every square inch

I army crawled out of the bedroom last night, but the floorboards right by the door gave me away, even as I was singing “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” in slow fade perfection. The hymn is her usual sleep inducer, but I guess a nasty cold will make a baby uber aware of being alone. This baby at least, this Zella Ruth. In the middle of every stealthy retreat, she would reach out sweaty, pudgy hands and lift her chin with eyes still closed – expecting to find me on the other side of her still soft touch.

For the first time in almost seven months of mamahood, I kept a log of rectal temperatures and naps as I swam inside my little one’s red eyes and employed my own clothes for snot rags (not the first time for that).

This morning I was glad for the sanctuary of Lincoln Road under the sunshine and blue skies of an unseasonably warm January day. I irreverently mixed “Peace Like a River” and “It is Well with My Soul” on the short walk to the pie shop, thankful for a coat and a baby to cover up my snotted garb.

This Sabbath is slow and staccato, long snuggles interrupted by gravel coughs and wet sneezes. Her wispy hair has started to peek out over her ears and we still aren’t convinced of its color.  Sand or cypress wood grain or amber, maybe. I’ve had time to inspect the curious patches of length on the top and back of her head, neither looks like fashion.

This Sabbath is not how imagined motherhood, not that I was ever romantic about it. Zella sits in a diaper next to me, in my pajamas. She is momentarily entertained by the feel of her fingernails on her pale pink snowsuit. I am seizing these moments to listen to Epiphany music and write a few rambled thoughts. This makes two weeks of home church.

It was supposed to be a big storm last weekend, but we’ve heard that before. We woke up slowly Saturday, eventually making fluffy buttermilk waffles and sitting in the late morning window light to watch the flurries gather on the ground. The neighbors joined our lazy fun around 11 am for snowfall projections and cheese boards and card games. Curiosity led us outside, where the blizzard was real. I made it a couple blocks and 10 pictures before I decided it was best for me to pick up the essentials (hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and dark chocolate covered cranberries) and hold down the fort.

I felt like a real mom – you know, the kind that stays inside so there is something warm to eat when the cold adventurers are soaked to the bone. With Zella Ruth still strapped to my front, I started the soup in between capitalized texts to all my adventuring friends: MTA IS SHUTTING DOWN AT 4! MAKE SURE YOU CAN GET HOME.

Then my husband called,

“Hey, is it ok if everyone comes over?”
“Yeah, that’s fine, but I don’t think they’ll be able to get home…”
“I know, how do you feel about having all of them spend the night?”
“Oh…. Ohhhhhh! Oh. Yes, uh, ok yeah. Yep, let’s do it. Ok, yeah!”

And that’s how nine pairs of boots found their way to our door, wet layers got draped over radiators and shower curtains, and a vegetable chicken soup doubled in depth.

I can’t be certain, but I think it was a full house.

The crowd huddled around stovetop hot chocolate and chips and salsa and hummus before the soup was ladled out to a stack of bowls. And somewhere into the evening in between board games, those who could find dry socks fetched groceries for a second dinner from our corner market.

All the ingredients for our church’s monthly Burrito Bar were sliced and diced in the fridge when we found out church was canceled the next day… so the breakfast menu was easily set and additional invites were sent out to friends and neighbors.

And that is how we spent Storm Jonas – covering every square inch of our apartment with humans and board games and chicken soup and whiskey and hot chocolate and laughter and burritos and coffee and a doorstep full of snow boots.

Every square inch.

The living room full of sleeping bags and the clogged bathroom sink and the tiny-turned-industrial kitchen and my heart and the slow flushing toilet and the deep, snow covered streets and the baby girl on my hip – all of these square inches.

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

Now this baby girl lays on my lap, sleep-nursing after afternoon company and before a small crowd returns for dinner. Her cheeks have less flush and her sneeze has less slush, thank God. I think we’ll have leftover spaghetti squash… no, probably not enough. Maybe the chicken thawing will stretch if it’s over a salad? Ooh, or maybe a mushroom red sauce? Probably the easiest would be some sort of stir fry… I’m not sure.

I never had the imagination to picture this scene – this baby stretched across my knees while I hover over her to write this blog post and simultaneously brainstorm impromptu dinner plans. There are lot of things I do as a mama that surprise me. My mama self is not near as organized or gentle or patient or forgiving as I think I had hoped. I can remember seeing moms and saying, “I totally want to do that with our kids…”

In my private thoughts, I hoped I would shed all the worst of me like old skin when I had a baby and put on all the best of me like mom pants. In my public thoughts, I knew that was never a possibility.

I never thought I would be the mama nursing her daughter while sitting on the toilet… or the mama who wears pajamas all day and then also the next day… or the mama whose life is entirely rearranged by a little tiny human and her red eyes… or the mama who just spliced three blog posts together in order to post something on her blog.

I thought it would be hard, and it is. I thought it would be good, and it is. I thought it would be adventure, and it most definitely is.

Patrick brought home the bulletin from church today and the closing hymn was “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” It makes me feel like we’re doing church every time we lay Zella down to sleep and that makes our home feel sacred. It is really what we are after – a closer walk with the One who owns all the inches in all the sabbaths and storms and sleepovers.

Ok, babe is awake and folk songs can only distract for so long.

 

a holy hush did not hover

IMG_8272The 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.

when you need an ebenezer

I stood there in the dark with the weight of her – soft knees tucked almost to soft armpits, her fresh bathed head pressed against my shoulder. She fit perfectly in my arms, not yet sleeping but not struggling against it. So, I held the weight of her and looked long into her slow blinking eyes, especially round and knowing in the window light.

We filled our bellies with breath, my weight holding her weight and moving from side to side. Slow and holy. Her soft fingers played on my wrist and I wondered why I would ever rush these moments.

What do I tell this little life that fits so snuggly in my arms? What do I say about wars and rumors of wars? How do I nursery rhyme this world for her?

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The lines came out because I needed a lullaby. I guess I needed something to say to those round eyes looking up at me in the dark. The verses tumbled together with the chorus and a little monument grew in the corner of our bedroom. Count them, name them, remember Him, praise Him. When I trailed off, I felt my little bundle fill her lungs with one big, shaky breath and then let out the sweetest sigh I have ever heard. It filled the quiet completely.

It’s nights like this I need an Ebenezer.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Samuel 7:12).

Yes, ok. Remember and sing and believe and sway and sigh and say our redemption.

the teachable moments are for me, too

For Reformation Day, we dressed up as Team Zissou because we admire their creativity and curiosity.

She picked up a tiny clementine from the bowl in the kitchen window, in mid-story and mid-sentence. But then, my new friend paused, “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry – I just grabbed this orange and I didn’t even ask!” She peeled as I nodded of course with hands deep in dishes, and on with the story she went. The night was a mix of prayers and tears and talks and poops, all of it good.

We had fallen into this Sunday spontaneously – kitchen clean-up after church, brunch after clean-up, ice cream after brunch, Life Aquatic after ice cream, van shuttle after Life Aquatic. The four of us, five counting Z Ru, claimed one pew earlier Sunday morning, under those brilliant painted glass windows where 5th and Rodney intersect in Williamsburg.

Daylight Savings meant warm, golden beams hugged our shoulders through the passing of the peace and the reading of Scripture and the singing of hymns. The city is good at blocking the light – good at crowding and casting shadows on cold concrete – so when there is light it is an especially important and good thing here. It feels that way to me, at least.

A handful of days before the Sunday light, I was bouncing Zella Ruth in our living room because she hadn’t pooped in five days and she wasn’t happy about it. Who would be, I guess. Her constipated cry sounds so much different, so helpless and confused. So, we bounced and I sang. Since Welcome Wagon has been the Kolts family jam lately, this was my song… And a funny thing happened as late afternoon sun made squares on our hardwood floor. The Lord searched me.

I was singing the song because that’s what we do. It’s a house rule I explain to Zella Ruth in serious tones, “As long as you are under our roof, there will be singing.” We are pretty strict about it. She has songs for burps and hiccups and mornings, songs for driving and songs for park walking and songs for standing. There is a medley of hymns for those times she stretches out tall on our knees: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” followed by “Standing on the Promises” and then it closes out with “Victory in Jesus.” But the singing is for her – the training up work of hymn singing so her heart will be full of light when her world gets dark.

If deepest darkness cover me,
the darkness hideth not from Thee
To You both night and day are bright
The darkness shineth as the light

I joined Zella Ruth in her tears, but she was crying about poop and I was crying about the brightness that makes darkness light. The singing was for me, too.

Reformation Day came and went last weekend and I made vague goals about how our house would handle the confusion of saints and costumes and theses nailed on doors. Constipation is far behind us, six poops in 24 hours and three destroyed outfits later. Now we are teething, so she presses her face into my neck to gnaw on my collarbone and wipe boogers on my shoulder. The baltic amber necklace around her neck makes us look like hippies and I am not convinced it works (for reducing teething discomfort). It’s just incredibly hard to disprove and stays mostly hidden under her chins anyway.

I can’t get enough of her fingers – soft like purity and innocence. She likes to use her new grip to grab my nose, but I love when her soft palm drifts up to tour my cheek and chin. And I love to sing into her neck. I love to choose song instead of stress, keeping tempo instead of tension in my bones when she screams upset in the middle of a living room full of Pancake Monday.

Sundays, city family, soft fingers, songs… and movement in the right direction – where the teachable moments are for me, too.

eat your deliverance

food sermon

I finally turned toward the Lord.

It was the smallest bent of the shoulder, the slightest tilt of the head – away from destruction and toward restoration. It took one calendar year and then some. I should be straight-facing the Lord by now, parallel to the Presence. Feet to feet and eye to eye, if God would stoop to look me in the blues He painted on my round face.

It’s October now, and for months I’ve been saying all the spiritual self-talk, “You’ve turned toward the Lord, now gaze on Him. Delight in Him. Love His presence. Feel His embrace. Taste His provision. Be with Him. Rest in Him. Listen to Him. Breathe the breath of Him.”

But foolishness can follow a person, like spider webs that play phantom strings on skin hairs long after being swept away. Foolishness doesn’t care about posture or position. Maybe that’s why I have trouble lifting my gaze or moving toward the One who redeemed my soul.

God is always on my mind like grief is always on my mind, but this year I didn’t have an appetite for Him. I didn’t crave Him like I craved a medium rare steak or Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace ice cream (read: pregnant).

I guess I am waiting for that moment – you know the one, in all those Psalms? The moment in the stanzas that say, “and then they cried out… turned from their wicked ways…” Because in the next stanza, the Lord would come down.

He would come all the way down to listen and heal and deliver the wayward from the sure destruction of spoiled appetites. Stanza after stanza, story after story, He came down when they cried out. And then He fed them with rich, mysterious food – though I imagine they never knew they were starving until that first bite.

Taste and see that He is good. (Psalm 34:8)

This command is soaked in love, drowning in it. In this command I hear the heart of my Father saying, “Oh, child. Your foolishness has confused your appetite. You don’t even know what real food looks like anymore. What you put in your belly is spoiling you from the inside. But now that you have turned toward me, you can hear me when I say I am the best food. Eat your deliverance. Unleash your appetite on something that will satisfy.”

Eat and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

If I could relax my shoulders with palms face up like benediction, I might hear the Lord saying, “Oh, darling. Eat your deliverance.”

Is it fear that has my hands tied? Am I afraid that Joy will tip the scale and Grief will lose out? Maybe Pride is too good a friend, blinding me to the food my soul craves. Maybe I am suffocating because I covet the past and I covet the future.

The longer I let the spoil sit in my belly, the less I live.

It sounds strange. But it is death in my belly if it is not life. God did not come all the way down, in Jesus, for our bellies to rot and for our breath to die. Jesus came to give life and breath and food, the richest food, and this is my deliverance.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16

Praise comes like all the waves in all the oceans, because you cannot gulp down the glory of the Lord. It is a slow delight. His deliverance happens when desperation makes space for His glory and our praise happens because those who have been delivered say so.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Psalm 107:2

“Let” is the command to everyone in earshot of the redeemed: allow these people to praise rightly the God of their redemption. Listen to their praise because they can be trusted. Especially if they were foolish before – let them swoop ribbons and dance swirls and sing melodies and make a ceremony out of praise.

Let those with life in their bellies say so.

Someday soon I hope to make a ceremony of silly praise, a tribute to the God of my redemption, the God who satisfies with good food. I am waiting for that moment…

invitations are about movement

I was on the couch, curled up in Sabbath bliss and rubbing the watermelon belly that has become a part of me. We saw the due date come and go last week and a little bit of me thought, “Well, I guess I’ll just be pregnant forever.”

Irrational, maybe. But these are things you think when 43 days have gone by and the wiggles are still on the inside. Things I think, anyway.

Patrick came over and snuggled in to ask, “What can I do to encourage you?”

And then he started reciting Scripture in my silence, while my cheeks burned hot tears.

Philippians 4:4-8
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Psalm 34
“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

He kept reciting the verses from the list my mom sent us in an email a couple weeks back. I asked her to send me verses for laboring to calm my delivery nerves, but he memorized them because he knows it’s good to have Scripture saved up in your soul.

I kept silent, blinking and battling and defending my stubbornness.

The hot tears came because, sure, all the baby emotions. But the Word of the Lord never returns void and the chord it hit yesterday in my spirit was one I’ve been trying to avoid.

I want Baby K to come now because my calendar says Michication (our annual family gathering in Michigan) starts with a flight on July 10th. I want to go to the beach with my niece and nephews and I want to come back with sand in my shoes. I want to sit around campfires and toast marshmallows and play board games late into the night. I want to do all the things we have been talking about since we last left each other in September after James and Carly’s wedding.

That’s what I want.  And just above the din of my own heart and schedule I could still hear him reciting –

Psalm 46:1-3
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

God surely knows my need for fresh water and sibling laughter and firelight. He surely knows these are good things – things that soothe my heart and calm my spirit. He surely knows I need it just this way.

And still more verses cut through my innermost arguments –

Psalm 143:8
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

A couple weeks ago, we sang a familiar song after communion at church – it’s a song I have posted before and will probably post again. The song is a simple invitation to sit at a feast, but what I hear these days when I sing is an invitation to movement.

Come, Sinners Come
Come sinners, come for there is a spread
a table full and free
For all who thirst, for Christ has said
that all may come and eat

Come sinners, come
Come sinners, come
Oh, what a love is this
that bids sinners come.

All the way to a dinner party has felt too long to travel these past 10 months – from grief and worry and selfishness and fear. I know that celebration and belonging and courage and joy are just past that threshold, but sometimes I’m still holding the invitation on my doorstep – feeling the beauty and weight of the faith that hangs in the distance between.

I want to sit at the celebration, but I just don’t know if there are enough steps in my feet. And I guess that’s why I am realizing the invitation to “come” is all about movement. The “coming” might take awhile, but repenting is about direction as much as it is about destination.

Stubbornness and pride and fear and worry and anxiety will probably make part of the journey with me, but I guess you could say I’m slowly turning toward the Host.

Pat keeps on saying this whole pregnancy and delivery is a way the Lord is teaching us, speaking to us, and challenging us toward greater faith. I keep nodding that he is right while my feet are planted like cement on my doorstep, inwardly promising to move when I have less to give up.

It doesn’t work like that.

God’s invitation for sinners like me to “come” to the feast is not the reception after the main event I have planned. It is the main event. Movement toward that feast is a movement away from all the things I want instead – beach vacations and 7 pound babies and easy delivery. Every step believes that what is promised is the best there is, the absolute best.

There will probably be more Scripture quoted to a stubborn face hot with tears before Baby K arrives, but I’m praying that Truth will soften me to repentance and movement toward the absolute best.

dear little one | your uncle will

Dear Little One,

Is it you who craves ice or me? We make quite a pair, you and me – so round and so ready. Sometimes I lean down and say, “Mama’s here” just to remind you I haven’t left. I guess that’s silly, but I do it anyway.

I’ve tried writing you this letter several times but I have to stop in the middle because the words won’t come and the words come too fast. I’m not ready. I want you to be here so badly, my dear sweet, but I am not ready to be your mama.

Maybe that’s okay, maybe every mama feels like this when they are 37 weeks round.

It’s June now and that means warm, sticky heat. It means the park is so thick with green it can make you forget there are skyscrapers. And this year, it means night pacing in the bedroom we will share with you soon. Because I cannot sleep. Last June, your papa and I were planning our wedding. We were fretting over silly things like lamps and talking about serious things, like how we would love each other.

And, you know, none of that talk made me less afraid or more prepared for the life that has happened this year.

What I’m trying to say is: I am not ready for you to meet this world without your uncle Will in it. I am not ready to just tell you stories about this man, not ready to have you meet him in pictures, not ready to insist on his specialness. I’m not ready for you to be here when he is not. Oh, I know it makes no sense.

You will soon stretch out into your first brave cry and we will say “you are alive!” This is the most confusing part: your uncle Will is alive, but he is not here. He died in a car accident on August 2nd, 2014. That is a very hard sentence for mama.

Because I can’t say the things he would say or laugh the way he would laugh or think the way he would think – he is gone in a way I can never be present on his behalf. I learned that from a grieving book by C.S. Lewis. And all that William space he filled so well is very empty now and I don’t know how that will feel to you.

I can’t tell you about his treehouses or his childhood tantrums or his tenderness. I can’t tell you about the time we went to the zoo with Heidi and Amaya or the time we sang the Newsies at the cousin reunion or the times we stayed up too late telling stories. I can’t tell you about the time I told him I liked your papa.

I could tell you all those things, but it’s not the same.

Oh, darling. Even now as you bulge my belly with your feet and fists, I know I am not the mama I pictured myself being. I only have 23 moonlights until you are scheduled to arrive and I am a mess most days. I am afraid of many things. And I don’t know how to tell you about your uncle Will, but this is a start. He is alive with Christ, but he is not here. It will never make sense. I’m sorry about that.

love you,

mama


Read all the dear little one posts here.