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.

lessons in love and emptiness

Few folks on the 19th floor of 42nd and Madison knew I was in California over the weekend. Few of them knew I was gone at all. I handed out hellos and good mornings with my best Monday face, because they all had weekends, too, and I didn’t know what theirs were about either.

Mine was full of lessons in love and emptiness.

I always thought love was about giving away something I’ve got, something that came from the overflow of my abundance. You don’t show up to a potluck without a casserole (am I right, Midwest?) and you don’t show up to love someone without something to offer – even if it’s a shoulder or a bit of laughter or a few tears.

I have often tried to love people that way. But, I think I am learning that love is about being empty. Love knocks on the door without a casserole or an explanation, because my confidence in knocking at all has nothing to do with what I can offer.

And it’s hard to think that love can come out of that, out of nothing. But that is what I was learning this weekend. We can be confident love-givers when we are empty. When we realize our words and gifts and casseroles are not the love message, we are left to just be present.

We are present to not figure things out, to not make things better, to not share wise words. Present to question and doubt and consider and believe. Present to be present and not to give a casserole or eat a casserole or have an agenda.

And all of these lessons in love and emptiness remind me of Jesus. He knew how to be present. He knew how to forget about the commotion and the crowds and the distractions so that he could be present with that bleeding woman, reaching out in faith to touch his robe (Mark 5:25). He was always getting empty of all the things we try to offer others in love so that he could be love by being present.

So, I’m trying to learn to get empty more often. I’m trying to learn to offer myself like Jesus.

Last night, freshly back from California with my new lessons on love and emptiness, Patrick tried to share something with me in our new living room. But I already had my apron on and I was very focused on preparing the apartment to host guests.

My apology sounded like a less-than-empty offering, like a casserole I whipped up to cover the offenses. “Here, just eat this and we’ll both feel better.” But it isn’t the same as being empty. He needed my empty moments, the quiet space of my presence.

So, I’m still learning about that.

Guest Post | Wedding Speech, Take Two

I have been signing things Caroline Kolts for the past week, not that there was a whole lot to sign on our honeymoon in Iceland (check out Patrick on instagram). I have to keep reminding myself that together we make a family, the two of us. These first days of family are like making fresh footprints in untouched winter snow – everything is sparkling with promise and waiting to be discovered, built, and dreamed. We went to church for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Kolts yesterday and I was overwhelmed to be sitting next to my newly covenanted love and worshipping my First Love.

I will spare you all of my marital bliss-speak and offer instead the sweetest words that my sister insists appear as a guest post. I am more than glad to oblige, because her guest posts always attract more attention than my regular posts and (I’ll admit) I like the traffic. 😉 Actually, I have read and re-read these words since she sent them earlier today and I can’t figure out why I hit the jackpot with such a sister and why she thinks so highly of me. God has blessed me abundantly with her crazy love.

sisters

Caroline is the wordsmith between us.  While she’s weaving words, making landscapes that you feel and experience, I’m working on writing a to-the-point-email that will inspire people to work for me for free, so there’s a difference clearly.

She’s also the cheesy one of us, the one who waxes poetic about our sisterhood.  Whereas I’m the problem-solver, the send-Caroline-random-gifts-giver, the two-words-on-a-card-writer.  Those two words? Love you!  So, a difference there, as well.

But Caroline and Patrick’s wedding made me feel all kinds of cheesy, like there weren’t enough words in a speech to convey the joy welling within, and there wasn’t enough speech time to squeeze in the love I have for them, the slow moving sadness that comes from missing them, and the gratefulness in loving them together and separate, so much.

So, here is my guest blog post.  The speech I wish I would have spoken.  The official unofficial wedding speech, only 2 weeks late.

Caroline.  Your soul is the most beautiful I know, you know me better than anyone and yet are my biggest cheerleader.   My friendship with you makes me think marriage must be ok, that ‘someone knowing everything-ness’ and all.  In a weird way, it is so not weird that you got married before me.  For you have always gone first.  In following Christ, in maturity, in radical hospitality.  At a soul level, I think in some ways we are both the older sister, just in different ways.  Someone told me the other day that they love the way I talk about you, a mixture of awe, respect, and love.  And how could I not? You are exceedingly lovely, and I’ve always been baffled at the male sex due to their failure to realize this and marry you quickly.  But now I realize why it took them so long.  It was always Patrick, who you were meant for.  And the Patrick novel needed more chapters of adventure before the marriage part.  So, male gender, I’ll give you a pass this one time!

I have always been more concerned with who Caroline would marry than she found necessary.   I always had this desire for her to end up with a person who would fit her, wouldn’t stifle her, wouldn’t try to get her to calm down, settle down, and stop dreaming crazy dreams. Someone who would bring out the hilarious side I see, and reassure her of its validity in the world, that her creating laughter is just as important as creating ponderous thoughts.  And, selfishly, I thought her marrying someone that was ‘ok’ would make our time odd or strained, or worst case scenario, that there would be less of it.

But Patrick. Patrick who’s always been around in the best of ways, always been Caroline’s best fit, the moment just waiting to be right so all those puzzle pieces would fall into place.  I told Caroline at William’s wedding, “He just needs to be in our family.  Why don’t you just marry him?” The funny thing is, that premonition was so right.  He fits perfectly into our family.  Patrick who I have loved as a dear friend for years, who insisted I sleep on his air mattress when I slept over at the apartment he shared with his cousin (he slept on the floor).  Patrick who rented a car when I visited over Thanksgiving because he knew I was getting stressed with the subway like a pansy.  Patrick who along with Caroline, somehow thinks that I am both a good dancer and the life of the party, two things I have trouble seeing in myself.  Patrick who is a relentless friend, visiting his tribe often and asking heart questions over skype without that hurriedness I find myself plagued with often.  Dear, dear Patrick.  Who, having somehow drank the Kool-aid that my family’s been drinking for years, is now fully on board with the relentless cheerleading that is the Nichols family.

I told Caroline the other day that, strange as it may be, now when I’m with her and he’s not around, I miss him. Which is strange, because I’ve been around her without him for her whole life! But there’s just something about this great pair, that’s kind of like a 2-for-1 special.  Two creative people, each uniquely helping and filling in the gaps for each other, but together stretching each other to be more, do more, love more.  What they both did so well separately, they are able to do increasingly well together.  Like a 1+1=3 situation.  Them together, they’re a pretty unstoppable power couple.

Cheers to Caroline and Pat, my favorite 2-for-1.

we were made for campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens

Maybe, one of the sweetest successes in hosting is when you become the guest.

That’s what happened tonight when we brought our black bean cilantro salad over to the neighbors’ apartment who have enjoyed pancakes on so many nights. Patrick’s neighbors opened their door (with a clever invitation taped to the front) to a Cinco de Mayo feast they spread on their coffee table in their little NYC living room.

the cinco sign on the neighbors' door
the cinco sign on the neighbors’ door

I think we made community, this little pancake crew. Somehow, being a guest made it feel official. Our conversation was about things “we” do and games “we” should play together and other nights “we” should all host. Patrick’s apartment building missed him tonight, but while he was in Spain we were celebrating Mexico’s independence with the sweetest neighbors you could find.

We were made for this – for campfires and coffee tables and kitchens.

Two months from today I get to promise forever to the man who loves campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens in the very same, excessive amounts. That is a lot of handwritten notes on doors, a lot of pancakes, and a lot of side dishes sealed in tupperware containers. Not all of it is romance. Sometimes the recipes flop and sometimes the neighbors don’t show up and sometimes there isn’t enough bacon. But, thankfully enough, the requirement for community is persistence. Between the two of us, we have quite a bit of that (in between and in the midst of failures/successes). Still, the most precious necessity for community is persisting in knowing the One with the original idea.

We try to take our cues from the Lord, who was so persistent to send Jesus to show us what love and community look like when they are done perfectly.

Community is my favorite. I think I can say that and not mean it like ice cream or sunshine or the breeze in my face while biking the west side of Prospect Park (because those things are some kind of favorite, too). Community is for bruised hearts and for delighted souls and everyone is welcome to the table.

Did I mention that I really miss that Mr. Kolts? He gets back on Thursday and I am hoping we can squeeze in some non-wedding planning time to enjoy the magic of community.

I kind of promise I won’t write every post about my engagement/wedding. But, I am hoping some of you readers cut me some slack because I only get to be in this stage for two months. You don’t mind, right?

not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I’ve battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it “at once,” I think. I’d rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.
This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

when the Spirit says

I was in the church choir a couple weeks ago and we sang a beautiful song. It had few words, but the melody moved like little children’s feet. I could see bodies swaying in my peripheral vision and then I realized my hips were moving, too. It is that kind of song.

Our choir director sent us this version to encourage a few minutes of preparation before we came together as a group for the hour rehearsal on Sunday morning.

I love the simplicity.

It sounds like a child vowing to do a very noble and impossible thing without knowing how impossible it is (but believing the nobility warrants dramatic commitment). Simple, noble, honest, and impossible.

And that little chorus has been playing across my soul for the weeks since. And I started to wonder “when the Spirit says” pray in my life, because those are the times when my dramatic commitment is tested.

Do I become dishonest when I do not pray when the Spirit says pray? Am I less honest when I bury my worries or when I share joys with friends or when I sing grief in sad songs?

Redemption is wrapped up in the “I’m gonna,” or at least that’s how I read it. Like a child who forgot (again) to clean up his toys or help her brother or stay inside the fence, we look up with round, noble eyes and present our honest “I’m gonna” to the Father who knows how many times we have strayed.

He is the one who makes us honest. Because of redemption, because of His mercies new every morning, we can claim freedom to pray and sing and serve and love and dance in the ways Christ has called us to do those things.

In Christ, our sanctification is a hard and honest refining, a grace covered progress where all our “I’m gonna’s” depend on all His “I did’s.”

 

looking for a pilot

“To lament is to be utterly honest before a God whom our faith tells us we can trust.” from Journey to the Cross, lent devotional

When I am utterly honest, my lamenting needs trustworthy ears. If I am going to tell true words – even if they are scary or joyful or heavy or childlike – I need to tell them to the most trustworthy sort. And this is my journey through Lent, toward the throne of grace with confidence to lay down the burdens Christ wants to bear. This week the theme is lament.

I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest. I can and should lament the stretching divide my honesty reveals – all the ways I am an imperfect human. But I believe He is trustworthy, so I can be honest.

I can hear myself giving encouragement about honesty to close friends, “If you are truly honest, though your sadness will be great, your gladness will be greater.”

I still think that’s true. We should never sugarcoat struggle or sorrow or sin. We should not try to “get by” with whitewashed smiles and mustered courage. We should be honest about brokenness and shortcomings and tired bones.

We should be honest because He is trustworthy and ready to hear the deepest laments of our souls. If you’re like me, the lamenting process will make you want to follow someone – it will make you desperate to be swept up into someone else’s plan, someone whose plan doesn’t muck up or peter out or fade to gray.

Lamenting my own depravity during Lent is like opening my eyes to find how far I’ve foolishly paddled out to sea in my little rowboat. And it makes me look for a pilot.