Lately, I closed a chapter of my life that’s felt open for a long, long time –not by choice, I guess you should know. So many times it felt like the story of Abraham, who was asked to surrender Isaac on the altar and trust God to provide. Seeing that Abraham feared God and was willing to surrender what he held dear when he didn’t understand, God provided a substitute and spared him. An exercise in patience, an opportunity to surrender, a test of faith.

This story turned out not to be one of walking in faith, laying it on the altar, and finding that God planned all along to let me have it in the end. Instead, it’s been the story of how I sought to be faithful and learned a bit about surrender and didn’t get what I wanted at all, but got more of Jesus instead.

And it’s there that we learn to truly say,
Hallelujah, all I have is Christ.

How many times have I treated God like a cosmic vending machine, believing that if I put in the time and trust and faithfulness, I’ll get what I asked for? How often have I acted like praying the right prayers and believing the right truths would somehow obligate God to bend His will to my own? I’ve believed that if I’ll only surrender what I want most, God will let me keep it. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t surrender at all. To truly surrender is to submit, as even Christ submitted, to the will of the Father, to lay down the prideful notion that my ways are ever higher than His, to suffer the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Philippians 3:8).

Vending machines don’t care about you –give me your money, take your chemical-injected pop tarts, and go. (You know, hypothetically.) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, is too kind to give us only what we want. He is too infinitely faithful to withhold that which is making us into the image of Christ, too infinitely wise to concede to our flawed, finite idea of how it should be, too infinitely glorious to allow us to settle for another. By God’s grace, our stories of disappointment can be one also of glad surrender, of delighted submission, of believing anew that the surpassing worth of knowing Christ is worth whatever it takes to find him all-sufficient.

Hallelujah means God be Praised. When we face losses that seem too hard, disappointments that seem too big, and plot-twists we can’t make sense of, we get to respond with hallelujahs. God be praised, these tangible losses serves only to remind us that all we have is Jesus, and in him, all we need.

Hallelujah, all I have is Christ.

Feeling guilty for choosing a podcast over my usual church service, I came to Sunday morning exhausted and ready to explain myself to God –the reasons why I was so tired were good, valid, excusable. I was ready to make my case. But, instead of the judgement I was expecting, I was met with a beautiful invitation: Listen, eat, delight, incline your ear, come, live. 

The podcast sermon raised a sobering question from Isaiah 55, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” It’s followed by an invitation, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:2-3). 

I felt this gentle, kind conviction: “You don’t think I know what you need, you don’t think I care.” I had prepared for condemnation, but was met with this tangible compassion, this quiet reminder that God sees our circumstances and cares about us, and not just about what we can do for Him.

I realized that I often turn to the people who love me expecting compassion, while turning to God expecting to have to explain myself. In my trusted earthly relationships, I know I can bring my hurts, disappointments, and shortcomings into the light. Too often, I go to God with only plans and justifications and promises to do better. I’m quick to remember that God sees my circumstances and asks for faithfulness, but I sometimes forget that He also sees my circumstances and looks on me with compassion. That He isn’t standing over me asking me to jump higher, push harder, and get it together on my own. That when I’m feeling burnt out or broken or inadequate, He’s the one who already fully knows and invites me, come and live.

This is, of course, an issue of belief. I’ve forgotten who God is, that He is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). As they often do, this issue of wrong belief leads to issues of misplaced expectations. If we don’t believe that God understands our human limitations or cares about our hurts and disappointments,  we will turn to people and projects and Netflix and self-care to give us the rest that only Jesus can provide. We will ask too much of the people around us, forgetting that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). We will miss His invitation to listen diligently and eat what is good, to delight in rich food and come, to hear and live.

When I remember that God looks on me with compassion, I don’t have to be so hard on me either –not for being tired or sad or finite. I can delight in His word and trust His heart and pursue obedience from a place of faithfulness instead of fear. As the Gospel has altered my standing before God permanently and completely, so it should alter my understanding of His character –all-knowing, all-sufficient, and overwhelmingly compassionate. I can stop pouring my efforts and energy and investments into that which does not satisfy, and come, again and again, and live.

I’ve wanted this space to have a name for a long time, but always struggled to feel attached to any specific concept long enough to commit. Until Cypress + Thistle. As with most of my ideas, I mulled the words over in my mind for too long. But unlike others, this one seemed here to stay. So with a new domain and a beautiful logo from the Laura Leigh Co, I’m ready to introduce you to Cypress + Thistle.

The name comes from Isaiah 55:13. I grew to love this passage during a more difficult seasons of life and find myself turning back to it often. It’s a beautiful chapter that speaks to God’s ability to satisfy that which our empty pursuits were never meant to, the sufficiently of His word to accomplish His purposes, and the promise of lasting restoration to His glory.

taupeThe memorial to our God that will always last will be the redemption and restoration of His world and His people, “that the name of God may be more illustrious among men, and that the remembrance of Him may flourish and be maintained.” While we hope in the restoration of all things when Jesus returns, we get to participate with the Spirit in restoration work here and now, making much of the name of He who redeems –trusting that His word will not return void, that He will accomplish what He purposes, that He brings flourishing from thistles.

It’s my hope that Cypress + Thistle will be a monument to God’s restoration work, a space for flourishing, a practice in tracing the glorious implications of the Gospel through thorns and thistles and ordinary days.