pa rum pum pum pum

I am that little child with that flimsy toy drum strapped around his angular little boy shoulder. Come, they told him. The sticks strike that moon face, commanding air and passers-by to listen to the rhythm, the foolish parade of one. I am that simple, repeat refrain. And even then, he does it better. He found the drum and the sticks and the bravery to begin. Honest talk, I'm getting a little worked up facing this blank page. I am sad for being gone, sad for not playing my song (foolish as it sounds), sad for hiding my gift under a bushel basket full of distractions - mindless social media and early bedtimes with a tired brain.

My wet mess of a face almost matches the mess I meant to clean in our apartment when Pat left with Zella two hours ago. I don't know why, but imagining myself into the story of the little drummer boy is just so exactly where I am right now. I guess the small gesture - lifting strap over shoulder and calling on a hidden, inner repertoire - convicts all my defenses.

Whew, I didn't know I needed this kind of cry - let me take a moment. Let's all take a moment.

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I know - it's not technically Christmas music. But sometimes the song beating rhythms behind our ribcage isn't jingling bells. Most times, in my case. The Advent season is not triumphant. It is precious beauty, but it is sad too. We are the reason Jesus came all the way down, all the terrifying way down, from celestial glory to stomachs growling and torrential storms. I am both loved by this act and reminded that there was reason for His condescension. I am the reason.

My proneness to wander so pressed on the heart of God until it broke Him and compassion poured out in the real life of a little babe.

 

Anyway, I salute you - little boy and your silly pa rum pum pum pum refrain. Thanks for being brave enough to bang on your drum and make a grown woman cry while thinking about it. Here is me striking my drum in your honor.

the accordion man

Dear Little One, You are the size of a large banana now. Somehow I can't picture that - you stretched out so long in my belly. Last week you were a mango, so I'm confused by all this fruit measurement. Maybe we will keep measuring you by fruits when we meet you on this side. That would make your Daddy chuckle.

This morning I squinted against a the cold winter sun on the subway, the reflection so bright I could see it with my eyes closed. It's not the kind of sun that heats your skin and freckles your cheeks. A winter sun is confusing that way. I remember waking up before the winter sun, as a little girl in Iowa, and watching the moon bounce off the quiet snowdrifts. Everything was dark and still; I thought I could get lost in those fields looking for cows huddled in nooks and behind trees to shield the cold. I felt very little under that dark, diamond sky. I still do.

But, this morning it was the winter sun not the winter moon that blinded my closed eyes. I was on the B train going into the city, early enough for work that I could pick up a decaf latte at Le Pain Quotidien (for the mornings I feel fancy). Also, early enough to walk slowly by the accordion man so we could both hear the melodies that fill the stretch of tunnel between 6th and 5th Avenue underground. He is a little man with a kind face and belted trousers. His hair is combed and he has set his stage just so. I try to navigate the strangers so I can walk close enough for him to see me smile as he sways to his classical song.

Can you hear the music?

This morning, as I walked by, his tempo rushed into a dance for just a moment - swelling over the top of my head. I hope the notes made their way to you.

This little accordion man is like the winter sun, but underground. He is there with his open suitcase and floating fingers every morning, serenading the early hours of the waking world in that cold and dull concrete hallway beneath the sidewalk. He has a sweet sadness I wish you could see. Maybe you hear it in his music, but it's why I try to take the morning tunnel walk with Midwest pace... The pull and push of his keys somehow melt the concrete a little bit and the sad tone is one I welcome. It is honest and beautiful and true.

Can you tell Mama is sad?

I heard somewhere that you can sense my emotions and my attitude. I don't feel good about that, but I suppose (if that's true) you are meeting me the most honest way. I love you, little one, but my love is not as deep or as pure or as holy as I want it to be. My love does not lack sadness or pain or doubt. My love for you is complicated and overwhelming and growing faster than I can understand. Forgive me already, little one, for failing at love. You will find soon enough that we all fail at that. But it is a funny thing, Love. Love doesn't need for me to succeed to reach you. These are lessons for other days, lessons we will learn together.

A good friend told me, in moments of mother-to-be panic, I should think about one of your features. She chose fingers and toes. I seem to keep thinking of the wrinkles around your knees. I can't tell you why. Girls do not think fondly of wrinkly knees, but I am thinking about those little creases as all one pound of you stretches and somersaults and grows in new fruit measurements every week.

Can you feel our affection for you?

I've been writing you letters in my head for weeks but I realized you would never read them. I guess today I just really wanted you to know about this accordion man at 42nd Street - Bryant Park. He is wonderful and sad and beautiful. I would love to know what you think of him.

love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

watch over us

In the past couple days, I have:

  • eaten a bag of popcorn for lunch
  • stood out on my fire escape in a snowstorm (a very underwhelming one)
  • used the mom voice to co-workers who are twice my age and raised my mom's teacher eyebrows at them
  • gone to sleep early
  • had weird dream/nightmares about a giant pizza
  • eaten a personal, Brooklyn organic pizza for dinner (with a side of mint chip ice cream)
  • squatted in the middle of a crowded train after shedding a few winter layers - whatever it takes to prevent the unthinkable, folks
  • sang in every room of the apartment
  • talked for 1.5 hours with my uber wise grandparents
  • wrote and performed a rap over skype to my mom's 6th grade class (who are in the middle of a hip-hop unit)
  • spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to coax Baby K into acrobatics with folk music
  • read a bedtime story to my favorite Michigan family, who were all snuggled into my nephew's bed
  • sent a million urgent emails that my office won't read, about what they are supposed to have done by Friday at 3 pm when the plug is pulled on our current office and we move into our new space

And that's just the past couple days and that's not even all of it. I just want to let you in, friend. I wanted you to know it's not all saltines and sadness over here in the big city. Even though it's been awhile since I've successfully buttoned my pants (let's be honest, I haven't done that for a LONG while), we've been able to fit a good amount of laughter into these winter days.

I can actually remember when the first laughter happened, after the very dark night of early pregnancy and the flu. I felt okay when I woke up that Saturday and we woke up slowly, smiling. We ate a bit and I still felt okay. (And all the while inside I was saying, "So far, winning!"). I remember, several times, hearing myself giggle and being surprised. What an unfamiliar sound - that laughter - and oh where has it been?

We ran a few errands and I still felt okay, so we got really ambitious. We went to Long Island City with our heads down against an unforgiving wind to get to my coworker's birthday party. After mingling with the Irish, English, Polish and Spanish accents, we hit up a little cafe in the West Village where our friends were playing. By this time, it was getting respectably late and we were both impressed. On the way to the subway with our silly friends, we stopped to buy what I was craving (Cooler Ranch Doritos) and then took up the whole sidewalk like the younger version of ourselves - up to clean mischief.

I remember thinking how strange it was to be so surprised by my joy - surprised by the sound of laughter and surprised by the feel of a smile stretched across my face. It felt good and illusive all at once, like the longing the C.S. Lewis always talks about.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently, at the suggestion of my therapist. It was called, "Praying our Tears" and I should probably listen to it again. "Expect tears, invest tears, and pray your tears," he said, after reading Psalm 39:12-13 and Psalm 126:1-6.

If we're talking Psalms, there are more lamentations than any other kind. That makes sense to me - the weight of sorrow needs a place to land. The world is brimming full of it, with the words of even one story. And I have a hard time believing there will be a harvest from my sorrow (Psalm 126:5), if I plant my tears. I am okay to let my sorrow be an end in itself - that thing I crawl up inside when nothing makes sense. And I have been struggling to let sorrow and joy live together.

But God says I have to plant my sorrow. As Keller says, "to see my tears as an opportunity for fruit and growth." That's a far cry from where I am now, but I can hear it and that feels like progress. Joy will be the harvest when I plant my tears in compassion for others, in prayer, in love, in patience. Tears actually produce joy, he says. Again, I'm a critic. I believe tears can produce joy (2 Corinthians 4:17), but I am a critic in my weak flesh.

"There's a kind of joy that comes through avoiding tears - that doesn't really change you. Then there's a kind of joy that comes through the tears that does." - Keller

I'm learning.

His last point answers the question, How do we plant our tears? Prayer. Pray everything - all the biggest and worst and most confusing emotions. Pray them with shaking fists and pray them in the hot shower and pray them in confession kneeling in church on Sunday. Pray. Pray for opportunities and direction and fields and the right soil. Pray for strength to throw out the sloppy, wet messes and pray for belief in what is planted. Pray.

Praying has been hard for me. I'm a steadfast, headstrong believer ... but praying is hard sometimes.

This song has been helping. It feels to me like a prayer - one without answers or a lot of boldness, but a prayer that is honest and believing. A prayer that lets me laugh and cry in the same day without having to sort it out.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/l1fq0CiHwLY?t=18s]


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

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.

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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.

a deep and bellowing good

I am not prepared for this, for Advent. Last week we feasted and gave thanks and it was the starkest thanks I've ever offered, I think. It was rickety and raw, like the rusty farm gates on my childhood farm. It was a functional thankfulness that felt very different than singing "Count Your Many Blessings" with all my aunts and uncles and cousins in the basement of Grandpa's house. No less abundant (my head tells my heart) but very much different.

I think that's okay.

A special place had been prepared for each guest and our table boasted a capacity crowd. The whole day was arranging and baking and tasting, folding special printed napkins and finding/ironing the tablecloth we bought at Fat Albert's, the neighborhood "everything" store. Olive branches hung from string lights above us and the Feast of Thanks groove mix mingled between our shoulders.

I blinked it all in behind candlelight and treasured the rickety emotions for later sorting (ahem... still sorting). We represented a collection of states and histories and families and stories, memories and pains and wounds and griefs. But we were all present and belonging at this table set for us.

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There's a little snapshot of the crowd gathered. We were present, each of us breathing and eating under a canopy of twinkle lights in a Brooklyn apartment in the middle of New York.

And now it is Advent - that season where we prepare to remember that God sent His Son to be born into this world. God sent His Son to breathe and cry and joy and struggle and feast and gather and mourn here, on this very earth.

My heart is sluggish and resistant to the idea of anticipation, but just today I realized how I have been very desperately looking for signs of life for a while now... looking for proof that life is good. Not family portrait good or campfire songs good, but a deep and bellowing good - the kind that carves the grooves my grief runs through. And here, in Advent, is God's affirmation.

Earth was not just a good enough place for the Son of the Creator of the Universe. God sent His Son to get bruised knees and dusty feet and a full belly in a place that He still loves, for a people He still loves.

Advent has always been good news of great joy because I remember God's provision in Christ - that God invited us in our sin to meet our Savior. But, this year I needed to feel God's deep and bellowing affirmation that life on earth is not a consolation prize. We are not in a waiting pattern for something better, later, next, sometime, future.

In the middle of strife and sick and thorns and death and my rickety thanks, God is affirming that His redemption has already started. He is still knitting life together in wombs. Today, I heard a heartbeat in mine. That static-y "wooga wooga" sound is nothing like pleasantries and everything like bellowing affirmation.

I signed up for counseling today and my scattered heart needs it, but this was a special kind of therapy in a doctor's office on 46th Street. I was squeezing Patrick's hand and we were both watching life wiggle around inside my belly. "Oh, so active!" they said. We giggled and marveled and asked silly questions. And God affirmed, deeper than all my efforts to be okay or move forward or understand.

And it's all very complicated, but I am holding on to that affirmation that God is making new life, because that somehow affirms all the lives that He is sustaining.

I can't believe I am awake past midnight. Pregnancy is beautiful, but pregnancy is also super weird. At least I had some good Christmas tunes to keep this late night company.

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teach me to know

The trees lit up in shades like candles on a cake in the quiet of Maine. Quiet had a sound on those winding backroads and hiking trails and it was the perfect escape. After work last Friday, Patrick scooped me up into a North-bound surprise in a rented VW Jetta with 21 miles on it. I thought about putting pen to paper a few times, but I didn't. It was a weekend like a benediction, that deserved my palms face up and free of distraction. And I relented. I gave in. I let sunshine joy freckle my cheeks through the windshield and forest joy crunch under my feet and marriage joy come at me from all sides. It has been pressing in for a while now, but I have been resisting. I still am, I guess - resisting joy.

And that's strange because joy has never been this hard... joy is something I thought I really understood. And then I got married. And then my mom called to say my brother died. And now things are complicated. The reality is, things were complicated before, but it felt easier to regulate when I only had to explain things to myself. If I didn't feel joy, I believed it was there anyway and I pushed through with gritted teeth. I sometimes got silent or reflective and I sometimes hid away until the clouds cleared, but I was almost proud that I knew my way around joy.

Now there is someone in my life whose joy is wrapped up in my joy. My sadness and silence and sour days can actually hurt him - that is how much my husband cares about my joy. There are, maybe, legitimate reasons to resist joy (or at least reasons for tension) - like grief. But then there are very selfish and very proud reasons to resist joy and I am ashamed to say I know all the reasons. To make things more complicated, I care about Patrick's joy too. I want him to be full of the most possible joy.

And being married feels like the craziest experiment in the human condition - both the condition of being image bearers of God and the condition of being broken by sin. It's like putting everything most precious to two people inside a clothes dryer and cranking to high heat. Maybe it's not like that. Maybe it's more like what Paul says in Romans, "I do not understand myself. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

I can't tell you how badly I want to step into joy, because I know joy is strength and delight... but also because I know Patrick cares so much about my joy. And it doesn't make any sense to resist it. Not a bit of sense.

We were making our way back to the city on Sunday and the air in that little rental car was getting crowded. As buildings stretched up into skylines instead of trees, I squirmed under the weight of city living. In the last miles of colorful highway driving, I rocked deep to this song - as deep as one can rock in the passenger seat of a traffic jam. My favorite dusk colors were getting painted across the sky and my favorite human was all delight behind the wheel.

The "carried away" part is like the beats of my soul when I resist joy - carried away by questions and doubts and fears and failures. And I can feel my fingernails pressing into my palms. Carried away. The weekend was like a benediction, one I received with open hands and one that made me aware of my everyday posture - the regular way I hold my hands and keep my heart. Ahem... nails in palms and carried away. I swayed extra because I wanted that lesson of open palms and numbering days to get stuck in my soul. Almost a week later and I have bad news to report. Looks like this is a daily declaration, friends. And some days my declaration sounds more like a question.

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I am praying that the Lord would teach me to number my days - not to know how many, but to believe that He does. Praying, believing, trusting, living, believing, praying, hoping, waiting. All these things.

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

 

there is a crack in the door filled with light

If God is on my side, who could be against me?

I'll tell you who - apathy and grief and sadness and confusion and depression and discontent, especially discontent. That's who. These are all "against me."

It's gonna get good and honest, friends. First, you should play this song by NEEDTOBREATHE that I danced to in my living room last week. I didn't even care that the curtains weren't all the way closed and our 5-feet-away neighbors could probably see me stretching out in homemade modern dance moves on slippery hardwood floors. It's okay, they clearly don't care that we can see them.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7IABRTOz0Y]

Well, this is officially the weirdest part of my grief story (does it keep getting weirder?) - the part where I am still living, where I still have appointments and things coming up on the weekends and plans for this summer. This is the weirdest part of grief and it wrings at my insides usually when I am least prepared. Like when we watched a beautiful, northern New York sun sink behind mountains on Sunday or every time I walk in the door after a full day of work and see the excitement in my husband's eyes because I am home.

People will find me after this post - perfectly lovely and well meaning folks - and they will say, "Give yourself time, Caroline. Give yourself grace to feel whatever you need to feel." I get that, or at least I think I am starting to. But, I also feel the Spirit telling me to preach Romans to my fickle heart. Grief isn't a trump card to "do whatever you want until you feel like doing something else." I don't get to sin that grace might increase.

And it isn't all grief. That is the worst part.

I think am afraid of being content. I am afraid, I guess, that being "ok" where I am professionally, creatively, and intellectually means I have given up on everything I haven't accomplished. I think I was/am afraid that this is it. I guess I want what everyone else wants: purpose, joy, fulfillment, significance. And grief makes me want all those things more while sapping my strength to chase like I could when I was less weary. So, I am afraid to be fully where I am if that place is too humble or too confused or even just too regular.

But there is a crack in the door filled with light.

I am learning about joy. There have been sweet times in my life where I think I felt the full freedom of joy and then there are times when I would rather slum it in the wasteland then turn my head towards the light. I would rather proudly declare the things that are dark than step into the light of the open doorway. Marriage is teaching me these things about joy and it is painful. I didn't think I would be so resistant to my own benefit.

Pat is so patient and encouraging as I sort out my grumbles. He reminds me often that joy is a choice because God is not different in dark times. God is not less light or less provision. God is the same and He is all we need to get by, really.

There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament, one of my favorites. It's actually in that long and tedious book of Numbers (21). The Israelites, all grumbles, are out in the desert. The whole freshly exodus-ed group was telling Moses they thought it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to wander around in the wilderness (as free people with miracle food falling from heaven). Then they started to notice snakes at their ankles, snakes that bit people and bites that took their lives. The people came back to Moses and pleaded for him to do something - to speak on their behalf to God (who they knew they had offended). God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole and to tell the people that whoever would look up at the pole would live. And that's what happened - some looked up and some didn't, but the snakes still swerved at their ankles.

I really relate to this grumble-heavy waywardness. After being saved from a tyrant and preserved in the wilderness, the Israelites doubt that God can/will provide for them, for their joy. To experience God's provision, the people had to obey His Word. The snakes stayed, but He saved those who believed His word because God is a promise keeper.

I wonder... I wonder how they talked about that snake-saving event - if later they said, "I am looking at the bronze serpent and I am not dying, but boy are there so many snakes around my ankles." Because, that's where I feel I am.

My pride keeps me from stepping into the light of joy because I really like to remember how hard it is with all these snakes. It's hard to fully step into the provision of marriage joy and work joy and friendship joy and creation joy... because half my heart wants to talk about snakes at my ankles.

The point of "God is on my side" is not that there is no one against me. The point is that God is sovereign over everything that is against me. There is not a single snake or emotion or creative brick wall that is more powerful or able to steal the joy God provides. If God is on my side, which snake can prevail?

I'd like to stand in that crack of the door filled with light - to make statements about joy that aren't quickly qualified by snakes at my ankles. I'd like to bring the grief and grumpiness of me into that shaft of light and believe that His light is  enough to cast out all darkness forever.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

this is my father's world

We are in a class called the Brooklyn Fellows and it meets on Mondays. Last winter, when we were applying to be a part of it, the whole "Mondays" thing was a big deal. It meant we could only host Pancake Mondays once/month. Cutting back on the "thing" that is making me love New York felt like a weird step forward, but we thought meeting with a group of folks who also voluntarily applied to something with a required reading list and syllabus was a good enough idea. This past weekend, we gathered with this group around a long table and before we started our discussion on a very thick Church History book (that neither Patrick nor I finished) we sang this song.

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This group of strangers and friends, this city, this body, this mountain, this sea, this grief, this joy, this song, this day, this sorrow, this job, this sunshine, and this. 

This. All of this.

I know the sound of His sweet song of praise - the melody of rocks and trees and skies and seas. I can recognize the joyful tune that creation sings and I have often sung along. These are words believers sing - strong words that proclaim a funny paradox. None of this is mine. There is not a particle I can claim, of the beauty I see. Even my own body is not my own because it was bought with a price.

Still, I rush all my particles up against the gravity pushing me down to say, "Not my this. Please let this alone so I can hold it close!" That is when I feel the funny paradox the most. None of this is mine, not even the thoughts I hoard like jewels. But all of this He shares with me. That's a lot of this. And it just expanded more than the weight of the world in the last two and a half months.

... That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. 

This is my Father’s world, why should my heart be sad?  The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad. 

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.  In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known. 

This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam  Whate’er my lot, it matters not,  My heart is still at home. 

This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:  Jesus who died shall be satisfied,  And earth and Heav’n be one.

When this includes deserts and wrongs and sadness and battles on battles, the last lines of "My Father's World" become especially important. Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav'n be one. The depth of this is infinitely deeper now because He includes us in His inheritance. Everything I can grasp and hold and hoard in this world pales to that union of earth and heaven becoming one.

But, what I am grappling with today is much more tangible, much more temporary and tactile. There is joy here, in all of this. God did not stop keeping promises when my world got full of grief. He did not stop being abundant life. God did not stop authoring laughter or dancing or sunshine or autumn breezes. He still authors all those things.

This world - all the beauty and all the ugly - is His and He will hear our groans until earth and Heav'n are one. Until then, I will sing, "God is the ruler yet."


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

some kind of heaven provision

The sun's spotlight made the trees in Prospect Park two-tone. Bright, lush green where the last evening rays hit and deep, dark green where night had already set in. We stared up from our little picnic and commented on the pink shading of the clouds. Something about Iceland - the wonder and magic of pure creation - made me more persistent to find beauty here in the city. The sky is the same sky and the sun is the same sun, so there really must be a way to see the wonder and magic of creation here as well. Last night, we did. In the perfect cool of evening, as dusk settled on the typically eclectic Brooklyn crowd, the sounds of Nickel Creek's acoustic genius played with the pink hues in the clouds and the green hues in the trees.

The loose hanging bulb lights felt perfectly lazy, though I know they were intentionally placed. Kind of like Nickel Creek, I guess. The harmonies are so tight and the instrumentals are so on point, but it feels as if they are discovering it in the same moments we are, with an effortless sway.

I had a long week. Super long. And I had worked up some anxiety about some things. Silly things. Anyway, getting off the F train to meet my best friend (who had secured the picnic site, brought the picnic, and owns the best smile I've ever seen) was some kind of heaven provision.

Picnics and musics and talks and walks. These are important summer things and if you haven't had your doses, get 'em while they are hot because summer is not forever!

Seriously, go make this ridiculously simple blueberry-pomegranate frozen yogurt from my friend Lauren's adorable blog, sit out on your porch or stoop or fire escape (in my case) and just soak it in.

There is wonder and magic where you are, too. I promise the same painter painted it all.

the sun will rise

Love as Christ loved. That is the message of Maundy Thursday, the new commandment Christ gave to the disciples in his final, informal sermon. Love one another. He commands it because He knows it can be done, though it is impossible.

We are not naturally lovely people - not naturally kind or caring. We are selfish and proud and have been since that forbidden fruit. We guard our independence and vacation time and personal freedom and charity, considering others sparingly and only when we feel like it. To "love one another" is an impossible command, but Jesus commands it because He knows it is possible. His is a love that can swallow up every force that opposes it, even death.

His is a love that empowers love when the network of human nature fights against it.

Christ shows us love and then commands us to do what only He can make possible in our lives. "Love one another" is not a reason for Easter resolutions or a slogan for social justice. "Love one another" is an impossible command that Jesus obeyed perfectly on the cross, a command that we can obey by way of His righteousness.

Jesus commands us to love one another and then He shows us what love looks like as he lives out the prophecy spoken in Isaiah.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [ISAIAH 53:1-6]

I still do not understand it, but I read myself in these words. I hid my face, esteemed him not, and threw my grief on his bloody back. And today we remember that He was crushed. He was pierced and wounded because of our black hearts and secret sins. Today, we remember the sky went black when death killed the healer.

This is the darkest day, but there is hope on the horizon. There are rays hiding behind the dark sky, lit by the glory of the Creator - our God who knew all along that there would be a resurrection. And the resurrection lights the way for our love of one another.

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because fears repeat

I made a list in the "Notes" part of my phone on the way to work yesterday. I blush reading the words now, because they sound like a high schooler's diary entry, or at least a college freshman. And that is embarrassing when you are 29, I think. I was grateful the strangers crowding my shoulders were strangers - because it would be inappropriate for them to point and laugh about things I should keep hidden. I was getting off at Fulton, anyway, so if they wanted to be inappropriate I wouldn't have to know.

I am good at keeping fears secret. I publish my fears in blogposts (see here and here and here and here), but this week I realized electronic confessions keep a safe distance. After I write out all my wrestling, the fears feel "dealt with."

Turns out, casting out fears (by way of perfect love) is more like turning away stray cats than some other more permanent banishment, like throwing heavy rocks in deep oceans. The fears keep showing up at my door and I keep telling them to go away, because truth says God's love can do that (1 John 4:18).

I believe God's word is true, which is why I end so many of my blogposts with paragraphs that preach back to the way I feel in the first lines. But knowing and believing truth sometimes (often) does not change the way you feel. Not always at least, not for me.

The fears will show up again even after the best, believing "casting out." And when they do - when I open my door to find that same stray meow - my shock gives way to recognition and I start my internal scheming to get rid of it... again.

That's why it feels like high school and college and 5th grade and right now. Because fears repeat. And no matter how many times I act surprised by the scratch at my door, I know I will recognize the meow on the other side.

So, I listed my fears on my phone and then fought back tears in the crowd of strangers trying not to look at me. Truth casted out fears (again) and truth made Friday life abundant.

But I am learning that fears are not "dealt with" ... fears are lived through.

Believing perfect love casts out fear means looking up with the Israelites at that bronze serpent in the desert (Numbers 21) because God keeps His promises. There will always be serpents and stray cats, but there will also be God.

We are one week away from celebrating the way God raised up His Son on the cross so we could look up for an eternal casting out of every fear. This is the kind of freedom that doesn't just "deal with" all the fear we have going on.

This freedom means you can live right through fears without being ruled by them.

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when the Spirit says

I was in the church choir a couple weeks ago and we sang a beautiful song. It had few words, but the melody moved like little children's feet. I could see bodies swaying in my peripheral vision and then I realized my hips were moving, too. It is that kind of song. Our choir director sent us this version to encourage a few minutes of preparation before we came together as a group for the hour rehearsal on Sunday morning.

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I love the simplicity.

It sounds like a child vowing to do a very noble and impossible thing without knowing how impossible it is (but believing the nobility warrants dramatic commitment). Simple, noble, honest, and impossible.

And that little chorus has been playing across my soul for the weeks since. And I started to wonder "when the Spirit says" pray in my life, because those are the times when my dramatic commitment is tested.

Do I become dishonest when I do not pray when the Spirit says pray? Am I less honest when I bury my worries or when I share joys with friends or when I sing grief in sad songs?

Redemption is wrapped up in the "I'm gonna," or at least that's how I read it. Like a child who forgot (again) to clean up his toys or help her brother or stay inside the fence, we look up with round, noble eyes and present our honest "I'm gonna" to the Father who knows how many times we have strayed.

He is the one who makes us honest. Because of redemption, because of His mercies new every morning, we can claim freedom to pray and sing and serve and love and dance in the ways Christ has called us to do those things.

In Christ, our sanctification is a hard and honest refining, a grace covered progress where all our "I'm gonna's" depend on all His "I did's."

 

our striving would be losing

If there ever was someone who deserved the distinction of being absolute, that someone is Jesus. He declared himself the absolute, only way to enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 14:6). In this question, there is no grey area - not a single drop of ying yang to dilute what He has spelled out explicitly in His word. Christ is salvation for those who believe, but salvation is bigger than we think. It is not just a salvation from judgment. Christ's salvation is also salvation into righteousness. In the same moment that He freed us from the bloody (literal) cycle of sacrifices, He freed us into obedience by way of His righteousness. We are no longer ruled by the destruction of our secret hearts and the destruction of our sinful humanity. We are not ruled by the darkness that seems to rule the world.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)

We are freed from judgment by Christ's atoning sacrifice and freed into obedience by Christ's imputing righteousness.

What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because our lives could never stand up to God's righteous judgment. My sin goes before me and follows close behind. The good I want to do gets muddled up in my own schemes and I am daily reminded of my sin that leads to death. I am weak against greed and pride and lust and fear and faithlessness. There is not a day I could stand upright in the face of God's righteous judgment.

But God, being rich in mercy called His children before the foundations of the world into freedom from the judgment that is due our dead bones.

I need for Christ to offer a salvation that is more than just a courtroom scene where He takes my guilty sentence. I need for Him to be the justice I act and the mercy I show and the love I share. I need for Him to be the righteousness that roots out my fear and greed and lust and pride and I need Him as replacement. I need for Christ to be who God sees when I stand before the throne of judgment. AND HE IS, dear friends!

What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because His sacrifice both atones for our sin (receiving the judgment we are due) AND imputes our righteousness (replacing ours with the perfect life Christ lived).

He is the perfect heart condition when I try to muster compassion. He is the perfect generosity when I scrounge for change. He is the perfect host when I frenzy about with overlapping plans. He is the perfect listener, counselor, and encourager when I am trying very hard and very imperfectly to be all those things.

Yesterday, I sang "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" with a group of strangers in a beautiful church near Union Square. This second verse really tore apart my spirit.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

I do a lot of striving - a lot of confiding in my own strength - and none of it gets me closer to a better salvation. Absolutely not one single attempt (or many) at righteousness will be the reason Christ invites or denies me into His kingdom. Because there is only one right Man, a Man of God's own choosing, who has the power and perfection to be condemned in my guilty place so that I can become the righteousness of God. Salvation doesn't get any better than that.

No matter how many hungry folks we feed or naked people we clothe or strangers we invite in, we would never do it perfectly and we would never do it enough. I would never do righteousness enough and (if I could be so bold) you wouldn't either. We are always striving and our striving is always losing, but God made a way for us to be free of judgment and freed to righteousness. And that way is Jesus.

What we believe about Him is the most pressing, most prominent, most permanent thing today. He makes perfect all our imperfect attempts because He gave us His righteousness. We are freed from striving for perfection and freed from losing at that game. We are freed into obedience because salvation doesn't depend on our righteous performance. Salvation depends on the cross and Christ performed that perfectly... so that we could enter into His joy and invite others to the banquet table to meet the Man of God's own choosing.

As I click at my keyboard, wet and sloppy tears are tracking through the blush on my cheeks. Everything is snot-messy because salvation will always be a mystery. I don't understand why I get to know Christ. I don't understand why my sin does not banish me forever from His presence. I don't understand why I never have a better response. I don't understand why my daily song doesn't sound like worship. I don't understand why my heart can be so resistant to miracles.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)

looking for a pilot

"To lament is to be utterly honest before a God whom our faith tells us we can trust." from Journey to the Cross, lent devotional

When I am utterly honest, my lamenting needs trustworthy ears. If I am going to tell true words - even if they are scary or joyful or heavy or childlike - I need to tell them to the most trustworthy sort. And this is my journey through Lent, toward the throne of grace with confidence to lay down the burdens Christ wants to bear. This week the theme is lament.

I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest. I can and should lament the stretching divide my honesty reveals - all the ways I am an imperfect human. But I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest.

I can hear myself giving encouragement about honesty to close friends, "If you are truly honest, though your sadness will be great, your gladness will be greater."

I still think that's true. We should never sugarcoat struggle or sorrow or sin. We should not try to "get by" with whitewashed smiles and mustered courage. We should be honest about brokenness and shortcomings and tired bones.

We should be honest because He is trustworthy and ready to hear the deepest laments of our souls. If you're like me, the lamenting process will make you want to follow someone - it will make you desperate to be swept up into someone else's plan, someone whose plan doesn't muck up or peter out or fade to gray.

Lamenting my own depravity during Lent is like opening my eyes to find how far I've foolishly paddled out to sea in my little rowboat. And it makes me look for a pilot.

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near to Jesus

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion on Matthew 24:15-28 last night, I realized how different it feels to be near to Jesus in Lent. In Epiphany, I was jostling with the crowds to get nearer the miracle. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, trying to decipher the beauty and mystery of the God man. In Epiphany, I wanted to be near when Jesus touched lepers and saved harlots and spoke beauty and explained Truth. I wanted to be near Him like I wanted to be near beauty and like a magnet He pulled my soul closer.

In Lent, being near Jesus feels different because it means walking with Him to death.

He is no less beautiful or miraculous or True, but it feels somber to be beside Him as we go. I know it is for me that we're on this journey - for my sin and hard heartedness that He has to set his eyes like flint on Jerusalem.

But I still want to be next to Him and I only want to be next to Him.

That is the repeat phrase I heard myself say after we finished prayers and I started off toward home last night. All those street preachers are right, at least partially: there is an end to this world and it is serious business. And in the end, I want to be found next to Christ - tucked under His provision and snuggled right up to His beauty when all that is somber thunders down.

If Christ is the most beautiful thing when the world folds in on its own desires, then He is definitely the most beautiful thing about this Wednesday morning.

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honesty about sin means honesty about salvation

I read this gem in my Lent devotional this morning, from philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard:

“Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.”

I don't like thinking about my sin, even though it seems I'm always aware of it and always fighting shame against it. But it is a private shame, one I push beneath workflow and to the corners of social plans. I don't like that I stumble and fail and forget lessons I learned the hard way. I don't like that I require crazy amounts of patience from God, as He reteaches my heart to submit and love and serve and obey.

But, when I finally speak my sin into the light I realize how much energy I spent keeping it in the dark. Not that my efforts to hide selfishness and pride can keep anything from my Maker (and, of course I know that), but shame is a great and sly motivator.

When I confess my sin, I distance myself from any identity associated with rebellion and lean on the identity of the One who saves. But this relief only comes by way of honest confession.

So many times, I will kneel in church or pause for prayer and search my mind for something to confess. Satan somehow clears all the sin I have been shamefully hiding and replaces that elephant space in my mind with silent whiteness. My thoughts don't even wander, there is just nothing there at all. Later, of course, the sins creep out from the corners to remind me that I am unworthy.

My heart needs confession (honesty about my sin) because my heart desperately needs forgiveness (honesty about salvation).

There is just no way around it, but there is also no greater glory to be found. God welcomes our confession and exchanges us a crown. He covers us in His grace and grants us inexplicable joy.

He leads us like a shepherd and chases us when we stray. What a beautiful friend we have in Jesus, friends - that He would chase down a forgetful and frightened heart to offer perfect freedom from shame.

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because we have song, they said

The birds sang all over my coffee this morning, through the open window by the fire escape. I wish I knew their song. It seems like creation doesn't hold back or get nervous or feel awkward about its praise. It's just the song inside and the only way is out.

The sunrise and the starlight and the sparrows under God's watchful eye, all just singing out the songs buried inside. If I imagined myself into conversation with the birds outside my window and I asked them why they sang, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if they would think me silly and simple minded when they reply,

"...because we have song."

This is the only option, but it is also the best and I love that the birds know that, and the mountains know that, and the life inside dead tree branches know that. Creation sings without shame or fear, but not to get glory.

Creation sings because the Creator gave them a song. And when creation sings, the songmaker is glorified.

I have a song inside, between doubts and delights and deserts. But the song is not for me. The singing is not so I can hear my own voice, but because I have a song. This, so that God would be glorified and others would see that I am also a part of the Spring chorus of sunlight and starlight and sparrows letting loose melodies into the sky.

Happy Sabbath day, friends.

all the rightness I am not

The ash on his thumb was black and wet and when he rubbed it across my forehead I really did feel like I came from dust. The priest's words, "From dust you came and from dust you shall return" felt like a confirmation of something I try to forget on the regular. I was working late Ash Wednesday night, so I went with a coworker to the noon service at the local Catholic church. She knew all the right hand motions, so I just followed close behind. No one seemed to think it was weird to have a blonde-haired, non-Catholic stranger visiting their bilingual service.

And so the Lent season began. Now, here we are in the middle and I am tempted to rush these 40 days.

If I am honest, I feel ripe for a celebration and that doesn't fit with this somber, Lenten attitude. I crammed introspection into commutes leading up to Wednesday because I didn't want to be hasty or thoughtless about this season. I fought for brain space between subway rappers and social media distractions because I wanted to be the right kind of prepared.

I don't know if I accomplished all the necessary Lent preparations. I had some conversations, made some pancakes, heard some sermons, and sang some songs. But then that priest told me I was dust and I knew he was right.

And I knew I could never be the right kind of prepared, at least I don't think so. God is just calling me to say "Yes" to all His rightness. My heart looks like my apartment right now - boxes and disorder and confusion - but I don't need to get right in these 40 days or in preparation for them.

I need to believe Christ is all the rightness I am not.

I need to follow Christ into the desert, to fast from distractions and feast on the Word, because He is all the rightness I am not. He is all the order I cannot muster and all the beauty I cannot duplicate.

I was truly unprepared in every way for these Lent feelings. I am the wet, black ash smeared across my forehead and there is nothing I can do to get more right. But God, in His grace is all the rightness I am not. He makes a way for me to feast as I fast. He makes a way for the lowly and the weak to praise His name.

Whoa. whoa. whoa.

I can stretch into that kind of praise, with a heart that looks like a hurricane and a house that looks haphazard. I can sing this song with a full heart and know that the God who formed me from dust hears my humble song!

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