the habit of meeting together

Winter is not in my marrow this year and I am trying to figure out why it bothers me so. I like a snow that settles fast and deep like a feathery blanket, and then fades without a slush parade. The snow of this winter is just exactly the way I like it and today felt like April. But discomfort better suits the Lenten season; the chill in my marrow is its perfect pair. O, Lent. Old, steady, dark, and stubborn friend.

This is the season of giving up and taking up and pressing in. I added that - the pressing in. My soul is weary of resolutions and restrictions. I hear Grover saying, "Neeeeeeeear" ........ "Faaaaaaaar," and this is my Lent dance - searching for the Lord and pressing in, getting near, bending toward, listening.

And meeting.

I joked with some guests recently that we host 10-15 times a week. We laughed because there are seven days and that's silly... but there are also mornings, noons, and nights. There are coffees and teas and stop bys. There are neighbors and strangers and friends. And there is this little human named Zella Ruth, always bending out of the hold on my hip to see who will open the door next.

She has a shoebox in the kitchen with jar lids, measuring spoons and a hot and sour soup container. She spends a lot of time with that shoebox because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen because Team Kolts is in the habit of meeting together. In the first months of our marriage, we struggled to agree on our definitions of "an open door." One night, I was angrier than I ever remember being in my entire life - so angry I felt heat puffing out my ears and we called an emergency counseling session with our pastor the next day (silly story about a couch, not even really worth re-telling).

All these ... months later, we weekly compare notes to see who we've invited over and daily check in about who might be stopping by. *I got a text while writing this and now a friend is staying with us for the weekend. Don't worry - no hot ears.

Lent is pressing in.

And I am holding fast the confession of my hope without wavering. I'm praying for the unwavering part, actually. But there is something so irreplaceable about meeting together. I remember an exasperated mom at the dentist's office asked my parents once, "How'd you get your five kids to turn out alright?" And my parents said something like, "It was the Lord... but we did go to church every Sunday."

It was never about attendance. It was about the habit of meeting together and I think I am starting to feel the best weight of that.

Hebrews 10:24-25, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

I need this preached to me - I need to hear this good news that there is hope, the good news that God is faithful. And I need to preach the same.

Our pastor spoke recently about salvaging the word "preaching." He said that we need to both hear and speak true words to each other, the good news that God says we matter and that what we do matters. We need to hear and speak the true words that the pain and hurt of this world needs to be reckoned with and has been already in the person of Jesus.

Sometimes I preach to Zella. Nose to nose, I sing into closed eyes and (sometimes) her open mouth wail, "...I'll be satisfied as long, as I walk let me walk close to Thee." If she can't hear the good news in it, I do. "Thro' this world of toil and snares, If I falter, Lord, who cares? Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee."

After Will died, I needed preaching. I needed true words, simple words of hope and peace and kingdom come. I needed Jesus more and above anything else.

Lent is pressing in and I need the habit of meeting together to keep happening in my living room. I need friends who come looking for prayer and neighbors who accept invitations to dinner. I need conversations in kitchens and I need walks in the park. I need to be pressed farther up and further in, where the preaching is desperate because the siren song is too strong to stop.

Her eyelashes are like branches now, shading those sweet cheeks from winter skies gray. We ventured out on Ash Wednesday and Zella Ruth made irreverent babbles throughout the somber liturgy. She didn't know Lent was pressing in, but I hope she felt something of the ash on her head and the silent exit from the meeting together.

I can't seem to shake this Ash Wednesday prayer and especially that this liturgy assumes a gathering.

The Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

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.

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.

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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joy, the rhythm of God's metronome

Yes, Schmemann, I believe it is. Joy is the Christian answer to the "serious problems" of life itself. But it can't be faked or smashed into a day that looks in on itself. Joy cannot get celebrated when it is about a birthday or about a national holiday or about vacation time. Joy is the answer to the serious problems of life because it is always looking to Christ - back to the work of the cross that looks forward to our hope of eternity. Joy is our anticipation of what we taste but cannot grasp on this side of heaven.

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all this tomfoolery

"Gardiner and Theobald.""Yes, hello, may I speak to Mary Smith please?"

"Sure! May I tell her who is calling?" "Yes, it's John Doe. How are you doing today?"

"Oh, I'm doing fine. How are you? Let me see if I can reach her for you." "That would be so great. Thank you so much."

...

"John, I'm not able to reach her at her desk, would you like her voicemail?" "You know what? I'll just send her an email. I guess I really just miss talkin' to people, you know? Thank you so much. Have a great day!"

The conversation happened at 10:09 am and I thought about it until I left the office. I don't know who John Doe is (and that's obviously not his name) and I don't know why he needed to talk to Mary Smith (also not her name) at my office and I definitely don't know why he told me (the unnamed receptionist screening calls all day like a boss) about his desire for human connection.

I tried to answer calls a little differently the rest of the day, more like a human and less like a robot. Sure, I already have my favorites. There's the guy who calls from NBC who has the kindest voice and the absolute best lilt to his phone pleasantries. Then there's the guy on the 15th floor with the exaggerated English accent that rolls out into a musical melody. But, most of the calls I answer during the day make both of us sound like robots. We go through the call/response like office liturgy, an ode to the places we work in order to spend time in the places we don't.

But, it's kind of nice to be a robot. I mean, I can triple multi-task now - answer phones, redirect calls, create fedex shipments, all while carrying on a halting conversation with my coworker about the benefits of oregano oil. I'm not sure if I can do any of those multi-tasks super well if I do them all at once, but that's where the robot benefits come in: things get done.

Anyway, John Doe's phone call this morning really rattled me up. Just yesterday, I was talking to my coworker (in one of those halting conversation beneath the mounds of multi-tasks) about how incredible it is to have language - letters and words and symbols that smash together into phrases and sentences that explain the reality we walk inside everyday.

What is more incredible to me, today at least, is that we have an emotional attachment to that language. We want to speak and be understood, to listen and to comprehend. And all this tomfoolery with email and text messages and electronic robottery makes us feel like we're missing something pretty elemental. Sure, we might lose some efficiency, but I'm not sure what we gain is "worth it" in the long run.

Maybe it is and maybe this is just another rant against technology. But I get you, John Doe. I like to hide behind typed words for efficiency's sake and for anonymity and for the protection of it, but sometimes I just really miss talking to people.

I'm going to try to do that more, so thanks for the inspiration, caller-I-will-never-meet. I am literally off to (my friend's) Grandmother's house in the country tonight, where the old-fashioned kind of communication is going to make a lot of sense. Maybe I'll pick up a few pointers the city has forgotten.

squash for zucchini | another episode of pancake mondays

I still want to make this recipe from Girl Versus Dough for zucchini corn pancakes, but it didn't happen last night because Patrick couldn't find zucchini when he went on the Pancake Mondays grocery run. I was gone from 7:01 am to 6:20 pm yesterday and Pancake Mondays technically starts at 7:30. I received the "zucchini not found" SOS text before I left work, so I picked up what I could find (butternut squash - same gourd family, right?) with a gift card from the wedding. Every recipe seems to go that way on Mondays - a little bit prepared, a little bit improvisation, and a lot of Amelia Bedelia when measuring, substituting, and smooshing a small crowd of helpers into our Brooklyn hallway/kitchen. It's good to be in the new swing of things, hosting friends, neighbors and strangers as a full fledged duo.

Our good friend Joel arrived early and insisted on cutting peppers and doing dishes. Patrick handled the bacon (as per usual) and also all the apartment clean up (as per the new usual and my sanity). We met several new neighbors, who just graduated from FIT and who heard about Pancake Mondays from our other neighbor Elsa. She has been known to promote our little breakfast-for-dinner gathering to anyone who will listen. Elsa reminds me of my grandma, and not just because she brought over the most adorable wedding gift (a set of towels), but also because her kind smile makes me sure she loves well. Our friend Ben provided philosophical kitchen banter and our friends Aaron and Christina came over from Patrick's old apartment building to complete the crowd.

This is the stuff of Mondays.

Zucchini corn pancakes morphed into butternut squash griddle cakes with roasted peppers, southwestern black beans, sour cream and salsa. We dreamed up the bacon fried brussel sprouts for our gluten-free friend. And then when people kept hanging around, I sent out green grapes, watermelon and homemade orange julius for dessert. I love it when the kitchen feels like a restaurant. Anyone who insists on helping will hear me ask from the kitchen, "How does it look out there?" and "What do people need?"

My fondness for a full house and abundant table probably comes from my Grandma Avonell. Her eight children remember well her grace in adding places to the large oval table that now sits in my parents' dining room.

We don't have a large oval table (it would never fit if we did) and I'm sure I don't have her grace, but every place we live will definitely have an open front door for neighbors, strangers, and friends. The joy of hosting gatherings is really too much to keep it closed, anyway.

According to our marriage manifesto, item number 7: we will host Pancake Mondays at least once/month. According to marriage manifesto, item number 3: we will never get cable. I think the two are probably related - with such brilliant company, I don't know how anything could be better entertainment.

 

tiny and giant, fast and slow

I watched the silhouette stride across the three mammoth windows of Grand Central Station - just a tiny stick of shadow making its way through giant panes of light. Nobody minds when someone stands still in the middle of Grand Central because everyone is either a commuter or a tourist. Commuters rarely pause and tourists rarely speed. The two kinds of Grand Central Stationers coexist easily and well, as long as they respect the plaid crossing pattern when they do decide to move. You know the pattern I mean, right? I remember it from marching band and 5th grade choir concerts. One line of people meets another line of people at a diagonal and when the lines intersect, the people alternate so both lines pass through toward different directions. Anyway, that's how movement happens in the Station and it is a wonder to observe. Diagonals on diagonals and motion on motion and it all buzzes like a beehive of ambition toward productivity of work or play.

And above all the commotion was this solitary figure last night, the tiniest silhouette framed by summer evening city light.

I straddled the world between tourist and commuter (because I am rarely fully either) and tilted my head toward my right shoulder to consider what tiny looks like against giant and what fast looks like inside slow. It was probably foolish, stopping like that for no reason.

But I can't shake the mystery of feeling both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

Living in the city is like that for me. It is why my body felt like a hundred dead weights by the time I reached my apartment door with groceries last night and it is also why I went on a bike ride with my husband to listen to jazz in a tea room an hour later. The perfect sunset breeze, an upright bass, and the best conversation over a decaf cappuccino is what summer date nights are made of.

And so we rush a little bit to slow down a lot. We subway scurry home from work and we bike to lazy trumpet sounds. It is like the calm, steady stride of a silhouette in giant train station windows above a frenzy of motion - both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

truth is like gravity

C.S. Lewis calls it "chronological snobbery." I call it imagined progress or fake sanctification or foolishness. His words are better, I know (are we surprised?). He only needed two words to pinpoint our pride in the tick marks of a timeline, but I'm going to use this whole blog post to pound out my thoughts. We are not the Israelites complaining in the desert and we are not Hitler's Germany in 1914 and we are not our more segregated relatives and we are no longer our 15-year-old selves. Chronology cancels things out - time does not allow us to live in minutes that have already passed.

But chronology does not cancel out Truth.

Truth is always the same because God is always the same. What was true for the Israelites and wartime Germany and Rosa Parks and high school youth group - all of that is true right now, because truth does not change. Humanity is depraved and that depravity rears its ugly head in every generation. We will always fall short, always fail at perfection, always choose our own way. But God, being rich in mercy...

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

Somehow, with all our progress, we have not developed out of a need for salvation and we never will. We still very much need God to be rich in mercy. We will always need for Him to show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes, it seems like our tendency is to talk down to our 15-year-old selves - like the truth we heard in our youth was too simple, too naive, and too old-fashioned. It is tempting for my generation to look back on history and be proud that we don't segregate water fountains or worship golden calves or let our taxes build incinerators. But truth doesn't change like gravity doesn't change. It just is. We will always need salvation and we will always need truth - the same truth the Israelites needed and the same truth Hitler needed and the same truth my youth pastor taught my 15-year-old self every Sunday night.

Depravity needs truth and truth never changes. We should be neither proud of our progress nor discouraged by our sinful state because depravity has an antidote. We are sanctified from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), but it is more like lights turning on in a farmhouse than mile markers passed on a highway.

We are not better than our ancestors or our younger selves; we all are faced with the same Truth. Little children and old grandparents and 15-year-olds in youth group and post modern hipsters in Brooklyn - by God's grace we can all know the kind of truth that sets us free. And the truth of Jesus Christ never changes, ever. As we mature and grow in knowledge of the Lord, we are diving deeper into the same well.

If I read Ephesians 2 every day, I would be overwhelmed by the same Truth - different lights in the same house of my soul and none of the lights would cancel out.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:8-22 ESV)

These are my morning musings - the things I can pound out in the 30-45 minutes before leaving for work. I do not pretend they make every kind of sense, but I do hope they inspire thought and response and a deeper examination of the Word. 

miracles trump excuses

The morning is waking up and there are horns bleating outside the front window. Every several days, someone blocks the one-way road and the traffic behind that someone alerts the whole neighborhood of the inconvenience. But I'm inside listening to William Fitzsimmons so that somehow makes me immune to early morning annoyance. It is Friday and there are Iowans invading NYC to see the Mayor and his team play tonight at Madison Square Garden, Spring keeps promising to be around the corner, and the work day will be short because other work days this week have been long. Today is good because it is today, because there is provision in sunshine and life and breath and being. Today is already good before it begins.

But today, I am still percolating a Monday conversation - still stewing about what it means to consider others' needs ahead of mine in the context of city life and neighbor life and human life. How do I walk with Jesus to the cross as He made himself nothing in service to others? How do I forsake all else so that the love of Christ might be known?

There are excuses and legitimate ones, like exhaustion and safety and schedules and mental stability. We put ourselves first because we are too overwhelmed by lights and noise and commotion to do anything else. But, I am taking the legitimate excuses of city living and raising them a miracle. If excuses played poker, I think they might always go "all in" but they would definitely lose against miracles.

Miracles trump excuses.

I can always put myself next because miracles trump excuses and the keeper of miracles has called me His child. I am not invincible - I require sleep and quiet time and sunlight. I am not invincible, but God is and His portion is big enough to overflow mine.

I need to learn how to love others when it is inconvenient and when it is not self advancing and when it is painful and when it does not make sense - not because I am trying to be superhuman, but because I believe that miracles trump excuses. God provides the energy and wisdom and abundance and joy and this miracle overcomes every excuse like a tidal wave. We are freed from the striving that would be losing, so that we can share the burdens of others.

The weekend is dawning and I am already looking to the coconut cornmeal pancakes I will make for the next Pancake Mondays. I will probably still be percolating this community idea when the neighbor crowd gathers around the toppings to talk about city living.

What are your thoughts, friends?

Why is it so hard to put ourselves second or third or fourth (with joyful hearts)?

a series of unfortunate events & my favorite human

Do you have a favorite human? Before you all say, "Jesus" in the spirit of Lent... let me give you spiritual immunity to choose someone else. Favorites have always been really difficult for me - if you ask for my favorite musical artist, I would ask you in what genre. If you ask for my favorite food, I would ask you baked or cooked. If you ask for my favorite season, I would ask in what location.

Favorites are hard, but my favorite human is becoming an easier question to answer. I still have many favorite people, but there is some significance in being able to say there is one person who is my favorit-est.

Last night, I walked in to my apartment feeling very defeated after two weeks of restless/little sleep, a frenzied work and social schedule, and all my life packed away in separate and sealed plastic bags. I have been keeping this nitty-gritty life news off the blog because it's embarrassing and because it didn't seem appropriate to publicize my misfortune. Now that (it seems) my apartment is in the clear, I will cautiously share the series of unfortunate events that led to my confident conclusion that Patrick Kolts is my favorite human.

You might remember that for the last couple weeks we have been hosting Pancake Mondays at Patrick's apartment (which is conveniently and miraculously 2 avenues from mine). Previously, I had been inviting the neighbors in my building via handwritten postcards taped to their doors. I also invited folks who lived in the neighborhood, the security guard at my school, my coworkers, church friends, and really anyone who was curious. And they came. And it was beautiful. Some nights, we had a full crowd of folks who stayed for board games after all the pancakes were passed around. Other nights, we had more intimate gatherings around our little table.

Every Monday on the other side of our open apartment door, there were pancakes and toppings and bacon. Patrick came over to fry the bacon and share hosting duties and my roommates were unbelievably gracious with all the shenanigans. Tam orchestrated the tiny bowls that held all the toppings and Elise whipped up vegan pancakes on several occasions. We didn't have much to offer, but the bacon smell wafting through the open door was enough to draw them in and the conversation was enough to keep them.

We did not apologize for all the things we couldn't offer our guests and instead offered everything we had with the biggest neighborly smiles.

Then, about a month ago, I was writing a blog in my bed when I looked down to find a bug on my shirt. Bed bugs. My New York initiation continues. Apartment hunting, root canal, commuting woes, and now what most natives call the apartment dweller's worst nightmare. The next morning the bug was confirmed and over the next 48 hours I heard stories from plenty of folks who told me my life would be literally and figuratively turned upside down to get rid of those little devils. Awesome.

The worst of it, among drying every item of clothing at high heat and stuffing every belonging into sealed plastic bags, was that my favorite part of living in the city (hosting) would not happen for awhile. Well, it was a lot of worst, honestly. The time it took to dig through multiple plastic bags every morning for something presentable to wear to work, the skeptical stares of people who kept their distance because they knew my "situation," the paranoia about every piece of fuzz and every person in the subway... all of it was worst, but God is gracious.

The exterminator came and went the first time with a list of instructions several pages long and additional instructions to complete before he came a second time. And life did not stop. I didn't tell people because I felt ashamed and awkward. We just kept trying to keep up with the city pace - work, outings, and winter hibernation. I slept on the loveseat and on air mattresses that never seemed to stay inflated. And I faked it a lot. These are the times when you claim the joy you cannot feel. These are the times you test the full commitment of your dependence. Mine failed often, but God's grace held me up.

In the middle of all this, my pastor asked the Pancake Mondays crew to host a pancake feast at the church before Lent started and we did. We flipped pancakes for around 130 people and they smeared fresh whipped cream, jams, coconut, chocolate chips, and syrup all over the tops. It felt crazy, but it also felt really good. Long tables with vases of flowers and crayons, filled with people fellowshipping over a pancake feast. It felt perfect, actually.

The very next night, we shifted Pancake Mondays over to Patrick's apartment and had an unbelievable turnout from his building. They loved his handmade invitations and the pancakes and the conversation around his coffee table. And so it has gone for the past three weeks - every week has blessed us in new ways. New neighbors, new friends, new conversation and inspiration and new encouragement to our weary spiritual bones. I guess I can just speak for myself, but all these things are more true than the words I am writing.

The exterminator came and went the second time and told us we could start moving our belongings back on Thursday. We held our breath for signs of the bed bugs that would prevent any unpacking of plastic. No signs.

Meanwhile, I slept little and spent even less time in my room because the sight of piled plastic bags and a deflated air mattress was more than my spirit could bear. That brings me to last night, when I staggered into the apartment after work around 7 pm, carrying several bags of groceries for my early Friday morning staff appreciation event.

My roommates were mid-giggle when they suggested I go in to my room. There, I found my old bed replaced with a new bed, a new carpet, lamp, and bathmat. And I just stood there weeping with my coat still on and my bags still in hand. I was so tired I could only think about crawling into that new bed and sleeping for two days.

Patrick had asked me that morning what he could do to help and I told him I wished I knew what I needed. Well, it was that bed. I needed to sleep and I didn't realize how much I needed it until I almost made a puddle of tears on the floor, where all the plastic bags still sat. He knew what I needed even when I didn't know how to ask for it.

"This man," I thought, "He is my favorite human."

As it turns out, this whole ordeal is not just an exercise in willpower and stamina. It is not just another in series of unfortunate events that have initiated me into New York City. It is not just something I had to "get through" in full survival mode.

The Lord is good. He is gracious and He is faithful.

The Lord reminds me often that He is the best host. He is the best at throwing parties and loving neighbors and giving things away. He wrote the book on hospitality and His well is so deep that it is never empty. There is always pancakes and always bacon and always conversation and always love in His house. His pockets are deep.

God does not depend on the circumstances to be just right. When you own everything, the circumstances are always just right.

It was never my apartment or my idea or my food or my doorway or my energy. He is the provider with access to all provision and He never withholds any good thing from His children. All the abundance of blessings that have come in the three weeks of bed bug-induced mayhem are overwhelming and each one had everything to do with God's hosting abilities and nothing to do with mine. Inside this series of unfortunate, new-to-the-Big-Apple events God never withheld a single good thing from me. 

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11

He protects and blesses and sustains and cheers with an abundance that made me weep at the sight of a new bed last night. And these are growing pains, in a spiritual sense. I will never learn His provision completely or depend on Him perfectly and that is okay.

He is the best host and we are always invited in to His house to learn this lesson over again.

#callingmeout

Oh, hey Lent devotional on the first day of Spring. #callingmeout

Our consumerism is rooted in a lack of faith. We are worried about what others think because we are not convinced that God delights in us (Psalm 149:4). We are anxious because we do not believe God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:32). We vie for attention because we do not think God rewards what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6). We compare ourselves to others because we forget that Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). A consumer is self-seeking because he is preoccupied with building his own kingdom in order to meet his own needs. During Lent, Jesus especially calls us to re-right our lives, to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Spring is here, officially. That's what the calendar says, anyway. I want so badly for winter to be over - to emerge from all the caves we've been hiding inside. But when I read this paragraph this morning, I realized winter cannot be the scapegoat for a wayward heart.

I am a worried, anxious, attention-seeking, comparison complexing, self-seeking consumer. I can blame it on winter, but I would be wrong. Because I can lack faith in the middle of the best blooming Spring the same way I can lack faith in the wake of a forever winter.

This is the beauty of Lent, in the "re-righting" of our lives, God invites us to believe that He is full of miracles to overflow every season. Every season, miracles. Every season, faithfulness. Every season, provision. Every season, righteousness. Every season, abundance.

Every season, always joy.

I may not feel like pastel colors and singing in the rain, but God's offer of abundance is not based on my feelings or my willingness to accept it. God's offer of abundance is based on His goodness and I am missing out to believe in anything else. I am missing out because nothing else will fill me up and nothing else will give an overflow I can pour out in service to others.

The grace of God turns us into servants. Instead of demanding that we be served, we joyfully lay down our rights and seek to serve God and others.

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*Excerpts from this Lent Devotional, Journey to the Cross.

choosing Love

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Something about leaving my dentist appointment in Chinatown to wait impatiently for the J train at Canal Street with my large Starbucks and NY Times made me feel especially New York this morning.

It's all a miracle - the dentist in Chinatown, the daily subway navigation, the insurance coverage, the dreamy roommate situation, and the two avenues between Patrick and me. These are all daily, mysterious miracles from a gracious God who sees me in the middle of all these city lights.

But, I have also felt especially Austin and especially Chicago and especially Tegucigalpa  and especially Ames and especially Des Moines in the recent string of years and God's grace has pursued me in every location with daily, mysterious miracles. I have not found God to be less wonderful or faithful or beautiful in any of these locations, but more so.

My pastor recently shared a story about the first time he saw the mountains. After a long road trip with friends, he finally saw the sharp peaks stretch out into the sky and they were all overwhelmed with emotion. Words didn't seem to fit the new beauty standing like stone giants in front of them.

And then my pastor asked if we should have a similar response as we step into a crowded morning subway car. We all laughed because that's ridiculous, but then we all got silent.

Because if we really believe humanity is as special as God claims - that He breathes life into our bones and thought into our brains and movement into our muscles to give Him glory in a way the rest of creation cannot - then every human is marvelous.

People ask me, "How do you like New York?" And I promise I'm not copping out when I say, "I choose to love it."

I'm not saying something between the lines or hinting something inside those five words. I am just saying that loving New York is a choice and I am honest about choosing it.

I choose to love the crazy crowds of people and the commute (a fight I lose on the regular) and the millions of possibilities for social plans and the red hot ambition of artists and entrepreneurs and Wall Street analysts. I choose to love my neighbors and my strangers and my friends. I choose to love the sunlight through my third floor window and our little house plants and the guys who smoke weed in our stairwells.

But, I am learning about choosing love and about miracles and about all that makes creation marvelous.

Because my arms have not been twisted into this love and my days are not full of resignation, though my writing might read that way. I wish you could stand in the kitchen with me on a Monday night or sit at my desk with me during a crowded lunch period or sing next to me in Williamsburg during Sunday morning church or stumble up the subway steps at Winthrop on my way back home - then you would know what a joy it is to choose to love this place, full of marvelous people God created with great intention and care.

I choose to love NYC because this city is lovely. Depraved and thoughtful and broken and inspired and lost and scarred and... lovely. Love here (and everywhere) is not an emotion I can muster from my heart or an action I can force from my hands. It is what happens when you stand in front of a breathtaking miracle (and a crowded subway of them) and let awe seep out of your soul.

Choosing to love is believing all that God has said about humanity, and then believing Christ (on the cross) overcame my every desire to live like the opposite.

claiming the abundance I cannot feel

This post is part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, scroll down to find out more! I moved here in the sweltering heat of August for all the wrong reasons. Well, for the one main reason most rational people would caution you against moving across the country.

I moved to New York City for love.

It happened fast, but it had been building for something like 10 years so it didn’t feel completely irresponsible to fall in love with my best friend who showed up on my doorstep in Des Moines, Iowa after a year of not speaking to say “I love you.” (Yes, he led with that.)

The excited mess of planning over late night skype calls felt very silly and romantic. I flew out to visit and again for job interviews - a guest in his high-powered and hipster concrete city. I sold my car and purged my belongings, keeping important things like handmade crafts from high school and souvenirs from service trips. I finagled vacation time and work schedules and organized all the little roots I spread out in the two years of life in Iowa. I held my breath, quit my job, bought my ticket to La Guardia, and then found out I had an offer to start on the exact weekend I would be arriving in Brooklyn.

In March, it will be a year since that cold, brown night on my doorstep on Dunham Avenue. I feel pretty reckless and young and silly sometimes, but I am not a stranger to adventure. I chase it and it chases me, on the regular. That's part of what makes Patrick and me a pretty perfect pair. We both love adventure.

But this is different. 

There is something very vulnerable about involving another person in my adventure - something unnerving about another someone walking through the good days and the bad days and caring which kind of day it was. I slip into silence often. I shake off questions I can't give good answers to. I stack my schedule with good things. I slide into smiles when I can't find anything better to do.

This year I learned I am picky about my adventures and selfish about how I would like them to play out. When I've had enough adventure, I want the freedom to hide away without anyone wondering why I'm hiding or where. I want to be reckless on my own schedule and I moved to a city where it could be done. Selfish recklessness. Self-centered, ambitious adventure. 

Sometimes, inside adventure, I am especially aware that nothing can be poured out from emptiness. No matter how many times you tip over an empty cup, nothing will always come out. Because we cannot make something from nothing, only God can do that.

Only God can take what is empty in me and fill it with abundance. But He is not just able, He has promised. Christ came to bring life abundant (John 10:10). God loves to give good gifts to His children who ask (Matthew 7:11), because He is the only One who can give good gifts (James 1:17). These truths remind my soul I cannot conjure up abundance on my own.

God promises to fill me up when adventure has left me empty and when I want to hide away. And I believe it. He promises that in His presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) and He will give us the desires of our hearts if we are delighting in Him (Psalm 37:3-4).

I can choose to believe the abundance I cannot feel.

And the most beautiful thing about abundance (apart from the miracle that it can happen in empty space) is that it cannot be contained. Overflow pushes out beyond boundaries. An abundant life reaches beyond self and into the lives of others with the good things I cannot own or create.

I am daily aware of my emptiness in Brooklyn and the emptiness of selfish adventure. But the bigger adventure and the greater delight is in adventuring while believing God for the next step. I can claim His promises of abundance when I feel most empty, because He is a promise keeper. He will not only fill me up, but He will overflow my life into joyful relationship with neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow adventurers. He is abundance and today I am believing.

Patrick is still my favorite person to adventure with. Heck, he is kind of my favorite person all together (I don't know anyone else who would consistently walk me home at 2, 3, and 4 am). But this empty-to-abundance thing is something only God can offer and we both need that on a daily basis. Knowing and claiming God's promises means I am not asking Patrick to be the miracle I need for emptiness.

Only God can do that.

I kind of feel like I should be in a good place, a better place, to write a blog post for the Skinny Dip Society blog tour. I should be more positive or more focused or more free. But it is winter in Brooklyn and I don’t feel those things and I refuse to be dishonest. I am in the place I am in today. Profound, I know.

Right here is a good place to claim the abundance I cannot feel.

I am a work in progress, but I am learning to believe abundance is something that can overflow every moment, even the forever winter Brooklyn moments. I am shaking the should be's and the more of's to believe abundance can happen here, where I am.

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This post is part of a series of 25 bloggers over 25 days sharing as part of the Skinny Dip Society Blog Tour, hosted by Katie Den Ouden. Be sure to check out Lauren's post from yesterday, on Forgiveness, and Bonnie's post tomorrow. Katie will also finish up a 21-Day Freedom challenge tomorrow, but don't worry you can still get in on some of the wild and free action! Find out how you can enroll in her 12 week immersion program. She is a beautiful inspiration, so you won't regret spending time checking out her stuff. You can catch up on the past few weeks of her blog tour--over here

 

things that remind us the world is not completely in order

I attended a training at Google yesterday on 8th Avenue. A friendly someone escorted us past the motion sensitive entrance gates at security and down the hallway to the elevator, where we went up to the 10th floor. The building bustled with activity, but it didn't feel like the working gears of the world's biggest search engine. It just felt like an office building with interesting interior. The training was a crash course in Google Apps for non-profits, so the little, charitable guys can make good use of the technology the big guys are using to maximize profits and percentages and growth. There were just a handful of us, maybe 20, spread out in the giant auditorium space on the engineering floor. Our questions revealed few of us to be tech-savvy and all of us to be interested in what Google offers to non-profit organizations for free.

The presenter spoke over and in between some pipe banging and construction that sounded like it was happening in the next room. And then the videos in her presentation would not play... and then she had to open up the presentation in another format, and a few slides later the same issue happened again, and then that ridiculous countdown message popped up in the lower right-hand corner telling her to reboot or else.

I felt horrible because I have stood in the same place, in front of students or families or colleagues, with a technology-dependent presentation. Being from non-profits and familiar with these kinds of re-routing scenarios, several attendees gave suggestions and computer advice to the woman from the Ad Sales Department at Google. She was gracious and we were gracious and we all got through the glitches with a fine understanding of what the Google Suite could offer our non-profit.

The irony of technology glitches inside Google is somehow comforting. Technology doesn't work perfectly all the time for anybody, it doesn't matter who you are. And people are people, in big buildings and little buildings, skyscrapers and crowded flats the world over.

Life's got glitches and no one is exempt.

I guess I just feel a solidarity in the struggle. The little struggles, like technology glitche,s and the bigger existential struggles, like systemic glitches in humanity. We spend a lot of time getting rid of glitches, minimizing the struggle and minimizing discomfort but it never seems to be completely resolved. We can never get clean away from those things that remind us that this world is not completely in order.

I've probably leaped too far this morning, but I had to wrap this up before work and I leave in 3 minutes.

when eyelids protest at half-mast

Sometimes, in a season of late winter nights and early chilled mornings, my eyelids protest at half-mast to honor the sleep they have been denied. Sometimes, I am more gauche than my unusually high average. I leave pancakes on the hot stovetop in the morning and I spontaneously hit up galleries in Manhattan looking like disaster and I lean over to check the hot water when my roommate inserts this phrase calmly into the story she was telling,

"… 'is your scarf on fire? your scarf is ON FIRE"

These are real life stories of my real life self. And, surprisingly, I am not more graceful at half-mast. After forcing my eyes into alert and screaming like a scared child, I hopped back and forth and swiped at the sparks jumping around my neck. So smooth.

And last night, half-mast style, I sat my gray dress down with a beer in the kitchen while a roomful of wonderful people enjoyed macaroons and comedy in Patrick's tiny living room with no seating. I crossed my legs on the food-covered wood floor and admired the fact that I was still wearing uncomfortable heels… and the fact that the macaroon making party wasn't a complete disaster and mostly the fact that there was a successful gathering of friends and strangers and neighbors laughing in the other room.

My second wind came eventually and it carried me through until 4:30 am, when we walked into my apartment after I lost to Patrick (but within respectable reach) in the game Ticket to Ride Europe Edition.

On a regular basis, I am wrestling the wind instead of feeling the breeze. I don't know if one is better than the other, maybe they are equal and equally good. But these are real life stories about my real life self.

We really did invite 20 people into Patrick's apartment last night to whisk egg whites into stiff peaks and blend $15 almond meal with powdered sugar and cocoa. I really did attempt a very specific recipe that reads "difficulty: hard" with a bunch of people who were varying levels of comfortable in the kitchen. But that didn't really matter, because it was all set up on a 2x10 piece of wood on top of two chairs next to the bookcase in the living room.

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Wrestling the wind is risky.

I'm never sure where I will get thrown and if the landing will be safe. In a literal sense, Patrick thinks I should get renter's insurance and never leave the stove when I turn it on. As an analogy, I don't think insurance is an option.

Sitting next to Patrick in the kitchen last night listening to the laughter in the other room, I knew that wrestling the wind was worth it. Chocolate disasters and recipe improvisations and floor seating… all of it. I guess life and fullness is about inviting people in to messes as much as it is inviting people in to order.

We are all amateurs at life, at least everyone I have met. Our lives are not storyboarded like a Kinfolk photo essay. The recipes we attempt are not always delicious and sometimes we have to throw something away and start from scratch (during the dinner party). Our apartments don't have seating enough for a crowd more than three. We spill wine and say the wrong thing and misspell macaroon. We are all amateurs at life and it is okay to be honest about all the ways we are not "adult."

Maybe I'll never have a full day to prepare for a party. Maybe I won't ever feel confident about the space I invite people into or my attempts to make them feel "at home," but my attempts as I wrestle the wind are worth it because of the laughter in the other room.

I think God means for us to live together like amateurs, to invite each other into chocolate disasters and ill-fitted living rooms. I hope I don't ever get old enough or adult enough to stop learning these lessons. I am listening to the protests of my half-mast eyes and I will sit to feel the breeze soon, but right now I'm surveying the scene where the wind has thrown me. And it looks good.

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love at the end

Remember all those days I thought commuting was beautiful? All those days I fought the NYC face and left early in defiance of minute crunching? Remember when I arrived to work in time to write a blog before the day began? Well, anyway, I guess six months will do it. No more leaving early and no more new routes, but I don't need another reason to talk about commuting. Train lines pretty much start and end every conversation - trains to live by, trains to get places, trains under construction, trains delayed, and trains full of "showtime, showtime, showtime."

But it is okay to savor minutes in my apartment in the morning. It is okay to be quiet and sit still before the day begins. It is okay to declare Sabbath daily before chaos and maybe I should do it more often. Because, gosh, it is busy here.

When I first moved to NYC, I had two things on my mind: love this man and find beauty. I did not move to make it in this city as an actress or a business lady or to struggle up abstract creative ladders. Somehow, knowing that was like saying, "I'm not like the rest of this concrete madness. I value minutes and sunshine and neighboring." I was different.

Six months later, I still value minutes and sunshine and neighboring, but I am desperate for Sabbath rest. I am like every other commuter in the morning, fighting crowds and sounds and shoulders. I am like every other apartment dweller, fighting for quiet minutes and then fighting to fill them. And now I am desperate for Sabbath rest.

My pastor talked about Sabbath rest on Sunday, right after I wrote about it unfolding slowly. Gathered around the weekly spread of cheese, crackers, fruits, and sweets last night, we revisited the passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

It's funny, living here. Because there is nothing we don't work for. The act of striving is kind of the moving gears of this city. Commuting is work, work is work, plans are work, friends are work, keeping up appearances is work. We work for everything; we strive hard to believe "everything" is important to work for.

But rest. 

We can not work for rest, regardless of the comp hours we accumulate or the vacation/sick/personal days we are allowed. We cannot gain rest for our souls by living better, though we believe with the Pharisees that somehow we can.

Christ accomplished our rest.

It's a different kind of Sabbath because Christ fought for and won our rest on the cross. I do not know how to make this more of my rhythm, but I want to learn what it means to rest in the middle of moving gears. I want to learn how to rest while hosting, neighboring, friendshipping, loving, and being.

I need to learn better how to rest.

I don't know what your Sabbath soundtrack would sound like, but mine has John Mark McMillan's new song, "Love at the End." If you have a minute to listen and read the lyrics, do it.

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oh, dear

Friends, this is one of those posts on one of those days. But I probably don't mean what you think. Nothing dreadful happened and I am not hormonal. Beauty got weaved in among other things - into the rearranged plans and the winter traipsing and the new basil plant in our little kitchen windowsill. Beauty got weaved in and now I'm writing by a candle my roommate lit to keep me company in the rest of these night hours. Just me and my chai tea + honey + coconut almond milk, candlelit and tucked inside this Brooklyn winter night - inside the beauty that got weaved in among other threads.

I am not quite sure what makes a beautiful day seem heavy or hard. Maybe I imagine sadness into open spaces or maybe that giant glass sculpture we walked through in the meatpacking district really did have a deeper effect than I thought.

I guess I think there is a way to experience beauty in the negative. It looks like sadness over sketchbooks that stay closed and sadness over craft boxes that stay hidden under beds. It looks like doodled inspiration for home improvement projects and the keyboard leaning in the corner of the living room.

And maybe that is the sadness that makes Saturdays feel heavy, because beauty needs space.

Beauty needs to be breathed in without a city metronome. Beauty needs to hear us say "Yes" when it isn't convenient or instantly beneficial and sometimes my voice gets garbled up in my throat. Sometimes it is hard to know what is beautiful and life feels too crowded to do anything slowly.

That's probably why I ended up sprawled out on my neighbor's floor, looking at photographs of America in the 1900s. Photographs were different then - few were taken an arm's length away. I turned the black and white pages slowly, reading captions and imagining the stories that unfolded after the moments were captured.

This is some of the beauty that got weaved in, but it made me aware of the beauty that got left out. How can I get more of the discernment to know which is which? And is it okay to be sad that I'm not better at choosing?

We're in the middle of fashion week in this fine city. I know this mostly because I've seen more 6+ foot beauties working the sidewalks like runways. I don't know how the wind follows them so it always blows their manicured hair in the right direction, but it is impressive. They look the right amount of tussled and flustered, with the cold concrete city as a backdrop.

And we're all just trying to make space for beauty.

We are all trying to choose what is beautiful even when life feels too crowded to enjoy anything slowly. There is both nothing and too much to do on our lists of lovely things. Maybe I've imagined this weight and we do not need to be brave about beauty. But maybe not.

Maybe it is okay to feel like days have weight.

Maybe it is okay to be sad about beauty that never gets used or loved or held. Maybe it is okay that a sculpture sunk your spirit and it is okay that the feeling followed you all day.

Maybe beauty has weight and needs space.

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still epiphany

We're still in that season on the church calendar called Epiphany, but it sure is easy to forget about it. Without the Christmas clutter, whether we embrace it or fight it, we are less aware of any spiritual season. At least I am. And then a song comes through my headphones on my way to work in the morning called Lazarus by Jon Guerra. I remember that this season is about practicing presence. I remember that Jesus walked the earth - that He came to live with us, inside our human struggle. And when he saw pain and death and sickness, he walked towards it. He was fully present in every kind of place with every kind of person.

This is how Jesus responded when the sisters sent word that the one He loved was sick,

"But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

He did not rush like an EMT to the scene or run the opposite direction from the tragedy's sadness. He did not avoid Judea, though the people tried to stone him the last time he was in town. Jesus was slow, steady, and confident that his presence possessed the authority of the One who sent Him.

And I forget that.

I forget that Jesus is present in the darkness of this world and present in the darkness of my heart. He walks toward the darkness and offends it with the light of His truth. He walks toward dead bones and this is what he says,

Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

His presence means resurrection and it means life. And we are all Lazarus, dead for four days, lost in darkness. We are all wrapped up, bodies bandaged and cold, when He makes Himself present to us and then makes us alive to Him. Do we believe this? Do we live believing that faith means we will never die? Do we walk out God's daily miracles of future grace with a confidence of one who will live forever?

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43

Every day, he stands at the door of our death tombs and says, "Come out." He reminds us that He is present here in this dark day and in our dark hearts. He calls for us to be present with Him and to be His presence. He calls us to "come out" of darkness in order to speak life into a world of death.

This is the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate Jesus being present among us. Let us not forget all His benefits (Psalm 103)!

a different kind of Christmas song

I love the melodies of this season. You might even catch me singing out of church calendar order. "O Come, Let us Adore Thee" always feels appropriate probably because adoration is always appropriate. We are welcome to approach the throne of grace in every season and adoration seems the proper thing to sing. But, today there is a different melody ... one that isn't getting lost between The Christmas Song and Mariah Carey. The melody is not like the hallelujah chorus. It doesn't feel like the candlelight service. This melody is different.

I am singing sadness into this beautiful season and I don't know if that's altogether okay. I don't know if that emotion jives with the church calendar and with the anticipation of my Savior and when others are singing "repeat the sounding joy"?

Can I sing sadness at Christmas?

I think I am, regardless. This song is not all sad, but it is not all "tidings of comfort and joy," either.

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Christ came down because we are wretched and wayward. He left glory and snuggled into a humble straw bed because we worship other gods. But, mostly He came down because in His great love He is exalted.

He came quietly, like a whisper in the winter.

And His life shook the universe while He held the universe together. He rubbed shoulders with brokenness, broke bread with sinners, and invited the lowly to dinner. He loved without exception, but He never apologized for the message of redemption - the message that creation is in desperate need of saving.

And if you give a good honest look at our desperate need, it might make you sad, too. Sad that He had to come the way He did, sad that we are so hardheaded and sad that we couldn't learn a different way. Sad that after a miracle birth and miracle resurrection we are still learning and still desperate.

There are a lot of people stuffed on to subway trains, with trees and shopping bags and too many tired faces. Christmas is work here, like a second or third job. It gets spelled out in wrinkles and reprimands and cumbersome boxes and Christmas is work.

Limbs start to feel like lead and the "Christmas spirit" is sly like a fox.

And maybe that's why I am sad. Because the world is still dark. Even though the light came as a miracle in a stable, but the world is still rushing in blind darkness - collecting toys and keeping up appearances and wishing happy holidays.

Sadness is an okay way to feel at Christmas, but it is never the end of the story. In my heart I know that Christ conquered the grave and with that death and darkness fell, too. I know that there is a standing invitation to dance in marvelous light - an invitation that I can extend to every Christmas-weary soul.

Christ came to give life, and life abundant. He came to walk out perfect obedience, to demonstrate perfect love. He came because He was the only One able to perfectly satisfy the payment a world of sin required. And in His coming and living, He showed us the way.

Sadness is an okay emotion, maybe, if it is a prayer. And that is what I am singing today - a prayer to be an instrument, to be a little bit like the miracle who came to redeem me out of a life of darkness.

This is the Christmas song I am singing today.