I want to get in His sights

I am wearing white for Eastertide.

It started because we wanted to see and feel Easter – to shake off everything regular for our greatest festival celebration. So, we literally put on our party, looking like a wedding where everyone is the bride. And then somehow it stretched into the whole Easter season… my high kick to winter and death and the muted colors of typical Brooklyn fibers.

Yesterday, I folded into a wooden pew next to Patrick after I successfully passed Z Ru off to the nursery magicians. I followed the stitching on the white that hung just over my wrists as Vito talked about the deep sadness of joy – the weeping and the wearing and the working of it.

Jesus preached that there is blessing – there is joy – absolutely inside the worst things. Yes, absolutely. Because Jesus is inside the worst of things, just exactly where you think He is not. He is behind and in between and above the worst, saying, “Come, heal, breathe, hear, repent, believe, stay, rest…”

And that’s hard. I disbelieve that for joy, I think.

I already confessed my light Lent, but I forgot to say that there is something else I feel – something other than regret. The world is brimming with weeping and wearing and working, in bad ways. The worst. I am not strong enough to even hear all of it. I don’t know what to do with the headlines and the histories and personal hells typed out in simple texts. Because I am afraid I can do nothing, afraid what I can do is not enough.

My grief weight is heavy. Just the weight of my sorrow could sink a ship, I am sure of it. But there are entire cities, countries, and continents filled with people who bear the same weight.

The sheerness of my white sleeves put a fuzzy filter on my arms, a weird and welcome distraction from the message about sad joy. The points rolled out on Luke 6:20-26, just two about joy coming by way of discipling relationships and consolation.

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26 ESV)

I heard myself mmhmm. Jesus. I want to get in his sights. I want to be there when he lifts up his eyes because then I might feel sure about being in His presence. I know that is where joy reaches fullness, somehow.

But He pairs blessing with the absolute worst things: poverty, hunger, weeping and then being hated, excluded and reviled. How can joy get inside these things? Jesus.

Somehow, mysteriously- magically even, Christ is deeper than dark. Light came into the world and the darkness could not overcome it. I memorized that when I was nine, but I always thought it was a light like the break of day, chasing cold shadows to corners and covering like a warm blanket that keeps only good underneath. I’ve always imagined light versus dark as a cosmic battle of no contest, where the two rushed in from separate directions to make a messy collision in a long, deep valley. A crowded mess of thunderstorms and white robes and lightning and dark forces and probably Gandalf, but the sides stayed easily distinguishable – in my mind.

But this deeper-than-dark light is something new to me. If in Christ all things are held together – the aloe plant in my window, the rain drops dripping April, Zella’s squishy little body, and the superlative worst – then He is there in all these things, too.

Inside poverty and hunger and sadness – the deepest of it – Jesus is deeper still. It seems wrong to flip the superlative like that. Find the absolute worst thing, and there find the absolute best thing hiding. It doesn’t make any sense for Jesus to promise that. And then I think about the cross, the whole cruel journey of it, and the story looks different.

He was the light that couldn’t be overcome, but he was crucified. He was so, so deep in the darkest of us. He is light in the deepest, darkest of us – holding all things together, overcoming death and claiming victory over evil. Definitively. Absolutely. Making joy the surest thing because He (Jesus) is the surest thing. Surer than death, even.

I ended up with a whole loaf of communion bread on the bus ride home from church. Zella wriggled under my chin, fighting sleep, and it felt deeply appropriate to rip off fistfuls of the sourdough and let it work my jaw. The body broken for me… the darkness lit for me… the joy assured for me.

It still doesn’t make any sense. I think the light hiding deeper than dark scene is hard to choreograph behind my eyes. The light that doesn’t come from darkness… the light that is somehow deeper than darkness and can reach all the sunken ships full of the world’s grief weight.

And in that mixed up meeting of light and dark, there is our joy called Jesus. And we are happy with Him alone.

This was the offering song Sarah Gregory sung for church yesterday and it is still sweet honey to my disbelieve-for-joy soul. She learned of the song four hours before she sung it. God is so good and full of grace for us.

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.

celebration war paint and resurrection

I painted over my dark grey/mauve nails with white and gold confetti on Holy Saturday. It was an act of defiance, like celebration war paint really, and all ten digits are still ready for festive battle. Every time I look down at the keyboard, every time I turn the page of a book, and every time I swipe my metro card – white and gold confetti remind me that we are in Easter season.

This is resurrection.

“Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power…we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptismal vows.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Last year, I was ready for wild delight, even desperate for it. I pondered Lent readings, daily reflected on my sin and brokenness, and (unintentionally) assumed a very downcast and despairing disposition. My mom started praying for Easter to come quickly just so my blogs would stop sounding so depressing. I ached for delight and hope deeper than I ever have before and I can’t tell you exactly why that was the case.

But, I can tell you that the despair had set in my bones long before Lent this year. The weight of brokenness was personal, but it wasn’t exactly the ugliness of my sin that had me trudging through the depths. It was the ugliness of death itself. It still stung with a dull and deeply weary sting because Lent started on August 3, for us. Is that too bold to say? That is when brokenness ripped our hearts in half and emptiness took up all the earth space my brother once animated with life. That was our Lent and still is, in some ways. I did not have the energy to plumb any further than I had already gone.

And that’s why this year was different.

Leading up to Easter, Patrick and I read the above words from N.T. Wright and there was a subtle stirring that raised all my arm hairs and tingled underneath my rib cage without asking permission.

Resurrection.

Something very peculiar marched its way up to my frontal lobe from all the stirring in my rib cage: we are alive. The resurrection of Jesus did not just secure my place in a glorious future, it secured my place in a glorious now.

The apparitions my hands have been grasping at – reaching through and wrestling with – melted into a new, solid reality. We are resurrected, Will and I, right now. We are more in a similar place than different because we both have our truest identity in Christ. It sounds very wrong, very strange to pen that down – but maybe it’s the celebration on my nails that makes it seem okay. We are resurrected because Christ is resurrected. Me no less than him and him no more than me. Resurrected.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

That’s what I was singing on Holy Saturday and early on Sunday morning when I woke up to put the empty tomb rolls in the oven, light every candle in our apartment (+ some sparklers), and start the crockpot full of homemade (thanks, mom!) hamballs.

I’m not better because death is still ugly… but if I wait till I am I may never come at all.

His invitation is for those lost and ruined by the fall – for those wrecked by the death that has crept into creation. That’s me. As I believe (and pray for more belief) in Christ’s death that swallowed up death and his resurrection that brought new life, I believe God literally breathed resurrected life into me. When he ascended to plead the merit of His blood before the Father, he secured my resurrection, wholly and completely.

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Venture wholly. This is the posture of Easter and the movement of resurrection life that bustled in the fellowship hall of the church last Sunday. The loosely delicate bouquets, the white and gold confetti splattering the long maze brown paper covered tables, the party poppers and candles and yes! the champagne waiting for every person when they walked in the doors.

“Happy Resurrection Day!”

I imagined it sparkling like glitter in my eyes and bubbling like champagne from my spirit and getting thrown like the confetti on my nails.

Words create realities. Like those first words that created the world and the words that formed Adam and the words that prophesied a Messiah and those words that sentenced the same Messiah to death. And those words the angel spoke when the women were standing speechless at the entrance of the tomb, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6) 

Words create realities and the words, “Happy Resurrection Day!” are creating a new reality in my spirit – one that doesn’t require my being “better” to participate.

Even with my favorite apron on, I got scotch eggs and roast ham on my Easter dress. I had to trade out my wedges for sneakers when we started packing things up. Champagne spilled and party poppers got popped prematurely by the best, most zany Brooklyn kiddos. And many of my distracted thoughts throughout the Easter service and celebration were of William, one year before in the very same church – dunking his bread in the cup for communion and leaving a floater, carrying picnic supplies to the middle of the park for our Easter gathering, and grinning next to Grace on my couch as Patrick proposed to me later that night.

For eight months those memories have followed me like a host of apparitions, like moving post cards only I can see. They probably always will, I guess. But this new resurrection reality is spilling over and out of the collective cheers of our festive gathering on Sunday.

I will never be better, maybe. But I will always be resurrected. 

And in that resurrection life, I will live. I will invite friends and neighbors into my home. I will pray for this new baby God is growing in me. I will cheers champagne and non-alcoholic pear juice. I will giggle with my husband. I will make up silly dances. I will do all these things before I am better, because that is the power of resurrection.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Here’s the song “Come Ye Sinners” (written by Joseph Hart) and sung by Fernando Ortega. I can’t find the simple version we sing, but (honestly) once you know the tune, acapella is pretty beautiful.

If you want to read more from our family about this grief journey, you’ll find the grief notes here.

when almost and mostly everything is undecided

Almost and mostly everything these days is undecided, though it produces less anxiety in me than it used to. I think that must be in part due to weariness, but I am thankful regardless. It is good to not be anxious, even if being “made to lie in green pastures” comes about by swollen, pregnant ankles and grief brain. I think God’s goodness is inside these things – when our eyes shut without being told and when our shoulders sigh without great effort.

I had an urge, several times in the first months of pregnancy, to lean over slightly to a fellow subway rider and say, “I know this might sound strange, but would you mind if I rested my head on your shoulder for a few stops? I’m just… so tired.” I didn’t ever follow through, partially (I think) because I had played it over so many times in my head that I would either be unsatisfied by rejection or unsatisfied by the thought that I was just doing it to make the story in my head true.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Patrick said recently, “You have a glow, you really do!” He added the last part because he knew I wouldn’t believe him. He knew I would try to make it about having showered or wearing a new shirt. But I knew he wasn’t joking, because weariness has a way of making you a truth teller. If you are well acquainted with being made to lie down in green pastures, you gladly accept the honest and brilliant words “you have a glow” and then you pack them in your travel satchel – within easy reach for when the journey spreads from the recline of pastures to the incline of a mountain.

There are other things in that satchel, too. Ultrasound photos and conversations with sisters and deviled eggs. Well, not actual deviled eggs. But, the deviled eggs we packed in cupcake tins to take to dinner last night.

After meeting up with our neighbor friends for rainy day Dim Sum in Chinatown, we sloshed back to prepare roasted potatoes and deviled eggs to complement the roasted chicken and lemon tossed brussel sprouts our friends’ were making a few subway stops away. Patrick whipped up homemade mayonnaise while I tossed salt and pepper potatoes in thyme, sage and olive oil. He convinced me the the whole grain mustard would be better presented in small dollops on top instead of mixed in with the egg and relish. I should always trust his photographer’s eye.

Walking in to their basement apartment is a little bit magic. We relax into hugs and updates and banter while we shuffle coats and food and chase their little one in circles around the kitchen. The deviled eggs are set out for appetizers and the guys huddle in the office while we talk about baby preparations and bring things to dinner-ready in the oven. Then, we sit down to pray over the food.

All of it regular and all of it magic, like the sun that warms a patch of kitchen floor or the way a flower bouquet speaks reassurances in its silent post on the mantle. Regular magic.

And the deviled eggs remind me that we talked – really talked – over dinner. We scooped portions on plates and opened every conversational door that is supposed to stay closed at dinner parties while the little one peppered our deep thoughts with very serious requests for grapes and strawberries. We nitty gritty talked about marriage and love and community and insecurities and the times we’ve given in to irrational fears. Equal parts affirmation and question, equal parts confidence and fear, equal parts doubt and faith. Equal parts certain and unknown. All parts family.

Because almost and mostly everything is undecided these days and it is good to know we are not alone in indecision. And sometimes we need to be reminded that our indecisiveness is not weakness.

We pushed against the expectations of culture and role models and voices in our heads and then, one by one and in very different ways, we spoke truths about God and the identity He gave us. We said things like, “I have seen the way that God has blessed your work – what you do is really amazing.” And, “..We have to start from a place where we believe God is sovereign, a place where we believe He gave us our identity.” And, “We can see God’s heart for hospitality in you.” And, “You have really been such an encouragement to me.”

Our words came easily because it’s instinct to bandage a broken body and because this is kind of what we are made for, to “encourage one another and build each other up.” God is good to fill our mouths with words He has already written and promises He has already spoken, so that we do not forget His faithfulness and persistent renewal of creation. None of us are less broken or more figured out – we are equally unsure of how all our stories will unfold.

Nothing is more figured out today. No questions got answered in the way we would all prefer. No decisions got made about the future last night.

But, I am remembering a little bit more that I am called “child” in a family with a steadfast and faithful God who knows about the wiggles in my womb and the swelling in my feet. And He knows exactly and especially when His children need to come together to speak truth when almost and mostly everything is undecided.

dear little one | confessions

Dear Little One,

I wish you could feel the tingle of Spring.

The city people are braving less layers, store windows are adjusting promising bright pastel displays, and there is an unmistakable allure of something new when the breeze rushes past in Bryant Park. Spring is magic. I’m not sure what to tell you about magic because I’m not even sure if that’s the right word. There are… well, there are some things in this world and outside of it that are so big – so so big that words are too small. No matter how hard we think and study and explain, the weight of this magical glory breaks through to push a green bud past crumbly dry earth.

Does that sound crazy? It is okay if it does.

I pray this mystery will always feel crazy in our home, but you’ll have to help us. You will probably see glory when we don’t. You will probably chase wonder while we stare. Please, invite us along into your world where words are too small. Maybe we’ll all giggle out insufficient analogies together someday. Or maybe you are the type that prefers to be present instead of troubling with words. Either way and any way, we would love for you to help us see the magic better.

He is coming back from California tonight, your daddy, and I can’t wait to see him. Maybe you already know. You are turnip sized now, they tell me, but every inch of you is in a dance so maybe you know he is coming. You, little one, are making me wonder. How do you get formed inside of there? Why the nose and ears this week and not before? Magic.

Confessions are magic, too.

And this is what I want to tell you tonight. We’ve been doing a lot of confessing around here lately and then your Aunt Tam sent me a message tonight, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” The verse came from the book of Hebrews in the Bible, Chapter 10 and verse 23. Yes, I thought. Hold onto hope.

But, then I sat a little bit. Sometimes it is good to be still and let your heart hear something you haven’t already affirmed – some new bit of magic and mystery. So, I sat a little bit thinking about the confession of our hope.

I am not any good at confessing – you can ask Daddy. It’s hard for me to get humble and admit the trouble I’ve caused. But, I wondered if this “confession of our hope” meant that we remember the magic that there is hope at all. And then we speak it out loud.

“There is hope.”

And somehow, in the speaking it and believing it, we are confessing all those other less magical things have failed as much as we are holding fast to the confession that the most magical thing is steadfast and faithful.

Here I mean God, little one. I do want to be clear because soon the word “magic” might be spoilt for you. Your Maker is the Maker of all things – in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, things with words and things without them. He is the one who is forming you, but you probably already know that. Maybe you know Him better now than I ever will.

I worry my letters to you are unfinished and scattered.

I love you so, little one.
Soon I will squeeze your wrinkly knees.

Love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

Psalm prayers + silent Saturdays

I am glad for Psalm prayers I don’t write and for Saturdays where silence can really stretch out. I didn’t realize I was whispering at the bagel shop until the sweet red-haired girl leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows over tortoise shell Warby Parkers, “Sorry, hon, what did you say?”

“Um, ehm.. I’d like an egg and avocado…”

“Oh, you want number 4 on 7 grain? Anything else?”

I felt like a child whose mom sent her out for eggs and this redhead knew I was breaking the rules. But I just bought a Dirt Devil and I’m hosting Thanksgiving, so I read the [free copy of the] New York Times like I belonged in the adult world. I picked up a few groceries on my way home. And when I got home, I stayed. I baked and pureed pumpkin, hand wrote a few cards, made brown sugar+cinnamon+chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow, put away dishes and drank tea. (Okay, I also ate four Oreos but I did not feel good about that). At some point in the middle of the candlelit silence, I read this:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7 ESV)

And I breathed prayers without any new words. All these Psalm words are prayers enough and my words can’t get that big. My words can’t make heavens and my breath can’t make host to fill them. The waters ignore my commands and the deeps don’t respond. Only God can do this. And only God would want to cause this kind of creation commotion when He needs no one and no thing.

I feel very created today, very in my place.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

Why is the One who gathers the waters in a heap also my help and shield? And how is He that?

The radiator is hissing in the corner, sputtering like antique apartment heaters do. It feels selfish to stay indoors, but I don’t feel well and I can’t remember the last day when I didn’t have plans. I suppose that is an excuse. Scripture needs silent space and time. I came to no conclusions and wrote no prayers; I don’t feel better or wiser. But I am remembering. I remember who the Lord says that He is. And I remember that I trust Him.

I trust that He is God and He has not given up on His redemption plan. He is very much in the middle of making all things new – old things and dead things and dry bones and this old, stubborn heart.

I’ve been a lot of inward lately. Last week, I was walking out of the subway after a frustrating stop-and-go “We are delayed because of train traffic ahead. We apologize for any inconvenience” situations. I was bundled and hunched and leaving sighs on the sidewalk when someone touched my arm and pulled me close. Patrick was leaving to go to work, but caught me just in time to say, “Hey, I love you.” I hoped that he couldn’t see all the self-pity in my face because the streetlight lit up his and it was full of the best husband love.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1 ESV)

Sometimes living is labor. I don’t mean working the 9-5. I mean just living. I let Psalm 127:1 sing over some of the silence today until it felt like my deeps started to listen.

And I remember. Unless the Lord builds the house (read: plans, days, vocation, prayer, family, community), I will labor in vain. My building efforts end up being for my own glory or my own preservation or my own pride. But, the Lord – He is a great builder and none of His plans go to waste. None.

It is still Saturday and there is a bit of it left to savor.


To read more from my grief journey, you can find those posts here.

a simple, pressing whisper

I lost it in church yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can’t blink it away.

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

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