a simple, pressing whisper

I lost it in church yesterday. Classic, on-the-way-to-communion breakdown. It had something to do with Ephesians 2 and the sermon turning over soil I had let harden in my soul. It had something to do with Taryn singing "Although we are weeping, Lord help us keep sowing the seeds of Your kingdom..." It had something to do with remembering what it is to be human, I guess. Mostly that.

God has been pursuing me these weeks while I hide in crowded subway cars and underneath early winter layers. He has been pursuing me with a simple, pressing whisper, "I am still holding things together."

It is a hard whisper to hear with winter creeping in, painting everything in greys beyond the concrete that already colors this city. It is a hard whisper to hear in grief. But, God has been pursuing me in these weeks with this whisper to consider that He is still in the middle of making all things new.

Even if I close my eyes against it, God is still making beautiful things.

I keep coming back to Colossians 1, where it says of Christ,

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

All things were created through him and for him. Every new life and every mustard seed breaking the earth's surface and every wave crashing the coast, all these are confirmations that He is still creating and He still has good plans.

Sometimes, like now, I have to gulp that down with two word prayers for more belief. O, God. Are you? Is this? Please come. Be here. Show me. Still me. Show yourself.

But I can't blink it away.

He is actively holding all things together because His design is good. He persists in holding us together as we persist in breaking things apart or as we get broken apart. He persists and does not abandon His creation, but not for pity. He persists because He will always be about the work of restoring creation to its original dignity.

That's what our pastor talked about in church yesterday - that God persisted and pursued when we thought brokenness was the end of our story, the defining moment.  But He doesn't rescue us out of our brokenness. He does the opposite. He holds us together inside of it.

lessons in love and emptiness

Few folks on the 19th floor of 42nd and Madison knew I was in California over the weekend. Few of them knew I was gone at all. I handed out hellos and good mornings with my best Monday face, because they all had weekends, too, and I didn't know what theirs were about either.

Mine was full of lessons in love and emptiness.

I always thought love was about giving away something I've got, something that came from the overflow of my abundance. You don't show up to a potluck without a casserole (am I right, Midwest?) and you don't show up to love someone without something to offer - even if it's a shoulder or a bit of laughter or a few tears.

I have often tried to love people that way. But, I think I am learning that love is about being empty. Love knocks on the door without a casserole or an explanation, because my confidence in knocking at all has nothing to do with what I can offer.

And it's hard to think that love can come out of that, out of nothing. But that is what I was learning this weekend. We can be confident love-givers when we are empty. When we realize our words and gifts and casseroles are not the love message, we are left to just be present.

We are present to not figure things out, to not make things better, to not share wise words. Present to question and doubt and consider and believe. Present to be present and not to give a casserole or eat a casserole or have an agenda.

And all of these lessons in love and emptiness remind me of Jesus. He knew how to be present. He knew how to forget about the commotion and the crowds and the distractions so that he could be present with that bleeding woman, reaching out in faith to touch his robe (Mark 5:25). He was always getting empty of all the things we try to offer others in love so that he could be love by being present.

So, I'm trying to learn to get empty more often. I'm trying to learn to offer myself like Jesus.

Last night, freshly back from California with my new lessons on love and emptiness, Patrick tried to share something with me in our new living room. But I already had my apron on and I was very focused on preparing the apartment to host guests.

My apology sounded like a less-than-empty offering, like a casserole I whipped up to cover the offenses. "Here, just eat this and we'll both feel better." But it isn't the same as being empty. He needed my empty moments, the quiet space of my presence.

So, I'm still learning about that.

Guest Post | Wedding Speech, Take Two

I have been signing things Caroline Kolts for the past week, not that there was a whole lot to sign on our honeymoon in Iceland (check out Patrick on instagram). I have to keep reminding myself that together we make a family, the two of us. These first days of family are like making fresh footprints in untouched winter snow - everything is sparkling with promise and waiting to be discovered, built, and dreamed. We went to church for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Kolts yesterday and I was overwhelmed to be sitting next to my newly covenanted love and worshipping my First Love. I will spare you all of my marital bliss-speak and offer instead the sweetest words that my sister insists appear as a guest post. I am more than glad to oblige, because her guest posts always attract more attention than my regular posts and (I'll admit) I like the traffic. ;) Actually, I have read and re-read these words since she sent them earlier today and I can't figure out why I hit the jackpot with such a sister and why she thinks so highly of me. God has blessed me abundantly with her crazy love.

sisters

--

Caroline is the wordsmith between us.  While she’s weaving words, making landscapes that you feel and experience, I’m working on writing a to-the-point-email that will inspire people to work for me for free, so there’s a difference clearly.

She’s also the cheesy one of us, the one who waxes poetic about our sisterhood.  Whereas I’m the problem-solver, the send-Caroline-random-gifts-giver, the two-words-on-a-card-writer.  Those two words? Love you!  So, a difference there, as well.

But Caroline and Patrick’s wedding made me feel all kinds of cheesy, like there weren’t enough words in a speech to convey the joy welling within, and there wasn’t enough speech time to squeeze in the love I have for them, the slow moving sadness that comes from missing them, and the gratefulness in loving them together and separate, so much.

So, here is my guest blog post.  The speech I wish I would have spoken.  The official unofficial wedding speech, only 2 weeks late.

Caroline.  Your soul is the most beautiful I know, you know me better than anyone and yet are my biggest cheerleader.   My friendship with you makes me think marriage must be ok, that ‘someone knowing everything-ness’ and all.  In a weird way, it is so not weird that you got married before me.  For you have always gone first.  In following Christ, in maturity, in radical hospitality.  At a soul level, I think in some ways we are both the older sister, just in different ways.  Someone told me the other day that they love the way I talk about you, a mixture of awe, respect, and love.  And how could I not? You are exceedingly lovely, and I’ve always been baffled at the male sex due to their failure to realize this and marry you quickly.  But now I realize why it took them so long.  It was always Patrick, who you were meant for.  And the Patrick novel needed more chapters of adventure before the marriage part.  So, male gender, I’ll give you a pass this one time!

I have always been more concerned with who Caroline would marry than she found necessary.   I always had this desire for her to end up with a person who would fit her, wouldn’t stifle her, wouldn’t try to get her to calm down, settle down, and stop dreaming crazy dreams. Someone who would bring out the hilarious side I see, and reassure her of its validity in the world, that her creating laughter is just as important as creating ponderous thoughts.  And, selfishly, I thought her marrying someone that was ‘ok’ would make our time odd or strained, or worst case scenario, that there would be less of it.

But Patrick. Patrick who’s always been around in the best of ways, always been Caroline’s best fit, the moment just waiting to be right so all those puzzle pieces would fall into place.  I told Caroline at William’s wedding, “He just needs to be in our family.  Why don’t you just marry him?” The funny thing is, that premonition was so right.  He fits perfectly into our family.  Patrick who I have loved as a dear friend for years, who insisted I sleep on his air mattress when I slept over at the apartment he shared with his cousin (he slept on the floor).  Patrick who rented a car when I visited over Thanksgiving because he knew I was getting stressed with the subway like a pansy.  Patrick who along with Caroline, somehow thinks that I am both a good dancer and the life of the party, two things I have trouble seeing in myself.  Patrick who is a relentless friend, visiting his tribe often and asking heart questions over skype without that hurriedness I find myself plagued with often.  Dear, dear Patrick.  Who, having somehow drank the Kool-aid that my family’s been drinking for years, is now fully on board with the relentless cheerleading that is the Nichols family.

I told Caroline the other day that, strange as it may be, now when I’m with her and he’s not around, I miss him. Which is strange, because I’ve been around her without him for her whole life! But there’s just something about this great pair, that’s kind of like a 2-for-1 special.  Two creative people, each uniquely helping and filling in the gaps for each other, but together stretching each other to be more, do more, love more.  What they both did so well separately, they are able to do increasingly well together.  Like a 1+1=3 situation.  Them together, they're a pretty unstoppable power couple.

Cheers to Caroline and Pat, my favorite 2-for-1.

we were made for campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens

Maybe, one of the sweetest successes in hosting is when you become the guest. That's what happened tonight when we brought our black bean cilantro salad over to the neighbors' apartment who have enjoyed pancakes on so many nights. Patrick's neighbors opened their door (with a clever invitation taped to the front) to a Cinco de Mayo feast they spread on their coffee table in their little NYC living room.

the cinco sign on the neighbors' door

I think we made community, this little pancake crew. Somehow, being a guest made it feel official. Our conversation was about things "we" do and games "we" should play together and other nights "we" should all host. Patrick's apartment building missed him tonight, but while he was in Spain we were celebrating Mexico's independence with the sweetest neighbors you could find.

We were made for this - for campfires and coffee tables and kitchens.

Two months from today I get to promise forever to the man who loves campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens in the very same, excessive amounts. That is a lot of handwritten notes on doors, a lot of pancakes, and a lot of side dishes sealed in tupperware containers. Not all of it is romance. Sometimes the recipes flop and sometimes the neighbors don't show up and sometimes there isn't enough bacon. But, thankfully enough, the requirement for community is persistence. Between the two of us, we have quite a bit of that (in between and in the midst of failures/successes). Still, the most precious necessity for community is persisting in knowing the One with the original idea.

We try to take our cues from the Lord, who was so persistent to send Jesus to show us what love and community look like when they are done perfectly.

Community is my favorite. I think I can say that and not mean it like ice cream or sunshine or the breeze in my face while biking the west side of Prospect Park (because those things are some kind of favorite, too). Community is for bruised hearts and for delighted souls and everyone is welcome to the table.

Did I mention that I really miss that Mr. Kolts? He gets back on Thursday and I am hoping we can squeeze in some non-wedding planning time to enjoy the magic of community.

I kind of promise I won't write every post about my engagement/wedding. But, I am hoping some of you readers cut me some slack because I only get to be in this stage for two months. You don't mind, right?

not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I've battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it "at once," I think. I'd rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

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."

 

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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because His love won't run out

The last neighbors, strangers, and friends had just left Pancake Mondays at Patrick's apartment when another neighbor knocked to say thank you for the invitation we left on his door. Ted had lived across the hall from Patrick for 6 months, but they had still never met.

For some unfortunate reasons, we have moved the Pancake Mondays operation to Patrick's apartment for the month of March. And (are we surprised?) what appeared to be every bit evil, God has turned into every bit good. Patrick and I both have griddles now and the ingredients float between our apartments as we host neighbors, strangers, and friends for pancakes and waffles and bacon.

the sign on my door...

Last night, we all sat on armchairs and stools and leaned against the wall with criss-crossed legs on wood floors. Tam took drink orders and I flipped waffles in the kitchen and Patrick taste-tested until we got the recipe and timing just right (wafflemaker courtesy of my favorite neighbor-friend Yeun). 

Everything about Monday night was just the right amount. Laughter, conversation, neighbors, and friendly banter. Good, old-fashioned neighborhood love was happening around a coffee table stacked with waffles, coconut jam, peanut butter, raspberry jam, coconut, syrup, and chocolate chips. 

I think we tripled a cinnamon vanilla waffle batch and served 13 people in all. I saw several neighbors as I was taping up invites and those who had plans asked if there would be a repeat the following week. "Yes!" is fun to say when it means more pancakes and neighbors and crowded living rooms.

I kept wandering into the kitchen to let out excited squeals and Patrick kept following me to match my joy because community was happening in the other room. It's like we uncovered a secret that God has already spoken so plainly: the love Christ has lavished on us is meant to be lavished on others.

So, we crack the door open, mix up some batter, and trust His love won't run out.

photo by Patrick

and the sun plays on my knuckles

I purposefully unplanned this day so I could enjoy the sunlight crawling up the windows and an entire New Yorker article in one sitting, accompanied by the lazy folk sounds of Wild Child. [bandcamp width=100% height=142 album=1275827269 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=63b2cc tracklist=false artwork=small]

Six pages is a lot to read in one sitting, maybe too much, but not when it's in The New Yorker and not when it is written by a witty, thoughtful ninety-three-year-old man. I hope I bump into him, but I am afraid we run in different circles and Central Park is not the most convenient place for me to hang out in the afternoon. Maybe I'll write him anyway because, who knows?

I am one of those people who tries to boast an "old soul," so maybe we would get along just fine. I could sit for hours and listen to his tales. I once wrote several stories for a local paper about an assisted living home. I sat down with real people who had lived real, lengthy lives and just listened. It was definitely my favorite work in "advertising," because it didn't feel like I was trying to convince anyone to buy anything. It felt like I was having coffee with Glenda and Bob and Ruth, because that's what I did.

The sun is making it almost impossible to see my computer screen now, but I refuse to move from my spot by the window. The golden glow on my little clicking fingers is too wonderful a feeling to abandon quickly.

Sooner or later, I will crawl out from under this purple flowered afghan my Gram gave me because I have plans to meet a friend for coffee. I will face ordinary things like watering apartment plants and attempting laundry and cleaning a manageable corner of this living space. Sooner or later and in a few minutes, I will pull away from the screen and just sit a bit before this whole glorious Monday slips away in underwhelming presidential celebration.

But I'll first let the sun play on my knuckles a little, teeny bit longer because I imagine these are the moments Roger Angell would tell me to appreciate.

we are chance creators

There is this thing in soccer called "chances created." It's a statistic that tracks how many times a soccer player has created chances for plays. I heard about it yesterday at church because our pastor's favorite soccer player is known for his "chances created" statistic. And this matters because the friends of the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8 were about creating chances. They knew that carrying their friend to the door of the home where Jesus was preaching was not enough. The crowd craned their necks from all windows and doorways to see and hear the teaching; there was no way to get their friend to the front where Jesus stood.

Oh, sure, they could have turned back and no one would have asked why. But they were about creating chances - they were determined to get their friend to the feet of Jesus because they thought something unbelievable could happen.

There was no guarantee, just a chance to witness something beautiful.

And that belief was big enough to motivate their deconstructing a roof and their Macgyvering a lowering system to interrupt Jesus' teaching with the presence of a disabled man.

The presence of Jesus was that important.

They created a chance for their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus because they believed it could change his life forever. Even just the chance was worth the sweat and trouble and questioning stares. Worth it.

Do I think getting uncomfortable and awkward and tired is worth the chances it creates for others to meet Jesus?

Good question.

Sometimes I waste time weighing out my options. I wonder if the invitations will be received well and if the conversation will be offensive. I wonder about future conversations and wonder if I will keep or lose friendships. I wonder about looking silly and feeling ashamed. I wonder about how much the other person even wants a chance to meet Jesus.

But these guys, they were relentless. And when their paralyzed friend finally got lowered down with the Bible times version of duct tape and WD 40, Jesus surprised everyone.

He looked past the paralyzed man's obvious and most debilitating physical need. He looked past the years of struggle and got inside his heart... and what He saw needed forgiving. Whatever it was, we can all relate. We are all the paralyzed man, inside. We all need to get to the foot of Jesus so He can expose what is dark apart from any physical anxieties that knot us up on the outside.

So, this was the man's chance at the feet of Jesus - his chance to experience something that would transform everything else about his mat-constrained life. And then Jesus healed this paralyzed man of sin. He forgave him for all the darkness hiding out in his heart. That was the magic and that was the mystery - the play that happened as a result of the chance created.

After the crowd backlashed and questioned, Jesus also healed the man's physical body so that "you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is Lord over the spiritual and the physical. All of it, everything.

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” - Abraham Kuyper

This is why we are chance creators.

Because God is the best at unearned surprises - the eternal and physical, the now and future, the simple and complex kinds. He is the best at surprises and we must be about creating chances for friends and neighbors and strangers to sit at His feet.

We don't know what will happen, but it will never be bad. God will always be glorified and it will always be worth it.

Definitely love your local church, but if you want to be encouraged by mine, listen to this sermon from Sunday by Vito!

let us never cease to wonder

If you've read this blog for more than a few months, you know I love to wonder. I love wide eyes and mysteries and the way my body gasps for air when I am in awe. Some days, I fall into it naturally. Like when I bounced from table to table at the bar after church on Sunday night because I wanted to be with everyone all at once. And the way Grace and I skipped arm in arm ahead of the group when we all decided to end the night with pie and coffee. And the way Gordon walked with his own little swag, topping it off with a little sidewalk dance while we waited outside for our table. And the way we crowded in around to eat key lime and bourbon pecan and cherry pear crumble pies like we had been friends for years and years. Days like this past Sunday are the rumble in my gut that stretches out through my fingertips to say, "what a wonderful world!"

As cheesy as that sounds.

I looked over at Patrick several times throughout the night and said, "We are so blessed." But words can never accurately describe wonder. Blessed is not enough. The joy I feel surrounded by this group of new friends cannot be planned or packaged. It is just very simply God's unique grace to my soul. He promises abundance and then He delivers and it looks like 6 hours of "church" on Sunday, starting with choir practice and ending with key lime pie.

And I don't get how it all works.

I don't understand the science of wonder, I just know that it makes me feel very small and very humble and very grateful. I am nothing - just a little dot moving around in this crazy big expanse called the universe. But God knows the hairs on my head and He knows how much joy I feel when I skip and sing and celebrate over key lime pie. He knows those things because He knit me together inside my mom's belly.

And I still don't get how it all works. I just know that I cannot manipulate awe because wonder refuses to be manufactured.

Wonder is the surprise your soul feels when God pours out a unique grace - the kind your heart best understands.

Life does not have to be perfect to feel the joy of this grace. The ordinary, everyday real life in the flatlands is just as likely a place to feel this grace as the mountaintops. So, I try to train my heart to feel wonder - to live with wide eyes and to search out mysteries and to laugh uncontrollably while we sing Willy Wonka as we cross Broadway in Williamsburg.

"Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in the way, a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It will cause within you godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such a love as this." Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings.

Godly watchfulness is how I'd like to wake up tomorrow. I want to feel the fear of sinning against such a love as this. I mean that in the best of ways. God's grace is so good, so specific and so personal. I'd like to be so wrapped in wonder by God's grace that can't take my eyes away from Him - for fear that I will miss out. The more mystery I take in, the more there is. The more love I feel, the more He provides. The more grace I need, the more He gives.

Wonder gives birth to wonder and why would I ever go looking for something else?

'tis so sweet

If my theme for 2014 is to trust Jesus in the flatlands, my prayer is for grace to trust Him more.  One moment won in the flatlands rolls over into another moment in danger of being defeated. But we trust and we savor and we hope with eyes fixed above the moments, on the author and perfector of our faith who holds the world together - the King who upholds us with his righteous right hand. And so we can walk in the flatlands while our hearts are upheld to the heavens.

Yesterday, I tornadoed into the apartment after work to arrange my new griddle and make pancake batter from scratch. I used to think Pancake Mondays had to fit inside pinched pennies, but then my pastor funded my first week of maple syrup and I won't go back. Hosting a weekly pancake party is now a priority and Hungry Jack/Bisquick is just not good enough for friends and neighbors. Pancakes from scratch with blueberries, marshmallows, honey, syrup, and fruit jams straight from my Gram's kitchen for toppings.

pancakes

In the middle of the mix, I made plans with my neighbor Yeun to host a terrarium party in January. She walked through the open door in her slippers because she lives down the hall and I made sure to have the bacon ready (her fave). We talked about the flower shop where she works and about plans to develop plots in our apartment courtyard and about a potential secret roof party.

The apartment wasn't full or crowded, but there were people and pancakes and assurances that Pancake Mondays is not going away. Because it is so sweet to trust in Jesus and I am praying this year for grace to trust Him more in the flatlands.

This is it - the everyday Mondays that everyone dreads and the inconsistencies of this city that keep anything from being regular. I will trust when it is awkward and when I am scared and when I would rather be inconsistent and illusive. And I'll pray for grace to trust Him more.

photo

When the Rummikub game settled down and only a few people were left, we got stuck in conversation by the door. And when I finally closed the door to do the dishes, I remembered it is so sweet to trust in Jesus. It is so wonderful to take Him at His Word and rest upon His promises.

It is so sweet to be upheld by the word of the One whose words never fail. And so I'm praying for grace to trust Him more - with the little things like subways and the big things like my heart and the in between things like Pancake Mondays.

I'm praying for grace to believe that trusting Him will taste the sweetest even if everything else tastes sour.

Sing this song for the new year with me? Pray for grace to trust Him more so that we can live more extravagantly for His glory?

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’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, And to take Him at His Word; Just to rest upon His promise, And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!

O how sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to trust His cleansing blood; And in simple faith to plunge me ’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Refrain

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus, Just from sin and self to cease; Just from Jesus simply taking Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Refrain

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend; And I know that Thou art with me, Wilt be with me to the end.

Refrain

chin up, child

I had been looking out at the rain because I could not wait to wear my rain boots. I was supposed to do laundry but instead I spent yesterday drinking french press in oversized flannel, making pancake invitations by candlelight and trying to forget that Monday is a regular work day. By the time I left the apartment for church, I had forgotten my umbrella and my sense of New York direction. A hundred puddles and one wet coat later, I found the familiar old church on 5th and Rodney.

And not even cold, winter rain could keep the delight out.

Because that's what happens when you meet with Jesus. It may not always look like bright colored bits of NYE confetti in Times Square. It may never look like that, but God promised delight in the flatlands when He promised abundant life (John 10:10).

Today is a regular day and I would lie if I didn't say it was hard to get dressed in this routine. This is the flatlands, but there is delight hidden here. I'm going to choose belief all day long, going to chase delight while I run on level ground. 

Things and people and plans seem slippery these days, but there is one thing I can confidently hold tightly. The tighter I hold Jesus - the more I purpose to know Him and find out what pleases Him - the greater I will experience the best delight.

God promises to sustain in ways we don't know we need, to fill in places we don't know are empty.

Delight is something I choose when I believe Jesus is my greatest treasure. It's something that spills over when I can't hold the abundance inside any longer. Delight is a face I wear on the subway and in the office and flipping pancakes in my apartment. It is what happens when God meets needs I didn't know I had and fills places I didn't know were empty.

Delight is dependent on one thing: God being a promise keeper. And today, He is saying, "Chin up, child. There is delight in this day!"

 

beware, a wakening God

"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982

It is Monday and I am still sleeping as I write this blog on my morning commute. The weekend was rich with worship and this wisdom from Annie Dillard frames it in right perspective.

Because worship is not safe.

As we sat on the fire escape for a Saturday picnic of mostly locally scrounged grub, it felt like the right amount of whimsy - like the best way we could have appreciated the beautiful colors and the conversation.

But that fire escape plan had materialized only minutes before, on the bike ride back to the apartment after hanging out in our neighborhood for the morning. It was something we stepped inside on a whim and then wondered if it might have been prepared for us.

I'm still thinking about how differently a child responds to surprise. When there is a firework or a hot air balloon or an ice cream truck, children get big eyes- they get wonder-filled and adventure-ready. It doesn't matter that it wasn't plan A or that it might be impossible.

They are always expecting the next adventure because it doesn't matter whether or not they have shoes on or bare feet. They are just ready either way. Not because adventures are easy, but because it is easy for them to say yes when wonder hits them between the eyes.

It makes sense to follow a kite's pattern across the sky and to cloud gaze and to chase grasshoppers. It makes sense to wonder and to be pulled into the wider story of worship - it makes sense that the chase might get mysterious and that they might run into danger. And they don't need to dress up or pretend its any other way.

I want to live like this more.

I want to feel the fear being cast out because the wonder won't let it stay. There isn't room for both wonder and fear, because wonder is worship and it can happen inside danger and storm and drought. The right kind of wonder, anyway.

We are too safe. We dress up and act proper and we are never prepared for what a waking God might do with his limitless power and grace. We are not looking for it like children who hunt grasshoppers with hard hats. We aren't prepared to be surprised and we are not ready enough to be wonder-filled.

I want to worship with a hard hat - to worship in a way that expects wonder and danger and is prepared for both.

to be a better thinker / Q & A

My cousin Vince started the email with "Carolina!" He wanted to ask a few questions for a project he is doing at Baylor. Questions are kind of my jam, and for this guy I'd do about anything. He is a really amazing picture of what it looks like to battle in the trenches of the faith while serving the people around him. Every time we talk, I learn more about how I can better live out my faith.

Here is the little Q and A.

Why did you first start blogging? I attended a conference called Faith and International Development at Calvin College while a junior at the rival liberal arts school Hope College in Holland, Michigan. At the conference, many of the things that had been bubbling up in my spirit collided and I needed an outlet. At the time (ahem, 2006), blogs were the newest and coolest way to give life to creative expression. Although I didn't consider myself new or cool, the feeling of pushing publish was especially satisfying creatively and I've been doing it ever since.

What is the hardest thing about maintaining a blog? Writing.

I never pretended that my blog was going to be about pictures or quotes or anything especially clever. Well, maybe I considered all of those for a hot second, but I never felt as much pleasure doing anything other than just writing.

I write because I love to write in a Eric Liddell kind of way - in the way that I feel God's pleasure when I do it. But, writing is also the hardest thing about maintaining a blog. It means writing when you don't feel like it and writing when you think you have nothing to say. It means starting a sentence when you think it sounds stupid. It means thinking of writing ideas when you are at the park and starting a blog while you are getting your hair cut or while you are riding the subway or while you are putting in your 9-5.

Writing is also the hardest because it is easy to be scared. I am afraid of what I write being less than good - that it will not be as interesting or as alive as it feels when it comes out of my fingertips. Sometimes that keeps me from writing. And if I don't write, I don't have a blog.

Would you say that blogging provides an outlet for you to express your thoughts and emotions? How? Yes, I would say that exactly.

Sometimes, I think blogging pulls out of me what I didn't know was inside. There are times when I stop myself in mid-conversation because I know the words will sound garbled until I've blogged them out first. It's like therapy, I guess. But it's also like exercise. It's exercise for my creative spirit and my soul because I can stretch muscles in my imagination and in my intellect that don't get used anywhere else in my life.

It's like a playground where I my mind can run around, climb jungle gyms and swing off monkey bars. It can be (and is probably too often) an escape where I go to sort out the tensions in my heart.

Why do you continue to write your blog? I suppose I continue to write my blog because it has become an inextricable part of my processing. The way I see the world and the way I engage with the world has a whole lot to do with the way I write the world. When I've thought something through and let it run out of my fingertips, I know it better... more fully. I know my weaknesses better and my fears and my vulnerabilities. I know my dreams and desires better. I know where I've let curiosity live and where I've let wonder roam, but I also know where I've hid light under a bushel and closed the doors on joy.

Maybe I don't know any of these things better because I blog, but it sure feels like I do. And that's why I keep blogging.

My mom called me from Iowa recently. She said, "Honey, I'm glad you finally blogged again." I was kind of surprised to hear that she knew I was in desperate need of some blog time. "Mom, how'd you know?" Maybe in my cross country move or my new job and new relationship the need is more obvious than I realize. But, not everyone assumes a person needs to blog. "Well, I just know that sometimes you need to blog in order to think," she told me.

Maybe that's really why I write my blog - because it makes me a better thinker.

*If you want to know more (and feel better about how often/not often you are awkward in social situations) check out this post on my very gauche life.

gauche

the foxes in the vineyard

This Monday morning is a fox in the vineyard. Things "begin" on Monday morning - the week, the work, the schedule - but we all know nothing ended on Friday. We just pushed pause so we could smile and forget for two days. At least that seems to be what everyone hopes our weekly system is set up to do: work for five days, forget about work for two days, and then start work again.

I have never had a job where that cycle is successful. Because working with people means working inside relationships and I would do very poor work if I severed relationships on a weekly basis.

So, this morning I woke out of a dream thinking about the court hearing at 8 am and about the meetings in the afternoon because they had been on my mind all weekend. These aren't appointments, they are people and that feels heavy.

The antidote for anxiety is not reason, though many well-meaning people have lectured me on boundaries and work/life balance.

The antidote for anxiety is the promises of God. It is a medicine that doesn't take away the illness, but overcomes it. The promises of God are trustworthy and they follow us. I cannot go to a place where God's promises cannot reach. He is here, inside this Monday and He knows about the foxes. He knows about all the evil plans to steal my joy.

He knows about my anxiety and He knows His promises can overcome it. He is good to me. In His sovereign will, He is good and can only be good to me.

Today is about believing God is good when the foxes are in the vineyard.

This song by Audrey Assad sings the overflow of goodness and it will be my reminder all day long.

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise and I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness When I'm bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

because You are good to me, good to me

I lift my eyes to the hills where my help is found Your voice fills the night--raise my head up and hear the sound Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

because You are good to me, good to me Your goodness and mercy shall follow me all my lifeI will trust in Your promise © 2013 Audrey Assad Inc (BMI)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKosVfAEUPE]

something worth bleeding out

Last night, Brandi Carlile invited The Lone Bellow back up on stage in the middle of her set, backlit by a lazy summer sun at the Simon Estes Amphitheater in Des Moines. They were the opening act, these brilliant three, but they were the reason my sister and I paid the big bucks to sprawl out on a blanket by the river with expensive drinks (the kind they make you buy inside after making you dump your waters at the door). Something clicked when they sang this song. It'll get unhinged soon enough. I'll forget and I'll fret and I'll fury. But something about those few minutes was bound to break my blog silence.

Vacation was too good to me. It swallowed up my bones in bliss and I was happy there, really happy. Every clockless morning and every unplanned afternoon, every impromptu tennis match and every adventurous trip down to the beach, every late night campfire-lit conversation, every slice through the water in the kayak, every forest run, every conversation - everything.

Vacation swallowed up my bones in bliss.

I didn't really know how to shake myself out of it - how does bliss make sense with clocks and schedules and plans and expectations? How do you get un-swallowed? How do you not wish yourself back in those blissful moments when you're in moments that feel so regular?

Then The Lone Bellow started to sing and I started to sway with all my hippy hair, belting out this brilliant tune.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/VZK1o3K8hTo]

Yes, I lost myself a little bit and I'm not worried about your judgment.

I was probably 1 of 10 concert-goers who had heard of The Lone Bellow, so I was definitely one of few singing along. But, I belted it anyway - like the ba-ba-da was something inside me fighting to find air.

There is a reason life isn't endless vacation.

And that reason made sense as I swayed to this tune,

"Breathing in, breathing out, the salt in my mouth gives me hope that I'll bleed something worth bleeding out"

It might not shake vacation dust off your feet, but it did mine. This is an anthem that says our hands should get dirty and calloused and worn, an anthem that reminds us that respite gives fuel for our daily fight against the lies we can sometimes escape on vacation.

"All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us And they shout from their rooftops words we can’t trust Like you’re dead, you are tired, you’re ruined, you’re dust Oh, you won’t ‘mount to nothing, like thanks full of rust"

These are the lies of life, the weary and rugged and cumbersome kind that sneak into kitchens and coffeeshops and haunt our closet space. These are the lies that try to make our lives less redeemed. But, in Christ, there is no more or less saved. There is no scale to our redemption.

Our sin entangles with all kinds of cruel efficiency and the dull hum-drum of everyday life is its favorite booby trap. But a sliding scale salvation would strip God of the power to make it complete, and we are not capable of making Him any less glorious than He is.

Thank God. Thank God He did not leave us as exiles from the kingdom of God, banished from forever beauty and bliss.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Thank God, in His grace, the blood coursing through our veins is more than mostly water. In Christ, this blood we carry around is something worth bleeding out. It is not nothing. It's this blood, keeping us alive to proclaim that we've been redeemed and redemption is free by the grace of God and the cost of Christ. It is the blood by which we can sing the next lines,

But we scream back at them from below on the street All in unison we sing, our time’s been redeemed We are all of the beauty that has not been seen We are full of the color that’s never been dreamed

Because nothing we need ever dies. Isn't that so? Our needs - physical and otherwise are slippery things, but we get parched and desperate for them. We beg and plead for them, our needs. And those needs never die.

But there is one need that trumps all other needs and it's what started beating like hope in my chest when I heard this song. There is a reason life isn't endless vacation and it is because there is work to do. There is toil and sweat and there is work to do. My blood is worth something because Christ's blood was shed on my behalf.

O, precious HOPE that redeems us in the bliss of vacation and in the dull hum-drum of Monday-afters. I'm still swaying to this precious hope that my life in the regulars and the weekday sways and sweats for a greater story.

Even if I was lonely, even if I was broke Even if all the dogs in the pound left me notes Sayin’ it’s never over, it never ends Grab my heart and the fire, let us descend

To the darkest of prisons, break their defense We will rattle the cages, rules will be bent Oh, remind us our days are all numbered, not spent And peace it comes easy like mist on a ridge

Chorus Breathing in, breathing out, the salt in my mouth Gives me hope that I’ll bleed something worth bleeding out

All the horoscopes tell us to break all our ties To our families and loved ones we leave when we fly To the cities we think we need in our lives Oh, you Manhattan jungle, you tangle our pride

Chorus

All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us And they shout from their rooftops words we can’t trust Like you’re dead, you are tired, you’re ruined, you’re dust Oh, you won’t ‘mount to nothing, like thanks full of rust

But we scream back at them from below on the street All in unison we sing, our time’s been redeemed We are all of the beauty that has not been seen We are full of the color that’s never been dreamed

Where nothing we need ever dies Where nothing we need ever dies

God said so (and I trust Him)

This morning was just a morning. The rest of the day followed in the same suit - the sunrise and the meetings and the reports and the visits were nothing magical. There were no moments where I caught a glimpse of the glorious inside the mundane of this Monday.

And I hated myself a little bit for it, because I know the glory is there. I hated that something in me didn't melt when the little boy's lips formed around the new word "moon" as he pointed to the sky. I want to see the glory always and I mostly write about when I do - the sunsets that raise my religious affections and the child's laugh that unleashes my own spirit of freedom.

But some days just feel like days - sometimes running paths and book chapters and dishes are just running paths and book chapters and dishes. And there is no epiphany to write about on facebook or capture on instagram.

Some days are just days.

And this is the day when what I know becomes very important. Absent affections, when days are just days and work is just work and the people on the running path are just people, what I know to be true is very important. This is what I know:

You are faithful, never-changing, age to age, You remain the same Your steadfast love endures forever

So, I close my eyelids and stare at that strange nothingness. I know the beauty and glory of creation is lit up on the other side of my sight, but not because it feels like more than just a day.

I know it is beautiful because it is beautiful. God said so and I trust Him.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/jpvjYP76u98]

Your words, my sight

There is a mother bird feeding her baby birds outside our front window as the owl down the street sings his morning song. I don't have a song to contribute, but I do have one to share. This song by Kye Kye is called, "My Sight" and it's exactly the kind of seeing I need to do today. It reminds me of Jeremiah 15:16, "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts." The Word can become to us a joy and the delight of our hearts! Through the Truth of the Word we can believe fully, trust deeply, love fiercely - because in the Word we see the One whose grace empowers us and sustains us and loves us with a sanctifying love.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/WdAunBveJQQ]

If the song isn't your style, at least read the lyrics today and be encouraged as God shows Himself faithful in His Word to be your sight.

Lyrics: Thoughts of cloth that lay on stone (Jon.20:6-7)(Ro.6:10-11, 8:6 ,12:2) I am watching a cross that bled alone to be the only valley of trust and hope we know (Ro.5:2) we envision that place then watch it flow through us (Ro.15:4 &8:24-25)

Your words Are my sight (2Cor.5:7)

Trails we walk then see them glow (Heb.11:1) we are watching a church that builds and grows to be a lovely picture with frames that hold so close (Eph.4:12-13) (1Cor.12:12-13) we imagine that place and watch it flow from us (1Jo.3:2)(Ro.8:29 & 12:2)(Eph.4:15)

 

raced the river

Last night, I raced the river (chasing the current like I thought I could catch up) with a silly smile across my face. The trees had shaken off the snow from the mysterious Spring storm and I shared the path with bikers, runners, dogs, and the most adorable lady with a walker. I threw my smile at all of them, giggling at the children who roamed unaware of the etiquette I assume is standard on any city path (don't walk directly towards someone running in your direction). I raced the river and caught several times on the breeze what C.S. Lewis would describe as "joy." It was an excitement that fluttered with a "heaven-like longing" that cannot be fully satisfied on earth, but even the presence of the longing overflowed in delight.

Dr. Jerry Root explains one of the central themes in Lewis's writing, heavily influenced from his own experiences with Joy. He spoke reverently in "Surprised by Joy," his autobiography, about the brief passing moments where he experienced an unexplainable bliss and then was left to figure out how to experience it again.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/36670868]

Well, anyway... as I raced the river last night I knew I wouldn't catch it. I knew I could not really take in the beauty of the cool early evening in the way I wanted to, the way the evening wanted me to. I think that was part of the blissful moment - knowing there was too much beauty to take in, even if I drank in every scene as I ran on the path.

So, my joy bubbled out because it couldn't be contained. The river, the overcast sky, the families, the bikers, the little old lady with her walker, and the children wandering out into the middle of the action - all these very simple and mundane threads in the fabric of a Sunday night, but every bit a reason to smile.

Sunday evenings are great medicine for Monday mornings, yes? The scenes are different, but there is joy hidden in this day - the sunshine, the birds, and that crazy owl that is trying to tell me a story. I'm on my way to a staff meeting, but I'll first be dropping off these little love bundles for "every day in May" creative challenge.

blessings, stamped and ready for sending