every square inch

In my private thoughts, I hoped I would shed all the worst of me like old skin when I had a baby and put on all the best of me like mom pants. In my public thoughts, I knew that was never a possibility. I never thought I would be the mama nursing her daughter while sitting on the toilet... or the mama who wears pajamas all day and then also the next day... or the mama whose life is entirely rearranged by a little tiny human and her red eyes... or the mama who just spliced three blog posts together in order to post something on her blog. I thought it would be hard, and it is. I thought it would be good, and it is. I thought it would be adventure, and it most definitely is.

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a holy hush did not hover

IMG_8272The advent wreath is uneven - dried eucalyptus folded and woven around a green foam ring with four purple candles sticking up like smooth royal towers in a bramble patch. My grandpa made the wooden base that holds the large, white pineapple candle in the center. And the bulky tradition sits unceremoniously on our table, on top of a feast-speckled fabric runner and underneath long eucalyptus branches leftover from a chandelier I couldn't throw away. The irreverent transformation of our antique gateleg table did not have all the feels of spiritual renewal. No mystery hid in the clinking of cider and whiskey glasses. A holy hush did not hover above our bowls of butternut squash soup.

We ladled out seconds and then reclined to read the liturgy for the first week of Advent. Tam struck the match that lit the first candle - the candle of Hope - and Grace read from Matthew 13,

35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows,[c] or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

I heard my soul saying the emotions are spent. We are dead broke on emotions so I don't try to wrestle more out. I just say, "Ok, soul." And then I heard the words from this passage and thought, but at least let's stay awake.

The neighbors must have opinions. Our windows were open, on the first day of the first week of Advent, to let the last cool breezes of autumn hug our shoulders. While the good folks next door were high-fiving touchdowns and shaking fists at referees, we were singing "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" ... all the verses. And then we sang the first verse again to layer some harmonies under the skillful conductorship of our friend Jeremy. The prayer of confession sounded the most Monty Python - all nine of us confessing out loud, with the same words, how we have strayed and how badly we need to be rescued, forgiven, and restored.

It's the 14:39 mark in Bach's Cantata 140. After the soul pleads salvation's quicker coming for six minutes, Zion hears the watchmen calling... and I say to my soul, let's stay awake for this.

Wake up and don't sleep through this. Be awake to plead and to grieve and to joy and to see and to fail and to receive and to hear. Be awake to anticipate the song of a Savior.

Be awake for Advent, I say to my soul - all the irreverence of it... the leftover decorations and the mess of it. Be awake and at all costs stay awake. Invite enough shoulders around your table that elbows touch your side. And when you get sleepy, soul, light a candle. When your eyes droop, soul, read Scripture. When you have no ceremony, soul, raise a toast. Stay awake, soul, because there is a song after the song you are singing and you will want to hear.

God, please help me stay awake.

when you need an ebenezer

I stood there in the dark with the weight of her - soft knees tucked almost to soft armpits, her fresh bathed head pressed against my shoulder. She fit perfectly in my arms, not yet sleeping but not struggling against it. So, I held the weight of her and looked long into her slow blinking eyes, especially round and knowing in the window light. We filled our bellies with breath, my weight holding her weight and moving from side to side. Slow and holy. Her soft fingers played on my wrist and I wondered why I would ever rush these moments.

What do I tell this little life that fits so snuggly in my arms? What do I say about wars and rumors of wars? How do I nursery rhyme this world for her?

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The lines came out because I needed a lullaby. I guess I needed something to say to those round eyes looking up at me in the dark. The verses tumbled together with the chorus and a little monument grew in the corner of our bedroom. Count them, name them, remember Him, praise Him. When I trailed off, I felt my little bundle fill her lungs with one big, shaky breath and then let out the sweetest sigh I have ever heard. It filled the quiet completely.

It's nights like this I need an Ebenezer.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Samuel 7:12).

Yes, ok. Remember and sing and believe and sway and sigh and say our redemption.

invitations are about movement

I was on the couch, curled up in Sabbath bliss and rubbing the watermelon belly that has become a part of me. We saw the due date come and go last week and a little bit of me thought, "Well, I guess I'll just be pregnant forever." Irrational, maybe. But these are things you think when 43 days have gone by and the wiggles are still on the inside. Things I think, anyway.

Patrick came over and snuggled in to ask, "What can I do to encourage you?"

And then he started reciting Scripture in my silence, while my cheeks burned hot tears.

Philippians 4:4-8 "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Psalm 34 "I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

He kept reciting the verses from the list my mom sent us in an email a couple weeks back. I asked her to send me verses for laboring to calm my delivery nerves, but he memorized them because he knows it's good to have Scripture saved up in your soul.

I kept silent, blinking and battling and defending my stubbornness.

The hot tears came because, sure, all the baby emotions. But the Word of the Lord never returns void and the chord it hit yesterday in my spirit was one I've been trying to avoid.

I want Baby K to come now because my calendar says Michication (our annual family gathering in Michigan) starts with a flight on July 10th. I want to go to the beach with my niece and nephews and I want to come back with sand in my shoes. I want to sit around campfires and toast marshmallows and play board games late into the night. I want to do all the things we have been talking about since we last left each other in September after James and Carly's wedding.

That's what I want.  And just above the din of my own heart and schedule I could still hear him reciting -

Psalm 46:1-3 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling."

God surely knows my need for fresh water and sibling laughter and firelight. He surely knows these are good things - things that soothe my heart and calm my spirit. He surely knows I need it just this way.

And still more verses cut through my innermost arguments -

Psalm 143:8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

A couple weeks ago, we sang a familiar song after communion at church - it's a song I have posted before and will probably post again. The song is a simple invitation to sit at a feast, but what I hear these days when I sing is an invitation to movement.

Come, Sinners Come Come sinners, come for there is a spread a table full and free For all who thirst, for Christ has said that all may come and eat

Come sinners, come Come sinners, come Oh, what a love is this that bids sinners come.

All the way to a dinner party has felt too long to travel these past 10 months - from grief and worry and selfishness and fear. I know that celebration and belonging and courage and joy are just past that threshold, but sometimes I'm still holding the invitation on my doorstep - feeling the beauty and weight of the faith that hangs in the distance between.

I want to sit at the celebration, but I just don't know if there are enough steps in my feet. And I guess that's why I am realizing the invitation to "come" is all about movement. The "coming" might take awhile, but repenting is about direction as much as it is about destination.

Stubbornness and pride and fear and worry and anxiety will probably make part of the journey with me, but I guess you could say I'm slowly turning toward the Host.

Pat keeps on saying this whole pregnancy and delivery is a way the Lord is teaching us, speaking to us, and challenging us toward greater faith. I keep nodding that he is right while my feet are planted like cement on my doorstep, inwardly promising to move when I have less to give up.

It doesn't work like that.

God's invitation for sinners like me to "come" to the feast is not the reception after the main event I have planned. It is the main event. Movement toward that feast is a movement away from all the things I want instead - beach vacations and 7 pound babies and easy delivery. Every step believes that what is promised is the best there is, the absolute best.

There will probably be more Scripture quoted to a stubborn face hot with tears before Baby K arrives, but I'm praying that Truth will soften me to repentance and movement toward the absolute best.

dear little one | your uncle will

Dear Little One, Is it you who craves ice or me? We make quite a pair, you and me - so round and so ready. Sometimes I lean down and say, "Mama's here" just to remind you I haven't left. I guess that's silly, but I do it anyway.

I've tried writing you this letter several times but I have to stop in the middle because the words won't come and the words come too fast. I'm not ready. I want you to be here so badly, my dear sweet, but I am not ready to be your mama.

Maybe that's okay, maybe every mama feels like this when they are 37 weeks round.

It's June now and that means warm, sticky heat. It means the park is so thick with green it can make you forget there are skyscrapers. And this year, it means night pacing in the bedroom we will share with you soon. Because I cannot sleep. Last June, your papa and I were planning our wedding. We were fretting over silly things like lamps and talking about serious things, like how we would love each other.

And, you know, none of that talk made me less afraid or more prepared for the life that has happened this year.

What I'm trying to say is: I am not ready for you to meet this world without your uncle Will in it. I am not ready to just tell you stories about this man, not ready to have you meet him in pictures, not ready to insist on his specialness. I'm not ready for you to be here when he is not. Oh, I know it makes no sense.

You will soon stretch out into your first brave cry and we will say "you are alive!" This is the most confusing part: your uncle Will is alive, but he is not here. He died in a car accident on August 2nd, 2014. That is a very hard sentence for mama.

Because I can't say the things he would say or laugh the way he would laugh or think the way he would think - he is gone in a way I can never be present on his behalf. I learned that from a grieving book by C.S. Lewis. And all that William space he filled so well is very empty now and I don't know how that will feel to you.

I can't tell you about his treehouses or his childhood tantrums or his tenderness. I can't tell you about the time we went to the zoo with Heidi and Amaya or the time we sang the Newsies at the cousin reunion or the times we stayed up too late telling stories. I can't tell you about the time I told him I liked your papa.

I could tell you all those things, but it's not the same.

Oh, darling. Even now as you bulge my belly with your feet and fists, I know I am not the mama I pictured myself being. I only have 23 moonlights until you are scheduled to arrive and I am a mess most days. I am afraid of many things. And I don't know how to tell you about your uncle Will, but this is a start. He is alive with Christ, but he is not here. It will never make sense. I'm sorry about that.

love you,

mama


Read all the dear little one posts here.

she is not ours

I know I have not nested enough or planned enough or read enough or enoughed enough - with this whole parenting thing, I mean. I know this because it seems like all pregnant ladies have lists - to do, to buy, to think, to read, to reflect, to pray. There are also the "don't worry if you haven't made a list - this is the one list you'll need" lists.

I'm not as organized as I used to be (or maybe I am just more honest). I have no lists. [Actually, that's not true - I am keeping a list of songs that pop into my head unannounced. So far I have: 21 Questions by 50 Cent, Away in a Manger, Video by India Arie, The Storm is Passing Over, We Like to Party, Easter Song by Keith Green, I'm Coming Out by Diana Ross. And those are just the songs that come when I'm near the pen and paper at work where I keep track.] 

do daydream about baby's hair color and baby's imagination and what kind of family we will be when baby turns five. I do have doubts about being a mom, though with every day my body confirms that I am created for it. I do imagine what Brooklyn will look like from new eyes as a stay-at-home mom. I do wonder about the privilege of welcoming a baby with special needs - if that is one of the surprises waiting on delivery day.

A few days ago I gave a strange, bullet pointed version of "my story" for our Brooklyn Fellows class. In the process of preparing, I remembered some precious words my mom said once on a terraza in Santa Lucia, Honduras. My parents were visiting from the States for a week and I had taken them to all my favorite spots - the garbage dump school, the feeding center, the orphanage, and the home for boys - before bringing them to my student's home for a late lunch (except that, in typical ambiguous fashion, Alejandra and I had never communicated or confirmed this plan... so my dad ended up eating a LOT of pastel (cake) and coffee in the absence of meat).

When my dad was on his third slice and my mom had shared all of our galavanting stories, Alejandra's mom asked, "Don't you worry about Caroline being here?"

She answered it just like she would her age or her affinity for the country life, "Well, she's not ours. She is the Lord's." So simply, so true.

I nodded with all my silly, missional enthusiasm. I had done a lot of things in that wonderful country - hitchhiked in El Salvador and La Tigra, been stranded overnight hiking a mountain, driven students through El Centro at night, been pulled over by fake cops, taken students with bodyguards on mission trips, rode in the back of pickup trucks, wandered up to houses that looked like mechanic shops, accepted invitations from neighbor-strangers, stayed up all night with students baking pumpkin muffins and making sushi at 2 am, argued with cops who pulled me over and wanted to take my car... the list is too long and too embarrassing to recount. Not all of it was wise or prayerful or good.

My parents prayed a lot. And they never told me to slow down or to move back home.

"She is the Lord's."

I don't know yet the kind of courage it takes to believe that as a parent. I think it's the way she said it - like I am first God's family and I am on loan. It was a fact like the price of corn, but it came out like she was announcing I had royal relatives. It rippled across every belief in my heart that God is sovereign and a kind of kinship welled up as if to say, "I am the Lord's!"

All of the Scripture I read as a child was not mumbo-jumbo. All those verses and sermons and conversations in the kitchen before dinner and talks before morning milking chores - those were about my Father. I belong to Him.

And He is a good keeper, the best.

I have thought about my mom's words often, especially this past year when we have held so tightly to Will with possessive pronouns: my son, my brother, my husband, my friend, mine.

And even as we push against it, God is saying, "He is mine. He belongs to me. I am his keeper. And I do not fail."

That's hard to hear.

It was a strange time to get pregnant - in the first few months of marriage and in the first few months of grief. But God never stopped being faithful, never stopped keeping promises, never stopped claiming us as His. So, now I pray that when people ask, "Aren't you afraid your baby will..." we will respond, "Oh, Baby K is not ours. Baby K is the Lord's."

It sounds crazy, but I can still hear it spoken over me, like last year's corn prices and the announcement of royal heritage.


Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thank you for not claiming me as your own - for doing the harder thing in confessing that I am the Lord's.

a psalm for grief

What is this low, deep darkness -where only apparitions play? My hands grasp and find nothing; my voice cries and the sound is soaked up. Here I am! Inside the furthest dark, and where are You?

O, be strong and steady – do not disappear when I reach out or go silent when I plea. Be ever with me in this dark- ever present in this death, Be with me.

Restore to me the hope of resurrection and the peace of a seated King.

You will not be shaken, and You are keeping me. There is no dark where your love is not light; There is no light that is not yours.

I am found in You, my light my home.


It's been a while, but here are some writings as my family lives out the grief and sorrow of losing William. I do not usually write poetry, but this was an assignment when I was in grief counseling last year. I dug it up to help as I sit with sadness today.

It sounds too easy, too light and defined.

If I was a better poet, I would make it messy. I would make it say things like "wring the numbness out of me / and never forget to feel the pain of death" and "break morning light on this dark day to vanish the chills of night" and "wrestle and make my mind submit to a glory bigger, better and outside this pain"... or something. I would make it tangled and I would make it have the harsh sound of typing keys. click click clackety CLACK clack CLACK. The meter would feel staccato with something like a long cello line running through it. And the edges - the space around the words - would move in close to hug the anger out.

And still it would read wrong.

 

|kept|

He wore a blue Nike track jacket, but I didn't know that until we were above ground at Union Square. My head started to clear with the smell of city rain and I realized clumsily: I didn't know this man who had walked me up the steps from the subway, thrown down his backpack on the sidewalk for a seat and was now carefully explaining that he would walk 10 feet to buy water from a food truck. I was nodding. He would be back in less than two minutes. More nodding. I sat there on his backpack and breathed. There was laughter hidden somewhere in my future self - looking back on this very personal NYC moment. He returned with water and I drank the whole bottle. I leaned on his arm and we went back to the subway after deciding that water and fresh air had cured the worst of my spell. Then he found a seat for me on the 6 train and we talked about life in the city, his wife and the family they want to start, and all the neighborhoods they have lived in. I asked if he would be late to work and he said he would be just fine. When I assured him I could make it the three blocks to my office beyond Grand Central Station, he went on to 57th.

And that was how I met Rick, my Tuesday subway angel.

My doctor said it is one of the most common calls she gets - fainting in the subway. The morning rush is shoulder to shoulder, the overheated air is stale, and the underground is dark like a cave. Over the course of this pregnancy, I finally learned what my sister has been telling me since I moved to Brooklyn in 2013: Care, you can do whatever you want - nothing is surprising in NY.

And it's true. I've crouched in a corner of the Q train, thrown up in a subway grate, bypassed the bathroom line at Bryant Park, worn tennis shoes with everything, thrown up in Starbucks cups, stretched out pre-pregnancy work clothes, thrown up in trash cans, used an embarrassing amount of dry shampoo, thrown up in ultrasound appointments, consumed a senior citizen's portion of fiber, and regularly rubbed my belly like a little buddha. Oh, and one of my coworkers just left an entire box of thin mint cookies on my desk, so I might add "consumed an entire box of thin mints in one sitting" to the list (Update: proudly did not).

I'm not a pretty pregnant lady. But I didn't have time to create expectations about my pregnant self in the whirlwind of marriage and moving and newlywedding and grief and winter and the general pace of life in the city, so I guess that means I'm not disappointed. It's probably better that everything is a surprise.

And the surprises come in all kinds of ways.

The other night, I lost track of time while I tracked the rolling and tumbling movements on my belly. I still can't believe there is a human in there. I watch and I hold my breath for the next fist bump or soccer kick to bulge out beside my belly button... and then my eyes get big and I gasp, "Oh! There you are!" Every time the sensation of a little, moving human surprises me. There is a little human in there.

And I am the home for this little human for another 9 weeks (maybe less if Baby K gets antsy). I am the home, but I'm not the keeper.

The words "you hem me in" are making new sense from Psalm 139. This baby is hemmed inside the walls of my womb - kept on all sides. And I am learning that God's keeping of us is the purest preservation and the most perfect protection.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121 ESV)

His is a keeping that never sleeps, never tires, never wearies, never pauses. His is a keeping that is attentive to tiny fingernails and to terrible nightmares. His is a keeping that is secure like a mountain and tender like a magnolia.

This is a Psalm of Ascent - a song the Israelites would sing as they traveled up into the city of Jerusalem, believing God was literally keeping them from the harsh sun, the dark night, and all evil. Just as he keeps the heavens above the earth, he is keeping us too.

He will keep your life.

That line really gets me - that promise to guard and protect my life and the life inside my womb. I close my eyes and imagine He is keeping us in the same way, in the cleft of the rock and in the palm of His hands. I open my eyes and don't know how analogies translate. All the tidy "hemming in" gets pushed outside the lines in 42nd Street traffic and fluorescent lights and fainting subway episodes.

But, there He is. Keeping me.

dear little one | dirty feet and flushed cheeks

Dear Little One, You are not so little anymore and I am sorry for all the crowding - I'll take most of the credit for that. "Petite" runs on both sides of your mama's family, so there was really no way to escape it. Your great grandmas Avonell and Phyllis are firecrackers (and their daughters, too), so it's fair to say height is never a good measurement of energy or character or spunk.

The tingle of Spring finally turned into bare shoulders, ice cream cones and a long riverside walk on Sunday afternoon. Did you feel the sunshine by the Hudson? Did you hear our laughter?

I forgot about everything productive I meant to accomplish over the weekend. Sometimes that is okay.

Conversation or adventures or that amazing patch of afternoon light on the kitchen floor are more important than lists sometimes. I won't need to teach you that, in the beginning. I think you'll come out knowing already. Is that the eternity in you?

Sunday church stretched into brunch and brunch stretched into ice cream and ice cream stretched into Joel asking questions in our living room about how to love people better.

When your daddy pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to see if we could have company later, I thought about all those productive things I needed to do - the laundry and the dishes and the floors with those grey, fuzzy monsters in the corners - all those things that take a backseat when the sun comes out... (when you get here, that list will be much longer they say).

I love your daddy for pulling me aside like he does - giving me time to prepare, even if I can't actually clean anything up. I said "yes" knowing we would all walk into the apartment at the same time. But Joel brushed aside any apologies I had about the dishes in the sink and the socks on the floor, because we all share homes and lives and french press coffee.

People say this will change when you come, little one, but we are praying you get swept up in it, too. Or maybe we are praying that, for you, family and church and neighbors and home are all words with open doors and welcome mats. I pray this kind of thing over you while I rub the little basketball you live inside. Do you hear these prayers?

The sun was setting when Joel rummaged for some towels. I thought he was offering to help clean because your dad was knee deep in sawdust in the middle of the living room after re-purposing a table into a bench (so handy - I can't wait for the two of you to be knee deep in projects together). But, instead he cleared his throat and said, "I felt convicted today in the sermon that, I ... should wash your feet."

I immediately thought about my feet.

I thought about sweet Joel and all his good intentions, but I mostly thought about my unpainted toenails and the last time I could reach over this basketball belly to give my heels some TLC. I fluttered around for a dish to put water in and your daddy and I sat next to each other on the new bench he just made. I squirmed and felt roses color my cheeks as Joel read about a man named Jesus washing his friends' feet.

Joel knelt down on his knees, washed our feet, and then prayed over us. And all the time I was praying for a heart to receive this gift. Your mama can be is proud and receiving love can be hard. But this is the lesson of dirty feet and flushed cheeks, little one:

if we are ever too proud, we will always stay dirty.

We will grow up together - you and me and Daddy and hopefully some siblings. We will learn from you and you will learn from us and we will hopefully all be distracted by the right things. And we'll all get dirty - sometimes with dirt and sawdust and toejam, but sometimes with invisible things like jealousy and selfishness and greed. There will be people who look like that man named Jesus, who help expose the ugly - to wash it and to remind us of the great and humble love of our Father who sees all the dirty things in our lives and still bends down to make us clean. These kinds of people are very special.

Anyway, these are my thoughts and I've rambled too long. There was a man named C.S. Lewis and he wrote about a boy who woke up as a scaly dragon and could only shed the skin if he jumped in a pool. Maybe I'll read that story to you soon. It's a very good story.

We miss you, little one. It feels like you are everywhere with us, but not quite close enough. I still think about your wrinkly knees.

all my love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

celebration war paint and resurrection

I painted over my dark grey/mauve nails with white and gold confetti on Holy Saturday. It was an act of defiance, like celebration war paint really, and all ten digits are still ready for festive battle. Every time I look down at the keyboard, every time I turn the page of a book, and every time I swipe my metro card - white and gold confetti remind me that we are in Easter season. This is resurrection.

"Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power…we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptismal vows." N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Last year, I was ready for wild delight, even desperate for it. I pondered Lent readings, daily reflected on my sin and brokenness, and (unintentionally) assumed a very downcast and despairing disposition. My mom started praying for Easter to come quickly just so my blogs would stop sounding so depressing. I ached for delight and hope deeper than I ever have before and I can't tell you exactly why that was the case.

But, I can tell you that the despair had set in my bones long before Lent this year. The weight of brokenness was personal, but it wasn't exactly the ugliness of my sin that had me trudging through the depths. It was the ugliness of death itself. It still stung with a dull and deeply weary sting because Lent started on August 3, for us. Is that too bold to say? That is when brokenness ripped our hearts in half and emptiness took up all the earth space my brother once animated with life. That was our Lent and still is, in some ways. I did not have the energy to plumb any further than I had already gone.

And that's why this year was different.

Leading up to Easter, Patrick and I read the above words from N.T. Wright and there was a subtle stirring that raised all my arm hairs and tingled underneath my rib cage without asking permission.

Resurrection.

Something very peculiar marched its way up to my frontal lobe from all the stirring in my rib cage: we are alive. The resurrection of Jesus did not just secure my place in a glorious future, it secured my place in a glorious now.

The apparitions my hands have been grasping at - reaching through and wrestling with - melted into a new, solid reality. We are resurrected, Will and I, right now. We are more in a similar place than different because we both have our truest identity in Christ. It sounds very wrong, very strange to pen that down - but maybe it's the celebration on my nails that makes it seem okay. We are resurrected because Christ is resurrected. Me no less than him and him no more than me. Resurrected.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden, Lost and ruined by the fall; If you tarry till you’re better, You will never come at all.

That's what I was singing on Holy Saturday and early on Sunday morning when I woke up to put the empty tomb rolls in the oven, light every candle in our apartment (+ some sparklers), and start the crockpot full of homemade (thanks, mom!) hamballs.

I'm not better because death is still ugly... but if I wait till I am I may never come at all.

His invitation is for those lost and ruined by the fall - for those wrecked by the death that has crept into creation. That's me. As I believe (and pray for more belief) in Christ's death that swallowed up death and his resurrection that brought new life, I believe God literally breathed resurrected life into me. When he ascended to plead the merit of His blood before the Father, he secured my resurrection, wholly and completely.

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended, Pleads the merit of His blood: Venture on Him, venture wholly, Let no other trust intrude.

Venture wholly. This is the posture of Easter and the movement of resurrection life that bustled in the fellowship hall of the church last Sunday. The loosely delicate bouquets, the white and gold confetti splattering the long maze brown paper covered tables, the party poppers and candles and yes! the champagne waiting for every person when they walked in the doors.

"Happy Resurrection Day!"

I imagined it sparkling like glitter in my eyes and bubbling like champagne from my spirit and getting thrown like the confetti on my nails.

Words create realities. Like those first words that created the world and the words that formed Adam and the words that prophesied a Messiah and those words that sentenced the same Messiah to death. And those words the angel spoke when the women were standing speechless at the entrance of the tomb, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." (Matthew 28:5-6) 

Words create realities and the words, "Happy Resurrection Day!" are creating a new reality in my spirit - one that doesn't require my being "better" to participate.

Even with my favorite apron on, I got scotch eggs and roast ham on my Easter dress. I had to trade out my wedges for sneakers when we started packing things up. Champagne spilled and party poppers got popped prematurely by the best, most zany Brooklyn kiddos. And many of my distracted thoughts throughout the Easter service and celebration were of William, one year before in the very same church - dunking his bread in the cup for communion and leaving a floater, carrying picnic supplies to the middle of the park for our Easter gathering, and grinning next to Grace on my couch as Patrick proposed to me later that night.

For eight months those memories have followed me like a host of apparitions, like moving post cards only I can see. They probably always will, I guess. But this new resurrection reality is spilling over and out of the collective cheers of our festive gathering on Sunday.

I will never be better, maybe. But I will always be resurrected. 

And in that resurrection life, I will live. I will invite friends and neighbors into my home. I will pray for this new baby God is growing in me. I will cheers champagne and non-alcoholic pear juice. I will giggle with my husband. I will make up silly dances. I will do all these things before I am better, because that is the power of resurrection.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms; In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.

Here's the song "Come Ye Sinners" (written by Joseph Hart) and sung by Fernando Ortega. I can't find the simple version we sing, but (honestly) once you know the tune, acapella is pretty beautiful.

If you want to read more from our family about this grief journey, you'll find the grief notes here.

when almost and mostly everything is undecided

Almost and mostly everything these days is undecided, though it produces less anxiety in me than it used to. I think that must be in part due to weariness, but I am thankful regardless. It is good to not be anxious, even if being "made to lie in green pastures" comes about by swollen, pregnant ankles and grief brain. I think God's goodness is inside these things - when our eyes shut without being told and when our shoulders sigh without great effort. I had an urge, several times in the first months of pregnancy, to lean over slightly to a fellow subway rider and say, "I know this might sound strange, but would you mind if I rested my head on your shoulder for a few stops? I'm just... so tired." I didn't ever follow through, partially (I think) because I had played it over so many times in my head that I would either be unsatisfied by rejection or unsatisfied by the thought that I was just doing it to make the story in my head true.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Patrick said recently, "You have a glow, you really do!" He added the last part because he knew I wouldn't believe him. He knew I would try to make it about having showered or wearing a new shirt. But I knew he wasn't joking, because weariness has a way of making you a truth teller. If you are well acquainted with being made to lie down in green pastures, you gladly accept the honest and brilliant words "you have a glow" and then you pack them in your travel satchel - within easy reach for when the journey spreads from the recline of pastures to the incline of a mountain.

There are other things in that satchel, too. Ultrasound photos and conversations with sisters and deviled eggs. Well, not actual deviled eggs. But, the deviled eggs we packed in cupcake tins to take to dinner last night.

After meeting up with our neighbor friends for rainy day Dim Sum in Chinatown, we sloshed back to prepare roasted potatoes and deviled eggs to complement the roasted chicken and lemon tossed brussel sprouts our friends' were making a few subway stops away. Patrick whipped up homemade mayonnaise while I tossed salt and pepper potatoes in thyme, sage and olive oil. He convinced me the the whole grain mustard would be better presented in small dollops on top instead of mixed in with the egg and relish. I should always trust his photographer's eye.

Walking in to their basement apartment is a little bit magic. We relax into hugs and updates and banter while we shuffle coats and food and chase their little one in circles around the kitchen. The deviled eggs are set out for appetizers and the guys huddle in the office while we talk about baby preparations and bring things to dinner-ready in the oven. Then, we sit down to pray over the food.

All of it regular and all of it magic, like the sun that warms a patch of kitchen floor or the way a flower bouquet speaks reassurances in its silent post on the mantle. Regular magic.

And the deviled eggs remind me that we talked - really talked - over dinner. We scooped portions on plates and opened every conversational door that is supposed to stay closed at dinner parties while the little one peppered our deep thoughts with very serious requests for grapes and strawberries. We nitty gritty talked about marriage and love and community and insecurities and the times we've given in to irrational fears. Equal parts affirmation and question, equal parts confidence and fear, equal parts doubt and faith. Equal parts certain and unknown. All parts family.

Because almost and mostly everything is undecided these days and it is good to know we are not alone in indecision. And sometimes we need to be reminded that our indecisiveness is not weakness.

We pushed against the expectations of culture and role models and voices in our heads and then, one by one and in very different ways, we spoke truths about God and the identity He gave us. We said things like, "I have seen the way that God has blessed your work - what you do is really amazing." And, "..We have to start from a place where we believe God is sovereign, a place where we believe He gave us our identity." And, "We can see God's heart for hospitality in you." And, "You have really been such an encouragement to me."

Our words came easily because it's instinct to bandage a broken body and because this is kind of what we are made for, to "encourage one another and build each other up." God is good to fill our mouths with words He has already written and promises He has already spoken, so that we do not forget His faithfulness and persistent renewal of creation. None of us are less broken or more figured out - we are equally unsure of how all our stories will unfold.

Nothing is more figured out today. No questions got answered in the way we would all prefer. No decisions got made about the future last night.

But, I am remembering a little bit more that I am called "child" in a family with a steadfast and faithful God who knows about the wiggles in my womb and the swelling in my feet. And He knows exactly and especially when His children need to come together to speak truth when almost and mostly everything is undecided.

dear little one | confessions

Dear Little One, I wish you could feel the tingle of Spring.

The city people are braving less layers, store windows are adjusting promising bright pastel displays, and there is an unmistakable allure of something new when the breeze rushes past in Bryant Park. Spring is magic. I'm not sure what to tell you about magic because I'm not even sure if that's the right word. There are... well, there are some things in this world and outside of it that are so big - so so big that words are too small. No matter how hard we think and study and explain, the weight of this magical glory breaks through to push a green bud past crumbly dry earth.

Does that sound crazy? It is okay if it does.

I pray this mystery will always feel crazy in our home, but you'll have to help us. You will probably see glory when we don't. You will probably chase wonder while we stare. Please, invite us along into your world where words are too small. Maybe we'll all giggle out insufficient analogies together someday. Or maybe you are the type that prefers to be present instead of troubling with words. Either way and any way, we would love for you to help us see the magic better.

He is coming back from California tonight, your daddy, and I can't wait to see him. Maybe you already know. You are turnip sized now, they tell me, but every inch of you is in a dance so maybe you know he is coming. You, little one, are making me wonder. How do you get formed inside of there? Why the nose and ears this week and not before? Magic.

Confessions are magic, too.

And this is what I want to tell you tonight. We've been doing a lot of confessing around here lately and then your Aunt Tam sent me a message tonight, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." The verse came from the book of Hebrews in the Bible, Chapter 10 and verse 23. Yes, I thought. Hold onto hope.

But, then I sat a little bit. Sometimes it is good to be still and let your heart hear something you haven't already affirmed - some new bit of magic and mystery. So, I sat a little bit thinking about the confession of our hope.

I am not any good at confessing - you can ask Daddy. It's hard for me to get humble and admit the trouble I've caused. But, I wondered if this "confession of our hope" meant that we remember the magic that there is hope at all. And then we speak it out loud.

"There is hope."

And somehow, in the speaking it and believing it, we are confessing all those other less magical things have failed as much as we are holding fast to the confession that the most magical thing is steadfast and faithful.

Here I mean God, little one. I do want to be clear because soon the word "magic" might be spoilt for you. Your Maker is the Maker of all things - in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, things with words and things without them. He is the one who is forming you, but you probably already know that. Maybe you know Him better now than I ever will.

I worry my letters to you are unfinished and scattered.

I love you so, little one. Soon I will squeeze your wrinkly knees.

Love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

imagining again

We have been casting vision lately. Though we wrote a marriage manifesto in the weeks leading up to our wedding and our marriage vows at a basement bar several nights before we spoke them in front of God and friends, our first eight months of marriage have been heavy on the doing and light on the planning. Not all bad and not all good, but kind of like the icy cold blast from a garden hose on a hot August day in Iowa... or like the last 100 feet of a winter sprint to the front door of a NY apartment in February. There is no time to think or plan or consider, but enough time to feel the giddy tingles of the moment - the energy that catches in your chest when the shock of cold water hits you or the allure of a warm apartment lobby comes into view.

Nobody casts a vision in front of a spraying water hose or while jingling keys outside an apartment on a frozen February day. Well, I don't anyway.

Meanwhile, I think all that stuff has been rumbling around. You know - the stuff of "what we want our lives to be like in the first year of marriage, for being a good neighbor, for being a good friend, for when we have kids, for community development, for when we do Lent, for Saturday mornings, for groceries and planning dinner parties and pancakes."

You know, visions.

I overheard a young, coarsely stubbled man express his fears to a friend at the Starbucks on 51st Street. He said, "Dude, you gotta get me in on your next trip. I mean, I'm 24 and it's like, I see my cousin - she's married and has kids. And I see my friends who are married and they just disappear. I need to go to Iceland, Argentina - yeah, man you're like my friend that is still, like, doing active stuff and living life. I mean, like, this is our prime and I want to do everything you know..."

There was more, of course - talk of places to eat and trending neighborhood and updates on where old friends are now - but I only half listened because I was trying to find a few square feet of quiet city space to sit between work and home group.

I kept wondering what that young man is so afraid of and what has made him afraid.

Last Saturday, as Patrick and I were reading "The Good Life" by David Matzko McCarthy for our Brooklyn Fellows class, the dust settled a little on all the doing and chasing and rushing. We would read a few paragraphs and then let the words tumble around between us and our baby in my belly. We are really very different people, Patrick and me - the way we approach challenges and the way we express sorrow and the way we show love. But, we are similar in that we fear a safe and sheltered life - the kind of life that is insulated (as much as we can control) from struggle and invites others in only when it is convenient. We didn't really have the words for that to make sense until we let those paragraphs tumble around our Brooklyn apartment.

Comfort is not the goal. Loving is the goal.

How can we love the Lord best with our routines? What neighborhood allows us to live in slow community and love our neighbors with our time and resources? What do decisions about schedules, apartments, baby, and dinner invitations look like when we are not trying to protect our image or our comfort?

We don't necessarily know the answers, but that's why there is vision casting. That is exactly why imagining together with community feels so sacred - because God is involved in the mystery of saying "yes" to his heart. He is trustworthy when there is no obvious path for our "yes," when we are not calm and collected and ready for anything. He is trustworthy when we do not have a plan and do not know how to find one. He is trustworthy when we imagine things that don't make sense.

Dreaming and delighting in God's vision for renewal has been a hard thing since William died. I don't believe it less, but I do participate less. And I have so missed the sacred participation of trusting God to hold steady so all the unknowns of imagination can make wonderful happen.

I think I am ready to start imagining again.

words after four saltines

I have been doing nothing for almost five days. Really, nothing. The flu kind of decided that for me, but I still have four saltines and a glass of water in my belly and it's been a few hours - so I'm calling that a victory. Somewhere, in the haze of many steamy hot showers (one of few things I can do), I heard the words, "Isn't this what you wanted? To escape." I could have been mad, but the truth was too true. I wanted nothingness - long days of nothing - and here I squirmed and slept and sniffled and well, everything else for five days. And, of course, I don't want nothingness.

All the same things are still essential, for living. All the same things are still true, about life and beauty and God. Because when you drop a rock or a giant boulder into a lake or an ocean, the mountains don't move.

Maybe they do, I would make a bad geologist. But when I think about all the ways the surface of our lives has been disturbed and rippled and waved, it feels like there is nothing unaffected. It's like we are in a science fiction movie and everything has gone wavy - no piece of matter is firm enough to really matter because everything ripples to the touch.

It's been about five months since Will died in a car accident and I'm not the same person Patrick married six months ago. He gets the groceries and cooks the dinners and makes me laugh when I don't want to leave the apartment... again. I am rippled and wavy and hormonal and pregnant and very, very sad. I sleep often and cry in his arms and sometimes pray with him because I know he is such a good man for making me do so. But, the other day, he said something that hurt very bad because it was very true. We were talking about regular things and future things and life things. He said something like...

"Care, I realized that your heart is not up to me. Maybe the Lord is working on your heart and I can just support you, but I can't fix anything."

He said something like that. And a couple days later with a few saltines in my belly, I know it's true. Because when that boulder fell into our depths and rippled up our lives forever, the mountains didn't move. It felt like they did and sometimes I have to double take to see if the skyscrapers are shifting, but the mountains didn't move.

Anything that was essential six months ago, for living, is still essential now.

I talked to my dad on the phone today. He was headed home from work and was just calling to check in. I said "Hello!" and he (like always) sighed into, "Oh, hi - how we doin' today?" I love that. Because we are thousands of miles apart, but his empathy reaches me just fine. He's "doin'" how I'm "doin'" and vice versa.

Anyway, he's been thinking about living too. We all have, I'm sure.

He was reminding me about ornery Will. You may not have met him, but it was about six years in elementary and middle school. He was getting into things and sometimes it wasn't cute, it was bad. One of our punishments on the farm was to run around the house (genius on my mom's part - to get us out of the house and tired) and I'm sure Will accumulated the most laps. He was ornery. Dad said there was a very short time that he was on medication for something (not orneriness), but that didn't last long. When Mom and Dad saw him resigned and quiet, they agreed they would do their best and believe God for the rest. It sounds cliché, but my dad said, "Caroline, we really believed God could take our ornery boy and grow him into a godly man. And he did."

I really admire my dad for saying that. And I love him for remembering Will's years of serious orneriness. And I love God for being trustworthy like a mountain.

This week, I memorized from Daniel 2:20-21, "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons. He removes kings and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding."

I'm not all the way there yet, but I believe God is the mountain that didn't ripple when everything else did on August 2. I believe He is the same and all the same things are essential, about living. I guess that means I have a sturdy place to be sad. But, I want to believe it also means I have a steady footing where I can be useful as a wife and friend and sister and daughter and mother. I want to believe that, because He changes times and seasons, removes and sets up kings, gives wisdom and knowledge, and He guided my brother into godliness.

in the midst of my escaping

I've been listening to this song by Young Oceans, called The Gates. It makes me uncomfortable because in the middle, if I sing all the words, I am a liar. The music sounds more confident than I feel, but the words betray a heart that feels so many other things. [bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=4178743084 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=3637839339]

I wanna wake and feel Your glory I wanna speak in tongues of angels for You Lord I wanna sing a song eternal I wanna trample on the curses of the earth I wanna call upon Your healing I wanna see the sick and weary be made new I wanna swim inside the blessings I wanna swim inside the blessings of the Lord

It's all the things I want to want, but I'm too weak or frail or scared or lazy or tired or selfish. Or I am all those things.

The beauty of Christmas - Christ coming to earth - came wrapped inside wrapping inside wrapping inside wrapping this year. It came slow like the full nine months of labor pains, much deeper than I've ever anticipated this season before.

And when I shake with sobs in bed or pray for water hotter than my tears in the shower, I need Emmanuel. I need the truth of "God with us" on earth. When I wish I was 13 years old again or when I go to sleep to be hidden, I need Emmanuel.

I'm not proud of wanting to escape. But when life is hard, you just dream of it being easier I guess. Easier commute to work, easier free time, easier time management, easier professional life, easier marriage, easier living, easier. Not lazy, just better. I'm not proud of wanting easier.

Maybe that's why I love liturgy so much. It makes me say the words I do not feel. And that's why Scripture memory is a life vest these days. Even if those are the only words I repeat, the only ones I sing... even if I don't feel them completely, I know there is a gift wrapped inside a gift wrapped inside a gift that is more inside than any thief of joy.

God with us. He is here, even when I am not wanting Him. He is here, when I want to be elsewhere. God with us, pursuing us in love.

Did You say, 'seek, you will surely find'? I am searching, Lord turn Your eyes to mine But I’m weary, pacing at these gates Jesus come, come now, don’t delay

Like a child, ever faithful may I be This I ask, God of mercy hear my plea I have wandered with a soul impure For this scorn, Father, send a cure

Last week, I memorized from John 11:25-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die..."

It's one of those verses that's hard to say, but I stumble through. I speak and trust God will grant the belief I need to be moved by these words. He is good and true and He is holding me up in the midst of my escaping.


 

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

generosity in bleak winters

It's easier than you might think to let the city hype and lights fade to background noise, but I'm sure I look like a Scrooge. I am just trying to figure out how to anticipate this whole story - the glorious and painful ordinary of a Son who came into the world struggling to suffer and die. I want to desire the coming of Jesus - the birth, life, death and resurrection of Him - because it is the only delight where the sparkles don't shake off. It is the anchor of hope I have to hold with white knuckles, the glory story that is as deep as this grief story and more painful than morning sickness.

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"I will slow the pace"

Today, the rain. The slanting, pounding, and unforgiving kind.

I'm only a little bit sad I can't go to the laundromat, again. Instead, I am nursing a tall glass of water, lighting my new creamy Anthropologie candle, and letting this Rain for Roots album preach to my heart.

[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=3213214933 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 track=1988729039]

Simple truths.

I could say I am singing these songs for my little one - so I will have all the words memorized when Baby K comes. But, the truth is, I need to hear this invitation. I need to remember that God is not rushed in His love for us. He invites us into a slow and steady love, full of peace and rest and strength.

My pastor mentioned a passage in Ezekiel several sermons ago that I had never heard. In Ezekiel 16, God is remembering the history of the people Israel and compares it to a baby being born. This baby was abhorred, thrown out into an open field without clothes and without care, without compassion. But when God passed by, He reached into all the naked, bloody mess and said, "Live!" Our pastor had us imagine a God who would tend to an infant child like a mother or a father would - with gentle hands and sweet assurances.

God deals with us in such a way, with kind and slow attention to the dryness on our elbows and the rain that seeps through our boots to our toes. God cares for us in such a way, but I forget.

Yesterday, I forgot.

It was a day like a backwards onion, an ugly one. Layers on layers of frustrations and emotions but I couldn't figure out how to get back to the root of it all so I could be "okay." I do not trust pregnancy hormones and I already had a bad relationship with woman emotions. I would rather swallow everything down with the eight glasses of prescribed pregnancy water I am drinking everyday.

It got messy in the middle. You would think that a girl who has morning sickness-ed (and stealthily recovered) at the Q train Canal stop, the reception desk, the conference room, and various bathrooms could swallow down an onion's worth of emotions. Nope, sure could not.

I met Patrick at Brooklyn Fellows class and we went through an ancient prayer exercise called The Examen where you use Scripture to move through these five meditations:

1. Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow.

It was a bad day to have this kind of meditation. Review the day with gratitude? I had spent much of my day feeling faulted and failed. Pay attention to my emotions? They went haywire. I had a meltdown. I fell completely apart while saying, "I hate that I'm falling apart." There was a lot to pray about. Looking forward to tomorrow was hard.

When we got home, I jumped right into bed. Patrick came around to my side to tuck me in with encouragement, but I pulled the sheets over my head and said, "I can't talk to you right now." I don't know why I said that. I knew the tears would come and I didn't want him to have to deal with the onion I couldn't seem to swallow or peel, even with St. Ignatius and his ancient prayer exercise.

He didn't let me hide. He hugged me as I cried it out and listened as I sputtered, "I don't even know myself... I'm so frustrated that I am angry... and I am angry because I don't like who I am right now, because I don't know what to do about it."

I don't know how long he listened or how long I cried, but at one point he pulled back the covers and said, "Get up. We are going to pray." And we knelt by the bed and he prayed it out. When he got done with all his honest words I said, "Amen." He refused to let anger sleep in our bed. I think you should pray, he said.

I was still tense and slobbery, but I got some words out and relaxed into a simple conversation that has lately been God's one-sided, "Come." I confessed anger and asked for peace. I started to feel the slower pace of His rest and I started to believe He had compassion on my slobbery face.

Come to me, Walk with me Learn the rhythms of my grace

Come to me, I have all you need Learn to rest even while you are awake

Are you tired? Are you worried? Worn out from the day? Have you been in a hurry? I will slow the pace

My sister got some hard news this week. My mom had a hard day on Friday. Some might say these days feel the worst, but our family has respectfully redefined our use of superlatives. That is part of the onion layers, too - the figuring out emotions and frustrations in light of the great grief weight. I think we fall apart more than we stay together, but that's why there is this simple truth about the tender care of a Father who slows the pace.

In New York and Des Moines and little Lewis. In Michigan and California and Ames. In every place where there is hurting, every place where there is brokenness, and every place where God's creation lives, there is an invitation to slow the pace.