how faint a whisper

glimpses of God in a heaven-crammed earth

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the waiting joy of Christmas

We stood tonight in the dimmed light, candles flickering in our hands, and the organ soft, just enough to guide our voices. The familiar words washed over like comfort, one of my favorite moments of Christmas each year, and always I want the song to last longer than it does. There’s something about that space and remembrance that makes me realize how infrequently life is, in fact, silent, or all is calm. There’s an ache in the peace.

Sometimes I forget the wonder that is the colliding truths of Christmas. There’s a section in Lauren Winner’s book, Girl Meets God, where she talks about the words of the old liturgy that led into the Lord’s prayer with “we are bold to say…” We lose something in the loss of those words, she says. We lose an understanding of how bold it all really is. To say He is our Father, even though He is in heaven. To say He is a King, and a Savior, even though He was a baby.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns, What Child is This?, in a portion of the second verse that is too often left off, tries to capture this:

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be born for me, for you
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

How strange it all is, that He came as a baby. How incredible that from that first moment, helpless and weak, He was already the silent Word pleading, every breath of His existence a reminder, a cry out to His Father, “You must save them! Because I am here, doing this.”  The nails and spear and cross were there, in the very fact of the Word made flesh. Yet how instructive it is that, even as He was living to die, He still somehow saw the meaning in every moment of life, living it in a fullness we still only dream of.

I wonder if it was to teach us to wait.

I was talking with a friend recently about the period of time right before Jesus’ birth. For four hundred years, God was silent. No prophets, no Messiah. Four hundred years. Generations lived and died and in every moment of it, waited. And waited in a way we never have, those born after Christ, with the living and active word and the gift of the Spirit. They waited in silence…and then He was born, and for one night, for one night for those few who knew, I wonder if it truly felt that all was silent, and holy, and calm, and right in the world. But then of course, He was a baby, and they knew that still, they must live. They must wait. I imagine there was an ache in the joy.

What is this season but a reflection of the whole of our lives? The Lord knew we would need reminding, and so built into each year this waiting and hoping and rejoicing, this living out, in four short weeks, what we continue to live every day beyond it. We know the end, but we must wait for it. We are healed and we are whole and we are redeemed and Christ came. Yet we are here, and we are broken, and we are weary, and we sin, and we ache. And Christ is coming again. So all of our aching is woven to this truth: that the world is not as it should be. Our relationships are not as they should be; we are not as we should be. Not as we will be. And we ache not for ourselves or our own comfort, but for the way we know, and carry, the redemption of Christ in an unredeemed world.

On no day is there more joy than remembering the miracle that Christ came. But perhaps also on no night is there more ache than remembering that we wait, even though it is finished. The one contains the other, for we wait with assurance, a waiting fraught with eternal hope. Perhaps nothing could be more terrifying than having nothing left to ache for. And for this as well, the Lord knows we need Christmas. We need to remember that because of this miraculous day, and every one of the year that follows it, year after year…as Andrew Peterson so poignantly illustrates, “the aching may remain, but the breaking does not.

So strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees…
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads,
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 35

Merry Christmas, indeed.

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my Father’s Word

I sit on my bed, sunlight and summer warmth streaming through the blinds, the world fully awake outside my windows, but I don’t have to enter it yet. Only the intangible and unwritten calls for my time and attention today. That which is most important and too often first overlooked. I reach for and open my Bible, and instantly I feel it. I feel it – an ache, a physical ache somewhere between the heart and the gut. Somewhere in that deep, unnamed place of emotion, I ache. And as I breathe deeply and uncurl from it, I don’t even fully know why, except that I need this Word. I need this time, and nothing pressing into the end of it. My heart, heavy with the weight of weeks, as if triggered today by just the mere opening of these pages, cries, “ah! here is my burden carrier!” And suddenly that which was numb, pressed down by the necessity of the moving forward of time and responsibility, has been released to life again in that rush of blood and the oh-so-painful pins and needles that follow. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and care, knows how much we can stand to feel, and when.

A week ago I read these words from Jeremiah:
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”

The Word in this season has literally been my daily bread, that which I am incapable of functioning without, sustenance for a starving soul, sometimes shoveled in so quickly I barely have time to taste it. But I know I absolutely need it, and have been hanging on by no other strength. There are seasons in which we need to be reminded that we are daily existing in a strength beyond our own, and then there are seasons we are so weak we cannot help but be constantly, painfully, and gratefully aware of that truth. And so I ate, thankful for the food that is continually available before me, to remind me of my need. Your words were found, and I ate them.

But today I sit down to the feast table. Today the Word is the joy and rejoicing of my heart. And the more I eat, the more I realize how hungry I was. How hungry I am. How close to collapse. Matthew Henry’s commentary expands the verse from Jeremiah this way:

“I did not only taste [Your words], but eat them, received them entirely, conversed with them intimately; they were welcome to me, as food to one that is hungry; I entertained them, digested them, turned them into blood and spirits, and was myself delivered into the mould of those truths which I was to deliver to others.”

Today, the Word became blood and wine, the physical reminder of the gift and sacrifice of Christ that my life is to give daily evidence of my reliance on, whether that evidence be by fullness or need. And today the Word pressed me into the mold of truth, reminding me, at times gently and at times forcibly, of that in my life which does not align, does not fit. Reminding me that yes, to cut these things off is real loss, but it is also deliverance.

And so my heart rejoices, because today the Lord both knew I needed this, and faithfully gave it. Today I needed to move from food to feast, that the joy of fullness may lift the weight of lack, though not of need. Today I needed to remember that I have much to be molded into, but in that process I am called by His name, and no other.

So maybe I ache with thankfulness. With need and with longing, but mostly with love. Love for this Word, the strength and joy it provides, the tastes of the Lord’s goodness, and the fact that I am called a daughter of its Author. And as a daughter,

“This is my Father’s world,
Oh let me ne’er forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done,
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.”

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joy is…

these guys…
pirate faces…
my brother as a father…
and that he brought us this girl.

Joy is 10 years of friendship with these girls…IMG_2538
that has lasted through lives that look just a little different than they once did.IMG_2557b

Joy is this miracle turning one:
and this kind of freedom…
and this face.

Joy is fall apples sweet off the tree…

and beauty in the absolutely ordinary.

Joy is how they love and care for each other…IMG_1262
and know how to live well, and love well, life.

Joy is a first reunion after 5 years…
ending summer with this view…

and with these girls.

Joy is communion and friendship and grace…

phone conversations with sweet friends, and the ache that is missing so many others. Being sharpened and edified and challenged and encouraged and loved.

Joy is understanding a fraction of what Paul meant when he said, “I thank my God every time I remember you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…”

Joy is the common love of Christ, and in that finds its source, its fuel, its meaning.

Thank you. To all who fill my life with such joy.

I cannot claim these words, but find them resonating in my heart as to the joy that is sharing in the nature of true friendship:

“Look up, friend! The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone.”
(Jer Clifton – – a college friend.)


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a childlike joy

Yesterday morning I sat doing some work while my two-year-old nephew played nearby. He had his favorite stacking cups all laid out on the chair next to me and would lift each one up in turn, loudly proclaiming its number and color, then run with it over to the next room, where he was carefully constructing a tower piece by piece. It was an entirely ordinary childhood moment, but I was suddenly struck in it by his unbridled, unconcerned, overwhelming joy.

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