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.

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.

|kept|

He wore a blue Nike track jacket, but I didn’t know that until we were above ground at Union Square.

My head started to clear with the smell of city rain and I realized clumsily: I didn’t know this man who had walked me up the steps from the subway, thrown down his backpack on the sidewalk for a seat and was now carefully explaining that he would walk 10 feet to buy water from a food truck. I was nodding. He would be back in less than two minutes. More nodding. I sat there on his backpack and breathed. There was laughter hidden somewhere in my future self – looking back on this very personal NYC moment. He returned with water and I drank the whole bottle. I leaned on his arm and we went back to the subway after deciding that water and fresh air had cured the worst of my spell. Then he found a seat for me on the 6 train and we talked about life in the city, his wife and the family they want to start, and all the neighborhoods they have lived in. I asked if he would be late to work and he said he would be just fine. When I assured him I could make it the three blocks to my office beyond Grand Central Station, he went on to 57th.

And that was how I met Rick, my Tuesday subway angel.

My doctor said it is one of the most common calls she gets – fainting in the subway. The morning rush is shoulder to shoulder, the overheated air is stale, and the underground is dark like a cave. Over the course of this pregnancy, I finally learned what my sister has been telling me since I moved to Brooklyn in 2013: Care, you can do whatever you want – nothing is surprising in NY.

And it’s true. I’ve crouched in a corner of the Q train, thrown up in a subway grate, bypassed the bathroom line at Bryant Park, worn tennis shoes with everything, thrown up in Starbucks cups, stretched out pre-pregnancy work clothes, thrown up in trash cans, used an embarrassing amount of dry shampoo, thrown up in ultrasound appointments, consumed a senior citizen’s portion of fiber, and regularly rubbed my belly like a little buddha. Oh, and one of my coworkers just left an entire box of thin mint cookies on my desk, so I might add “consumed an entire box of thin mints in one sitting” to the list (Update: proudly did not).

I’m not a pretty pregnant lady. But I didn’t have time to create expectations about my pregnant self in the whirlwind of marriage and moving and newlywedding and grief and winter and the general pace of life in the city, so I guess that means I’m not disappointed. It’s probably better that everything is a surprise.

And the surprises come in all kinds of ways.

The other night, I lost track of time while I tracked the rolling and tumbling movements on my belly. I still can’t believe there is a human in there. I watch and I hold my breath for the next fist bump or soccer kick to bulge out beside my belly button… and then my eyes get big and I gasp, “Oh! There you are!” Every time the sensation of a little, moving human surprises me. There is a little human in there.

And I am the home for this little human for another 9 weeks (maybe less if Baby K gets antsy).
I am the home, but I’m not the keeper.

The words “you hem me in” are making new sense from Psalm 139. This baby is hemmed inside the walls of my womb – kept on all sides. And I am learning that God’s keeping of us is the purest preservation and the most perfect protection.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121 ESV)

His is a keeping that never sleeps, never tires, never wearies, never pauses. His is a keeping that is attentive to tiny fingernails and to terrible nightmares. His is a keeping that is secure like a mountain and tender like a magnolia.

This is a Psalm of Ascent – a song the Israelites would sing as they traveled up into the city of Jerusalem, believing God was literally keeping them from the harsh sun, the dark night, and all evil. Just as he keeps the heavens above the earth, he is keeping us too.

He will keep your life.

That line really gets me – that promise to guard and protect my life and the life inside my womb. I close my eyes and imagine He is keeping us in the same way, in the cleft of the rock and in the palm of His hands. I open my eyes and don’t know how analogies translate. All the tidy “hemming in” gets pushed outside the lines in 42nd Street traffic and fluorescent lights and fainting subway episodes.

But, there He is. Keeping me.

dear little one | dirty feet and flushed cheeks

Dear Little One,

You are not so little anymore and I am sorry for all the crowding – I’ll take most of the credit for that. “Petite” runs on both sides of your mama’s family, so there was really no way to escape it. Your great grandmas Avonell and Phyllis are firecrackers (and their daughters, too), so it’s fair to say height is never a good measurement of energy or character or spunk.

The tingle of Spring finally turned into bare shoulders, ice cream cones and a long riverside walk on Sunday afternoon. Did you feel the sunshine by the Hudson? Did you hear our laughter?

I forgot about everything productive I meant to accomplish over the weekend. Sometimes that is okay.

Conversation or adventures or that amazing patch of afternoon light on the kitchen floor are more important than lists sometimes. I won’t need to teach you that, in the beginning. I think you’ll come out knowing already. Is that the eternity in you?

Sunday church stretched into brunch and brunch stretched into ice cream and ice cream stretched into Joel asking questions in our living room about how to love people better.

When your daddy pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to see if we could have company later, I thought about all those productive things I needed to do – the laundry and the dishes and the floors with those grey, fuzzy monsters in the corners – all those things that take a backseat when the sun comes out… (when you get here, that list will be much longer they say).

I love your daddy for pulling me aside like he does – giving me time to prepare, even if I can’t actually clean anything up. I said “yes” knowing we would all walk into the apartment at the same time. But Joel brushed aside any apologies I had about the dishes in the sink and the socks on the floor, because we all share homes and lives and french press coffee.

People say this will change when you come, little one, but we are praying you get swept up in it, too. Or maybe we are praying that, for you, family and church and neighbors and home are all words with open doors and welcome mats. I pray this kind of thing over you while I rub the little basketball you live inside. Do you hear these prayers?

The sun was setting when Joel rummaged for some towels. I thought he was offering to help clean because your dad was knee deep in sawdust in the middle of the living room after re-purposing a table into a bench (so handy – I can’t wait for the two of you to be knee deep in projects together). But, instead he cleared his throat and said, “I felt convicted today in the sermon that, I … should wash your feet.”

I immediately thought about my feet.

I thought about sweet Joel and all his good intentions, but I mostly thought about my unpainted toenails and the last time I could reach over this basketball belly to give my heels some TLC. I fluttered around for a dish to put water in and your daddy and I sat next to each other on the new bench he just made. I squirmed and felt roses color my cheeks as Joel read about a man named Jesus washing his friends’ feet.

Joel knelt down on his knees, washed our feet, and then prayed over us. And all the time I was praying for a heart to receive this gift. Your mama can be is proud and receiving love can be hard. But this is the lesson of dirty feet and flushed cheeks, little one:

if we are ever too proud, we will always stay dirty.

We will grow up together – you and me and Daddy and hopefully some siblings. We will learn from you and you will learn from us and we will hopefully all be distracted by the right things. And we’ll all get dirty – sometimes with dirt and sawdust and toejam, but sometimes with invisible things like jealousy and selfishness and greed. There will be people who look like that man named Jesus, who help expose the ugly – to wash it and to remind us of the great and humble love of our Father who sees all the dirty things in our lives and still bends down to make us clean. These kinds of people are very special.

Anyway, these are my thoughts and I’ve rambled too long. There was a man named C.S. Lewis and he wrote about a boy who woke up as a scaly dragon and could only shed the skin if he jumped in a pool. Maybe I’ll read that story to you soon. It’s a very good story.

We miss you, little one. It feels like you are everywhere with us, but not quite close enough. I still think about your wrinkly knees.

all my love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.