 7. I only got a few verses in before I closed my Bible and looked out the window in wonder.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

If you’re someone who trusts Jesus and follows him, you’ve probably experienced this feeling. It’s the feeling of being known. I woke up, restless and agitated, not knowing quite what I needed. When I opened my Bible to the next chapter of Matthew, I had little idea that God would care for me in such a simple, perfect way. In the quiet of my small living room, Jesus provided just what I needed.

I’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount lately, and I am blown away by Jesus’ character. I’ve read lots about Jesus and spent years getting to know this man. Recently, though, it feels like Jesus is taking on a whole new image in my mind. And as I type those words, I am a little teary eyed. Because earlier this year, I prayed that Jesus would reveal himself to me in new,  fresh ways. He’s doing that through this book of Matthew. I see Jesus, full of compassion, full of care. I see his emphasis on people and his desire for us to honor one another. I see his desire and ability to give me good things.

In the year ahead, Reed and I will have to answer lots of those swirling questions in our minds. We’re walking into our last year at Bethel, and a year from now, so much change will be on our doorsteps. New home, new jobs, new normals. It’s far enough away that it doesn’t freak me out too much. But sometimes, like that sleepless night, the uncertainty wraps itself around me and locks me up in fear.

So I look to Jesus. And he says, “Ask. Seek me. Come home to me.” He will give me, us, good gifts. This is where he keeps bringing me in days of questions. It’s been all over my journals, all over Scripture I’m reading, in my conversations with friends and quiet moments with Jesus. When I’m overwhelmed with the looming questions, he tells me to seek him.

That feels almost trivial to say, doesn’t it? When life is hard, just seek Jesus. It’s like some terrible catch phrase that gets written across a floral journal sold at a Family Christian. I don’t mean it to sound so trite. Life is often more complex and nuanced than that kind of phrase implies. But what if that’s where rest and discernment begin? What if we actually ask God for the things we need or desire? And what if we just spend time with him to be with him, not to get automatic answers out like he’s some kind of vending machine.

So here’s what I’m trying. I’m trusting that Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 7. I’m asking him for answers and direction, and as I wait, I’m checking out who he is and getting to know him better. He tells me he gives good gifts – and even if that’s as simple as some peace and rest for now, I’ll take it as provision.

I know the Bible is often confusing and complicated for us to take in. If you’re in a place right now where opening this book holds more frustration than peace, that’s okay. So many of us have been there. It’s hard and feels heavy (the actual book, as well as the situation), and it’s tempting to just leave it alone for a while. What if you read these chapters in Matthew? Read the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5-7, and look for the character of Jesus. Look for God’s care for his people and how he leads us.

I’m with you when it comes to the mess of questions. Whether those are questions about how to parent well, how to trust God, or how to walk into a murky future, I believe there is value in asking and being with him in the uncertainty.

Several years ago, I sat at a table in my school’s coffee shop, wrestling with some major life questions. I’d been reading a book by Brennan Manning, and in that moment, these were the words I came across:

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”
― Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God

Earlier in the book, he says we must pray for trust over clarity. Years later, this still sticks with me. So why do we ask, why do we keep seeking? Because God offers his presence and promise. Go. Ask, seek, and be at home with Jesus.

Enough

The word “enough” keeps coming up. All I can think of is that terrible Jennifer Lopez movie, and I wish a different word had found me. It’s everywhere right now. It’s in conversations with my husband, friends, small group, counselor, and even in the music I’m listening to. As much as I’d prefer something else, here I am, facing this idea of “enough”.

When I take a quick scan of my life, I find some major themes. First, I see lots of performance and achievement. I remember some of my first moments of praise. And I remember experiences where I felt so small without that beloved affirmation. Second, I find a ton of discontentment in my story. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to do, be, and have more. I was never quite satisfied with my appearance or my talents. And third, I look back and see so much good.

These themes feel conflicting. If I quiet myself and reflect, I think, “Why was I so hard on myself? Why wasn’t I ever satisfied?” There’s no major trauma in my past, no heavily painful experiences. And still, I find myself pushing 30 with a whole lot of mess to sift through.

Something is happening now, though. God is calling my attention to these themes, these unhealthy ideas planted in my personhood. And for the first time, I think real change could be coming. I think he’s trying to silence the shouts of “more” and fill me up with “enough”. You see, I have to get a hold of this concept. I have to understand being enough and having enough and doing enough…or I will lose my freaking mind.  

Like a lot of the world, I’ve been studying the Enneagram. I’ve come to terms with being a type 3, and I’m finally seeing things as they are. This process feels personal and complicated, but hopeful. As I said, the word “enough” is coming up everywhere. Before I really had a grasp on my Enneagram type, I was hearing it. And now, as I learn more, it makes a lot of sense. This word has been quietly resting in me for most of my life, but other louder words have taken over. I’m listening better. I’m listening to Jesus and his people, and I’m slowly getting it.

One of my favorite musicians, Sleeping at Last, has added to the hopefulness I need right now. Since college, the music of Sleeping at Last has marked every big moment. I walked down the aisle to his music, I write primarily to the tune of his creations, and I cried through his songs of parenthood when we met Bo. Recently, Sleeping at Last has been writing songs for each of the Enneagram types. This past Friday, he released his third installment in the series, Three. You guessed it – this is my song.

I have struggled to see God’s care and faithfulness these days. As I listened to the words and melody of Three, I sensed God’s nearness in a strong way. For those who create – if you write words or music, if you paint or get on a stage – please don’t stop. The ministry of creativity has been healing and powerful in my life, and I will forever be thankful for the gifts you artists possess. This song and the intentionality behind its creation have moved me closer to the truth that I have, do, and am enough. Amen.

If you’re interested, you can find Three, as well as more from Sleeping at Last, in these places:

 

Three

Atlas Playlist (Collection of recent projects)

Lyric Video for Three

Sleeping At Last Podcast – Story Behind “Three”

 

Trite and True

It is Thursday of the first week of winter break. The days have been slow and quiet, almost otherworldly for the college Resident Director. We wake at the same time, thanks to our toddler, and beyond the 7 am start, our day has nothing on the agenda. I’ve been meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking – a few of my least favorite tasks. The cooking is fun, but the preparation takes discipline for me. We eat breakfast and dinner at the kitchen table. We get oil changes and gas in the tank. We put our son to bed, and we head to the couch.

Rhythm. It pulses through our days and kindly guides us into each new one. Traditionally, I get anxious about the lack of plans and events to fill up the days. This week feels perfectly small and simple. In the midst of slow days, I’ve been reading Liturgy of the Ordinary, a beautiful book by Tish Harrison Warren. She takes an average day and focuses, chapter by chapter, on the regular practices of human beings. In the mundane and ordinary, she points to the sacred. She calls our attention to the opportunity in each little habit – the opportunity to connect with Christ and be changed by him.

I’m crazy about words that fill us up in ways nothing else seems to imitate. Warren’s book is pouring in; it’s bringing refreshment. And it couldn’t be more perfectly timed (thanks to good  friends who give thoughtful gifts). Life has slowed down significantly. When Monday held all the temptation to give my regular, batty response to a shift in routine, I found these words.

“I like big ideas. I can get drunk on talk of justification, ecclesiology, pneumatology, Christology, and eschatology. But these big ideas are born out — lived, believed, and enfleshed — in the small moments of our day, in the places, seasons, homes, and communities that compose our lives. Annie Dillard famously writes, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’ I came across Dillard’s words a couple years before I went to seminary, and throughout those years of heady theological study I kept them in my back pocket. They remind me that today is the proving ground of what I believe and of whom I worship.

And on this particular day, Jesus knows me and declares me his own. On this day he is redeeming the world, advancing his kingdom, calling us to repent and grow, teaching his church to worship, drawing near to us, and making a people all his own.”– Liturgy of the Ordinary, p. 23

The balm of much needed words in a heavy season. Before finding the slower pace of these last few days, I’d been running steadily towards the end of another semester. And by running, I do mean racing to the finish line. In my job, relationships, and mental state, I was struggling. Thankfully, we all made it to the last week of final exams without a breakdown. The beginning of break came, and I happily found refuge in God’s presence and gift of healing words.

Like Warren, I want the “big ideas” to run my daily life. I want to work on projects that have big impact and engage in meaningful conversation all the time. I dislike,  maybe even hate, work that feels trite. Cleaning, paperwork, changing diapers – it is embarrassingly uncomfortable for me. This attitude is immature and selfish. As my good friend John reminds me often, today matters. Books and wise voices remind us to slow down, stay present, and be thankful. Thank you, Voices.

 

Thank you, Father, for making today.

I will rejoice and be glad in all of it.

Teach me to let the mundane shape me and draw me to you.

Show me how to be still,

Help me to be content.

Direct my eyes to see how you’re using today to build up your people.

I want to live today with trust,

And I want to see your presence in every practice.

 

In a season of great anticipation and hope,

I say thank you for bringing light into the darkness.

Light to my heavy mind and heart,

Light to the burdened and hurting,

Light to a waiting world.

You are the long-expected answer to empty days –

Let us see how you’ve redeemed your people

And redeemed our days.

 

Let our longing hearts find all joy in you,

Today and every day.

 

Amen.

 

Devotions

If you grew up in Christian culture, you often heard the word “devotions” thrown around. We were taught to do our devotions or pick out cute devotionals to fit our current season of life. In my college years, I did the critical, skeptic thing and went against all the Christianese. Devotions? Nah. How about time in God’s presence? Or maybe quiet time. Though I still don’t love the phrase “doing my devotions”, today I’m drawn back to what I think was the initial thought behind those words. 

This morning, I read these words from Acts 2. 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”  (emphasis added)

This words carries such weight. Devotion connotes ideas of commitment and focus; loyalty and consistency. If that’s how we’re describing daily or regular time with Jesus, then yes, let’s do devotions. I don’t often describe myself as devoted – not as a wife, mother, or employee. Maybe because if I were to claim such a description, that would imply a significant level of dedication. Leaving that adjective off of my titles allows room for me to screw up. But I do want to be devoted to these important parts of my life. I want my husband to trust my commitment to him. I want my son to see my consistency and love. When my students and co-workers interact with me, I want them to benefit from my focus and care in my work. 

More importantly, I want to communicate devotion to the Father. Am I devoted to learning from him and his people? Am I devoted to growing in community? At Bethel, we’re heading into Dude and B.A.B.E. Week. We encourage our students to step away from technology and other distractions so that we can make space for community. We unplug so that we can purposefully plug in. With the passage from Acts, I read this prayer, words that seem especially fitting for this season with students:

Lord, we confess that we are often a distracted people. Forgive us. We want to be devoted to You, to Your Word, and to Your church. We ask You to help us put aside the worries of our day-to-day lives over the next few days so we can turn more of our thoughts toward You. Teach us what it looks like to be devoted to You and help us learn to be faithful in the small, simple acts of faith.

I want to be a devoted disciple of Christ. Don’t you? “And awe came upon every soul…” How much better would I serve Jesus if I lived my life in awe of him? I think I would experience more of his presence, just as the church in Acts did. May we each grow in devotion to God and to his people. May we become less distracted and more faithful. And may we grow in awe of our Father every day. 


Thoughts on Day 5

In my very sleep-deprived and hormonal state, I feel an urgency to write down what’s going on in my mind today. Just a few days ago, our world changed. We’d been anticipating this boy’s arrival for months, but suddenly, he was here. There was so little warning, and it’s still hard to grasp the reality of his presence. Today was supposed to be our 39 week check-in with the doctor, and he’s already five days old!

So he’s here. Bo William Lyons, our son, is sleeping in his little bed in the middle of our living room right now. This is crazy. And amazing. There’s so much running through my head, and at the same time, time feels so hazy. We live in strange sleep-eat-poop patterns that the days feel like we’re in another world. But today, I’m trying to come back a bit. I want to be present in these days. I want to remember all that’s happening and live in such gratitude. It is hard and tiring and so different for us, but I want to see it as good.

As I’m processing the past few days, all I want to do is say thanks. Every time I feed this boy, I find myself repeating mantras of thanks to God for his provision, his people, and his presence. I could cry every time I think of how God has cared for us over the last few months and especially in the last few days. And most of the time, I do cry. It’s a regular thing lately.

But these people. Our people. We have been loved and supported in more ways than I can count. From the time we sent texts to family and friends that Bo was on his way into the world, we have felt nothing but love. Our families were first on the scene, crying with us and kissing on the boy’s sweet face. They came and waited at the hospital, brought treats, offered words of encouragement, and affirmed our new roles as parents. My mom was there in the delivery room for a bit, loving me and encouraging me in such a simple, but powerful way with her presence. Reed’s family came from Chicago and Michigan, and they’ve sent their love and support through texts each day since. On top of all this, there have been groceries and meals, phone calls and Skype dates – all coming from the most incredible example of a family.

Then, there’s the extended family – our friends. So many came to the hospital or dropped by at home, and it has been the most encouraging time of life. We’ve been prayed over by gracious friends. We’ve been given gifts and opportunity for conversation during long, baby-focused days. We’ve been welcomed home by our RAs and bombarded (positively) by messages from other students. And we’ve been encouraged all the while.

On top of all these moments of joy and support, I’ve can’t stop thanking God for my husband. He is patient and steady. He serves Bo and I with his never-ending diaper changes, his gentle words, and his protection of my rest time. Reed has been a DIT (Dad-in-Training) for a long time, but I never imagined how naturally he’d fall into the role.

In short, God is good. May has held so much pain and sadness over the past three years. When we lost our first baby in May of 2013, I thought this month would forever hold that ache. The anniversary of our loss, Mother’s Day, and a slew of other reminders ran through May each year. But this year, May began differently. How beautiful and poetic it is of God to begin this month with such a piece of his redemption: Bo. Like Boaz in the story of Ruth, God has used this little Bo to redeem pain in our lives. May is still a reminder of loss, but it is also now such a piece of God’s faithfulness.

I’m thankful. And I’m tired and emotional. But mostly, I keep asking God to give us just what we need and to let us continue in a season of thankfulness.

A Prayer to Wrap Up

I unintentionally skipped two days of writing.

Last night, I got into bed after midnight, only to realize that I hadn’t written all day. And I hadn’t written the day before, either. It felt like a strange, out-of-routine few days, and I neglected my commitment to writing not because of laziness, but simply because life was pleasantly full.

Friday and Saturday were days of spontaneous fun. There were lots of moments with friends and students, each event or opportunity running into each other. I felt immensely thankful as I climbed into bed last night. I work with people I love, I live surrounded by the best community, and I’m able to connect with friends and family on a weekly basis. It feels very seldom that I stop and recognize this community as such a gift.

Having all that in mind as I sit down to write this last prayer, I have come to a peace about missing a few days of this writing commitment. January has been a full 31 days. In all of those days, though, I haven’t once returned to the ugly, selfish place I’d been only weeks before. God has been incredibly faithful to draw me to his Word and prayer. As I’m asking to grow in discipline, he is right there encouraging me and holding me to the commitment. I have found such peace in consistency.

Part of discipline is difficult, though. It’s been difficult in unforeseen ways. I expected I might have trouble with doing something every day – I thought I’d struggle to be consistent. But showing up each morning was not the problem. Sitting down at the computer each evening didn’t seem very hard, either. Instead, it was the constant need for something “inspiring” or “worthy” to come out of my time with God. I would end my time in the Word each morning and feel a bit disappointed if I wasn’t emotionally moved. It was a strange experience, and while I felt mostly encouraged, I wondered if something was wrong with the way I was seeking God.

Somehow, my former legalistic, spiritual performance mindset settled in. I felt pretty proud of how “good” I’d been at reading every day and writing about prayer. And then somewhere in the middle of the month, the mundane happened and life felt less glamorous. The commitment and discipline felt less inspiring and more normal. I was beginning to see what daily life with Christ really looked like.

The routine of a January life is good for me. I have been challenged to trust God in the steady, unexciting days, and he has proved himself. He has grounded me in Truth, allowing me to trust him differently and love his Word. I can look back at the stranger days of the month and realize God was trying to teach me to stay with it, even when it isn’t very outwardly rewarding. So that’s what I’ve done, and though it’s been a challenge, it has been a month of answered prayer. It’s been a month of different prayer, too. I have seen time with the Father as both communion and intercession. I’ve had moments of sweet, still time with him, where it feels as if we’re the only two on earth. And I’ve had growing desire to bring people to him – in their need for his grace, in their practical needs, and in the work he intends to do through or in them.

God has begun a good thing here. He’s allowed me to get glimpses of his power and his love for people, and as I said before, it makes me want to keep coming back. After a month of growing in discipline, I’m eager to see what God has for the next thirty days and beyond. Though I won’t have the same writing commitment, my hope is to continue learning about discipline and prayer. I will probably need to write to process these things, so more words may be coming. Until then, I’m so content to say thank you. Thank you, Father for an intentional beginning to this year. Thank you for preparing me for motherhood and leadership this way – for showing me the need my heart has had for your presence. And that in your presence and in your Word, there is the best kind of joy.

*********************************************************************************
Father God,
Let me continue to grow in prayer. 
Let me grow in my love and understanding of your Word,
That I may trust it,
Obey it,
And treasure it forever. 
Make me humble 
As I look to the reality of who you are.
Make me thankful 
As I see all you’ve done for my benefit.
Make me repentant
As you examine my heart and bring me to obedience. 
Make me more like you, Jesus.
Let my life be a reflection of you,
Modeling your love and compassion for the good of others. 
And at the same time, 
may my life worship you in every choice and investment I make. 
Bring desire and hunger when it is far off.
Bring strength to sustain me. 
Bring your presence, God,
And let me grow in listening to your voice. 
You are good and faithful, God.
I know nothing else satisfies or fulfills me like you. 
Thank you for drawing me to yourself. 
Amen.