the gravity of grief weight

He picked around the cashews on the table and instead chose the peanuts, pecans, and almonds. Cashews are my favorite and he was leaving them for me.

We had biked to our pastor's apartment in a rush and I was flustered about our handfuls of changed Saturday plans. He let us sit there, my new husband and me, and think of things to say or not say. So, the stillness sunk in with the late morning sun streaming through all the circle windows. With sweat still on the backs of our shirts, we heard Vito say, "What do you want to talk about?"

We didn't know, exactly. We just knew we should talk, so we shrugged into conversation about marriage and transition and new things and... well, and grief.

I didn't think I could put fingers to keys again, at least for awhile. I had to let her words sit with me first. I had to let my shoulders in Brooklyn feel all the weight on hers in Davis. I had to try, anyway. I had to notice, slowly, all her torn apart-ness. All the ways they were one. I had to try, anyway. I had to try because I want to hurt the right way, with the right amount of hope and the right amount of grief and the right amount of tears. 

Of course there is no such thing, just the salt water crystallizing my eyelashes and the runny slobber wetting my keyboard. There are just the traffic signals on busy streets and the emotionless subway schedules and the memories unpacked from boxes in our new apartment. There are just the pictures in piles and the voicemail snippets and all the hot white silence in the air when my mind asks questions without permission. There are just those things.

Those things and the cashews stranded on the cutting board Saturday morning in the middle of our pastor's dining room table, next to the little bowl of sweet honey and a few green apple slices. It felt good to be exposed. It felt good to sit in air that wasn't figured out - to search for words and find nothing. It felt good to get unraveled and not fight for tidy endings.

Those cashews. My eyes kept drifting over the table and landing on those cashews.

It is strange that I am whole. It is strange that for almost exactly two months, I am one with someone I love more than anything on earth and that he knows cashews are my favorite. It is strange to feel this new one-ness when my sister Grace is torn apart. Weight on top of weight on top of the new gravity of grief weight. 

I filled a $95 prescription for eye drops today. No more contacts for awhile, until these drops clear away the grief stripes. But, they will stay there, behind all the white and behind all the ways the world is still striving to make sense.

And grief is okay because death is not normal.

Truth is like sandpaper sometimes and ocean waves and steep ravines and caves and breaking dawn of a new day. Sometimes the natural arc in the true story is carried on the back of an ant inside a grand canyon. And sometimes our hearts don't make sense.

No matter how hard we try, but we try anyway. We try and we believe and then we pray for more belief.


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

observing grief

One of these days, someone will tell me I need to take better care of my eyes. And I will listen because that person will be right.

It is probably irresponsible to wear my brother's old contacts - the ones that arrived in the mail on Friday, hours before the accident. But I love that he sent them, because "our prescriptions are close enough" and he didn't need them after lasik surgery. The conversation went something like this...

WN: Care! What's your prescription?

CN: Uh, I don't know... why?

WN: You can have my contacts!!

When we found out both Christina and I had equally similar prescriptions (and equally hazy memories about what those prescriptions were), he intended to divide the spoils fairly between his two sisters who do not have vision insurance. We love him for this... this being so typically "Will."

I don't know why I tossed that brown mailer package out, with his efficient and upside down scrawl on the label. He used to start his letters from the bottom because he didn't like to waste pen strokes and now the last ones he wrote to me are on their way to a landfill in New Jersey. I don't know if he was still starting all his l's and i's from the bottom... I'll have to ask Grace, she would know.

I paid full price for a copy of "A Grief Observed" at a snobby bookstore in Grand Central Station after taking the train over my lunch hour to find out the largest used bookstore in the city didn't have it. But my eyeballs were burning from these free contacts and I am observing grief. It felt urgent; I knew C.S. Lewis's hazy combination of intellectual and emotional fog would make me more normal.

Pancake Mondays only gets better and the joy is almost painful. We moved around in that sliver of a kitchen, chef and sous chef-ing that packed out Monday night like the apartment restaurant owners we aren't. Our MacGyvered cold brew coffee sat in the freezer and six batches of batter rested in the fridge while our test pancakes were devoured with plenty of time to cook the (coconut) bacon to perfection. The neighbors came and the friends came and the strangers came and they all came through that open door and my face got confused.

This is still joy and it feels both welcome and wrong. I push against it and every emotion that distracts from this new, awful reality. But I am drawn to it, because joy is the only emotion with any strength in it anymore. There are a lot of emotions, but just joy has strength in it. It is made of the same stuff that allowed Jesus to endure the terrible tragedy of the cross, scorning the shame that would be our salvation.

"For the joy set before him..." There is something very "set before us" about joy. It is something far off as much as it is something near, like muscles making our bones dance toward a sunset.

One night last week, Tam moved the furniture around my glazed-over figure in the dusk light of our common space. Chairs got pushed to the walls, the rug got adjusted to make more space, and the clutter got cleared enough away for our legs and arms to be free. And we danced in that summer dusk light. Each separately working out whatever it was we needed to work out on the poorly refinished wood floor - separately stretching misery and mercy with untrained movements and with (for me) little grace.

The "joy set before me..." had settled in to all my knotted muscle groups, its presence pushing like thunder against my ribs but escaping like mist with my breath. Joy.

I am pushing against it. How is there still joy and why is it the thing that is strong and brings strength? It seems best and most appropriate to step into sadness and lock the door. But even then it seems joy pursues me and lives inside locked rooms, too.

I got a card from my grandparents, with one of my Gram's flowers printed on the front. A lily, I think. Will's fingerprints are all over their house - the shingles, the support beams on the addition, the wood shop, the storage shed. There's the smallest knick in their living room where he missed a beam with the nail gun. They are remembering.

For the joy set before us, camped around us, living in us... this, we endure. There is no sense-making of it. We are on this side and he is over there. And the joy set before us is the same.

All I know is, a small package arrived on Friday, August 2nd and now my eyes burn like the fireballs Dad used to hide under the seat of his Chevy pickup. And I'll let them burn until someone tells me I need to take better care of my eyes. Meanwhile, I'll be hitting the Visine good and hard.


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

come | he will not cast us out

In the pale darkness of our Brooklyn bedroom, we prayed. Honest prayers, out loud, are like a wrecking ball for the walls I build to protect my grief. He prayed first and I breathed out my soft echoes in mmhmms. A day's worth of silent wrestling caught up with me in his clear words, wrapped in our white wedding sheets. We are one now, but I wanted to roll toward the blank wall and blink away my sadness in solitude. Alone is painful and that feels more appropriate. But when he finished his honest prayers, I started my own with a sigh.

Keep me from jealousy. Forgive any bitterness that tries to take root in me, O God.  Help me to speak grief words openly. Teach me to walk with Patrick in this and not shut him out.

It went on like that, lit by streetlights, and I realized I had much to confess. I walked my words up to the altar and tossed them down, like flowers on the casket we never buried. A strange and honest offering. What I most wanted to pray for, selfishly, was more time on this side of heaven.

I am jealous of those Will loved well and of those who knew him best. I am bitter for the moments I didn't spend with him and for the moments I wasted in his presence. I am bitter at a world that suffers death every day, for the wars on top of wars of death and none of it weighing the weight of this one man.

It was just the scratch of our midnight voices that hit the silent ceiling, a strange and honest plea for some ground to catch our freefall.

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Psalm 27:13-14

We believe and we are praying for more belief. We are confident in the goodness of the Lord, of the eternity He rules and the table He prepares. We are confident that He is our home. We are confident in His invitation to "Come," though His beckoning feels painfully far off.

Two soft voices melodied these words over the string arrangement while Patrick and I took communion at our wedding. We wanted everyone to know about the invitation that altered our lives forever, Jesus's invitation to "Come."

Today we sang this same invitation during communion, but the melody from almost two months ago felt a world away. I am now the child in the last verse, full of fret and grief - the child who is not cast out. Even that child has an invitation to sit at the celebration table and take part in the feast, maybe especially that child.

Come ev'ry child, with fret or grief; He will not cast us out He will meet our unbelief and drive away our doubt.

Come, cloaked in grief. Come, bring your sadness to the feast table. Come, bring your questions and doubts and weary tears to the day the Lord has made. Come.

Come, he will not cast us out. He will meet our every unbelief and hear our every doubt. He will comfort and keep us at the celebration table, when we grieve and sorrow and pray honest prayers in the pale darkness.

"Come, He will not cast us out."


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

 

this is our story

I sat at the front desk with a temp worker named Chelsea two days ago. We exchanged high pitched pleasantries and filler words about college and travels and restaurants in the city. Then the Senior Director waved me into his office and told me with kind eyes that our company is a family. He wanted to know "the story." I fumbled the details out and my vision blurred. Three sentences felt insufficient, so I added halting additions in an attempt to introduce my boss to Will, "He is...ahem was an engineer... He works, um.. worked for a conveyor company out there." And, when I couldn't keep my face tidy anymore, I just nodded as I walked out with pursed lips and squinty eyes. I dabbed my face back at the front desk while I told Chelsea (the temp worker) the "story" in one sentence. And I hate that story - that final story I keep telling about my brother Will. The final story I've smashed irreverently into one memorized, mechanical sentence that sounds more like a news report than anything else... the story I feel obligated to follow with the words, "It's okay," and "We are fine..." because no one is comfortable with death or grief or sorrow. Everybody shifts uneasily when absence happens like that.

And everyone wants to know the story.

Sometimes, my urban life plays make believe. New York City dresses up in everyday routine, and it almost almost feels like my life on earth isn't altered forever, like it is "just another day" where taxis have road rage and college students are hung over and teenagers buy too much at Forever 21.

But then I am walking toward Bryant Park on 42nd Street and there are too many people, all of them strangers and none of them Will. He has never been to Bryant Park, but his absence follows me around like a shadow hovering over all the spaces he is not.

We are a weathered lot. Dad calls often with a shaky voice and as many questions as answers. We talk about "how things are going" and "getting better" and "benchmarks," but there is no good news, only words to put in quotations because we don't know what else to do with this grief. We want to honor him with our efforts and to love the God who gave us 27 beautiful years. But we are all hiking fumbles in office buildings and front porch swings and backyards. We are all shrugging shoulders and breathing sighs and letting the pain sink to our depths, because it would be wrong not to.

This is our story, stretching out like a rope between mourning and hope. All the threads intertwine, connecting what feels like opposites on either end.

There is peace, yes. And there is pain.

But our faith is not simply pragmatic. Our minds, knowing Will's salvation, cannot tell our hearts, knowing Will's absence, to "move on." Nothing in quotations works in real life. We can't "make progress" or "get better" by some mental acrobatics. Our minds and hearts are meshed together in constant, internal marathons - chasing reason and running from emotion or the other way around.

I walked into the copy room today and found five guys hanging out where there is room for two. To their silence I said, "Is this a secret meeting?" They side-glanced with smirks that looked like they were hiding a freshly painted "boys only" sign behind their backs. "Yep, top secret meeting," one said. I chuckled at their mischief, "I know what's going on... I have three brothers." The words stung my eyes.

This is our story of peace and pain. And there is still much to be written.


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

for the times I want to hide, a joy report

It seemed like a silly thing to organize from the passenger seat of a Ford Fusion en route to Brooklyn from Iowa. We had just spent the strangest week of our lives mourning loss and rejoicing victory with some of our favorite people on the planet. No one would have faulted us for wanting to hide. But the group text messages went out and a small tribe agreed to gather for prayer and a potluck dinner in our apartment. We had never hosted a grief party before (has anyone?), but our friends seemed to understand the necessity because they accepted the invitation to mourn/rejoice with us. They came, our patchwork Brooklyn family of transplants, one by one in the late summer rain. They dripped into the apartment with all the potluck fixings for barbecue tacos.

We opened leftover wine from our wedding and accepted rainy hugs. Everyone was sweet and none of us knew what to do because grief is terrible. So, we shared the details of the past week's events as we topped tacos with cilantro. The Christian camp culture in us formed a rough outline of a circle as we mechanically and emotionally shared our purpose in inviting them in. But they were not confused and they did not come to mourn with us in despair.

They came to mourn with us in hope.

So, we celebrated and laughed and prayed and cried and poured more wine. And I realized that joy is not a Heisman situation in times of sorrow. There are no bootstraps to pull up, not even if you grew up Midwestern. The joy is already claimed in Christ, apart from our strong-arming efforts.

Before Tuesday night had ended, our friends' 11-month-old, Reed, learned how to walk (and then run). I believe it is God's grace that laughter sounds so similar to tears and it was God's grace that Reed made us laugh so much that night, with his wobbly steps and with his face full of achievement.

There is joy to report, like the adult lunchable my friend made for my first day back at work and like finding out all the days I was gone from my job were paid. There is joy, like provision in apartment searching and seeing familiar faces in my neighborhood. There is joy, like wise words from friends and strangers who know grief well. There is joy, like bike rides and fresh flowers and salvation stories.

I'm the kind that wants to hide. I want everyone to think I'm with someone else when I'm really hidden, anonymous in a coffee shop or on a patch of lawn or in the corner of my bedroom. When I need to think, I like to disappear.

This would be one of those times I want to hide, but God is inviting me into His presence where there is joy. Fullness of joy, even. He will not forget us, for He has engraved us on the palms of His hands and invited us to find joy and pleasures forevermore in His presence. We are not alone in the dark with our demons.

Grief wants to push back - to reject that joy can live in the same space with sorrow. Grief wants to refuse me laughter and sunshine and a face curved with delight.

But it is okay to stretch with tension. It is okay to have joy to report. It is right and good to believe the promises of God will find me in the times I want to hide.


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

when everything is magnificent

It's true what they say about being a newlywed.

It's like an contagion you would be glad to catch - it makes you want to stay in, to say endless cheesy lines, and to build forts in your tiny New York living room (let's be honest, I would do that regardless). I'm a week and a half old in newlywed years, and I'm obsessed with the idea that the two of us are a unit.

But let me pause a hot moment for some #realtalk.

I haven't got it all sorted, but I think I can boil my thoughts down to this reflection that bubbled up inside me while traveling around Iceland for six days:

A magnificent thing is never less magnificent next to other magnificent things.

God is a good Creator - the best there is, really. Everything He makes is good and He holds each magnificent thing together in Christ. The reality of God's magnificent handiwork sunk in while we viewed the alien landscapes with dropped jaws and wide eyes - landscapes that changed almost immediately as we rounded pristine snow-topped mountains and followed black sand coastlines and maneuvered bright green countrysides under dreamy fog.

So much magnificence.

The fields of yellow flowers were no less magnificent than the hodge-podge fields of bright green, moss-covered black rocks. And those moss fields were no less magnificent than the erupting geysers. And the geysers were no less magnificent than the Hobbit looking valleys.

All of it was magnificent and sometimes I had to close my eyes to give my soul a rest.

But, back to #realtalk. This side of marriage is a different kind of magnificent, but not different in a "finally made it" sort of way. Not like that at all. The beauty and joy of my solitary journey with the Lord has emerged in deeper hues these first weeks of being newlywed.

Because I was always first and most in love with the Maker of magnificence and that has not changed.

Last Sunday, we sat our newlywed selves in the familiar church pew (on the left side, in the middle and towards the back) and listened as our pastor talked about real hunger. Everyone everywhere will always be hungry because that is how our bodies are made. And this very real, very deep hunger is mirrored in our spiritual selves as our bodies groan for something that satisfies our souls.

Jesus offered Himself, the most magnificent thing at the most costly price, so that we could be the best kind of full.

He offered Himself so that we can experience all kinds of magnificence (Icelandic landscapes, weekends with friends, singlehood, pancake nights, married life) knowing that He is the Maker.

I still have my rosy newlywed shades on, sure. This is a grand life I'm living with my best friend in the world. I would not hesitate to call all the cheesy phrases and the midnight Icelandic adventures and the breakfasts in the morning "magnificent."

But I also would not hesitate to call magnificent the year I lived with my sister in Des Moines or the road trips with Alejandra from Colorado or the conversations on porches in Iowa and Michigan or the endless, ridiculous adventures in Honduras. They are all equally magnificent only because they have a Maker who never changes, a Maker who knows our hunger for good things and does not hesitate to provide perfectly.

a series of unfortunate events & my favorite human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

near to Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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choosing Love

photo (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this metal skeleton in the sky

I was on the way to work and in the middle of a war. Spring was battling Winter and somehow a Fall breeze got caught up in the mix, too. It was a real duke-it-out showdown - I went from basking in the sunlight on one block to shouldering a brisk wind on the next. Then, right before I ran down the steps to catch the A train on Bedford and Fulton, I looked up and saw this metal skeleton in the sky.

the view from a street commute

The sun made me squint at the place where the dark, rumbly clouds met the blue, peaceful sky. And right there in the meeting of the two was an empty billboard. I smirked a little to myself and then to the shops on the streets, now waking up and stretching into morning business.

I smirked because it felt like the glory of creation just got advertised on this empty billboard and I bought it.

I would buy it every time, but it's free and that's crazy because nothing is free here. I guess that is what stuck with me all day. Coffee is money and food is money and entertainment is money and happiness is money... but this Winter vs. Spring vs. Fall battle up in the sky in the middle of my morning commute - that was free.

One free, glorious display of creation where a billboard once propaganda-ed our hipster stitched pocketbooks. Yes, please.

honesty about sin means honesty about salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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because we have song, they said

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

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

"...because we have song."

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

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

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

Happy Sabbath day, friends.

getting near the glowing heart of the Lord

In a tiny Williamsburg living room last Tuesday night, we all stared down at the Mark 9 passage printed on our laps. After three readings, we talked about the transfiguration of Jesus over hot tea and no one had it figured out. These men, the closest friends of Jesus, saw humanity in full glory and they were scrambling for the right response. I've been trying all week, but I can not find the right imagination to stand on that holy ground and watch as glory made Jesus glow.

But I am so thankful for Peter.

I think we would be friends, Peter and me. It would be a reckless friendship, but an adventurous one. I imagine Peter's immediate response to set up a worship service with three tabernacles bursting from his hope to usher in the kingdom with the light of Jesus' transformed face. In the middle of these glowing moments of glory, maybe Peter was grasping for the best thing he could think to do.

In the presence of Jesus, don't we all do that? I don't actually know what Peter was thinking, but I know what sometimes happens when I sense Jesus is near. I kind of hyperventilate.

I might be in a group of friends or about to take communion or walking alone between Bedford and Fulton. It can really happen anywhere - the sense that Jesus is present and His glory is real. I am sad to say I don't feel it all the time, but when I do I immediately want to do something. And I want that something to be the best thing.

I get nervous and flustered and hasty. At the same time that I want to savor the beauty and miracle of Jesus' presence, my heart swells to take part in it - to be swallowed up by a beauty that covers everything ugly and wrong.

I fear I will miss those moments - that I'll arrive at 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old and think back on all the times I didn't choose the best thing in the presence of Jesus. I fear I will look back and realize I didn't have eyes to see the miracles or that my response will be clumsy and cluttered.

And then I think about Peter. And I realize it is okay to tend towards hyperventilation in the presence of glory. It is okay to not know how to do the best thing or to not know exactly what the best thing is. All of this confusion about my response to God's glory is okay because the transfiguration is about Jesus.

Lent is not about subtractions and additions as much as it is about getting near the glowing heart of the Lord.

The fasting makes room for the feasting. The fasting churns up hunger for the feast and it is not about our response to the taste but about the food we choose to eat.

heaping cups of consolation

Today, I woke up on an air mattress in the middle of my bedroom, sorting out strange dreams and back stiffness. It's a long story and one I'm currently stuck in the middle of, so I'll give you the full version when I can say "this too shall pass" with the kind of tone that believes it will. For now, the morning light is stretching out across the living room while I enjoy a slow cup of french press coffee. For now, I am stretching into this blue sky Saturday while I listen to Keller preach on anxiety and emotions and the psychology of happiness. I am not usually an emotional roller coaster, so I am a little ashamed to admit I have been one the past couple days.

Last night, I had a shot of whiskey before going to bed.

It felt more like an old-fashioned remedy to nervousness than it felt like self-medication, but it was probably both. So, when I opened an email from my dear friend Whitney this morning, my heart was primed. I needed an encouraging word - the kind that speaks Truth softly but firmly and without reservation. The sermon she sent was called, "The Wounded Spirit" and I instantly felt guilty for thinking my spirit qualified. I recently watched Scott Hamilton's story in his I AM SECOND video - what kind of candle can my troubles hold to that struggle?

Theodore Roosevelt said "comparison is the thief of joy," and in this case its thievery also included consolation. Our problems are always small in comparison to the problems of others, at least mine are. I can always find someone who has it worse, always, and I end up disqualifying myself for consolation as a result. But, I listened to the sermon anyway - even if I felt guilty for thinking my heart qualified.

And I found heaping cups of consolation, buried like treasure inside Scripture.

An anxious heart weighs a man down but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12, ESV)

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. (Proverbs 14:10, ESV)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:13-14, ESV)

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)

In each of these passages and a few more, Keller points to the good news of the Gospel - Christ is the ultimate good word, the best hope, the supremest joy, the most sincere gladness, and the boldest righteousness. But this good news does not live inside a vacuum. This good news lives inside this real world, in real and unforgiving circumstances.

"Happiness is determined by how you deal with your circumstances on the inside - how you process, how you address, how you view them." - Tim Keller

God's sweet consolation does not mind how trivial or monumental our anxiety. He does not measure our worries against one another and dole out consolation accordingly. The good news of the Gospel is that it will never run out.

My heart always qualifies for consolation and the consolation of the Good News will never run out.

At the end of the sermon, Keller stresses,

"Come on! He took the tree of death so you can have the tree of life. Use that on your conscience, use that on your emotions, use that on your existential angst. That'll get rid of your fear of death. But most of all use it on the hope of your heart..."

This too shall pass. Yes, I believe it will.

The hope in my heart is not something I've conquered or created. The hope in my heart is heaping cups of consolation from the Giver of Good News.

oh, dear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it is okay to feel like days have weight.

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

Maybe beauty has weight and needs space.

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to be a better thinker / Q & A

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

Here is the little Q and A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gauche

stay and wait for the "yet"

I wiggled my way into a Tuesday night home group with no-bake cookies stashed in all the tupperware containers I own. I guess when you are new in town and trying to find the (horribly cliché) "place you fit in," baked goods are never a bad idea (Let's be honest, baked goods are always a good idea). I added my no-bake cookies to the offerings on the coffee table and made a couple bad jokes so the small gathering knew I wasn't trying to play it cool and the cookies really were just a shameless way to endear myself into the group.

Sometime after the awkward introductions, we got buried in a discussion over doubt. The sermon the previous week had been about the doubt of John the Baptist in Matthew 11. From prison, the most sold out of all Jesus's followers sent messengers to ask if Jesus really was the One he had been waiting for, preaching about, and prophesying of - John the Baptist sent messengers to find out if Jesus really was the Messiah his entire existence had proclaimed He was.

What a curveball, to think about doubt in this way with this group of strangers and to arrive at the place we did. I don't mean thinking about doubt is a curveball - especially here in hipster heavy Brooklyn where knowing anything for sure is very unhip. We all agreed that our generation doesn't have a problem accepting/engaging/encouraging doubts. We are top heavy with them and at times paralyzed by the balancing act.

The curvy part of the doubt equation is the tension it takes to stay when doubt comes. Because doubt gives way to fear very quickly. Christians often run to the hills and stand beside pagans shouting doubts at the cold, black sky and then run away before ever an answer can be returned.

Where are you, God? Where were you when my sister died? and when my heart got broken? and when I failed at work and life and love? Where were you, God and why don't you answer? Are you even real?

And as quickly as the one-sided conversation began, it ends as we pull away with smug satisfaction that we got no reply - as if to say to the cold, black sky and everyone else, "See, I was right. He isn't there."

But, that's not doubt. That's fear.

Doubt is buried somewhere in the middle of belief. It's a tension that trains us to believe better, stronger, and deeper in the truths we know. Thomas wasn't the only doubter and neither was John the Baptist. David doubted too, and he doubted well... and he stayed. He wandered out (of his own volition and not) into the hills and deserts and shouted out his doubts at the cold, black sky.

And then he stayed.

He stayed until his heart preached these true words to him: Yet you are holy.

David wrestled and John the Baptist wrestled and Thomas wrestled and now we wrestle the same and different mysteries - all those things just outside the reach of our minds and hearts. And if we stay, we will also say with David, "Yet you are holy."

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of mygroaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. (Psalm 22:1-11, ESV, emphasis mine)

When John the Baptist sent the messenger to ask Jesus if He was really the One, Jesus responded with Truth. He responded with the only thing that could come from His lips and the only thing that can come back from the cold, black sky if we stay long enough to listen: the Word.

"Jesus replied, 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.'" Matthew 11:4-6

Sometimes fear runs our footsteps away from the hills and the cold, black sky before Truth can set us free where we stand.

John the Baptist was locked up in prison without any hope of freedom and his doubt was mixing fear like a cocktail. He wanted some confirmation that his life had not been lived in vain and he was hoping the sign would appear in the form of loosed chains.

His belief was tenuous, his doubt building tension in between and around the solid rock foundation of his faith. But he stayed to hear Jesus say, "Look at the ways I fulfilled the prophesies. Remember?"

John the Baptist believed, but doubt was threatening to give way to fear when belief didn't seem to be holding up inside a jail cell. And the first and best Jesus could give him to bolster his belief was the Word - Himself as the fulfillment to prophecy and evidence of His faithfulness.

Just as Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame for the joy set before him, our duels with doubts are not without joy because we are never without God. Though he may seem far from us and far from our generation and far from our shouting, fist-shaking nights under a cold, black sky, He is never not present.

And in His presence is fullness of joy.

This, I believe, is what David and John the Baptist and Thomas experienced in the middle and on the other side of their wrestling. Because they stayed to see that God is present and in His presence is fullness of joy.

If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, we will stay and our tension will give way to greater belief that God is who He claims to be and keeps all His promises. If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, our greater belief will meet more doubt and tension and joy because God is always the same. His claims are never untrue. His promises are always fulfilled. His Word can always speak straight into the cold questions.

And here is hope for a generation who hasn't the courage to stay and wait to hear the word, "Yet..."

*NOTE: My mom has since pointed out the irony of my calling no-bake cookies "baked goods." Two points for the mom team. She got me there.

I saw you today

I haven't written a creative story in awhile, so this is a belated birthday gift to my creative self. I saw you today when the doors opened at the Rutland Rd stop on the 3 train. It was another new route, so I wasn't surprised. There are always new things - always new ways the sun reaches across the train tracks to wake up the city.

You walked across my view on the platform as the doors were closing. You didn't see me, sitting inside on the edge of the burnt orange seat and headed in the direction of New Lots Avenue. You were looking down, distracted slightly by your ipod and (I presume) a morning destination. Everyone has a destination in New York.

The dull ring of the bell sounded, followed by the friendly robotic message, "Stand clear of the closing doors." And just like that, you passed from my view.

I kept thinking about you, though - about the laughs we shared together and the campfires we gathered around. I thought about the way we schemed dreams together and made giggles contagious on your living room floor. I thought about the unlikely way we met and the ridiculous series of events that threaded our 'meeting' out into a friendship like a patchwork quilt.

I thought about all that on my way to Junius Street where I caught the L train en route to the J train at Broadway Junction. I took the J train to Crescent Street and then walked to work. But I only do that sometimes, which is why it was so strange to see you when the doors opened at Rutland Rd.

I wanted to say, how are you friend? I wanted to say a lot of things, but I think I wanted more for you to say something to me. It's been awhile since I've had a chance to listen to you.

But it was mostly strange because you do not live in New York and because our friendship has unraveled. It was strange because we haven't laughed in your living room in months. It was strange because I forgot about our scheming dreams.

It was strange because you weren't there at all.

if you're stuck in a well

Last week, the pastor preached on Ephesians 2 because we're about to start a series in Matthew. The passage is one I know well and one my heart returns to often because it's covered in grace. For by grace I have been saved... grace is both the route of my salvation and the vehicle. And I'm overwhelmed by the ride. So, when we turned to Ephesians for the Scripture reading, my heart knew the way around the words.

But something about the way he introduced the sermon felt different and along the way he used an unfamiliar analogy that I'm still thinking about six days later. He said, "When you are stuck in the bottom of a well, you can have all the positive thinking in the world but you will still be stuck in the bottom of a well. You can say all the right things and even recite words of Scripture over yourself if you think that will help, but the words have no power if only you speak them."

Here's the nitty-gritty: If I'm stuck in the bottom of a well, my words are powerless to get me out. I can speak true words, false words, fake words, or frail words. It doesn't matter what kinds of words I throw at my prison, they will all bounce off like the dark death of a deep well.

Words are powerful.

I believe we all have a conversation happening inside us - something the soul speaks to the heart and vice versa. There is a conversation happening and sometimes it is true and encouraging and edifying and sometimes it is the opposite. Words are powerful.

But words are only powerful to save when spoken by a certain One voice. I can repeat the words, but they are only powerful because God first spoke them over me. Scripture is not powerful because I memorize it or speak it aloud or love it or lean into it.

Scripture is powerful because God is faithful and the promises it spells out are blood bought.

God spoke over me when I was lost in a hopelessly deep, dark well. He spoke true words about breathing life into dead bones and then I came alive. And He speaks true words into my lungs every day to keep my dead bones breathing. No one else has that power.

No amount of counseling or advising or encouraging or tolerating can have the kind of power that His words possess. I can tell a friend a thousand times that she is freed from fear, but my words have no power. I can tell a brother he is freed from anxiety, but my words will always fall short.

As we read through Ephesians 2 last week, I thought about God authoring those words to His children who sat helplessly in the deep wells they'd dug for themselves. I thought about hearing those words of grace spoken over me by the only One whose words could change my reality - the only One whose words have the power to lift my feet to freedom.

Amazing grace.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV)

what does freedom look like?

I remember having a conversation with my friend Sarah in Honduras - we were sitting on the patio at a café and blocking out the construction noise. We were talking about what it would look like for a person to live as if truly forgiven. There was a point, soon after we asked the question, where we ran out of words. We just sat there with our eyes in the air and our imaginations running wild. I think we both giggled to break the silence and then agreed that a truly forgiven life would look like freedom.

This morning, that freedom found footsteps as the pastor preached through Galatians 5:13-26. We are designed to walk, but it's an "out-of-balance" exercise - every footstep is like falling until our feet find the ground again. Movement is uncertain and uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Movement in any direction means leaving what is safe and stable (even if just because it is known).

But, we are made to move.

If we didn't move ever, at all... we would never feel the freedom of motion. We would never get anywhere or experience anything outside of our shoulder width stance. Our safety in what is known would also be our prison, and one we choose for ourselves.

How does freedom work? How do footsteps happen?

After church today, over Panera with my uncle Tom and cousin Vince, we talked about freedom footsteps. Because walking is not an abstract activity. It's not something you experience by dreaming or talking or thinking. Walking is something you experience by doing and we were made to do it.

So, how do freedom footsteps happen? Because Paul tells the Galatians that we were called to it.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

We were called to a freedom that breaks us out of the prison of pride and idolatry, safety and self-promotion. We are no longer held captive by the idols that informed our spiritual paralysis. Through the work of the Spirit, by the grace of God, our feet shake the fear weighing us down.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Our walk - our freedom footsteps - displays the power and glory of the Savior who set us free. We do not keep in step with the Spirit to prove our worth. We keep in step with the Spirit to express our freedom.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.(Galatians 5:13-26, ESV)

Tonight, I met up with my dear friend Emma. We used to meet weekly for "Dream Sessions" where we challenged each other creatively and tonight we had a reunion. She is a very special inspiration and kindred spirit. Her wisdom is crazy years beyond her high school age. As we talked about freedom and footsteps, she shared this quote from memory:

"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for." -thought to be spoken by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

A ship is not made to sit in the harbor, but it can only sail if it is released from the shore. And the same is true of us: by God's grace we are released from the chains of our shoulder width stance to the freedom of forward motion. Walking with the Spirit is not meant to gain our freedom, but to express it.