when you need an ebenezer

I stood there in the dark with the weight of her – soft knees tucked almost to soft armpits, her fresh bathed head pressed against my shoulder. She fit perfectly in my arms, not yet sleeping but not struggling against it. So, I held the weight of her and looked long into her slow blinking eyes, especially round and knowing in the window light.

We filled our bellies with breath, my weight holding her weight and moving from side to side. Slow and holy. Her soft fingers played on my wrist and I wondered why I would ever rush these moments.

What do I tell this little life that fits so snuggly in my arms? What do I say about wars and rumors of wars? How do I nursery rhyme this world for her?

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The lines came out because I needed a lullaby. I guess I needed something to say to those round eyes looking up at me in the dark. The verses tumbled together with the chorus and a little monument grew in the corner of our bedroom. Count them, name them, remember Him, praise Him. When I trailed off, I felt my little bundle fill her lungs with one big, shaky breath and then let out the sweetest sigh I have ever heard. It filled the quiet completely.

It’s nights like this I need an Ebenezer.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Samuel 7:12).

Yes, ok. Remember and sing and believe and sway and sigh and say our redemption.

dear little one | confessions

Dear Little One,

I wish you could feel the tingle of Spring.

The city people are braving less layers, store windows are adjusting promising bright pastel displays, and there is an unmistakable allure of something new when the breeze rushes past in Bryant Park. Spring is magic. I’m not sure what to tell you about magic because I’m not even sure if that’s the right word. There are… well, there are some things in this world and outside of it that are so big – so so big that words are too small. No matter how hard we think and study and explain, the weight of this magical glory breaks through to push a green bud past crumbly dry earth.

Does that sound crazy? It is okay if it does.

I pray this mystery will always feel crazy in our home, but you’ll have to help us. You will probably see glory when we don’t. You will probably chase wonder while we stare. Please, invite us along into your world where words are too small. Maybe we’ll all giggle out insufficient analogies together someday. Or maybe you are the type that prefers to be present instead of troubling with words. Either way and any way, we would love for you to help us see the magic better.

He is coming back from California tonight, your daddy, and I can’t wait to see him. Maybe you already know. You are turnip sized now, they tell me, but every inch of you is in a dance so maybe you know he is coming. You, little one, are making me wonder. How do you get formed inside of there? Why the nose and ears this week and not before? Magic.

Confessions are magic, too.

And this is what I want to tell you tonight. We’ve been doing a lot of confessing around here lately and then your Aunt Tam sent me a message tonight, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” The verse came from the book of Hebrews in the Bible, Chapter 10 and verse 23. Yes, I thought. Hold onto hope.

But, then I sat a little bit. Sometimes it is good to be still and let your heart hear something you haven’t already affirmed – some new bit of magic and mystery. So, I sat a little bit thinking about the confession of our hope.

I am not any good at confessing – you can ask Daddy. It’s hard for me to get humble and admit the trouble I’ve caused. But, I wondered if this “confession of our hope” meant that we remember the magic that there is hope at all. And then we speak it out loud.

“There is hope.”

And somehow, in the speaking it and believing it, we are confessing all those other less magical things have failed as much as we are holding fast to the confession that the most magical thing is steadfast and faithful.

Here I mean God, little one. I do want to be clear because soon the word “magic” might be spoilt for you. Your Maker is the Maker of all things – in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, things with words and things without them. He is the one who is forming you, but you probably already know that. Maybe you know Him better now than I ever will.

I worry my letters to you are unfinished and scattered.

I love you so, little one.
Soon I will squeeze your wrinkly knees.

Love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

imagining again

We have been casting vision lately.

Though we wrote a marriage manifesto in the weeks leading up to our wedding and our marriage vows at a basement bar several nights before we spoke them in front of God and friends, our first eight months of marriage have been heavy on the doing and light on the planning. Not all bad and not all good, but kind of like the icy cold blast from a garden hose on a hot August day in Iowa… or like the last 100 feet of a winter sprint to the front door of a NY apartment in February. There is no time to think or plan or consider, but enough time to feel the giddy tingles of the moment – the energy that catches in your chest when the shock of cold water hits you or the allure of a warm apartment lobby comes into view.

Nobody casts a vision in front of a spraying water hose or while jingling keys outside an apartment on a frozen February day. Well, I don’t anyway.

Meanwhile, I think all that stuff has been rumbling around. You know – the stuff of “what we want our lives to be like in the first year of marriage, for being a good neighbor, for being a good friend, for when we have kids, for community development, for when we do Lent, for Saturday mornings, for groceries and planning dinner parties and pancakes.”

You know, visions.

I overheard a young, coarsely stubbled man express his fears to a friend at the Starbucks on 51st Street. He said, “Dude, you gotta get me in on your next trip. I mean, I’m 24 and it’s like, I see my cousin – she’s married and has kids. And I see my friends who are married and they just disappear. I need to go to Iceland, Argentina – yeah, man you’re like my friend that is still, like, doing active stuff and living life. I mean, like, this is our prime and I want to do everything you know…”

There was more, of course – talk of places to eat and trending neighborhood and updates on where old friends are now – but I only half listened because I was trying to find a few square feet of quiet city space to sit between work and home group.

I kept wondering what that young man is so afraid of and what has made him afraid.

Last Saturday, as Patrick and I were reading “The Good Life” by David Matzko McCarthy for our Brooklyn Fellows class, the dust settled a little on all the doing and chasing and rushing. We would read a few paragraphs and then let the words tumble around between us and our baby in my belly. We are really very different people, Patrick and me – the way we approach challenges and the way we express sorrow and the way we show love. But, we are similar in that we fear a safe and sheltered life – the kind of life that is insulated (as much as we can control) from struggle and invites others in only when it is convenient. We didn’t really have the words for that to make sense until we let those paragraphs tumble around our Brooklyn apartment.

Comfort is not the goal. Loving is the goal.

How can we love the Lord best with our routines? What neighborhood allows us to live in slow community and love our neighbors with our time and resources? What do decisions about schedules, apartments, baby, and dinner invitations look like when we are not trying to protect our image or our comfort?

We don’t necessarily know the answers, but that’s why there is vision casting. That is exactly why imagining together with community feels so sacred – because God is involved in the mystery of saying “yes” to his heart. He is trustworthy when there is no obvious path for our “yes,” when we are not calm and collected and ready for anything. He is trustworthy when we do not have a plan and do not know how to find one. He is trustworthy when we imagine things that don’t make sense.

Dreaming and delighting in God’s vision for renewal has been a hard thing since William died. I don’t believe it less, but I do participate less. And I have so missed the sacred participation of trusting God to hold steady so all the unknowns of imagination can make wonderful happen.

I think I am ready to start imagining again.

generosity in bleak winters

My mom says I’m in the ICU, emotionally. She says I shouldn’t push the great grief weight away and I couldn’t even if I wanted to. She says to read those books she sent because it is not good to ignore it.

I know, Mom. I know.

Advent season is different this year – strange, like I am experiencing it for the first time.

This time, it is crude and rough as much as it is beautiful and bold. It feels more like a stable than a fancy Christmas Eve production. It feels stripped down, but that’s not right either because nothing was stripped away in that manger scene. That’s just all there was – stable, manger, animals, bright star, labor pains, angel choir in the pasture, shepherds on their way to worship.

This is not the acoustic version of something more glorious. This was the glory, all of it.

And I feel the glory in the weeping gut of me, gripping an anchor and believing there is hope in this simple story.

My Aunt Sherry shared a sweet phrase from one of her Advent readings – that, in this strange season of glory, we are “spiritually pregnant with hope.” I guess I get that. Pregnancy is not fancy or perfectly wrapped. It is weird and painful and awkward. It is declined invitations and sleeping early and it is emotions on emotions. But, it is also life. Pregnancy is that beautiful affirmation that God is still invested in creation, still interested in life. It is hope the shape of a lime or a prune or a grapefruit or a watermelon.

The advent sermon series preaches generosity and I am learning this is God’s glorious version – the best release of His love. He chose to make His Son humanity with every bit of regular, un-fancy, and painful awkwardness. God was most generous in Jesus. Christ emptied Himself of all that He had rights to – all the glory and the fame and the comfort and the beauty and right relationship so that we could receive the greatest gift. The glory of the Christmas story is that Jesus grasped instead the ordinary so that all of creation could be made glorious.

But Jesus was not a stable born baby that grew to great fame. The story doesn’t ever get more fancy. The glory is inside the ordinary, painful, trudging out of his life.

I was talking to my sister about this the other night, about how we can’t get into “the spirit” of things. It’s easier than you might think to let the city hype and lights fade to background noise, but I’m sure I look like a Scrooge. I am just trying to figure out how to anticipate this whole story – the glorious and painful ordinary of a Son who came into the world struggling and to later suffer and die. I want to desire the coming of Jesus – the birth, life, death and resurrection of Him – because it is the only delight where the sparkles don’t shake off. It is the anchor of hope I hold with white knuckles, the glory story that is as deep as this grief story and more painful than morning sickness.

We gather on Sundays for Advent dinners at our apartment. This past week, I made shepherd’s pie because it sounded like comfort food, almost like a Midwest casserole. As we reclined at table, I read the opening prayer:

May the splendor of your glory dawn in our hearts,
we pray, Almighty God,
that all shadows of the night may be scattered
and we may be shown to be children of light
by the advent of your Only begotten Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Evan lit the candles and Tam told us the reason, “As Scripture testifies: Jesus is the Word through whom all things were made. In him is life and his life is the light of all people. We prayed confession together and read the Scripture from Matthew. We recited the Lord’s prayer and sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” before closing in prayer again.

I don’t know what it looks like to be generous in bleak winters like this one. I don’t understand the heart of God to love us so deeply in our wickedness to send such a gift in such an un-fancy way. But that is the glorious story – the first, best and only version. That is the glory story and I want to be pregnant with hope about it. I want to believe that all shadows of the night may be scattered and that I may be shown to be a child of the light.

I think that might be the only way I can be generous in the bleak winters, to believe He scatters shadows of the night and that His light is in me as He lives and reigns in this world. Giving my heart sounds like more energy than I’ve got. Maybe I could manage stepping into the light, believing He is the light, and praying He make me worthy to tell the glory story. Maybe I could manage that.

Sidenote: I’ve been listening to my friend Wilder’s Christmas album on repeat. So good.


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

those who return to Him

As the father looked upon him, and kissed him much, there probably came another kiss, which seemed to say “There is no soreness left: I have not only forgiven, but I have forgotten too. It is all gone, clean gone. I will never accuse you of it any more. I will never love you any less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person.” Probably  at that there came another kiss; for do not forget that his father forgave him “and kissed him much,” to show that the sin was all forgiven. There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father’s goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, “I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine,” I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, “My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me.” This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. – Charles Spurgeon, “Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son”

This is sweet beauty. This is the “gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him,” this is His delight over diamonds that never lose their value. The Spring season is bursting with its own diamond offerings, of bright colors and bold raindrops and the warmth the winter was craving. Spring wears beauty so well and I am obliged to “waste” New York minutes admiring it.

There are too many kisses for us to gloss over the story of the Prodigal Son in a synopsis.

Greedy child asked Dad for inheritance early and then wildly wasted every penny before coming home, where Dad received him with a party.

The father’s undignified run was too brilliant to get smashed into the word “received” and the kisses were too many for this reunion to be an average greeting. He kissed the soreness out and the guilt and the shame and the worry – He kissed it all with the power of a Father who forgives.

I’ve been thinking about value and worth and (okay, fine) diamonds. There has never been a time in my life when I have thought more about what I don’t have. I suppose NYC does that to everyone, to some degree, but it has never been part of my rhythm. Contentment has carried me through the sparse and plentiful times in miraculous ways, so this thinking is throwing me for a loop.

People (particularly women) everywhere are obsessed with knowing what might make them more lovable and that manifests itself in all sorts of colorful and crazy ways in this city. My sister’s advice when I moved to New York was, “Care, you can wear anything and no one would bat an eye. That’s the nice thing about New York. You’ll sit next to someone in a suit and someone in fishnet stockings on the same subway ride.”

Turns out, she was right.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way my eyesight has changed. I am more aware of myself, my style (and lack of), and all the categories I do not fit inside. People say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” I’m still trying to find out what “make it” means to figure out if I passed. But I’m not trying too hard to understand that litmus test, because there are too many kisses in the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.

When my pastor preached on Luke 15 this past Sunday, I thought about the Father’s eyesight instead. His love that covers a multitude of sins looked out on that haphazard hellion of a son and broke with compassion. The worth of the son was not about the words he prepared or the way he presented himself. The worth of the son was bound up in the love and compassion of the Father when the son returned home. He lavished love and kisses and let all the neighbors talk about his ridiculous sprint when the son was still “a long way off.”

This is the beauty the spring shouts, because winter did not deserve to be reborn into Spring. Winter died because God blew in Spring with the power of His words.

We are worthy of the Father’s love because He has said it is so and we hear those words spoken over us when we return to him, haphazard and tangled and unkept. This is the freedom of Spring – that the tree did nothing to earn its blooms and the sky did nothing to earn its shine. God, in His grace, is speaking His love over creation. And those who return to Him will hear the words spoken directly over their souls.

Hello, Spring! Hello, Easter!

little things

I have a whole box of random things we’ve exchanged over the years – a wooden piggy bank from a thrift store and a tiny pencil drawing from Germany and a bouquet of plastic flowers from the dollar store in Waterloo, Iowa. Of all the things I could choose to bring to New York, my box of random gifts from Patrick would definitely raise the eyebrows of my minimalist friends.

When he came back from a work trip upstate last fall, he brought several treasures… including this little, red bird caller keychain. I love to picture his face when he gave it to me as he produced an identical one from his own pocket and proudly demonstrated the quiet, high-pitched squeak.

that little red thing squeaks like a little bird
that little red thing squeaks like a little bird

He loves the little things and he invites me to love them, too. It’s hard not to be amused by the question that accompanies every tissue covered treasure, “Isn’t this awesome?”

Because it is, all of it, and I have to grow my eyes bigger to take it in. I generally consider myself a joyful, wonder-filled human – more like the junior high students I work with during the day than the adults I hang out with at night. But, Patrick’s curiosity and love of little things inspires me to take notice, to consider what I might have overlooked.

And this is why I am saying good night to Henry, my statue pet pigeon (who now lives in the decorative bird cage Yeun gave me). I didn’t get the full story on the pigeon, but I imagine Patrick thought it a fitting gift for NYC living because pigeons seem to survive so well here. But (and thank goodness) it’s not just about surviving. Henry is my reminder that ordinary things have stories.

Ordinary days, where I am just an average human doing average things, are beautiful because they are made up of many little stories. Maybe Patrick and one of my favorite sages would be good friends…

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
– G.K. Chesterton

oh, dear

Friends, this is one of those posts on one of those days. But I probably don’t mean what you think. Nothing dreadful happened and I am not hormonal.

Beauty got weaved in among other things – into the rearranged plans and the winter traipsing and the new basil plant in our little kitchen windowsill. Beauty got weaved in and now I’m writing by a candle my roommate lit to keep me company in the rest of these night hours. Just me and my chai tea + honey + coconut almond milk, candlelit and tucked inside this Brooklyn winter night – inside the beauty that got weaved in among other threads.

I am not quite sure what makes a beautiful day seem heavy or hard. Maybe I imagine sadness into open spaces or maybe that giant glass sculpture we walked through in the meatpacking district really did have a deeper effect than I thought.

I guess I think there is a way to experience beauty in the negative. It looks like sadness over sketchbooks that stay closed and sadness over craft boxes that stay hidden under beds. It looks like doodled inspiration for home improvement projects and the keyboard leaning in the corner of the living room.

And maybe that is the sadness that makes Saturdays feel heavy, because beauty needs space.

Beauty needs to be breathed in without a city metronome. Beauty needs to hear us say “Yes” when it isn’t convenient or instantly beneficial and sometimes my voice gets garbled up in my throat. Sometimes it is hard to know what is beautiful and life feels too crowded to do anything slowly.

That’s probably why I ended up sprawled out on my neighbor’s floor, looking at photographs of America in the 1900s. Photographs were different then – few were taken an arm’s length away. I turned the black and white pages slowly, reading captions and imagining the stories that unfolded after the moments were captured.

This is some of the beauty that got weaved in, but it made me aware of the beauty that got left out. How can I get more of the discernment to know which is which? And is it okay to be sad that I’m not better at choosing?

We’re in the middle of fashion week in this fine city. I know this mostly because I’ve seen more 6+ foot beauties working the sidewalks like runways. I don’t know how the wind follows them so it always blows their manicured hair in the right direction, but it is impressive. They look the right amount of tussled and flustered, with the cold concrete city as a backdrop.

And we’re all just trying to make space for beauty.

We are all trying to choose what is beautiful even when life feels too crowded to enjoy anything slowly. There is both nothing and too much to do on our lists of lovely things. Maybe I’ve imagined this weight and we do not need to be brave about beauty. But maybe not.

Maybe it is okay to feel like days have weight.

Maybe it is okay to be sad about beauty that never gets used or loved or held. Maybe it is okay that a sculpture sunk your spirit and it is okay that the feeling followed you all day.

Maybe beauty has weight and needs space.