Saturday, February 28, 2015

What's In a Name?

In honor of our son being here a whole two weeks, I wanted to take a few bleary-eyed moments to record, for you all and for our family, the story behind "Ezra James." Already, we've encountered people who aren't familiar with it or assume it's a girl's name (because of the A maybe?) but for us, there is power in the story of the moments before and the man behind our son's name.

When my water broke four weeks early on the Friday night before Valentine's Day, we still hadn't decided on a name. We had toyed with about four or five top name with meanings and a whole slew of middle name combinations. We'd been praying fervently for weeks that God would give us a name for this man-to-be.

We know God is a namer. One of the first tasks he gives Adam is to name the animals. Names reflect identity, the trajectory of people's lives, the changes that occur when God's story collides with human dust.We had felt strongly that "Elisa Noelle" was given to us as a promise and have already been struck by how much our daughter has lived into her name. Because of this, we were holding out for a name that would hold our hopes for this child and hints of his identity yet-to-come. At 11:30, it still wasn't clear. 

As I tried to doze before we headed in to the hospital, a name floated into my anxious mind: Ezra James. Was that it?

The night was cold, and we rode in tense silence, unsure of what the next 24 hours would bring. As we watched college students shiver along the sidewalks, I asked Patrick, "If someone asked you, point blank what your son's name was, what would you say?"

Without hesitation he said, "Ezra James."

We felt peace flood over us, as if God was lifting a corner of the curtain on the mystery we were about to meet. We may not have been ready to welcome our son, but He was. He knew his name. 

So what about Ezra do we love and hope our son lives into as he grows? 

First of all, his name means, "God helps." We pray our son knows God as the author of all help and as a near One whose heart is inclined toward his children. 

Then, there are facets of the Biblical man we hope our son reflects: 

He was a rebuilder of a broken place, of a broken people; a leader to exiles. 

Five times in the book of Ezra (that we counted in hazy hospital days), it says "The gracious hand of the Lord was upon him." 

He was trusted without reserve by those in authority as a man who had integrity, was well-versed in God's law, and could be counted on to make wise decisions. The king sent him with favor and authority to anyone he would meet. 

He lead by example and with faith, choosing humility before the Lord instead of power and security. Our favorite story about Ezra is when he returns with loads of treasure through bandit-filled territory and fasts instead of fastening on more weapons:  

"There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him. So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer." (Ezra 8:21-23)

He weeps over the sins of his people and identifies himself with them in asking God for mercy: I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. (Ezra 9:6). His example of grief and repentance leads many to consider their ways.

He lead with sensitivity and compassion. When his reading of the law prompts people to despair (Nehemiah 8), he and Nehemiah stop the reading, declare a time of celebration and remind the people of all ways God has been faithful. 

Most of all, we love the description (and order of living) of Ezra was a man who "had committed himself to studying the Revelation of God, to living it, and to teaching Israel to live its truths and ways." (Ezra 7:10, MSG). We pray our son would learn, live, and lead like the man before him. We pray he would always first embody what he seeks to impart to others. 

And James? A long time ago, I had a fleeting thought that one day I would have a son named James who would be great in the eyes of the Lord. What a beautiful promise of a life lived before God. While we don't know for sure if that really was a word from the Spirit or not, we love James as a disciple of Jesus who insisted that faith and actions cannot be divorced from each other, who urged people to live in ways that coincided with who they knew Jesus to be. 
We hope James is another man who can help shape our son's character and way of being. 

So, there you have it. We love this child. We have prayed long for this child and believe God has amazing plans that are yet to unfold. We hope we can train and graciously love this child, with God's help, into the man he is intended to be. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hope for Breakfast

And I blinked and realized I haven't written since May.

And I blinked and it was time to light the first Advent candle. With a two-year-old.

The seasons circled, and she's singing and rocking babies and making jokes about sad pigs at the breakfast table. Everything about her is change, is new territory that both delights and dismays me. She is glory and sin wrapped in new sentences, new rage, and new wonder.

And me? This season often leaves me feeling more like Groundhog Day than grounded, a dog chasing its own tail than a wreath bent in a beautiful rhythm of entering what's been completed.

It seems I'm stressed in the same ways I vowed to avoid last year. I worry about the same inconsequentials that I swore I'd let slide as last year. I feel the crush of patterns and pet sins and puttering around with holly that just HAS to be angled just right--that I've promised to lay aside year after year after year. My vision for God's coming in seemingly dead places is often as dim as last year and despair threatens like rain on the threshold of freezing.

But for bread.

And fish.

I've been reading through John with a few friends and have been struck twice by Jesus' breakfast in John 20.

Even after Jesus appears alive to his disciples, breathes onto them and tells them they're sent just like him, the disciples are somehow where they started, fishing and following Peter. Peter: wracked with disillusionment and guilt, doubting if the kingdom will ever come, through confusing Messiah or conflicted self, returning to ropes and isolation and ways his hands and heart remembers.

And to him, to these followers who forsook and who've fallen back into what they were before, Jesus offers exactly the food they need: bread and fish.

The same elements of a miraculous meal for five thousand, elements that embody provision and possibility and the promise that with him there's always enough. 

And after breakfast? Jesus reinstates Peter, reminds him of his mission, and refocuses his eyes on following the one who always breaks so there'll be plenty.

For me, there's no coincidence that the candle we lit tonight's name is Hope. 

There is hope for me, served hot over coals on the same shore I told myself I wouldn't wade near again. 

In the midst of my return to old habits and hard-dying anxieties and helpless feelings in the face of my particular brand of brokenness, Jesus wants to eat with me. 

He wants to spread before me reminders of his sufficiency, his abundance, his forever feeding of those who listen but who don't always do what he says right away. 

And after breakfast? He wants to reinstate me, to remind me that my mission remains to feed from a place of grateful love, to remind me that the only thing that matters is following the one who waits for me when I wander. 

There's room at the table for you, too, this season. Come eat with us?