elevating ordinary days in Eastertide

The greens are technicolor now, covering ground and overflowing branch and filling vase. Every shade and new ones without names greet my tired, morning eyes and I try to blink away the ordinary. All the impossible, tiny Spring buds gave way to a green life that is thicker than winter’s death. And I want my fingers to tingle with it, I want my cheeks to glow and my words to sing— that Christ is Risen from the grave and I rose with Him in victory. I want all 50 days of Easter to feel like a party, because this thing is impossible that He has done. For life to come from death and for my own death to die, nothing should feel mundane. It should feel like the magic it is. And not just Easter Sunday.

Easter week … ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope

Yes, just yes.

We raise glasses and light every candle, we say yes extra and look for light. We get silly with the wildness imprinted on our souls and eat marshmallows with chocolate chasers. If there is ever a season to shake free the shackles, it’s this one. We invite friends and neighbors and family and strangers to toast the One who could not stay dead, the One who invites us to a feast that never ends.

When my mom asked about Zella’s favorite part of Easter day, her face melted behind the biggest smile and she confessed, “Lottie and me got 4 or maybe 5 marshmallows and we ate them.” Her entire little folded frame, splashed in firelight and snuggled into Grandma’s lap, savored the memory and the thrill of eating so much sugar at one time.

To her credit, we made a big display of the marshmallows at our Easter party— filled a whole punch bowl with those fluffy white sugar clouds and set them right next to the champagne and the tall candles and the sparkler sticks. Because this is the season to get lost completely— inside wonder and joy and hope and victory and the Truth that the grave could not hold the one true God.

But, the kids spent last night throwing up and the confetti I ordered for our party was *not* the compostable kind, so you can find me in Eastertide sitting in small patches of our backyard picking up metallic foil strips while the kids make more laundry play with their Grandpa-made mud kitchen. The work does not disappear in celebration season. The baseboards need attention and the wind blew down all the loose branches stuck in our three lush pecan trees. There is no end in sight to the dishes in the kitchen. But, bathed in the beauty of Christ’s resurrected life is the life Christ resurrected in me— the regular, mundane, clean-up-puke-and-do-the-dishes life.

This is the life we celebrate in Eastertide— not a life that escapes ordinary, but one that elevates it.

Caroline KOlts

He redeems the lives we are living right now, not just eternity-in-heaven life or #Sundayfunday life or the life we wish we had. His redemption and this Easter season is about raising our current lives up from the grave. Our Monday afternoons and our Thursday mornings, our passive aggressive conversations with co-workers and our “is that your lunch on the floor again?” queries to toddlers. It does not all feel sparkly, Eastertide, because it is all still regular. But God has freed the dull and dirt, the mundane and monotony. He has freed us from the weight of sin that so easily entangles and freed us to the weight of glory that so easily delights in God and doing good. Eternity’s celebration is today’s confetti.

In Easter, we aim to cover regular moments with magic, to delight in what we know is true in a more intentional way.

So, here’s a short list and it needs your additions. These are just things we are doing at our house to cover regular moments with magic. They are both exceptional and ordinary. Some require planning and others are already in our schedule.

  • Throw parties. Every Sunday of Eastertide, we are having a backyard party where we invite friends, neighbors, strangers, and friends. If you want to bring your regular self, DM me for directions and then go find your party pants.
  • Go outside. We love listening to bird songs and finding snails, feeling small among tall trees and going on new adventures. God’s world is big and small and intricate and awesome and we want to see more of it!
  • Eat sweets. Normally, I’m a serious naysayer when it comes to sweet things. But, it is a love language my kids understand and I won’t be mad if they connect sweetness with Eastertide. Bake the cookies! Eat the s’mores! Pour the maple syrup! And we’ll say, “It’s Eastertide!”
  • Give invites. Basically, we want to invite people more, and not just current friends— to bonfires and popsicle runs, to neighborhood walks and sno cone stops, to church and to playdates and to sing-a-longs.
  • Sing and say celebration. We want the prayers we pray and the songs we sing to be especially full of joy. Extra, I think, is the name of the game. More sparkly celebration talk, more dance parties to celebration music. Start here and just try not to praise.

how God can use my weakness to show He is steadfast

Every morning, I pull seven long curtains back on seven long windows in our front room so sunlight will stream into our home space. I press a pen onto paper. The swirling black ink in firm strokes is pre-dawn, pregnant therapy — an effort to convince myself there is order and purpose while the teapot whistles and I glory in moments alone. I wrestle the daily lectionary for something profound and desperately hope the Scripture gets in me good, better than yesterday because that didn’t go very well. 

Yes, we have seven windows. We live in Atlanta now, where they don’t come at such a premium. They are old and historic and dirty wonderful. The bars on the front remind me of Brooklyn, and I love that too.

The first few days and weeks of our new southern life, I felt lonely for shared Brooklyn apartment walls. I grieved the distance between front doors, the yards and the fences and the streets in between. The vast physical space followed me like a giant personal bubble – equal parts fresh air and far country where all the city used to sit. We arrived strangers in the South in late August and by early September I longed for crowded, colorful streets and common laundry establishments and an elevator full of neighbors. Homesick for shared space, I guess. 

I am 33 now. Yesterday was the magic day and hour that my body officially adjusted to the new numerals. Baby was due to join this side of the world as a celebration, but (surprise, surprise) Baby is stubborn. I get it Baby, take your time. I am not ready either. I mean, my belly is stretched to the max, so don’t get any bigger. I can still touch my toes but I sometimes need help getting out of bed. 

I had a small hope of knowing myself a little better before number two arrived — maybe even destroying some of the demons and facing more squarely the fears that fester secretly in the corners of my soul. I blame the complex emotions of moving across the country and nesting in a strange place and growing another mystery in my belly, but I know it is my human condition that remains the thorn in my stubborn side. I am still weak and weakness is a stage I will never outgrow.

And inside weakness – inside hot shower tears and endless “Oh, so, nice to meet you!” conversations, inside GPS disasters and unnecessary selfish implosions – I see you, God.

I have tried to conquer weakness all my life. At times in small, subtle ways and at other times with great flair and volume. Something about the daily lectionary reigns over my whitewashed importance and anchors me in a Strength I will never attain. It is slow, steady work that calmly lives inside the liturgical year – absent any flourish or savvy and present a faithful plodding toward the most important Easter season. The Bible readings rest confidently and quietly on each day just because the words are True. It is good for my weakness to read the Bible this way, I think. In my pen to paper reflections, I often read myself saying “It is good for me to be in the Word… I need more of the Word, more Truth.” I read back things like that and instead of emotion, there is confirmation.

Anyway, I do not feel less weak. Or less homesick or more nested or any sort of strong.

I am the same amount of weak I was at 13 – when I wrote chapter markings into my journal and in pencil because I thought it might be published someday and I’d need to make revisions. It’s always been a deceptive strength for Caroline Marie, a wrestling to establish where the roots are firmly planted and what control I can wield in the growing. And I see you, God.

Zella runs down the concrete steps of our front porch (remember, we live in Atlanta now) to chase the people passing by. “Hiiiiiiii!” and with a sloppy wave and a head tilt she goes on, “You can come over next time, if you want to!”

Then she runs back to me and says, “Friends, mama! Look, I say hi to them! And they can come overrrrrrrrrr next time!”

Everyone is all kinds of sweet about it and she lifts her face like a sunflower to the attention and the possible hope of new friendship. She chased one boy at the park when his mom determined it was time to leave and said, “It is hard to leave sometimes,” nodding her head like a little grandma who learned the lesson long ago. Her new friends’ names are folded into our conversations and our prayers as they show up to our campfires and library classes and long walks through the city’s center. 

And she is weak, too. Her weakness frustrates me because it looks so like mine – impatience and anger and selfishness. I speak slowly and calmly (a truly spiritual effort) and explain her crazy while inwardly I rebuke myself for all the same things.

None of the weakness is shaking out like I thought, like I maybe hoped it would – like some sort of magic skin shedding when you move from one city to another. But I see you, God. And somehow, I have not yet exasperated You or Your love.

You extend steadfast love in a way my weakness will never be able to match.

The lectionary is taking me through the Exodus story and I am seeing God’s steadfastness anew. In Hebrew, steadfast love is “chesed” and English fumbles to find a word equal in depth. It means something like “loving kindness” and “mercy” and “loyalty.” The entire meaning has articles written about it. I lean towards “loyalty,” mainly because Dick Lucas leans that way and I really respect his study of Scripture. Anyway, he pointed out that this kind of loyal love is mentioned in the Psalms 125 times and always in reference to God’s love for His people and never in reference to our love for Him.

I see you, God. 

I am too weak to respond in kind to your loyal love, to your steadfastness and your kindness. I’ll never be able to give You back the kind of glory that comes with the sun streaming in morning windows or the beauty of new neighbor thoughtfulness or the faithfulness of churches holding up Your Word as True. I am just too weak, all 33 years of me.

God chose inarticulate Moses, pursued the wayward Israelites, and moved us to the heart of Atlanta … not in spite of weakness but in order that He would be glorified for His strength.

I see you, God. And I’m probably going to forget this tomorrow, just FYI.

the liturgy of ordinary time

I am keeping track of time, barely. Sweat drops and slices of fruit and sips from iced cold brew. Molasses and moonshine; slow, fast, strong, fragrant.

My fingers tickle the contours of her face. Feather soft eyebrows, a tender dip in the bridge of her nose, a jaw line that hides under squishy cheeks, and her little jut of a chin with a bumpy, brave scar. We started the tickle when she was tiny. Maybe it was one of those long car rides from Iowa to New York when I realized she loved all kinds of soft touch. Then it got bundled up with her night and nap routines and now she makes specific requests. “Tickle my hands, Mama.” 

Most days, I count it a privilege and the tickle is sweet and slow and savored. Every once in a while, I wrestle the inner voices arguing about my being subject to the tickle whims of a two year old as images of ‘real work’ roll through my mind. And then the tickles are rushed and tired and phoned in.

One night, mind drifting to our guests on the other side of the door, I rolled my eyes as my fingers flicked past nose, ears and cheeks hoping for a fast sleepfall. Then, she reached out her pudgy fingers and started her own tracing. “Tickle Mama’s eyebowwwws.” I didn’t know my shoulders were tense until they relaxed completely at her touch. “Tickle Mama’s nooooohs.” I hid my surprise behind the early summer darkness and gloried in the generous mind of my girl. And so, she traced my face and I felt the sweet and savored slowness of a rightly executed tickle. 

She fell asleep eventually. And we are still in Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time – that long and feastless stretch following Advent and Pentecost on the church calendar where there is nothing to anchor or move us like the drama of the seasons before. I’ve been waking up for more of the ordinary minutes – the slower, silent ticks of the clock before the day feels fast forward.  The sun reaches its bright, Eastern arms through our bedroom window at 5 and 6 am and my mind will not stay tucked in sleep.

C.S. Lewis and Martin Laird meet somewhere in my mind now, as I pick up the remains of coloring projects and a trail of books leading back to a disheveled bottom shelf. That passage from The Weight of Glory muddles into view: 

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When I first devoured these pages in college (oof, years ago), I felt lazy and disengaged in my slow moments. I prayed – Lord, please never find me inactive in the serious work of the Christian life. It is somber like war and I don’t want to be a mere civilian.

I wanted death to be real – all the awkward and cold angles of it – because I thought that meant I would do better at living.

Yesterday, I was bad at being alive. I transmorphed after those early, solitary moments of apartment sunshine into a turtle snail, a snurtle… or something that could escape inside itself without explanation. Except that I was in almost constant motion – in my mind and with my hands. I jostled household chores early and made plans for midday, but everything played like a private concert of dischord – all the notes were wrong and only I could hear the sound. 

I guess that was death – the awkward and cold angles of it – keeping me aware of my mortality and making me a human I did not recognize.

Because “aware of my mortality” means sin and demons and a herd of wolves looking like sheep – and all of that buried deep in my chest where the discordant symphony played its miserable song. This is who you are, human – short-tempered, impulsive, ungrateful, cynical, distressed. Living aware of my mortality is the real pits.

I read “A Grief Observed” after my brother died. Yesterday marked three years since that terrible phone call collapsed me on our apartment floor. I crawled inside the broken tenderness of C.S. Lewis’s grieving heart that pushed against death and all its agony for the living. Confused, angered, depleted, desperate, tired… not exactly motivated to greater motion, greater purpose. Just paralyzed by an invisible, writhing pain monster I could sometimes see. 

Your problem is, you don’t know who you are. Let me tell you who you are. You are a ray of God’s own light. You say you seek God, but a ray of light doesn’t seek the sun; it’s coming from the sun. You are a branch on the vine of God. A branch doesn’t seek the vine; it’s already part of the vine. A wave doesn’t look for the ocean; it’s already full of ocean.

Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land

My eyes stung when I woke this morning, evidence of what I couldn’t keep inside yesterday. I am still wearing the shirt that was soaked in snot less than 12 hours ago. We read the morning Psalm together and prayed as directed, “In the depths of our isolation we cry to you, Lord God; give light in our darkness and bring us out of the prison of our despair through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And this small, crawling motion. This, rhythm of entering the Lord’s presence with my fickle humanity and asking impossible things, is my mortal pace. I am trapped, bound in this body and darkness, but God – completely outside this constraint – shares His glory and shines His light.

Lord, I have called daily upon you; 
I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand up and praise you?
Shall your loving-kindness be declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Shall your wonders be known in the dark
or your righteous deeds in the land where all is forgotten?
 
But as for me, O Lord, I will cry to you;
early in the morning my prayer shall come before you.

I paused and read again Psalm 88 – about wonders and darkness and the forgotten land. I don’t have an exegesis hiding in my head, but I know my heart wonders often if the Light can reach all the dark – even the places I don’t understand, the places language fails and nothing is right. I am tempted to filter the verses with a simpler, safer tone in my reading with Zella. But God’s Word does not allow it. The darkness is too stark to be sweet, ever. And His light is too glorious to be anything less than complete.

My mortality is not going away, but neither is God’s eternity. And He has somehow mysteriously linked the two in the death of His Son. And that somehow mysteriously informs my identity – yesterday in my transmorphed paralysis and today in my Light-infused slow motion. And that all somehow makes sense in His economy.

I most hated that yesterday felt ordinary. I hated that oatmeal still cooked the same and the stroller was still cumbersome and the storm still changed plans. I hated forgetfulness and poorly timed naps and the innocence that was attached at my hip and in my belly. I hated the ordinary-ness so thoroughly I could not think of anything else.

Because death is not ordinary.

But, here we are – positioned still inside those dreadfully unimpressive words – Ordinary Time. Like the stretch of time after a dramatic Pentecost… the clock creeps on and the days stretch without celebration and I am mortal. But, God in His great mercy, reminds me I am His and He has conquered death and dark and despair in the kingdom come. He is Light and His mystery brings the morning sun that dried my puffy eyes in ordinary time.

good work, neighbor love, and kingdom come

I stretch out my limbs and too quickly my fingers reach the walls of our apartment. The cluttered cubic space shouts for thrown open windows and, in Brooklyn springtime, the windows shout back. Zella Ruth is sleeping now, so I have a chance to splatter thoughts on this page while the busses whir and that persistent man sings on the corner. His voice almost convinces me, six floors up.

But, back to these walls – these boundaries of our existence and mine especially as I newly articulate the bold title of “at home work.” The sun splashes against the wall of our kitchen – a hot, glorious reminder of a Spring long come and I stand in it awhile before clearing the remains of fresh salsa construction from our tiny countertop. I remember Zella’s scurry steps into the bedroom to babble very seriously about a broken something in the kitchen… and her pained brow when I found a special bowl in pieces on the floor. “It’s okay, Mama! It’s okay! I’m sorry, Mama. I’m sorry.”

Oh, this light. If only I could bottle it up! This patch travels up the kitchen wall, another climbs the bedroom above our bed, and a generous warmth makes a wake across the living room in midday. Windows are beauty and ours are giant, stretching almost floor to ceiling.

But, these walls. Every time I wash my hands in the bathroom, I wonder about the workers who tiled the walls. I wonder because it’s a curious construction, almost like a child’s mosaic the way the slivered pieces sometimes dwarf in comparison to the grout around them. And where the wall is uneven, more grout is applied and the effect is three dimensional. A statement of sorts about living in New York. Art.

We love this place. Even around the newest luxury condo, we can see the tips of the trees in Prospect Park, waving like sentinels and beckoning us to play in our neighborhood’s backyard. We often do. 

Well, anyway, the kingdom is here. In between the grout tile mosaic and in the view through dirty windows and under the gate leg table that opens up to fit twelve in our living/dining/den room, as long as everyone is cool with shoulders touching. The kingdom is in this midst.

I remember a sermon from a while back – one of those well known passages I almost tuned out but later I couldn’t get out of my mind. The kingdom is in my midst like the brothers in Luke 15. Their inheritance and mine is available right now, in its entirety. The robe, the fattened calf, the signet ring, the feast, and the best last name. Any good thing I can imagine requesting? Mine. A vast richness I could not possibly spend or exhaust or even fully enjoy. It’s that much inheritance. And the only way I can’t get to that inheritance is if I am not free.

The kingdom of God is freedom. 

But a kingdom has walls and gates and guards and I am skeptical like the son that there is any freedom inside. My mind drifts. I imagine the dreams I dreamt once – the ones that somehow wore charity and luxury at the same time, where dinner was never late or burnt or frustrating. Dreams chase freedom. And we chase dreams, hoping the blank will get filled in, “I just want to be able to ____” and the story ends well or doesn’t end at all.

And, I think, dreams are only bad if they have you convinced that you are not already free. 

The Band spins on the record player, a leftover request of Zella’s for “mugik” and that sermon from awhile back crackles over my laptop, “Both of these sons are on the precipice of being dead, of being lost… What’s most important to know is that you need to be found by the Father who wants to pull you into His feast.”

Hm. This kingdom, the kingdom of God is in the midst of us – another sermon especially settled in my bones. It’s a comfort and a horror to know that it’s here when I’m all unraveled and here when the knick knacks are all prepared for company. It, the kingdom, Jesus. Here.

Maybe this heart was getting annoyed at my spiritual procrastination and so started ahead that I might catch up. Or maybe these few sermons and a talk from Galatians 5 just started swimming together in the same direction in my spirit (do sermons swim?). This kingdom that came in Jesus had a vastness to it, a depth reaching outside existence. Yet, it was present physically in Jesus and is still present physically with us. The kingdom is here, and with so much repeat in the New Testament.

The message feels so precarious because the inheritance is so vast. The kingdom of lavish inheritance is everywhere, so why does our air feel so impoverished? Those brothers felt it too. With all the inheritance anyone could ever grasp for, neither was satisfied. They wanted a better freedom, something more fitting for the appetites in their bellies. Something not so established by a father who has everything. Something not so… available. They wanted different walls with different rules and different work.

And these walls, remember. And this work.

“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.” Galatians 5:13-14

Called to freedom, yes. Use it to serve neighbors? Sounds like constraint. Freed to be constrained? Sounds like gates and guards again and that generous father’s farm. 

There was a watercolor disaster in the living room yesterday. I said things like, “I am very disappointed,” and “Mama is sad,” to a not-quite-two-year-old who doesn’t yet understand the cost of an area rug. Deep breaths, we take them together. I pretend like I’m teaching her about coping mechanisms for frustration, but it’s really about keeping me under control. Inside these walls and inside this work is the vast and glorious kingdom inheritance, but I will keep feeling impoverished unless I claim freedom.

Teaching on Galatians 5, Thabiti Anyabwile says Christian freedom is the antidote to the Galatian error, that freedom is even the goal of the gospel that we must embrace, enjoy and cherish. “We are freed to inherit all that Christ has purchased for us,” he said, “…but we must remember what we are freed from.”

I am freed from the desires of the flesh and freed to an inheritance. I am freed from a dream of better walls and different work, freed from the betraying appetite in my belly. Freed from chasing an answer to the open ended and paralyzing question, “What is my calling and God’s will for my life?” Because it all comes in the same inheritance-freedom package. 

Q: What is my calling and God’s will for my life?
A: That I would be free and use my freedom to serve others.

This inheritance that we are freed to accept – it so blesses us and so fills us that the greatest dream we can dream hangs like mist in the air above our fingertips. In love, serve one another. This is the most freed act. There is no haggling about worth or comparing about value, no hierarchy of importance or ranking of achievement.

The most free thing anyone can do with freedom is serve others. And not just the glory, headlining kind of service. The quiet kind – make a meal, tidy the toys, clean the dishes, disinfect the toilet, arrange the bookshelf, run the errands, write the letter, invite them over, wash the laundry, crunch the numbers, listen to the neighbor. You get it. Also the glory kind – definitely keep that around, but not for glory’s sake. 

This cold traveled slowly and took about one week to get from my chest to my throat to my nose. Now, it is flowing freely on this flour sack kitchen towel and my shirt sleeves, which I’ve newly re-purposed as handkerchiefs (why don’t we carry those anymore?!). One was not enough. The hum of the restaurants and traffic and sirens at street level drift up and settle between my cotton ears.

And there is good work to be done in this midst.

how to “do Christmas” like the little drummer boy

I am that little child with that flimsy toy drum strapped around his angular little boy shoulder. Come, they told him. The sticks strike that moon face, commanding air and passers-by to listen to the rhythm, the foolish parade of one. I am that simple, repeat refrain. And even then, he does it better. He found the drum and the sticks and the bravery to begin.

Honest talk, I’m getting a little worked up facing this blank page. I am sad for being gone, sad for not playing my song (foolish as it sounds), sad for hiding my gift under a bushel basket full of distractions – mindless social media and early bedtimes with a tired brain.

My wet mess of a face almost matches the mess I meant to clean in our apartment when Pat left with Zella two hours ago. I don’t know why, but imagining myself into the story of the little drummer boy is just so exactly where I am right now. I guess the small gesture – lifting strap over shoulder and calling on a hidden, inner repertoire – convicts all my defenses.

Whew, I didn’t know I needed this kind of cry – let me take a moment. Let’s all take a moment.

I know – it’s not technically Christmas music. But sometimes the song beating rhythms behind our ribcage isn’t jingling bells. Most times, in my case. The Advent season is not triumphant. It is precious beauty, but it is sad too. We are the reason Jesus came all the way down, all the terrifying way down, from celestial glory to stomachs growling and torrential storms. I am both loved by this act and reminded that there was reason for His condescension. I am the reason.

My proneness to wander so pressed on the heart of God until it broke Him and compassion poured out in the real life of a little babe.

 

Anyway, I salute you – little boy and your silly pa rum pum pum pum refrain. Thanks for being brave enough to bang on your drum and make a grown woman cry while thinking about it. Here is me striking my drum in your honor.

singing catechisms

The cold blue sky hugged the red bricks of all the buildings in the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon in February. Our Friday sleepover friends had just left and Zella Ruth was tucked away for a nap in her crib. 

Pat rolled the rocking chair back and forth, back and forth… with a hiccup where it caught the carpet. And I was there – curled up tight in his lap, with my head tucked under his chin and with my eyes weeping motherhood. I humiliated myself into a little cocoon on his chest, folding all my limbs as small as they would go. I had lost something, something very precious, at the laundromat and that hiccuping rock let me forget adulthood for a little bit.

I wanted to blame everything – the laundry ladies, the drudgery of schlepping overstuffed clothes bags on city streets, the baby strapped to my chest, the postpartum stuff I still don’t understand – but I didn’t have the energy. I wiped sad slobber all over one of his zip up sweaters and listened as he prayed, feeling very like a child.

That was months ago, before we sang the Heidelberg Catechism on Sundays for Eastertide and before the cherry blossoms peak bloomed and then swirled down like snow. It was before my bit of breakdown that happened in the hours stretching between endless walks and goo-gaw talks and failed attempts to get anything done except answering “present” when Zella Ruth gave roll call.

Heidelberg Catechism

I relax into that spot on the bathroom floor – the place where I sit as Z splashes wonder up from her little whale tub. I am slow. I sink into her gaze, round eyes and wet hair stuck to her little head – shining little bruises from little bonks. She splashes again for my reaction and I answer “present” to her roll call – mirroring her chin down, slow blinking face. She lingers. I take the soft, red measuring cup that doubles as bath toy and pour warm on her shoulders. She shudders with delight and follows the water to the breaking surface, slow blinking wet lashes while the warm trickles off her fingertips before looking up for more.

I hum around a few bath songs and settle on a catchy little tune her Papa made up. I sing it softly, touching her little wet features as if this is the only thing in life.

I love your nose, nose, nose
I love your nose
I love your lips, lips, lips
I love your lips
I love your eyes and your ears and your tiny, little tears
I love your nose

She pauses, lifting her nose up so my pointer can keep time on its tiny surface. She waits for the song to cycle again, letting the faint sounds of bath water fill the empty space. I start again, tapping on that nose and watching her open mouth grow into a half smile. There are other verses, of course. Endless verses.

It is Pentecost now and the liturgical season is green – for new life, for growth, for Jesus. The season is green because Jesus is the seed God threw to the earth to be planted in death and raised in new life. And this – this throwing down, dying, and raising is my only comfort in life and in death. It seems so singular – so exclusive and definitive – to say my only comfort at all, ever, always is that I belong to JesusIf that is so, I must belong in a way that isn’t attached to postpartum or marriage or geography or accomplishment or feelings. I must belong to Jesus so deeply that I am not my own anymore (and that is a comfort?).

It sounds messy and untrue because my gut says that comfort is when I am my own.

Sometimes, Z will cruise herself across a room, close enough for our foreheads to touch and then lean in between me and whatever has my attention to say, “Ah!” With raised eyebrows and an open mouth smile, she declares with one word, “Here I am, Mama! You must have forgotten about me, but it’s okay because I am here! And I am wonderful!”

The truth of it was more ethereal and less tactile before Z was born. (Not my own, uh sure. Yeah.) This tiny human sleeping a few feet from our marriage bed (and needing me in the most complete way I’ve ever been needed) made “not my own” less delicate and more… more desperately tangible.

I do the same thing I did in singleness: try to claim that I belong, body and soul, to me. My comfort is queen. But motherhood has been an especially physical response to that tendency – in its denial of what I want to do.

I cannot understand her words quite yet, but it sounds something like, “Be fully present, mama. Be completely here. Look at me long enough to notice the hair swooping over my eyes and the way I can make a bowl be a hat.”

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. It’s kind of an updated Westminster Catechism idea called Christian Hedonism and it’s what I think of when Zissou appears in front of me thinking she is the world (Sidenote: she is only 10 months, so I realize this analogy unravels really quickly – like in a month or so).

Zella is teaching me how to joyfully choose to not be my own, to be satisfied completely in the Lord. She is teaching me that there is comfort in being present for the banal moments of bath time and the tender night cries of teething because this is the way of the Father. He came all the way down to earth to be present with us.

He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my father in heaven. In fact all things must work together for my salvation.

My truest and most enduring comfort is belonging to Jesus, the one who watches over me in all the ways I can’t watch over Zella. He is the one who watches over me when I lose laundry and when I can’t sing another made up song. He knows exactly what I need and then He gives it abundantly. He is the only one who can grant salvation with belonging.

You won’t find it anywhere in red letters, but I hear it in this season – I hear God saying, “Be fully present when I take roll call because I am here and I am wonderful!” There is absolutely nothing that is more precious or more important than being with the One who set you free, the One who made you so deeply belong that it is a comfort to say, “I am not my own.”

In the spirit of being present, this blog post took weeks with plenty of breaks for giggle parties on the bed, forts in the living room, catechism sing-a-longs, tongue cluck contests and sweet, singing walk dances in the park. My living room is currently in an impressive display of unkept and the bed is not made. Just keeping it real.

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.