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
The advent wreath is uneven - dried eucalyptus folded and woven around a green foam ring with four purple candles sticking up like smooth royal towers in a bramble patch. My grandpa made the wooden base that holds the large, white pineapple candle in the center. And the bulky tradition sits unceremoniously on our table, on top of a feast-speckled fabric runner and underneath long eucalyptus branches leftover from a chandelier I couldn't throw away. The irreverent transformation of our antique gateleg table did not have all the feels of spiritual renewal. No mystery hid in the clinking of cider and whiskey glasses. A holy hush did not hover above our bowls of butternut squash soup.
We ladled out seconds and then reclined to read the liturgy for the first week of Advent. Tam struck the match that lit the first candle - the candle of Hope - and Grace read from Matthew 13,
35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows,[c] or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
I heard my soul saying the emotions are spent. We are dead broke on emotions so I don't try to wrestle more out. I just say, "Ok, soul." And then I heard the words from this passage and thought, but at least let's stay awake.
The neighbors must have opinions. Our windows were open, on the first day of the first week of Advent, to let the last cool breezes of autumn hug our shoulders. While the good folks next door were high-fiving touchdowns and shaking fists at referees, we were singing "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" ... all the verses. And then we sang the first verse again to layer some harmonies under the skillful conductorship of our friend Jeremy. The prayer of confession sounded the most Monty Python - all nine of us confessing out loud, with the same words, how we have strayed and how badly we need to be rescued, forgiven, and restored.
It's the 14:39 mark in Bach's Cantata 140. After the soul pleads salvation's quicker coming for six minutes, Zion hears the watchmen calling... and I say to my soul, let's stay awake for this.
Wake up and don't sleep through this. Be awake to plead and to grieve and to joy and to see and to fail and to receive and to hear. Be awake to anticipate the song of a Savior.
Be awake for Advent, I say to my soul - all the irreverence of it... the leftover decorations and the mess of it. Be awake and at all costs stay awake. Invite enough shoulders around your table that elbows touch your side. And when you get sleepy, soul, light a candle. When your eyes droop, soul, read Scripture. When you have no ceremony, soul, raise a toast. Stay awake, soul, because there is a song after the song you are singing and you will want to hear.
God, please help me stay awake.
Today, the rain. The slanting, pounding, and unforgiving kind.
I'm only a little bit sad I can't go to the laundromat, again. Instead, I am nursing a tall glass of water, lighting my new creamy Anthropologie candle, and letting this Rain for Roots album preach to my heart.
[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=3213214933 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 track=1988729039]
I could say I am singing these songs for my little one - so I will have all the words memorized when Baby K comes. But, the truth is, I need to hear this invitation. I need to remember that God is not rushed in His love for us. He invites us into a slow and steady love, full of peace and rest and strength.
My pastor mentioned a passage in Ezekiel several sermons ago that I had never heard. In Ezekiel 16, God is remembering the history of the people Israel and compares it to a baby being born. This baby was abhorred, thrown out into an open field without clothes and without care, without compassion. But when God passed by, He reached into all the naked, bloody mess and said, "Live!" Our pastor had us imagine a God who would tend to an infant child like a mother or a father would - with gentle hands and sweet assurances.
God deals with us in such a way, with kind and slow attention to the dryness on our elbows and the rain that seeps through our boots to our toes. God cares for us in such a way, but I forget.
Yesterday, I forgot.
It was a day like a backwards onion, an ugly one. Layers on layers of frustrations and emotions but I couldn't figure out how to get back to the root of it all so I could be "okay." I do not trust pregnancy hormones and I already had a bad relationship with woman emotions. I would rather swallow everything down with the eight glasses of prescribed pregnancy water I am drinking everyday.
It got messy in the middle. You would think that a girl who has morning sickness-ed (and stealthily recovered) at the Q train Canal stop, the reception desk, the conference room, and various bathrooms could swallow down an onion's worth of emotions. Nope, sure could not.
I met Patrick at Brooklyn Fellows class and we went through an ancient prayer exercise called The Examen where you use Scripture to move through these five meditations:
1. Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow.
It was a bad day to have this kind of meditation. Review the day with gratitude? I had spent much of my day feeling faulted and failed. Pay attention to my emotions? They went haywire. I had a meltdown. I fell completely apart while saying, "I hate that I'm falling apart." There was a lot to pray about. Looking forward to tomorrow was hard.
When we got home, I jumped right into bed. Patrick came around to my side to tuck me in with encouragement, but I pulled the sheets over my head and said, "I can't talk to you right now." I don't know why I said that. I knew the tears would come and I didn't want him to have to deal with the onion I couldn't seem to swallow or peel, even with St. Ignatius and his ancient prayer exercise.
He didn't let me hide. He hugged me as I cried it out and listened as I sputtered, "I don't even know myself... I'm so frustrated that I am angry... and I am angry because I don't like who I am right now, because I don't know what to do about it."
I don't know how long he listened or how long I cried, but at one point he pulled back the covers and said, "Get up. We are going to pray." And we knelt by the bed and he prayed it out. When he got done with all his honest words I said, "Amen." He refused to let anger sleep in our bed. I think you should pray, he said.
I was still tense and slobbery, but I got some words out and relaxed into a simple conversation that has lately been God's one-sided, "Come." I confessed anger and asked for peace. I started to feel the slower pace of His rest and I started to believe He had compassion on my slobbery face.
Come to me, Walk with me Learn the rhythms of my grace
Come to me, I have all you need Learn to rest even while you are awake
Are you tired? Are you worried? Worn out from the day? Have you been in a hurry? I will slow the pace
My sister got some hard news this week. My mom had a hard day on Friday. Some might say these days feel the worst, but our family has respectfully redefined our use of superlatives. That is part of the onion layers, too - the figuring out emotions and frustrations in light of the great grief weight. I think we fall apart more than we stay together, but that's why there is this simple truth about the tender care of a Father who slows the pace.
In New York and Des Moines and little Lewis. In Michigan and California and Ames. In every place where there is hurting, every place where there is brokenness, and every place where God's creation lives, there is an invitation to slow the pace.
I am glad for Psalm prayers I don't write and for Saturdays where silence can really stretch out. I didn't realize I was whispering at the bagel shop until the sweet red-haired girl leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows over tortoise shell Warby Parkers, "Sorry, hon, what did you say?" "Um, ehm.. I'd like an egg and avocado..."
"Oh, you want number 4 on 7 grain? Anything else?"
I felt like a child whose mom sent her out for eggs and this redhead knew I was breaking the rules. But I just bought a Dirt Devil and I'm hosting Thanksgiving, so I read the [free copy of the] New York Times like I belonged in the adult world. I picked up a few groceries on my way home. And when I got home, I stayed. I baked and pureed pumpkin, hand wrote a few cards, made brown sugar+cinnamon+chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow, put away dishes and drank tea. (Okay, I also ate four Oreos but I did not feel good about that). At some point in the middle of the candlelit silence, I read this:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7 ESV)
And I breathed prayers without any new words. All these Psalm words are prayers enough and my words can't get that big. My words can't make heavens and my breath can't make host to fill them. The waters ignore my commands and the deeps don't respond. Only God can do this. And only God would want to cause this kind of creation commotion when He needs no one and no thing.
I feel very created today, very in my place.
Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)
Why is the One who gathers the waters in a heap also my help and shield? And how is He that?
The radiator is hissing in the corner, sputtering like antique apartment heaters do. It feels selfish to stay indoors, but I don't feel well and I can't remember the last day when I didn't have plans. I suppose that is an excuse. Scripture needs silent space and time. I came to no conclusions and wrote no prayers; I don't feel better or wiser. But I am remembering. I remember who the Lord says that He is. And I remember that I trust Him.
I trust that He is God and He has not given up on His redemption plan. He is very much in the middle of making all things new - old things and dead things and dry bones and this old, stubborn heart.
I've been a lot of inward lately. Last week, I was walking out of the subway after a frustrating stop-and-go "We are delayed because of train traffic ahead. We apologize for any inconvenience" situations. I was bundled and hunched and leaving sighs on the sidewalk when someone touched my arm and pulled me close. Patrick was leaving to go to work, but caught me just in time to say, "Hey, I love you." I hoped that he couldn't see all the self-pity in my face because the streetlight lit up his and it was full of the best husband love.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1 ESV)
Sometimes living is labor. I don't mean working the 9-5. I mean just living. I let Psalm 127:1 sing over some of the silence today until it felt like my deeps started to listen.
And I remember. Unless the Lord builds the house (read: plans, days, vocation, prayer, family, community), I will labor in vain. My building efforts end up being for my own glory or my own preservation or my own pride. But, the Lord - He is a great builder and none of His plans go to waste. None.
It is still Saturday and there is a bit of it left to savor.
To read more from my grief journey, you can find those posts here.
The trees lit up in shades like candles on a cake in the quiet of Maine. Quiet had a sound on those winding backroads and hiking trails and it was the perfect escape. After work last Friday, Patrick scooped me up into a North-bound surprise in a rented VW Jetta with 21 miles on it. I thought about putting pen to paper a few times, but I didn't. It was a weekend like a benediction, that deserved my palms face up and free of distraction. And I relented. I gave in. I let sunshine joy freckle my cheeks through the windshield and forest joy crunch under my feet and marriage joy come at me from all sides. It has been pressing in for a while now, but I have been resisting. I still am, I guess - resisting joy.
And that's strange because joy has never been this hard... joy is something I thought I really understood. And then I got married. And then my mom called to say my brother died. And now things are complicated. The reality is, things were complicated before, but it felt easier to regulate when I only had to explain things to myself. If I didn't feel joy, I believed it was there anyway and I pushed through with gritted teeth. I sometimes got silent or reflective and I sometimes hid away until the clouds cleared, but I was
almost proud that I knew my way around joy.
Now there is someone in my life whose joy is wrapped up in my joy. My sadness and silence and sour days can actually hurt him - that is how much my husband cares about my joy. There are, maybe, legitimate reasons to resist joy (or at least reasons for tension) - like grief. But then there are very selfish and very proud reasons to resist joy and I am ashamed to say I know all the reasons. To make things more complicated, I care about Patrick's joy too. I want him to be full of the most possible joy.
And being married feels like the craziest experiment in the human condition - both the condition of being image bearers of God and the condition of being broken by sin. It's like putting everything most precious to two people inside a clothes dryer and cranking to high heat. Maybe it's not like that. Maybe it's more like what Paul says in Romans, "I do not understand myself. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
I can't tell you how badly I want to step into joy, because I know joy is strength and delight... but also because I know Patrick cares so much about my joy. And it doesn't make any sense to resist it. Not a bit of sense.
We were making our way back to the city on Sunday and the air in that little rental car was getting crowded. As buildings stretched up into skylines instead of trees, I squirmed under the weight of city living. In the last miles of colorful highway driving, I rocked deep to this song - as deep as one can rock in the passenger seat of a traffic jam. My favorite dusk colors were getting painted across the sky and my favorite human was all delight behind the wheel.
The "carried away" part is like the beats of my soul when I resist joy - carried away by questions and doubts and fears and failures. And I can feel my fingernails pressing into my palms. Carried away. The weekend was like a benediction, one I received with open hands and one that made me aware of my everyday posture - the regular way I hold my hands and keep my heart. Ahem... nails in palms and carried away. I swayed extra because I wanted that lesson of open palms and numbering days to get stuck in my soul. Almost a week later and I have bad news to report. Looks like this is a daily declaration, friends. And some days my declaration sounds more like a question.
[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/81958112" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
I am praying that the Lord would teach me to number my days - not to know how many, but to believe that He does. Praying, believing, trusting, living, believing, praying, hoping, waiting. All these things.
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12
If God is on my side, who could be against me?
I'll tell you who - apathy and grief and sadness and confusion and depression and discontent, especially discontent. That's who. These are all "against me."
It's gonna get good and honest, friends. First, you should play this song by NEEDTOBREATHE that I danced to in my living room last week. I didn't even care that the curtains weren't all the way closed and our 5-feet-away neighbors could probably see me stretching out in homemade modern dance moves on slippery hardwood floors. It's okay, they clearly don't care that we can see them.
Well, this is officially the weirdest part of my grief story (does it keep getting weirder?) - the part where I am still living, where I still have appointments and things coming up on the weekends and plans for this summer. This is the weirdest part of grief and it wrings at my insides usually when I am least prepared. Like when we watched a beautiful, northern New York sun sink behind mountains on Sunday or every time I walk in the door after a full day of work and see the excitement in my husband's eyes because I am home.
People will find me after this post - perfectly lovely and well meaning folks - and they will say, "Give yourself time, Caroline. Give yourself grace to feel whatever you need to feel." I get that, or at least I think I am starting to. But, I also feel the Spirit telling me to preach Romans to my fickle heart. Grief isn't a trump card to "do whatever you want until you feel like doing something else." I don't get to sin that grace might increase.
And it isn't all grief. That is the worst part.
I think am afraid of being content. I am afraid, I guess, that being "ok" where I am professionally, creatively, and intellectually means I have given up on everything I haven't accomplished. I think I was/am afraid that this is it. I guess I want what everyone else wants: purpose, joy, fulfillment, significance. And grief makes me want all those things more while sapping my strength to chase like I could when I was less weary. So, I am afraid to be fully where I am if that place is too humble or too confused or even just too regular.
But there is a crack in the door filled with light.
I am learning about joy. There have been sweet times in my life where I think I felt the full freedom of joy and then there are times when I would rather slum it in the wasteland then turn my head towards the light. I would rather proudly declare the things that are dark than step into the light of the open doorway. Marriage is teaching me these things about joy and it is painful. I didn't think I would be so resistant to my own benefit.
Pat is so patient and encouraging as I sort out my grumbles. He reminds me often that joy is a choice because God is not different in dark times. God is not less light or less provision. God is the same and He is all we need to get by, really.
There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament, one of my favorites. It's actually in that long and tedious book of Numbers (21). The Israelites, all grumbles, are out in the desert. The whole freshly exodus-ed group was telling Moses they thought it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to wander around in the wilderness (as free people with miracle food falling from heaven). Then they started to notice snakes at their ankles, snakes that bit people and bites that took their lives. The people came back to Moses and pleaded for him to do something - to speak on their behalf to God (who they knew they had offended). God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole and to tell the people that whoever would look up at the pole would live. And that's what happened - some looked up and some didn't, but the snakes still swerved at their ankles.
I really relate to this grumble-heavy waywardness. After being saved from a tyrant and preserved in the wilderness, the Israelites doubt that God can/will provide for them, for their joy. To experience God's provision, the people had to obey His Word. The snakes stayed, but He saved those who believed His word because God is a promise keeper.
I wonder... I wonder how they talked about that snake-saving event - if later they said, "I am looking at the bronze serpent and I am not dying, but boy are there so many snakes around my ankles." Because, that's where I feel I am.
My pride keeps me from stepping into the light of joy because I really like to remember how hard it is with all these snakes. It's hard to fully step into the provision of marriage joy and work joy and friendship joy and creation joy... because half my heart wants to talk about snakes at my ankles.
The point of "God is on my side" is not that there is no one against me. The point is that God is sovereign over everything that is against me. There is not a single snake or emotion or creative brick wall that is more powerful or able to steal the joy God provides. If God is on my side, which snake can prevail?
I'd like to stand in that crack of the door filled with light - to make statements about joy that aren't quickly qualified by snakes at my ankles. I'd like to bring the grief and grumpiness of me into that shaft of light and believe that His light is enough to cast out all darkness forever.
Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.
Before my mom could finish her sentence, I felt my body crumble and heard my voice wail. I was prepared for bad news because of her urgent text, but I wasn't prepared for this. I didn't know grief until yesterday, not like this. "William was killed in a car accident..."
A new gravity crushed my limbs closer to the earth and a new sadness stretched my soul straight apart. And somewhere, I could hear Patrick still on the phone with my mom on speaker and I think she said, "We are praying for you both." In her wisdom, she refused to tell me the bad news until I was with Patrick. She insisted that Christina, James, and Carly drop all plans to meet our parents in person to hear the news. All sorts of scenarios played out in my head in those hours before I was with Patrick again. None of those scenarios was this.
The silence hurt as much as the sobs and both felt like poor efforts to make anything "better." That's the finality of death, I guess. It can't be made any different than what it is.
William's joy for building projects and free car repairs and being everyone's biggest fan was something that challenged the idea of a "man's man." He wasn't too strong to be sensitive or too confident to ask questions. He was the best bargain shopper I know (maybe only second to my dad), but he was also one of the most compassionate and generous. I always wondered if part of the motivation for a better bargain was because it made him better able to be a benefactor.
His love for his wife, Grace, was rich with whimsy and deep with sweet service. They loved each other so well and we were excited to learn about marriage from them and with them. They both made the other better reflect the Creator and I so desperately want the same for our marriage. There are too many lessons to remember, really. How could William cram so much goodness into 27 years and how can it feel like I am already forgetting?
"He was so useful for the kingdom... I don't understand... It doesn't make sense." "It probably never will, Care...."
Everything got truncated and the day gave way to a long prayer walk in the park. We prayed and walked and prayed and walked and we didn't try to figure anything out.
And still nothing is figured out in the thunderstorm underneath my ribcage, not really. Why don't more people get to meet him? Why don't more people get to know his generosity and compassion and heart of service? Why don't we have the chance to get lost in laughter or get lost on highways or get lost in thought with this man one more time?
Why did I get to know this incredible man for 27 years and why don't I get to know him on this earth anymore?
Yesterday was the worst day of my life, but God was not defeated.
Yesterday was mostly phone calls and sobs and silence and hugs and "I love yous." But, yesterday was also something we would never expect so soon. We felt, so close and so sure, the absolute importance of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because before time began Christ conquered yesterday completely. He chose William before the foundations of the world to be His child and that means that my brother is now in his forever home.
In William's death (even as I struggle to get these words out), we claim God's precious promise that Christ has made him alive forever. The beauty of it shatters my soul where the thunderstorm rages underneath my ribcage.
All we know is that Christ is not less victorious because of William's death. And William, one of the strongest men I will ever know, can now boast in a strength that defeated his grave. William is now in the presence of the Lord, where his strength is joy and pleasures forevermore.
It seems backwards and sideways and disrespectful to speak about joy when my brother/best friend from high school will never sit around another fire at family vacation or go on another backpacking adventure with his wife or offer to help whoever is standing in front of him in need.
But more devastating than even William's death is the kind of eternal separation that our sin warrants. This is what the Israelites realized in Nehemiah. They understood, in the same place where the thunderstorm rages under my ribcage, the impossible chasm they had created by their sin. God, in His grace, gave them these words in verse 10:
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Yesterday, my mom left a message on my phone while she was on layover in the Houston airport. Her voice was clear and her tone was assured. She had met an angel, she said, a little girl who was singing about God's love never changing and about "tears coming in the night but joy coming in the morning." The Lord gave such a precious gift in this message (He even sent an angel with perfect pitch!). Then she told me that the verse I had texted her (Nehemiah 8:10) was the verse God gave her after my nephew Isaac died. She had wrestled that joy and finally understood that strength comes from being in the presence of God because that's where joy is found.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
If you do not know how to get into the presence of the Lord, this is the most important question in your life today as much as it is mine. We need His presence for joy because we need His joy for strength. There is nothing more pressing, no work more important, and no task with more priority. Concern yourself with joy and there you will find strength.
I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. I'm probably not supposed to be writing yet, either. I guess I'm supposed to be getting to know grief and that takes awhile. But I don't know who makes up the "supposes" and I could only sleep about four hours last night because of all these words rumbling around in my soul.
All the commotion that summer stirs up in the city gets silent on a Sunday at 6 am when it is raining. But then, the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the light came in through the stained glass at church with the sounds of the train. Why did the rain stop, I wanted to say, doesn't it know that William is gone? Why did the clouds part, I wanted to ask, don't they know that William's perfect witty remarks won't be the reply all in the family email chain? Why did the light play with colors on church windows, I wanted to whisper, doesn't it know the world feels less beautiful without him here?
We took communion through tears - the bread and the cup that symbolize that Christ conquered William's death and death altogether. We recited the Apostles' Creed together with our church and I choked out the last lines, "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen."
Because it is good to remember the resurrection on days like today. It is good to remember that there is a place prepared for those who have been called in Christ, those who have responded to God's offer of ultimate love in His Son.
Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.
We wrote drafts of our vows in Atlantic, Iowa, a little town halfway between our parents' farmhouses. Our tired eyes hovered over cups of bad coffee that a very sweet, very blonde waitress brewed happily after she heard what we were doing. It was supposed to be our "date night" the week of the wedding, but the bowling alley wasn't open and we didn't feel like hanging out in the Hy-Vee parking lot or at the Tropical Sno stand. We were getting married in a few days, which also made "scooping the loop" seem a little silly. So, we slid into a booth at Oinker's and scribbled on scraps of paper while we imagined what covenant and promise and marriage was supposed to be about. We looked at other vows and wrote out our own words and I mostly remember saying, "We are really getting married!" over and over again.
There is nothing light about making a marriage covenant. The first covenant in the Bible involved God walking through halved animals with a vow that the same would be done to him if the promise of provision was broken. Covenant promises are heavy things and when something is really heavy, I seem to go in search of large rocks to have "writer's block" against.
So, I mostly sat there while Patrick mostly wrote versions of our vows and then read them to me out loud. At some point, we both realized that making any statement of promise was completely ridiculous. We were weak, and not just because we had planned a wedding in three months. We were weak because we were (and are) human - fearfully and wonderfully made humans whose words and promises are limited just like our existence.
But the promise we were powerless to make to each other in front of God and witnesses was still possible. I will never forget the statement of introduction we wrote that seemed to both honor the weight of our commitment and resign our powerlessness to keep it on our own.
"I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise."
I still have the scribbled scraps of paper. I found them in the zipper pouch of my backpack this past week when I was fishing for a pen. I'm not sure how they got there or why I decided it was a good place to keep them. But, there I was, staring out at lunchtime commotion in Bryant Park and thinking about all the things God was holding together in that moment.
Somewhere in the mad middle of our three month engagement, our pastor challenged us to write a mission statement. Our excitement to make a declaration about how we wanted our love to honor God and bless others seemed more important than parking arrangements and party favors. So, we thought and wrote and prayed in the summer quiet of his living room. I don't think we realized at the time that our mission statement would have the same foundation as our vows.
We are disciples of Christ and believe that in Christ all things are held together. We will proclaim the Lord’s name to one another, family, friends, and neighbors through acts of service, words of encouragement, and invitations to break bread.
As it turns out, our belief that in Christ all things are held together (Colossians 1:17) has been one of the most beautiful truths to preach to ourselves in the first few weeks of marriage. Our excitement for this new adventure feels like holidays are happening every morning. In Iceland, we were almost embarrassed by our goofy grins enjoying lobster soup at little roadside cafes and standing at the bottom of glacier mountains and holding hands in coffee shops. We were that couple, on honeymoon.
And, as gratitude for this new life spilled out over the unbelievable horizons and breathtaking views, we were in awe of just how completely Christ holds things together. Our confidence in Him grew as we thought about our vows - confidence that the God who holds all things together is holding us together and empowering us to do the same.
It has been exactly two weeks and I am now more convinced than ever of my inability to keep such a crazy promise as I made on my wedding day.
But, God. He's such an abundant provider! He is making it possible in this moment for me to keep my promise. He is holding us together like He holds together the Icelandic moss fields and Iowa's rolling hills and the New York City skyline. He is making it possible for us to make these promises again today.
I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.
I, Patrick, take you, Caroline, to be my beloved wife. I will lead you, protect you and provide for you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.
I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.
I, Caroline, take you, Patrick, to be my beloved husband. I commit myself to you, striving to encourage, uphold, forgive and affirm you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads us. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.
As the father looked upon him, and kissed him much, there probably came another kiss, which seemed to say "There is no soreness left: I have not only forgiven, but I have forgotten too. It is all gone, clean gone. I will never accuse you of it any more. I will never love you any less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person." Probably at that there came another kiss; for do not forget that his father forgave him "and kissed him much," to show that the sin was all forgiven. There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father's goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, "I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine," I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, "My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me." This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. - Charles Spurgeon, "Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son"
This is sweet beauty. This is the "gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him," this is His delight over diamonds that never lose their value. The Spring season is bursting with its own diamond offerings, of bright colors and bold raindrops and the warmth the winter was craving. Spring wears beauty so well and I am obliged to "waste" New York minutes admiring it.
There are too many kisses for us to gloss over the story of the Prodigal Son in a synopsis.
Greedy child asked Dad for inheritance early and then wildly wasted every penny before coming home, where Dad received him with a party.
The father's undignified run was too brilliant to get smashed into the word "received" and the kisses were too many for this reunion to be an average greeting. He kissed the soreness out and the guilt and the shame and the worry - He kissed it all with the power of a Father who forgives.
I've been thinking about value and worth and (okay, fine) diamonds. There has never been a time in my life when I have thought more about what I don't have. I suppose NYC does that to everyone, to some degree, but it has never been part of my rhythm. Contentment has carried me through the sparse and plentiful times in miraculous ways, so this thinking is throwing me for a loop.
People (particularly women) everywhere are obsessed with knowing what might make them more lovable and that manifests itself in all sorts of colorful and crazy ways in this city. My sister's advice when I moved to New York was, "Care, you can wear anything and no one would bat an eye. That's the nice thing about New York. You'll sit next to someone in a suit and someone in fishnet stockings on the same subway ride."
Turns out, she was right.
What I wasn't prepared for was the way my eyesight has changed. I am more aware of myself, my style (and lack of), and all the categories I do not fit inside. People say, "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere." I'm still trying to find out what "make it" means to figure out if I passed. But I'm not trying too hard to understand that litmus test, because there are too many kisses in the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.
When my pastor preached on Luke 15 this past Sunday, I thought about the Father's eyesight instead. His love that covers a multitude of sins looked out on that haphazard hellion of a son and broke with compassion. The worth of the son was not about the words he prepared or the way he presented himself. The worth of the son was bound up in the love and compassion of the Father when the son returned home. He lavished love and kisses and let all the neighbors talk about his ridiculous sprint when the son was still "a long way off."
This is the beauty the spring shouts, because winter did not deserve to be reborn into Spring. Winter died because God blew in Spring with the power of His words.
We are worthy of the Father's love because He has said it is so and we hear those words spoken over us when we return to him, haphazard and tangled and unkept. This is the freedom of Spring - that the tree did nothing to earn its blooms and the sky did nothing to earn its shine. God, in His grace, is speaking His love over creation. And those who return to Him will hear the words spoken directly over their souls.
Hello, Spring! Hello, Easter!
"This is the first day." Sure, Sunday was the beginning of a new week and the beginning of the Easter season and the beginning of Spring. But it was not just that, not at all just that.
"This is the first day," our pastor said at least five times in his sermon Sunday.
He said it like he was announcing a baby's first breath or a rocket's first flight, like there was a definite and precise time of origin and there was not anything like day before that day. Like, perhaps, when the first dawn broke the first day as God breathed life out of nothing.
When Christ rose from the dead, everything changed... forever. Everything, forever changed. History and future and eternity and the way the sunlight presently stretches across my morning routine. Sunday would have been the first day of a new work week for the Jewish people, but all work was different on this new "first" day, in light of the resurrection.
We are living in the light of an empty tomb - on the sky side of a conquered grave.
That is why we spread the feast table in Prospect Park on Sunday and gathered friends and broke bread and said grace and joyfully remembered together our redemption. We are on the sky side of a conquered grave with Jesus.
As if that wasn't reason enough to celebrate on Sunday, Patrick decided it would be another first. He thought that Easter was the most appropriate time to make this special invitation because of the way every feast and marriage and celebration is wrapped up inside the immeasurable blessing of salvation.
At the end of a long day of celebrating, Patrick asked me to be his bride and it is making me the happiest little Midwestern Brooklyn girl you have ever seen.
It took a while for the shock to wear off (when I say I had no idea it was coming, I mean like you would be surprised if those big check people showed up at your door). Of course, I was hoping it would happen in the future, but I was not expecting it Sunday when we could share the joy with my brother and sister-in-law who were visiting... which is probably why our excitement turned into silly dancing in my living room.
And now, this. I am engaged! I have a fiance! I am going to marry my best friend!
The sweet beauty of Easter just claimed a whole new piece of my heart. It's like knowing the best secret that I can tell everyone and like my rib cage is warm like the best whiskey. It's... sorry, words won't do at all here. Words just won't do to explain how wonderful it feels to step into love like this.
I'll spare you my mushy babble for now. I will just say that it seemed the best way to start this part of the journey - remembering the Bridegroom we anticipate together and the marriage feast He has prepared.
For now, we will enjoy "every good gift" the Lord pours out and we will enjoy it with all the zany delight those gifts deserve.
At 6:37 am this morning, my hands were already covered in lamb juice, worcestershire sauce, wine, tomato, onion, and a mix of blurry other things. I forgot for a moment why I was preparing lamb and why the sunlight on this day breaks open the most precious gift in all creation. Resurrection Sunday.
There is something more final than death and sunlight is singing it over all the darkness today. There is something more final than death and His name is Jesus. I opened my window and gloried with the birds in the breaking day. I whispered, "Happy Easter, world!" and threw my smiles up and down Hawthorne Street.
Today, we celebrate how completely He conquered the grave. I can finally shake off the Lenten despair because God planned such a perfect and wonderful surprise.
Love as Christ loved. That is the message of Maundy Thursday, the new commandment Christ gave to the disciples in his final, informal sermon. Love one another. He commands it because He knows it can be done, though it is impossible.
We are not naturally lovely people - not naturally kind or caring. We are selfish and proud and have been since that forbidden fruit. We guard our independence and vacation time and personal freedom and charity, considering others sparingly and only when we feel like it. To "love one another" is an impossible command, but Jesus commands it because He knows it is possible. His is a love that can swallow up every force that opposes it, even death.
His is a love that empowers love when the network of human nature fights against it.
Christ shows us love and then commands us to do what only He can make possible in our lives. "Love one another" is not a reason for Easter resolutions or a slogan for social justice. "Love one another" is an impossible command that Jesus obeyed perfectly on the cross, a command that we can obey by way of His righteousness.
Jesus commands us to love one another and then He shows us what love looks like as he lives out the prophecy spoken in Isaiah.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [ISAIAH 53:1-6]
I still do not understand it, but I read myself in these words. I hid my face, esteemed him not, and threw my grief on his bloody back. And today we remember that He was crushed. He was pierced and wounded because of our black hearts and secret sins. Today, we remember the sky went black when death killed the healer.
This is the darkest day, but there is hope on the horizon. There are rays hiding behind the dark sky, lit by the glory of the Creator - our God who knew all along that there would be a resurrection. And the resurrection lights the way for our love of one another.
It felt like heartburn, but I am sure it wasn't. The hot pressure pushing against my rib cage on Monday might be as close as I have ever felt to groaning with creation for the coming of the Lord (Romans 8:19). My body craves Jesus' return as much as my spirit, and together (I think) they press up against my bones to remind me of my true home.
This week is about death.
Even in the triumphal entry on Sunday, we know it is death toward which we process. Even as we sing "Hosanna!" on the road into Jerusalem with the redeemed, we save our breath for the "Crucify!" in the center of the city with the masses. The true drama of the scene churns up this hot pressure heartburn behind my rib cage.
It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. This God, who loved the world so much that He threw His seed to the earth to be sown in death. The evidence is in the palms of His hands and the scars on His sides.
The resurrection is waiting on the other side like the buds breaking through dead branches and the sprouts peeking out from dry ground. Resurrection is hiding, buried safe in God's plan for redemption.
This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 3:1, 4:9-10).
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Passages from the Journey to the Cross devotional.
The wind squealed through deserted school windows today, pushing raindrops against the panes. It is Spring Break and the 14 foot creamy white office ceilings felt cavernous above my head. I wrote some proposals and planned some programs and printed some decorations for bulletin boards. I pushed play on my rainy day Spotify mix and wished the Jewish Passover holiday meant seven days of job-free preparation for Protestants, too. My heart is not in the office because my heart is racing toward the Resurrection.
It might have been this passage from Isaiah 25 that swelled the ache in me, but I'm pretty sure the ache was already there. This is one of those rare situations where the word "epic" is actually appropriate. A mountaintop, a feast of rich food, an abundance of well-aged wine... and the main event where death is swallowed up forever. Forever death is swallowed up and forever the reproach of God's people is taken away.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” [ISAIAH 25:6-9]
"Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us." There is brilliant, unmatched weight in these words. The mass of the Milky Way and the heaviest mountains are pebbles to these words. I imagine whispering them at the table the Lord will prepare, for the crushing joy will have stolen my voice.
"Behold," I'll whisper with the widest eyes, "It is all true and you are God. I have waited for you and believed that you are my salvation. You are the Lord!"
Truth is the best comfort.
Truth is not easy or cheap or immediate or luxurious, but it is really the best comfort. And I guess comfort is what I needed on this rainy day when my heart is preoccupied with the Resurrection celebration. In my impatience, I started to wonder if I am secretly hoping Easter weekend will naturally reorder my joy. Maybe I let the ruts of the Lenten road sink too deep in my soul and maybe I have hung all my hope on this weekend to pull me out.
You all probably just think I need to take a break from introspection, which is probably (always) true. I regret the mazes of my mind, too, but they are there still, haunting me regardless.
Honest? I want hot chocolate and blankets and movies and sleep all day. Because that sounds like the kind of comfort I can taste and feel.
But, when I read this passage from the pages of Isaiah, I know that Truth is best. When I read the word, "Behold" I realize the rain is temporary, the career questions are temporary, the sunshine weekends are temporary, the personal struggles are temporary, and the best joys on earth are temporary.
Truth is the best comfort because there is a day when I will say, "Behold," when I stand in front of the One who prepared a feast.
I made a list in the "Notes" part of my phone on the way to work yesterday. I blush reading the words now, because they sound like a high schooler's diary entry, or at least a college freshman. And that is embarrassing when you are 29, I think. I was grateful the strangers crowding my shoulders were strangers - because it would be inappropriate for them to point and laugh about things I should keep hidden. I was getting off at Fulton, anyway, so if they wanted to be inappropriate I wouldn't have to know.
I am good at keeping fears secret. I publish my fears in blogposts (see here and here and here and here), but this week I realized electronic confessions keep a safe distance. After I write out all my wrestling, the fears feel "dealt with."
Turns out, casting out fears (by way of perfect love) is more like turning away stray cats than some other more permanent banishment, like throwing heavy rocks in deep oceans. The fears keep showing up at my door and I keep telling them to go away, because truth says God's love can do that (1 John 4:18).
I believe God's word is true, which is why I end so many of my blogposts with paragraphs that preach back to the way I feel in the first lines. But knowing and believing truth sometimes (often) does not change the way you feel. Not always at least, not for me.
The fears will show up again even after the best, believing "casting out." And when they do - when I open my door to find that same stray meow - my shock gives way to recognition and I start my internal scheming to get rid of it... again.
That's why it feels like high school and college and 5th grade and right now. Because fears repeat. And no matter how many times I act surprised by the scratch at my door, I know I will recognize the meow on the other side.
So, I listed my fears on my phone and then fought back tears in the crowd of strangers trying not to look at me. Truth casted out fears (again) and truth made Friday life abundant.
But I am learning that fears are not "dealt with" ... fears are lived through.
Believing perfect love casts out fear means looking up with the Israelites at that bronze serpent in the desert (Numbers 21) because God keeps His promises. There will always be serpents and stray cats, but there will also be God.
We are one week away from celebrating the way God raised up His Son on the cross so we could look up for an eternal casting out of every fear. This is the kind of freedom that doesn't just "deal with" all the fear we have going on.
This freedom means you can live right through fears without being ruled by them.
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1587757295 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=63b2cc tracklist=false artwork=small t=10]
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.
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."
If there ever was someone who deserved the distinction of being absolute, that someone is Jesus. He declared himself the absolute, only way to enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 14:6). In this question, there is no grey area - not a single drop of ying yang to dilute what He has spelled out explicitly in His word. Christ is salvation for those who believe, but salvation is bigger than we think. It is not just a salvation from judgment. Christ's salvation is also salvation into righteousness. In the same moment that He freed us from the bloody (literal) cycle of sacrifices, He freed us into obedience by way of His righteousness. We are no longer ruled by the destruction of our secret hearts and the destruction of our sinful humanity. We are not ruled by the darkness that seems to rule the world.
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
We are freed from judgment by Christ's atoning sacrifice and freed into obedience by Christ's imputing righteousness.
What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because our lives could never stand up to God's righteous judgment. My sin goes before me and follows close behind. The good I want to do gets muddled up in my own schemes and I am daily reminded of my sin that leads to death. I am weak against greed and pride and lust and fear and faithlessness. There is not a day I could stand upright in the face of God's righteous judgment.
But God, being rich in mercy called His children before the foundations of the world into freedom from the judgment that is due our dead bones.
I need for Christ to offer a salvation that is more than just a courtroom scene where He takes my guilty sentence. I need for Him to be the justice I act and the mercy I show and the love I share. I need for Him to be the righteousness that roots out my fear and greed and lust and pride and I need Him as replacement. I need for Christ to be who God sees when I stand before the throne of judgment. AND HE IS, dear friends!
What we believe about Jesus Christ matters because His sacrifice both atones for our sin (receiving the judgment we are due) AND imputes our righteousness (replacing ours with the perfect life Christ lived).
He is the perfect heart condition when I try to muster compassion. He is the perfect generosity when I scrounge for change. He is the perfect host when I frenzy about with overlapping plans. He is the perfect listener, counselor, and encourager when I am trying very hard and very imperfectly to be all those things.
Yesterday, I sang "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" with a group of strangers in a beautiful church near Union Square. This second verse really tore apart my spirit.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
I do a lot of striving - a lot of confiding in my own strength - and none of it gets me closer to a better salvation. Absolutely not one single attempt (or many) at righteousness will be the reason Christ invites or denies me into His kingdom. Because there is only one right Man, a Man of God's own choosing, who has the power and perfection to be condemned in my guilty place so that I can become the righteousness of God. Salvation doesn't get any better than that.
No matter how many hungry folks we feed or naked people we clothe or strangers we invite in, we would never do it perfectly and we would never do it enough. I would never do righteousness enough and (if I could be so bold) you wouldn't either. We are always striving and our striving is always losing, but God made a way for us to be free of judgment and freed to righteousness. And that way is Jesus.
What we believe about Him is the most pressing, most prominent, most permanent thing today. He makes perfect all our imperfect attempts because He gave us His righteousness. We are freed from striving for perfection and freed from losing at that game. We are freed into obedience because salvation doesn't depend on our righteous performance. Salvation depends on the cross and Christ performed that perfectly... so that we could enter into His joy and invite others to the banquet table to meet the Man of God's own choosing.
As I click at my keyboard, wet and sloppy tears are tracking through the blush on my cheeks. Everything is snot-messy because salvation will always be a mystery. I don't understand why I get to know Christ. I don't understand why my sin does not banish me forever from His presence. I don't understand why I never have a better response. I don't understand why my daily song doesn't sound like worship. I don't understand why my heart can be so resistant to miracles.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)
The drip, drip, drop little April showers are finally ushering in a Spring that will stay in the city - I think. I don't mind pulling on my rain boots in the morning or carrying around an umbrella. I don't mind at all because there are bird chirps in the morning and sun shines behind the clouds. I don't mind because last night I wore a dress without tights for date night and lingered over coffee on the Lower East Side with my favorite human after going to an event with only tourists in attendance. I don't mind that the rain started when we walked home because he covered me with his coat. Rain is also the most fitting backdrop to this week of lament, nestled inside the forty day reflection of Lent. I have a hard time knowing where to store all the sadness that weighs like literal weight on my soul. I am sad for my own sin, heaped on the back of my Savior. I am sad because my sin makes the cross a necessity. But heaped upon those heaps is a sadness for whitewashed Christian fellowship.
Christ went to the cross for that, too - for all the ways we fail at Christian community, all the ways we do not trust and obey.
I've been thinking about Christian fellowship quite a bit lately and then I read this today in my devotional.
The way of Christian fellowship is empathy, which means we must not assume that everyone around us is fine. In our conversations, we must listen for complaints and cries and help them become laments. In our gathered worship, we must acknowledge the hurting and leave room for struggle and silence. In our counsel, we must pray with and over and for the hurting. This is essential to authentic Christian faith: Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
We are not fine, that's why Christ had to die. In his death and resurrection, He secured our freedom but we will not be truly "fine" until we meet Him in eternity. There is struggle here and the Christian community is not a place to hide that struggle, but instead a place to share it.
And, maybe, it is our ability to bear one another's burdens well that looks different to the world. Maybe our joyful suffering together is the kind of testimony to the suffering of the cross that this generation would understand.
I do not have comment wars here on the blog. I barely need to screen for spam because most of the comments are the sweetest encouragement. Yesterday, I read this comment out loud to friends and I read it out loud again today so the conversation could continue. Here is just a little snippet of what Lexi said, but you should definitely read the rest.
It is hard to put ourself second, or third, or ninetieth because of the fact that that is still ultimately where ‘we’ ‘I’ want to be. There is no complete Joy in the thought of putting yourself anywhere. You say ‘I love you’ to someone–or a thing– because you desire it–fully. It brings you to a place of desire for that moment in which you can speak to it and let it be known how you desire to be with it. You are not thinking about how much you are loving that thing– or person– more than the last- Or how well you are doing it on that day. You are thinking of it. Solely the ‘it’. It’s a longing–and it’s deep–and very very Joyful.
You are not first because you are providing pancakes (or your house) and the other is not second for eating them. You enjoyed baking them (or else you would not have done it) and the friend enjoyed eating them (because we all must eat and what better to eat than breakfast for dinner!) You both are at the crux of love in the form of friendship, neighborhood and company. It is in Jesus’ delight (if I may boldly dare to say what he feels) that you both are simply enjoying. The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.
Maybe I am chasing after "second" when I really should be chasing after Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). It seems like the life of Jesus was about the pleasure of His father - the joy always before Him actually changed the circumstances around him.
We never hear Jesus say, "I must be thoughtful about putting others ahead of myself." He lived a life of love in all the ways He enjoyed pleasing His Father and we are supposed to imitate his life. "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)
Sometimes I aspire to endure. I aspire to get joy by way of inconvenience and hardship instead of enduring all circumstances for the joy already set before me. Jesus longed for something that already existed (joy) through the grace and provision of the Father, and in doing so He served and loved well.
Joy is not something you strive to have, but something that happens when you are longing for something else.
Joy happens as we realize there is an eternity and that eternity is imprinted on our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Joy might happen when we see someone smile or when we hold a child or when we meet the neighbors or when we set a full table or when we walk around a rainy city all day with friends from home.
That's where I was today, slopping around on rainy sidewalks with people I love. I didn't set out to get joy or to be inconvenienced. I set out because joy was waiting to happen and then it did. We were a sloppy wet mess of joy soaking in spring rain.
Lexi's comment yesterday made me think about the way I think about joy (too much thinking, I know). Or maybe it made me think about it less. Mainly, it made me admit that it is okay not to concentrate on inconvenience and hardship and pain as it relates to being first or second or ninetieth.
better best to concentrate on taking joy in what pleases the Father, whether you are holding a spatula or a fork.
There was another comment I read out loud, but it was because Sue Barnett, BA English thought I wanted the whole world on LSD. I'm not sure how she came to that conclusion, but you can read the comment at this post what if the grass was pink.