It is Pentecost now and the liturgical season is green - for new life, for growth, for Jesus. The season is green because Jesus is the seed God threw to the earth to be planted in death and raised in new life. And this - this throwing down, dying, and raising is my only comfort in life and in death. It seems so singular - so exclusive and definitive - to say my only comfort at all, ever, always is that I belong to Jesus. If that is so, I must belong in a way that isn't attached to postpartum or marriage or geography or accomplishment or feelings. I must belong to Jesus so deeply that I am not my own anymore (and that is a comfort?).Read More
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.
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
In my private thoughts, I hoped I would shed all the worst of me like old skin when I had a baby and put on all the best of me like mom pants. In my public thoughts, I knew that was never a possibility. I never thought I would be the mama nursing her daughter while sitting on the toilet... or the mama who wears pajamas all day and then also the next day... or the mama whose life is entirely rearranged by a little tiny human and her red eyes... or the mama who just spliced three blog posts together in order to post something on her blog. I thought it would be hard, and it is. I thought it would be good, and it is. I thought it would be adventure, and it most definitely is.Read More
I was on the couch, curled up in Sabbath bliss and rubbing the watermelon belly that has become a part of me. We saw the due date come and go last week and a little bit of me thought, "Well, I guess I'll just be pregnant forever." Irrational, maybe. But these are things you think when 43 days have gone by and the wiggles are still on the inside. Things I think, anyway.
Patrick came over and snuggled in to ask, "What can I do to encourage you?"
And then he started reciting Scripture in my silence, while my cheeks burned hot tears.
Philippians 4:4-8 "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Psalm 34 "I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
He kept reciting the verses from the list my mom sent us in an email a couple weeks back. I asked her to send me verses for laboring to calm my delivery nerves, but he memorized them because he knows it's good to have Scripture saved up in your soul.
I kept silent, blinking and battling and defending my stubbornness.
The hot tears came because, sure, all the baby emotions. But the Word of the Lord never returns void and the chord it hit yesterday in my spirit was one I've been trying to avoid.
I want Baby K to come now because my calendar says Michication (our annual family gathering in Michigan) starts with a flight on July 10th. I want to go to the beach with my niece and nephews and I want to come back with sand in my shoes. I want to sit around campfires and toast marshmallows and play board games late into the night. I want to do all the things we have been talking about since we last left each other in September after James and Carly's wedding.
That's what I want. And just above the din of my own heart and schedule I could still hear him reciting -
Psalm 46:1-3 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling."
God surely knows my need for fresh water and sibling laughter and firelight. He surely knows these are good things - things that soothe my heart and calm my spirit. He surely knows I need it just this way.
And still more verses cut through my innermost arguments -
Psalm 143:8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
A couple weeks ago, we sang a familiar song after communion at church - it's a song I have posted before and will probably post again. The song is a simple invitation to sit at a feast, but what I hear these days when I sing is an invitation to movement.
Come, Sinners Come Come sinners, come for there is a spread a table full and free For all who thirst, for Christ has said that all may come and eat
Come sinners, come Come sinners, come Oh, what a love is this that bids sinners come.
All the way to a dinner party has felt too long to travel these past 10 months - from grief and worry and selfishness and fear. I know that celebration and belonging and courage and joy are just past that threshold, but sometimes I'm still holding the invitation on my doorstep - feeling the beauty and weight of the faith that hangs in the distance between.
I want to sit at the celebration, but I just don't know if there are enough steps in my feet. And I guess that's why I am realizing the invitation to "come" is all about movement. The "coming" might take awhile, but repenting is about direction as much as it is about destination.
Stubbornness and pride and fear and worry and anxiety will probably make part of the journey with me, but I guess you could say I'm slowly turning toward the Host.
Pat keeps on saying this whole pregnancy and delivery is a way the Lord is teaching us, speaking to us, and challenging us toward greater faith. I keep nodding that he is right while my feet are planted like cement on my doorstep, inwardly promising to move when I have less to give up.
It doesn't work like that.
God's invitation for sinners like me to "come" to the feast is not the reception after the main event I have planned. It is the main event. Movement toward that feast is a movement away from all the things I want instead - beach vacations and 7 pound babies and easy delivery. Every step believes that what is promised is the best there is, the absolute best.
There will probably be more Scripture quoted to a stubborn face hot with tears before Baby K arrives, but I'm praying that Truth will soften me to repentance and movement toward the absolute best.
Dear Little One, Is it you who craves ice or me? We make quite a pair, you and me - so round and so ready. Sometimes I lean down and say, "Mama's here" just to remind you I haven't left. I guess that's silly, but I do it anyway.
I've tried writing you this letter several times but I have to stop in the middle because the words won't come and the words come too fast. I'm not ready. I want you to be here so badly, my dear sweet, but I am not ready to be your mama.
Maybe that's okay, maybe every mama feels like this when they are 37 weeks round.
It's June now and that means warm, sticky heat. It means the park is so thick with green it can make you forget there are skyscrapers. And this year, it means night pacing in the bedroom we will share with you soon. Because I cannot sleep. Last June, your papa and I were planning our wedding. We were fretting over silly things like lamps and talking about serious things, like how we would love each other.
And, you know, none of that talk made me less afraid or more prepared for the life that has happened this year.
What I'm trying to say is: I am not ready for you to meet this world without your uncle Will in it. I am not ready to just tell you stories about this man, not ready to have you meet him in pictures, not ready to insist on his specialness. I'm not ready for you to be here when he is not. Oh, I know it makes no sense.
You will soon stretch out into your first brave cry and we will say "you are alive!" This is the most confusing part: your uncle Will is alive, but he is not here. He died in a car accident on August 2nd, 2014. That is a very hard sentence for mama.
Because I can't say the things he would say or laugh the way he would laugh or think the way he would think - he is gone in a way I can never be present on his behalf. I learned that from a grieving book by C.S. Lewis. And all that William space he filled so well is very empty now and I don't know how that will feel to you.
I can't tell you about his treehouses or his childhood tantrums or his tenderness. I can't tell you about the time we went to the zoo with Heidi and Amaya or the time we sang the Newsies at the cousin reunion or the times we stayed up too late telling stories. I can't tell you about the time I told him I liked your papa.
I could tell you all those things, but it's not the same.
Oh, darling. Even now as you bulge my belly with your feet and fists, I know I am not the mama I pictured myself being. I only have 23 moonlights until you are scheduled to arrive and I am a mess most days. I am afraid of many things. And I don't know how to tell you about your uncle Will, but this is a start. He is alive with Christ, but he is not here. It will never make sense. I'm sorry about that.
Dear Little One, Mama is grunting a lot these days. Rolling over is rough and I am a little wobbly when I walk... maybe God wants me to get a sense of the struggles you will have when you finally meet the sunshine. Do you struggle inside there? Or are all your movements dances?
A kind lady named Mary J. performed freestyle poetry in Bryant Park for us over lunch on Thursday. You must have been awake because I was sitting in partial sun and her voice had a rhythm like reading a book. Anyway, it was wonderful and we tipped her - you and me - under those green, London plane trees.
You seem to be confusing the crowds, my sweet. A very nice Brazilian woman at the Bryant Park B stop told me you were most certainly a boy, but the day before a Peruvian lady in Jamba Juice said she knew you must be a girl (she also said I looked cute, which I appreciated). The copier repair guy thinks you are a boy because I'm pointy and your Papa thinks you are a girl because I am round. Oh, who are you, dear little one, and how will you laugh when I tell you everyone's predictions?
I'm sorry for the confusion, by the way, about the names. I went ahead calling him Daddy before he was convinced that sounded just right. What do you think - do "Mama" and "Papa" suit us? You are really the one who will decide. Maybe you will call us "Nuni" and "Didu" - it would be so hipster if you made up your own mind. We'll talk about skinny jeans some other day.
For now - this little story about your Papa. It happened 10 months ago, but I thought you should know more about the man with the funny voices who plays all the best records (and occasionally sings Justin Bieber's, "Baby" right over my belly).
I had just finished work on the last Friday of August and I took my new route (the 5 at Grand Central, to the Q at Union Square) to the Prospect Park stop and then walked the short 377 feet to our new apartment building. I hadn't seen it yet, because he'd found the apartment while I was at work two weeks before. This late August night was my first official "homecoming."
I punched buttons for A64 outside the building and he buzzed me inside. When I got to the sixth floor, your Papa was waiting (dripping with a full day of summer, city moving sweat) and beaming with new apartment excitement. He scooped me up and carried me across our first threshold. I was blushing and feeling silly , but I loved it.
We haven't had a family meeting or voted, but that little threshold performance established a family rule: We will never skimp on celebrations.
You've already been a part of several of the big ones - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and some great birthdays. Do you remember the way the candles were lit in November and the way the champagne spilled out at Easter? But, sometimes special days don't get a square on the calendar or vacation days.
This world will always try tell you how to live in it best, my little one. But it never said anything to me about the day your Papa carried me across the threshold of our home or the Monday nights hosting neighbors and strangers in our apartment for pancakes or the night picnics on the fire escape. The world didn't teach me how to celebrate well in grief or sing for joy in pain.
It's confusing, this world.
But I'm not going to apologize for the struggle, though I want to. I want to say sorry for the broken down cities and all the deep, furrowed eyebrows. I want to say sorry for the days of imperfect weather and for the impatient commuters. I want to say sorry for the smog in the air and the greedy politicians. I want to say sorry this isn't Eden, little one.
I am not going to apologize, no.
Because God - remember, your Creator who knows you so well? God is not apologizing. He is not sorry for making you. He is not sorry you are getting ready to say hello to a smoggy, grouchy, rough-and-tumble world. One beautiful thing about God is that he will never give up renewing things. He celebrates every day with a sunrise, every season with new colors. He celebrates with the stars in the skies and with the cherry blossoms lining the promenade in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He celebrates in the fertile ground of farms in Iowa and in the hearts of people gathered in His name.
He doesn't hold back when it comes to celebrations, not even a little bit. He withholds no good thing. There is a verse in the book of Psalms, in the Bible, that says,
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)
We want our home to be like God's home for us: withholding no good thing. We'll need your help, though, because the world does not get less confusing as you live more days in it.
Help us remember this - can you? Remind us that we want to receive all the celebrations God stirs up and we want to offer celebrations with the same spirit.
Oh, does any of this make sense darling?
I know I have not nested enough or planned enough or read enough or enoughed enough - with this whole parenting thing, I mean. I know this because it seems like all pregnant ladies have lists - to do, to buy, to think, to read, to reflect, to pray. There are also the "don't worry if you haven't made a list - this is the one list you'll need" lists.
I'm not as organized as I used to be (or maybe I am just more honest). I have no lists. [Actually, that's not true - I am keeping a list of songs that pop into my head unannounced. So far I have: 21 Questions by 50 Cent, Away in a Manger, Video by India Arie, The Storm is Passing Over, We Like to Party, Easter Song by Keith Green, I'm Coming Out by Diana Ross. And those are just the songs that come when I'm near the pen and paper at work where I keep track.]
I do daydream about baby's hair color and baby's imagination and what kind of family we will be when baby turns five. I do have doubts about being a mom, though with every day my body confirms that I am created for it. I do imagine what Brooklyn will look like from new eyes as a stay-at-home mom. I do wonder about the privilege of welcoming a baby with special needs - if that is one of the surprises waiting on delivery day.
A few days ago I gave a strange, bullet pointed version of "my story" for our Brooklyn Fellows class. In the process of preparing, I remembered some precious words my mom said once on a terraza in Santa Lucia, Honduras. My parents were visiting from the States for a week and I had taken them to all my favorite spots - the garbage dump school, the feeding center, the orphanage, and the home for boys - before bringing them to my student's home for a late lunch (except that, in typical ambiguous fashion, Alejandra and I had never communicated or confirmed this plan... so my dad ended up eating a LOT of pastel (cake) and coffee in the absence of meat).
When my dad was on his third slice and my mom had shared all of our galavanting stories, Alejandra's mom asked, "Don't you worry about Caroline being here?"
She answered it just like she would her age or her affinity for the country life, "Well, she's not ours. She is the Lord's." So simply, so true.
I nodded with all my silly, missional enthusiasm. I had done a lot of things in that wonderful country - hitchhiked in El Salvador and La Tigra, been stranded overnight hiking a mountain, driven students through El Centro at night, been pulled over by fake cops, taken students with bodyguards on mission trips, rode in the back of pickup trucks, wandered up to houses that looked like mechanic shops, accepted invitations from neighbor-strangers, stayed up all night with students baking pumpkin muffins and making sushi at 2 am, argued with cops who pulled me over and wanted to take my car... the list is too long and too embarrassing to recount. Not all of it was wise or prayerful or good.
My parents prayed a lot. And they never told me to slow down or to move back home.
"She is the Lord's."
I don't know yet the kind of courage it takes to believe that as a parent. I think it's the way she said it - like I am first God's family and I am on loan. It was a fact like the price of corn, but it came out like she was announcing I had royal relatives. It rippled across every belief in my heart that God is sovereign and a kind of kinship welled up as if to say, "I am the Lord's!"
All of the Scripture I read as a child was not mumbo-jumbo. All those verses and sermons and conversations in the kitchen before dinner and talks before morning milking chores - those were about my Father. I belong to Him.
And He is a good keeper, the best.
I have thought about my mom's words often, especially this past year when we have held so tightly to Will with possessive pronouns: my son, my brother, my husband, my friend, mine.
And even as we push against it, God is saying, "He is mine. He belongs to me. I am his keeper. And I do not fail."
That's hard to hear.
It was a strange time to get pregnant - in the first few months of marriage and in the first few months of grief. But God never stopped being faithful, never stopped keeping promises, never stopped claiming us as His. So, now I pray that when people ask, "Aren't you afraid your baby will..." we will respond, "Oh, Baby K is not ours. Baby K is the Lord's."
It sounds crazy, but I can still hear it spoken over me, like last year's corn prices and the announcement of royal heritage.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thank you for not claiming me as your own - for doing the harder thing in confessing that I am the Lord's.
He wore a blue Nike track jacket, but I didn't know that until we were above ground at Union Square. My head started to clear with the smell of city rain and I realized clumsily: I didn't know this man who had walked me up the steps from the subway, thrown down his backpack on the sidewalk for a seat and was now carefully explaining that he would walk 10 feet to buy water from a food truck. I was nodding. He would be back in less than two minutes. More nodding. I sat there on his backpack and breathed. There was laughter hidden somewhere in my future self - looking back on this very personal NYC moment. He returned with water and I drank the whole bottle. I leaned on his arm and we went back to the subway after deciding that water and fresh air had cured the worst of my spell. Then he found a seat for me on the 6 train and we talked about life in the city, his wife and the family they want to start, and all the neighborhoods they have lived in. I asked if he would be late to work and he said he would be just fine. When I assured him I could make it the three blocks to my office beyond Grand Central Station, he went on to 57th.
And that was how I met Rick, my Tuesday subway angel.
My doctor said it is one of the most common calls she gets - fainting in the subway. The morning rush is shoulder to shoulder, the overheated air is stale, and the underground is dark like a cave. Over the course of this pregnancy, I finally learned what my sister has been telling me since I moved to Brooklyn in 2013: Care, you can do whatever you want - nothing is surprising in NY.
And it's true. I've crouched in a corner of the Q train, thrown up in a subway grate, bypassed the bathroom line at Bryant Park, worn tennis shoes with everything, thrown up in Starbucks cups, stretched out pre-pregnancy work clothes, thrown up in trash cans, used an embarrassing amount of dry shampoo, thrown up in ultrasound appointments, consumed a senior citizen's portion of fiber, and regularly rubbed my belly like a little buddha. Oh, and one of my coworkers just left an entire box of thin mint cookies on my desk, so I might add "consumed an entire box of thin mints in one sitting" to the list (Update: proudly did not).
I'm not a pretty pregnant lady. But I didn't have time to create expectations about my pregnant self in the whirlwind of marriage and moving and newlywedding and grief and winter and the general pace of life in the city, so I guess that means I'm not disappointed. It's probably better that everything is a surprise.
And the surprises come in all kinds of ways.
The other night, I lost track of time while I tracked the rolling and tumbling movements on my belly. I still can't believe there is a human in there. I watch and I hold my breath for the next fist bump or soccer kick to bulge out beside my belly button... and then my eyes get big and I gasp, "Oh! There you are!" Every time the sensation of a little, moving human surprises me. There is a little human in there.
And I am the home for this little human for another 9 weeks (maybe less if Baby K gets antsy). I am the home, but I'm not the keeper.
The words "you hem me in" are making new sense from Psalm 139. This baby is hemmed inside the walls of my womb - kept on all sides. And I am learning that God's keeping of us is the purest preservation and the most perfect protection.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121 ESV)
His is a keeping that never sleeps, never tires, never wearies, never pauses. His is a keeping that is attentive to tiny fingernails and to terrible nightmares. His is a keeping that is secure like a mountain and tender like a magnolia.
This is a Psalm of Ascent - a song the Israelites would sing as they traveled up into the city of Jerusalem, believing God was literally keeping them from the harsh sun, the dark night, and all evil. Just as he keeps the heavens above the earth, he is keeping us too.
He will keep your life.
That line really gets me - that promise to guard and protect my life and the life inside my womb. I close my eyes and imagine He is keeping us in the same way, in the cleft of the rock and in the palm of His hands. I open my eyes and don't know how analogies translate. All the tidy "hemming in" gets pushed outside the lines in 42nd Street traffic and fluorescent lights and fainting subway episodes.
But, there He is. Keeping me.
Dear Little One, You are not so little anymore and I am sorry for all the crowding - I'll take most of the credit for that. "Petite" runs on both sides of your mama's family, so there was really no way to escape it. Your great grandmas Avonell and Phyllis are firecrackers (and their daughters, too), so it's fair to say height is never a good measurement of energy or character or spunk.
The tingle of Spring finally turned into bare shoulders, ice cream cones and a long riverside walk on Sunday afternoon. Did you feel the sunshine by the Hudson? Did you hear our laughter?
I forgot about everything productive I meant to accomplish over the weekend. Sometimes that is okay.
Conversation or adventures or that amazing patch of afternoon light on the kitchen floor are more important than lists sometimes. I won't need to teach you that, in the beginning. I think you'll come out knowing already. Is that the eternity in you?
Sunday church stretched into brunch and brunch stretched into ice cream and ice cream stretched into Joel asking questions in our living room about how to love people better.
When your daddy pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to see if we could have company later, I thought about all those productive things I needed to do - the laundry and the dishes and the floors with those grey, fuzzy monsters in the corners - all those things that take a backseat when the sun comes out... (when you get here, that list will be much longer they say).
I love your daddy for pulling me aside like he does - giving me time to prepare, even if I can't actually clean anything up. I said "yes" knowing we would all walk into the apartment at the same time. But Joel brushed aside any apologies I had about the dishes in the sink and the socks on the floor, because we all share homes and lives and french press coffee.
People say this will change when you come, little one, but we are praying you get swept up in it, too. Or maybe we are praying that, for you, family and church and neighbors and home are all words with open doors and welcome mats. I pray this kind of thing over you while I rub the little basketball you live inside. Do you hear these prayers?
The sun was setting when Joel rummaged for some towels. I thought he was offering to help clean because your dad was knee deep in sawdust in the middle of the living room after re-purposing a table into a bench (so handy - I can't wait for the two of you to be knee deep in projects together). But, instead he cleared his throat and said, "I felt convicted today in the sermon that, I ... should wash your feet."
I immediately thought about my feet.
I thought about sweet Joel and all his good intentions, but I mostly thought about my unpainted toenails and the last time I could reach over this basketball belly to give my heels some TLC. I fluttered around for a dish to put water in and your daddy and I sat next to each other on the new bench he just made. I squirmed and felt roses color my cheeks as Joel read about a man named Jesus washing his friends' feet.
Joel knelt down on his knees, washed our feet, and then prayed over us. And all the time I was praying for a heart to receive this gift. Your mama
can be is proud and receiving love can be hard. But this is the lesson of dirty feet and flushed cheeks, little one:
if we are ever too proud, we will always stay dirty.
We will grow up together - you and me and Daddy and hopefully some siblings. We will learn from you and you will learn from us and we will hopefully all be distracted by the right things. And we'll all get dirty - sometimes with dirt and sawdust and toejam, but sometimes with invisible things like jealousy and selfishness and greed. There will be people who look like that man named Jesus, who help expose the ugly - to wash it and to remind us of the great and humble love of our Father who sees all the dirty things in our lives and still bends down to make us clean. These kinds of people are very special.
Anyway, these are my thoughts and I've rambled too long. There was a man named C.S. Lewis and he wrote about a boy who woke up as a scaly dragon and could only shed the skin if he jumped in a pool. Maybe I'll read that story to you soon. It's a very good story.
We miss you, little one. It feels like you are everywhere with us, but not quite close enough. I still think about your wrinkly knees.
all my love,
Read more letters to my little one here.
Almost and mostly everything these days is undecided, though it produces less anxiety in me than it used to. I think that must be in part due to weariness, but I am thankful regardless. It is good to not be anxious, even if being "made to lie in green pastures" comes about by swollen, pregnant ankles and grief brain. I think God's goodness is inside these things - when our eyes shut without being told and when our shoulders sigh without great effort. I had an urge, several times in the first months of pregnancy, to lean over slightly to a fellow subway rider and say, "I know this might sound strange, but would you mind if I rested my head on your shoulder for a few stops? I'm just... so tired." I didn't ever follow through, partially (I think) because I had played it over so many times in my head that I would either be unsatisfied by rejection or unsatisfied by the thought that I was just doing it to make the story in my head true.
So, you can imagine my surprise when Patrick said recently, "You have a glow, you really do!" He added the last part because he knew I wouldn't believe him. He knew I would try to make it about having showered or wearing a new shirt. But I knew he wasn't joking, because weariness has a way of making you a truth teller. If you are well acquainted with being made to lie down in green pastures, you gladly accept the honest and brilliant words "you have a glow" and then you pack them in your travel satchel - within easy reach for when the journey spreads from the recline of pastures to the incline of a mountain.
There are other things in that satchel, too. Ultrasound photos and conversations with sisters and deviled eggs. Well, not actual deviled eggs. But, the deviled eggs we packed in cupcake tins to take to dinner last night.
After meeting up with our neighbor friends for rainy day Dim Sum in Chinatown, we sloshed back to prepare roasted potatoes and deviled eggs to complement the roasted chicken and lemon tossed brussel sprouts our friends' were making a few subway stops away. Patrick whipped up homemade mayonnaise while I tossed salt and pepper potatoes in thyme, sage and olive oil. He convinced me the the whole grain mustard would be better presented in small dollops on top instead of mixed in with the egg and relish. I should always trust his photographer's eye.
Walking in to their basement apartment is a little bit magic. We relax into hugs and updates and banter while we shuffle coats and food and chase their little one in circles around the kitchen. The deviled eggs are set out for appetizers and the guys huddle in the office while we talk about baby preparations and bring things to dinner-ready in the oven. Then, we sit down to pray over the food.
All of it regular and all of it magic, like the sun that warms a patch of kitchen floor or the way a flower bouquet speaks reassurances in its silent post on the mantle. Regular magic.
And the deviled eggs remind me that we talked - really talked - over dinner. We scooped portions on plates and opened every conversational door that is supposed to stay closed at dinner parties while the little one peppered our deep thoughts with very serious requests for grapes and strawberries. We nitty gritty talked about marriage and love and community and insecurities and the times we've given in to irrational fears. Equal parts affirmation and question, equal parts confidence and fear, equal parts doubt and faith. Equal parts certain and unknown. All parts family.
Because almost and mostly everything is undecided these days and it is good to know we are not alone in indecision. And sometimes we need to be reminded that our indecisiveness is not weakness.
We pushed against the expectations of culture and role models and voices in our heads and then, one by one and in very different ways, we spoke truths about God and the identity He gave us. We said things like, "I have seen the way that God has blessed your work - what you do is really amazing." And, "..We have to start from a place where we believe God is sovereign, a place where we believe He gave us our identity." And, "We can see God's heart for hospitality in you." And, "You have really been such an encouragement to me."
Our words came easily because it's instinct to bandage a broken body and because this is kind of what we are made for, to "encourage one another and build each other up." God is good to fill our mouths with words He has already written and promises He has already spoken, so that we do not forget His faithfulness and persistent renewal of creation. None of us are less broken or more figured out - we are equally unsure of how all our stories will unfold.
Nothing is more figured out today. No questions got answered in the way we would all prefer. No decisions got made about the future last night.
But, I am remembering a little bit more that I am called "child" in a family with a steadfast and faithful God who knows about the wiggles in my womb and the swelling in my feet. And He knows exactly and especially when His children need to come together to speak truth when almost and mostly everything is undecided.
Dear Little One, I wish you could feel the tingle of Spring.
The city people are braving less layers, store windows are adjusting promising bright pastel displays, and there is an unmistakable allure of something new when the breeze rushes past in Bryant Park. Spring is magic. I'm not sure what to tell you about magic because I'm not even sure if that's the right word. There are... well, there are some things in this world and outside of it that are so big - so so big that words are too small. No matter how hard we think and study and explain, the weight of this magical glory breaks through to push a green bud past crumbly dry earth.
Does that sound crazy? It is okay if it does.
I pray this mystery will always feel crazy in our home, but you'll have to help us. You will probably see glory when we don't. You will probably chase wonder while we stare. Please, invite us along into your world where words are too small. Maybe we'll all giggle out insufficient analogies together someday. Or maybe you are the type that prefers to be present instead of troubling with words. Either way and any way, we would love for you to help us see the magic better.
He is coming back from California tonight, your daddy, and I can't wait to see him. Maybe you already know. You are turnip sized now, they tell me, but every inch of you is in a dance so maybe you know he is coming. You, little one, are making me wonder. How do you get formed inside of there? Why the nose and ears this week and not before? Magic.
Confessions are magic, too.
And this is what I want to tell you tonight. We've been doing a lot of confessing around here lately and then your Aunt Tam sent me a message tonight, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." The verse came from the book of Hebrews in the Bible, Chapter 10 and verse 23. Yes, I thought. Hold onto hope.
But, then I sat a little bit. Sometimes it is good to be still and let your heart hear something you haven't already affirmed - some new bit of magic and mystery. So, I sat a little bit thinking about the confession of our hope.
I am not any good at confessing - you can ask Daddy. It's hard for me to get humble and admit the trouble I've caused. But, I wondered if this "confession of our hope" meant that we remember the magic that there is hope at all. And then we speak it out loud.
"There is hope."
And somehow, in the speaking it and believing it, we are confessing all those other less magical things have failed as much as we are holding fast to the confession that the most magical thing is steadfast and faithful.
Here I mean God, little one. I do want to be clear because soon the word "magic" might be spoilt for you. Your Maker is the Maker of all things - in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, things with words and things without them. He is the one who is forming you, but you probably already know that. Maybe you know Him better now than I ever will.
I worry my letters to you are unfinished and scattered.
I love you so, little one. Soon I will squeeze your wrinkly knees.
Read more letters to my little one here.
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.
Dear Little One, You are the size of a large banana now. Somehow I can't picture that - you stretched out so long in my belly. Last week you were a mango, so I'm confused by all this fruit measurement. Maybe we will keep measuring you by fruits when we meet you on this side. That would make your Daddy chuckle.
This morning I squinted against a the cold winter sun on the subway, the reflection so bright I could see it with my eyes closed. It's not the kind of sun that heats your skin and freckles your cheeks. A winter sun is confusing that way. I remember waking up before the winter sun, as a little girl in Iowa, and watching the moon bounce off the quiet snowdrifts. Everything was dark and still; I thought I could get lost in those fields looking for cows huddled in nooks and behind trees to shield the cold. I felt very little under that dark, diamond sky. I still do.
But, this morning it was the winter sun not the winter moon that blinded my closed eyes. I was on the B train going into the city, early enough for work that I could pick up a decaf latte at Le Pain Quotidien (for the mornings I feel fancy). Also, early enough to walk slowly by the accordion man so we could both hear the melodies that fill the stretch of tunnel between 6th and 5th Avenue underground. He is a little man with a kind face and belted trousers. His hair is combed and he has set his stage just so. I try to navigate the strangers so I can walk close enough for him to see me smile as he sways to his classical song.
Can you hear the music?
This morning, as I walked by, his tempo rushed into a dance for just a moment - swelling over the top of my head. I hope the notes made their way to you.
This little accordion man is like the winter sun, but underground. He is there with his open suitcase and floating fingers every morning, serenading the early hours of the waking world in that cold and dull concrete hallway beneath the sidewalk. He has a sweet sadness I wish you could see. Maybe you hear it in his music, but it's why I try to take the morning tunnel walk with Midwest pace... The pull and push of his keys somehow melt the concrete a little bit and the sad tone is one I welcome. It is honest and beautiful and true.
Can you tell Mama is sad?
I heard somewhere that you can sense my emotions and my attitude. I don't feel good about that, but I suppose (if that's true) you are meeting me the most honest way. I love you, little one, but my love is not as deep or as pure or as holy as I want it to be. My love does not lack sadness or pain or doubt. My love for you is complicated and overwhelming and growing faster than I can understand. Forgive me already, little one, for failing at love. You will find soon enough that we all fail at that. But it is a funny thing, Love. Love doesn't need for me to succeed to reach you. These are lessons for other days, lessons we will learn together.
A good friend told me, in moments of mother-to-be panic, I should think about one of your features. She chose fingers and toes. I seem to keep thinking of the wrinkles around your knees. I can't tell you why. Girls do not think fondly of wrinkly knees, but I am thinking about those little creases as all one pound of you stretches and somersaults and grows in new fruit measurements every week.
Can you feel our affection for you?
I've been writing you letters in my head for weeks but I realized you would never read them. I guess today I just really wanted you to know about this accordion man at 42nd Street - Bryant Park. He is wonderful and sad and beautiful. I would love to know what you think of him.
Read more letters to my little one here.