a holy hush did not hover

IMG_8272The advent wreath is uneven – dried eucalyptus folded and woven around a green foam ring with four purple candles sticking up like smooth royal towers in a bramble patch. My grandpa made the wooden base that holds the large, white pineapple candle in the center. And the bulky tradition sits unceremoniously on our table, on top of a feast-speckled fabric runner and underneath long eucalyptus branches leftover from a chandelier I couldn’t throw away.

The irreverent transformation of our antique gateleg table did not have all the feels of spiritual renewal. No mystery hid in the clinking of cider and whiskey glasses. A holy hush did not hover above our bowls of butternut squash soup.

We ladled out seconds and then reclined to read the liturgy for the first week of Advent. Tam struck the match that lit the first candle – the candle of Hope – and Grace read from Matthew 13,

35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows,[c] or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

I heard my soul saying the emotions are spent. We are dead broke on emotions so I don’t try to wrestle more out. I just say, “Ok, soul.” And then I heard the words from this passage and thought, but at least let’s stay awake.

The neighbors must have opinions. Our windows were open, on the first day of the first week of Advent, to let the last cool breezes of autumn hug our shoulders. While the good folks next door were high-fiving touchdowns and shaking fists at referees, we were singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” … all the verses. And then we sang the first verse again to layer some harmonies under the skillful conductorship of our friend Jeremy. The prayer of confession sounded the most Monty Python – all nine of us confessing out loud, with the same words, how we have strayed and how badly we need to be rescued, forgiven, and restored.

It’s the 14:39 mark in Bach’s Cantata 140. After the soul pleads salvation’s quicker coming for six minutes, Zion hears the watchmen calling… and I say to my soul, let’s stay awake for this.

Wake up and don’t sleep through this. Be awake to plead and to grieve and to joy and to see and to fail and to receive and to hear. Be awake to anticipate the song of a Savior.

Be awake for Advent, I say to my soul – all the irreverence of it… the leftover decorations and the mess of it. Be awake and at all costs stay awake. Invite enough shoulders around your table that elbows touch your side. And when you get sleepy, soul, light a candle. When your eyes droop, soul, read Scripture. When you have no ceremony, soul, raise a toast. Stay awake, soul, because there is a song after the song you are singing and you will want to hear.

God, please help me stay awake.

the teachable moments are for me, too

She picked up a tiny clementine from the bowl in the kitchen window, in mid-story and mid-sentence. But then, my new friend paused, “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry – I just grabbed this orange and I didn’t even ask!” She peeled as I nodded of course with hands deep in dishes, and on with the story she went. The night was a mix of prayers and tears and talks and poops, all of it good.

We had fallen into this Sunday spontaneously – kitchen clean-up after church, brunch after clean-up, ice cream after brunch, Life Aquatic after ice cream, van shuttle after Life Aquatic. The four of us, five counting Z Ru, claimed one pew earlier Sunday morning, under those brilliant painted glass windows where 5th and Rodney intersect in Williamsburg.

Daylight Savings meant warm, golden beams hugged our shoulders through the passing of the peace and the reading of Scripture and the singing of hymns. The city is good at blocking the light – good at crowding and casting shadows on cold concrete – so when there is light it is an especially important and good thing here. It feels that way to me, at least.

A handful of days before the Sunday light, I was bouncing Zella Ruth in our living room because she hadn’t pooped in five days and she wasn’t happy about it. Who would be, I guess. Her constipated cry sounds so much different, so helpless and confused. So, we bounced and I sang. Since Welcome Wagon has been the Kolts family jam lately, this was my song… And a funny thing happened as late afternoon sun made squares on our hardwood floor. The Lord searched me.

I was singing the song because that’s what we do. It’s a house rule I explain to Zella Ruth in serious tones, “As long as you are under our roof, there will be singing.” We are pretty strict about it. She has songs for burps and hiccups and mornings, songs for driving and songs for park walking and songs for standing. There is a medley of hymns for those times she stretches out tall on our knees: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” followed by “Standing on the Promises” and then it closes out with “Victory in Jesus.” But the singing is for her – the training up work of hymn singing so her heart will be full of light when her world gets dark.

If deepest darkness cover me,
the darkness hideth not from Thee
To You both night and day are bright
The darkness shineth as the light

I joined Zella Ruth in her tears, but she was crying about poop and I was crying about the brightness that makes darkness light. The singing was for me, too.

Reformation Day came and went last weekend and I made vague goals about how our house would handle the confusion of saints and costumes and theses nailed on doors. Constipation is far behind us, six poops in 24 hours and three destroyed outfits later. Now we are teething, so she presses her face into my neck to gnaw on my collarbone and wipe boogers on my shoulder. The baltic amber necklace around her neck makes us look like hippies and I am not convinced it works (for reducing teething discomfort). It’s just incredibly hard to disprove and stays mostly hidden under her chins anyway.

I can’t get enough of her fingers – soft like purity and innocence. She likes to use her new grip to grab my nose, but I love when her soft palm drifts up to tour my cheek and chin. And I love to sing into her neck. I love to choose song instead of stress, keeping tempo instead of tension in my bones when she screams upset in the middle of a living room full of Pancake Monday.

Sundays, city family, soft fingers, songs… and movement in the right direction – where the teachable moments are for me, too.

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…

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.

 

in the midst of my escaping

I’ve been listening to this song by Young Oceans, called The Gates. It makes me uncomfortable because in the middle, if I sing all the words, I am a liar. The music sounds more confident than I feel, but the words betray a heart that feels so many other things.

I wanna wake and feel Your glory
I wanna speak in tongues of angels for You Lord
I wanna sing a song eternal
I wanna trample on the curses of the earth
I wanna call upon Your healing
I wanna see the sick and weary be made new
I wanna swim inside the blessings
I wanna swim inside the blessings of the Lord

It’s all the things I want to want, but I’m too weak or frail or scared or lazy or tired or selfish. Or I am all those things.

The beauty of Christmas – Christ coming to earth – came wrapped inside wrapping inside wrapping inside wrapping this year. It came slow like the full nine months of labor pains, much deeper than I’ve ever anticipated this season before.

And when I shake with sobs in bed or pray for water hotter than my tears in the shower, I need Emmanuel. I need the truth of “God with us” on earth. When I wish I was 13 years old again or when I go to sleep to be hidden, I need Emmanuel.

I’m not proud of wanting to escape. But when life is hard, you just dream of it being easier I guess. Easier commute to work, easier free time, easier time management, easier professional life, easier marriage, easier living, easier. Not lazy, just better. I’m not proud of wanting easier.

Maybe that’s why I love liturgy so much. It makes me say the words I do not feel. And that’s why Scripture memory is a life vest these days. Even if those are the only words I repeat, the only ones I sing… even if I don’t feel them completely, I know there is a gift wrapped inside a gift wrapped inside a gift that is more inside than any thief of joy.

God with us. He is here, even when I am not wanting Him. He is here, when I want to be elsewhere. God with us, pursuing us in love.

Did You say, ‘seek, you will surely find’?
I am searching, Lord turn Your eyes to mine
But I’m weary, pacing at these gates
Jesus come, come now, don’t delay

Like a child, ever faithful may I be
This I ask, God of mercy hear my plea
I have wandered with a soul impure
For this scorn, Father, send a cure

Last week, I memorized from John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…”

It’s one of those verses that’s hard to say, but I stumble through. I speak and trust God will grant the belief I need to be moved by these words. He is good and true and He is holding me up in the midst of my escaping.


 

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

“I will slow the pace”

Today, the rain.

The slanting, pounding, and unforgiving kind.

I’m only a little bit sad I can’t go to the laundromat, again. Instead, I am nursing a tall glass of water, lighting my new creamy Anthropologie candle, and letting this Rain for Roots album preach to my heart.

Simple truths.

I could say I am singing these songs for my little one – so I will have all the words memorized when Baby K comes. But, the truth is, I need to hear this invitation. I need to remember that God is not rushed in His love for us. He invites us into a slow and steady love, full of peace and rest and strength.

My pastor mentioned a passage in Ezekiel several sermons ago that I had never heard. In Ezekiel 16, God is remembering the history of the people Israel and compares it to a baby being born. This baby was abhorred, thrown out into an open field without clothes and without care, without compassion. But when God passed by, He reached into all the naked, bloody mess and said, “Live!” Our pastor had us imagine a God who would tend to an infant child like a mother or a father would – with gentle hands and sweet assurances.

God deals with us in such a way, with kind and slow attention to the dryness on our elbows and the rain that seeps through our boots to our toes. God cares for us in such a way, but I forget.

Yesterday, I forgot.

It was a day like a backwards onion, an ugly one. Layers on layers of frustrations and emotions but I couldn’t figure out how to get back to the root of it all so I could be “okay.” I do not trust pregnancy hormones and I already had a bad relationship with woman emotions. I would rather swallow everything down with the eight glasses of prescribed pregnancy water I am drinking everyday.

It got messy in the middle. You would think that a girl who has morning sickness-ed (and stealthily recovered) at the Q train Canal stop, the reception desk, the conference room, and various bathrooms could swallow down an onion’s worth of emotions. Nope, sure could not.

I met Patrick at Brooklyn Fellows class and we went through an ancient prayer exercise called The Examen where you use Scripture to move through these five meditations:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

It was a bad day to have this kind of meditation. Review the day with gratitude? I had spent much of my day feeling faulted and failed. Pay attention to my emotions? They went haywire. I had a meltdown. I fell completely apart while saying, “I hate that I’m falling apart.” There was a lot to pray about. Looking forward to tomorrow was hard.

When we got home, I jumped right into bed. Patrick came around to my side to tuck me in with encouragement, but I pulled the sheets over my head and said, “I can’t talk to you right now.” I don’t know why I said that. I knew the tears would come and I didn’t want him to have to deal with the onion I couldn’t seem to swallow or peel, even with St. Ignatius and his ancient prayer exercise.

He didn’t let me hide. He hugged me as I cried it out and listened as I sputtered, “I don’t even know myself… I’m so frustrated that I am angry… and I am angry because I don’t like who I am right now, because I don’t know what to do about it.”

I don’t know how long he listened or how long I cried, but at one point he pulled back the covers and said, “Get up. We are going to pray.” And we knelt by the bed and he prayed it out. When he got done with all his honest words I said, “Amen.” He refused to let anger sleep in our bed. I think you should pray, he said.

I was still tense and slobbery, but I got some words out and relaxed into a simple conversation that has lately been God’s one-sided, “Come.” I confessed anger and asked for peace. I started to feel the slower pace of His rest and I started to believe He had compassion on my slobbery face.

Come to me,
Walk with me
Learn the rhythms of my grace

Come to me,
I have all you need
Learn to rest even while you are awake

Are you tired?
Are you worried?
Worn out from the day?
Have you been in a hurry?
I will slow the pace

My sister got some hard news this week. My mom had a hard day on Friday. Some might say these days feel the worst, but our family has respectfully redefined our use of superlatives. That is part of the onion layers, too – the figuring out emotions and frustrations in light of the great grief weight. I think we fall apart more than we stay together, but that’s why there is this simple truth about the tender care of a Father who slows the pace.

In New York and Des Moines and little Lewis. In Michigan and California and Ames. In every place where there is hurting, every place where there is brokenness, and every place where God’s creation lives, there is an invitation to slow the pace.

a deep and bellowing good

I am not prepared for this, for Advent.

Last week we feasted and gave thanks and it was the starkest thanks I’ve ever offered, I think. It was rickety and raw, like the rusty farm gates on my childhood farm. It was a functional thankfulness that felt very different than singing “Count Your Many Blessings” with all my aunts and uncles and cousins in the basement of Grandpa’s house. No less abundant (my head tells my heart) but very much different.

I think that’s okay.

A special place had been prepared for each guest and our table boasted a capacity crowd. The whole day was arranging and baking and tasting, folding special printed napkins and finding/ironing the tablecloth we bought at Fat Albert’s, the neighborhood “everything” store. Olive branches hung from string lights above us and the Feast of Thanks groove mix mingled between our shoulders.

I blinked it all in behind candlelight and treasured the rickety emotions for later sorting (ahem… still sorting). We represented a collection of states and histories and families and stories, memories and pains and wounds and griefs. But we were all present and belonging at this table set for us.

There’s a little snapshot of the crowd gathered. We were present, each of us breathing and eating under a canopy of twinkle lights in a Brooklyn apartment in the middle of New York.

And now it is Advent – that season where we prepare to remember that God sent His Son to be born into this world. God sent His Son to breathe and cry and joy and struggle and feast and gather and mourn here, on this very earth.

My heart is sluggish and resistant to the idea of anticipation, but just today I realized how I have been very desperately looking for signs of life for a while now… looking for proof that life is good. Not family portrait good or campfire songs good, but a deep and bellowing good – the kind that carves the grooves my grief runs through. And here, in Advent, is God’s affirmation.

Earth was not just a good enough place for the Son of the Creator of the Universe. God sent His Son to get bruised knees and dusty feet and a full belly in a place that He still loves, for a people He still loves.

Advent has always been good news of great joy because I remember God’s provision in Christ – that God invited us in our sin to meet our Savior. But, this year I needed to feel God’s deep and bellowing affirmation that life on earth is not a consolation prize. We are not in a waiting pattern for something better, later, next, sometime, future.

In the middle of strife and sick and thorns and death and my rickety thanks, God is affirming that His redemption has already started. He is still knitting life together in wombs. Today, I heard a heartbeat in mine. That static-y “wooga wooga” sound is nothing like pleasantries and everything like bellowing affirmation.

I signed up for counseling today and my scattered heart needs it, but this was a special kind of therapy in a doctor’s office on 46th Street. I was squeezing Patrick’s hand and we were both watching life wiggle around inside my belly. “Oh, so active!” they said. We giggled and marveled and asked silly questions. And God affirmed, deeper than all my efforts to be okay or move forward or understand.

And it’s all very complicated, but I am holding on to that affirmation that God is making new life, because that somehow affirms all the lives that He is sustaining.

I can’t believe I am awake past midnight. Pregnancy is beautiful, but pregnancy is also super weird. At least I had some good Christmas tunes to keep this late night company.

Psalm prayers + silent Saturdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel very created today, very in my place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

a simple, pressing whisper

I lost it in church yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can’t blink it away.

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

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

so we can intersect

Where are You?

I am here, in the middle of things,
blinking against black with heavy eyelids
but the scenery stays the same.
And, where are you?

You are always everywhere,
but where is it that we intersect?
I forget where I go to be with You –
that place where You are with me.

I am here in the middle
like an astronaut or an island.

Where are You?
Because I am in the middle
and everything is unfinished.

I am not ready to go,
I am not ready to stay.
Please, tell me where You are
so we can intersect.