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.

celebration and sorrow

Zella Ruth knows nothing about Good Friday – that it is actually bad, dark, and terrible. She knows nothing about the repetition of “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and nothing about the silent exit of the night liturgical service. I’m not really doing a very good job of educating, though. I spent Holy Week singing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and dance-contorting all over the spring warmth in our apartment. We spread a blanket in the park and talked about blooming trees, fingered blades of green grass, and squinted up at the bright sun. We woke up extra early on Friday to go to the flower district in Manhattan for Sunday’s centerpieces. ZRu’s first Holy Week outside my belly was not heavy with sadness at all.

I lacked sorrow for the via dolorosa this year.

I just couldn’t manage to let death and depravity cast its shadow over those 40 days. I couldn’t get around to it. Grief wiped me out the last two years. It took all my energy and  I didn’t have time to imagine plumbing those depths again.

After the dust settled on Christmas and Epiphany, my heart got good and fixed on the resurrection. No, this year was not the time to teach Zella about Lent sadness, not with words anyway. Maybe she felt the water dripping off my eyes… or a different rhythm as she pressed up against my chest… or a restlessness in my preparations as I wore her tight under my chin.

It’s all tangled up, this celebration and this sadness, in confetti tears and Google spreadsheets and clean sheets and a bit of silence that comes as a surprise on a Thursday before the mushroom red sauce is served over quinoa.

I am not making any progress and I suppose that is still grace.

There was a moment at our Easter celebration, one of those I just curled up into. Can you sit on the lap of a moment, can it stroke your hair and say, “You will be okay.” Can a moment do that?

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In some ways, Easter was everything my heart was hoping for because it has to be. It is the easiest party to plan because there is victory already inside it – the biggest and most victorious victory that heaven declares with celestial confetti and hell recognizes like yesterday’s news. Because it is. It already happened.

So, I’m not surprised my heart swelled to sing liturgy, to stand with the choir, to sway with sweet Zella on my hip, to take the bread and the cup, and to hear the words proclaiming our greatest festival.

But there’s something you may not know or assume about me, when it comes to parties. I get so worked up – so blind with starry eyes about the beauty of it that I almost make myself sick. I had imagined this crazy build up for the moment we honored the Host of our gathering, but I got caught tongue tied and fumbled all over the raised glass I was pretending to hold. I had misplaced the confetti and the champagne was only partially poured when I called for the big hoo-rah!

But then, this moment happened and I melted into it – right onto the floor where I found my people. These sweet, bright souls who knew exactly what to do when confetti appeared.

Looking back, I might have spent too much of the liturgy of that day wishing I had Lent-ed harder or planned better. But, somewhere inside that moment, I was learning from Senna and William and Ezra and Orion and Hannah and Zella – all the littles who knew just what to do with paper celebration.

We got lost in it. I’m not sure how long I sat there in my white pants, letting gold and white confetti rain down from the sky from sweaty little fingers rushing to throw it up in the air. The moment, God, held me with a tender knowing.

My inner eight-year-old followed celebration and found sorrow. I gave in to wild delight inside that confetti moment, but there was – creeping in the cracks of that fellowship hall – a stretch of sorrow.

Like light streaming in, sorrow pulled at my eyelids and scratched across my throat. Already and not yet, they say. Christ has conquered the grave and offered that victory to us, but we are awaiting his return. We are looking forward to final peace.

And I am having trouble with the tension.

I can’t put words to it because they seem at once too harsh and too soft. I am the disciples on the way to Damascus. I am disbelieving for joy. I am in the middle of a spirited hoo-rah, summoning energy from a force outside me to throw joy into the air when I become very aware of corners and shadows and my brother’s ashes somewhere in an urn on a shelf.

I am disbelieving for joy that God has won, that He wins in the end. Somehow, I can’t formulate the cardboard book version of this tale, not now anyway.

Until then, Eastertide – this season to celebrate freedom and life and secure hope. And mushroom red sauce with quinoa.

 

 

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.

she is not ours

I know I have not nested enough or planned enough or read enough or enoughed enough – with this whole parenting thing, I mean. I know this because it seems like all pregnant ladies have lists – to do, to buy, to think, to read, to reflect, to pray.

There are also the “don’t worry if you haven’t made a list – this is the one list you’ll need” lists.

I’m not as organized as I used to be (or maybe I am just more honest). I have no lists. [Actually, that’s not true – I am keeping a list of songs that pop into my head unannounced. So far I have: 21 Questions by 50 Cent, Away in a Manger, Video by India Arie, The Storm is Passing Over, We Like to Party, Easter Song by Keith Green, I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross. And those are just the songs that come when I’m near the pen and paper at work where I keep track.] 

do daydream about baby’s hair color and baby’s imagination and what kind of family we will be when baby turns five.
do have doubts about being a mom, though with every day my body confirms that I am created for it.
do imagine what Brooklyn will look like from new eyes as a stay-at-home mom.
do wonder about the privilege of welcoming a baby with special needs – if that is one of the surprises waiting on delivery day.

A few days ago I gave a strange, bullet pointed version of “my story” for our Brooklyn Fellows class. In the process of preparing, I remembered some precious words my mom said once on a terraza in Santa Lucia, Honduras. My parents were visiting from the States for a week and I had taken them to all my favorite spots – the garbage dump school, the feeding center, the orphanage, and the home for boys – before bringing them to my student’s home for a late lunch (except that, in typical ambiguous fashion, Alejandra and I had never communicated or confirmed this plan… so my dad ended up eating a LOT of pastel (cake) and coffee in the absence of meat).

When my dad was on his third slice and my mom had shared all of our galavanting stories, Alejandra’s mom asked, “Don’t you worry about Caroline being here?”

She answered it just like she would her age or her affinity for the country life, “Well, she’s not ours. She is the Lord’s.” So simply, so true.

I nodded with all my silly, missional enthusiasm. I had done a lot of things in that wonderful country – hitchhiked in El Salvador and La Tigra, been stranded overnight hiking a mountain, driven students through El Centro at night, been pulled over by fake cops, taken students with bodyguards on mission trips, rode in the back of pickup trucks, wandered up to houses that looked like mechanic shops, accepted invitations from neighbor-strangers, stayed up all night with students baking pumpkin muffins and making sushi at 2 am, argued with cops who pulled me over and wanted to take my car… the list is too long and too embarrassing to recount. Not all of it was wise or prayerful or good.

My parents prayed a lot. And they never told me to slow down or to move back home.

“She is the Lord’s.”

I don’t know yet the kind of courage it takes to believe that as a parent. I think it’s the way she said it – like I am first God’s family and I am on loan. It was a fact like the price of corn, but it came out like she was announcing I had royal relatives. It rippled across every belief in my heart that God is sovereign and a kind of kinship welled up as if to say, “I am the Lord’s!”

All of the Scripture I read as a child was not mumbo-jumbo. All those verses and sermons and conversations in the kitchen before dinner and talks before morning milking chores – those were about my Father. I belong to Him.

And He is a good keeper, the best.

I have thought about my mom’s words often, especially this past year when we have held so tightly to Will with possessive pronouns: my son, my brother, my husband, my friend, mine.

And even as we push against it, God is saying, “He is mine. He belongs to me. I am his keeper. And I do not fail.”

That’s hard to hear.

It was a strange time to get pregnant – in the first few months of marriage and in the first few months of grief. But God never stopped being faithful, never stopped keeping promises, never stopped claiming us as His. So, now I pray that when people ask, “Aren’t you afraid your baby will…” we will respond, “Oh, Baby K is not ours. Baby K is the Lord’s.”

It sounds crazy, but I can still hear it spoken over me, like last year’s corn prices and the announcement of royal heritage.


Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for not claiming me as your own – for doing the harder thing in confessing that I am the Lord’s.

a psalm for grief

What is this low, deep darkness –
where only apparitions play?
My hands grasp and find nothing;
my voice cries and the sound is soaked up.
Here I am! Inside the furthest dark,
and where are You?

O, be strong and steady –
do not disappear when I reach out
or go silent when I plea.
Be ever with me in this dark-
ever present in this death,
Be with me.

Restore to me the hope of resurrection
and the peace of a seated King.

You will not be shaken,
and You are keeping me.
There is no dark where your love is not light;
There is no light that is not yours.

I am found in You, my light
my home.


It’s been a while, but here are some writings as my family lives out the grief and sorrow of losing William. I do not usually write poetry, but this was an assignment when I was in grief counseling last year. I dug it up to help as I sit with sadness today.

It sounds too easy, too light and defined.

If I was a better poet, I would make it messy. I would make it say things like “wring the numbness out of me / and never forget to feel the pain of death” and “break morning light on this dark day to vanish the chills of night” and “wrestle and make my mind submit to a glory bigger, better and outside this pain”… or something. I would make it tangled and I would make it have the harsh sound of typing keys. click click clackety CLACK clack CLACK. The meter would feel staccato with something like a long cello line running through it. And the edges – the space around the words – would move in close to hug the anger out.

And still it would read wrong.