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.

celebration war paint and resurrection

I painted over my dark grey/mauve nails with white and gold confetti on Holy Saturday. It was an act of defiance, like celebration war paint really, and all ten digits are still ready for festive battle. Every time I look down at the keyboard, every time I turn the page of a book, and every time I swipe my metro card – white and gold confetti remind me that we are in Easter season.

This is resurrection.

“Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power…we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptismal vows.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Last year, I was ready for wild delight, even desperate for it. I pondered Lent readings, daily reflected on my sin and brokenness, and (unintentionally) assumed a very downcast and despairing disposition. My mom started praying for Easter to come quickly just so my blogs would stop sounding so depressing. I ached for delight and hope deeper than I ever have before and I can’t tell you exactly why that was the case.

But, I can tell you that the despair had set in my bones long before Lent this year. The weight of brokenness was personal, but it wasn’t exactly the ugliness of my sin that had me trudging through the depths. It was the ugliness of death itself. It still stung with a dull and deeply weary sting because Lent started on August 3, for us. Is that too bold to say? That is when brokenness ripped our hearts in half and emptiness took up all the earth space my brother once animated with life. That was our Lent and still is, in some ways. I did not have the energy to plumb any further than I had already gone.

And that’s why this year was different.

Leading up to Easter, Patrick and I read the above words from N.T. Wright and there was a subtle stirring that raised all my arm hairs and tingled underneath my rib cage without asking permission.

Resurrection.

Something very peculiar marched its way up to my frontal lobe from all the stirring in my rib cage: we are alive. The resurrection of Jesus did not just secure my place in a glorious future, it secured my place in a glorious now.

The apparitions my hands have been grasping at – reaching through and wrestling with – melted into a new, solid reality. We are resurrected, Will and I, right now. We are more in a similar place than different because we both have our truest identity in Christ. It sounds very wrong, very strange to pen that down – but maybe it’s the celebration on my nails that makes it seem okay. We are resurrected because Christ is resurrected. Me no less than him and him no more than me. Resurrected.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

That’s what I was singing on Holy Saturday and early on Sunday morning when I woke up to put the empty tomb rolls in the oven, light every candle in our apartment (+ some sparklers), and start the crockpot full of homemade (thanks, mom!) hamballs.

I’m not better because death is still ugly… but if I wait till I am I may never come at all.

His invitation is for those lost and ruined by the fall – for those wrecked by the death that has crept into creation. That’s me. As I believe (and pray for more belief) in Christ’s death that swallowed up death and his resurrection that brought new life, I believe God literally breathed resurrected life into me. When he ascended to plead the merit of His blood before the Father, he secured my resurrection, wholly and completely.

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Venture wholly. This is the posture of Easter and the movement of resurrection life that bustled in the fellowship hall of the church last Sunday. The loosely delicate bouquets, the white and gold confetti splattering the long maze brown paper covered tables, the party poppers and candles and yes! the champagne waiting for every person when they walked in the doors.

“Happy Resurrection Day!”

I imagined it sparkling like glitter in my eyes and bubbling like champagne from my spirit and getting thrown like the confetti on my nails.

Words create realities. Like those first words that created the world and the words that formed Adam and the words that prophesied a Messiah and those words that sentenced the same Messiah to death. And those words the angel spoke when the women were standing speechless at the entrance of the tomb, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6) 

Words create realities and the words, “Happy Resurrection Day!” are creating a new reality in my spirit – one that doesn’t require my being “better” to participate.

Even with my favorite apron on, I got scotch eggs and roast ham on my Easter dress. I had to trade out my wedges for sneakers when we started packing things up. Champagne spilled and party poppers got popped prematurely by the best, most zany Brooklyn kiddos. And many of my distracted thoughts throughout the Easter service and celebration were of William, one year before in the very same church – dunking his bread in the cup for communion and leaving a floater, carrying picnic supplies to the middle of the park for our Easter gathering, and grinning next to Grace on my couch as Patrick proposed to me later that night.

For eight months those memories have followed me like a host of apparitions, like moving post cards only I can see. They probably always will, I guess. But this new resurrection reality is spilling over and out of the collective cheers of our festive gathering on Sunday.

I will never be better, maybe. But I will always be resurrected. 

And in that resurrection life, I will live. I will invite friends and neighbors into my home. I will pray for this new baby God is growing in me. I will cheers champagne and non-alcoholic pear juice. I will giggle with my husband. I will make up silly dances. I will do all these things before I am better, because that is the power of resurrection.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Here’s the song “Come Ye Sinners” (written by Joseph Hart) and sung by Fernando Ortega. I can’t find the simple version we sing, but (honestly) once you know the tune, acapella is pretty beautiful.

If you want to read more from our family about this grief journey, you’ll find the grief notes here.

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.

preach it [to yourself]

We hear a lot of words throughout the day – our morning to midnight is filled with them. Words to wake up to, to sing to, to argue with, to persuade, entice, battle, and play.

So many words.

But even if you didn’t have a single conversation, your day would still be full of words. Even if you were a hermit, words would wiggle inside. Because we’re all listening to sermons in our heads – words that motivate and teach and correct and guide.

My soul is speaking constantly and sometimes it sounds like a worldly sermon. It sounds like more questions than statements, more fear than courage, and more pride than humility. Sometimes it sounds like sin. But it is not a matter of making my soul mute, because that’s not possible. We are created with eternity in our hearts and my soul’s constant conversation is evidence of that. 

In conversations with friends and in reflection about my own inner conversations lately, I’m reminded again that if the message coming from our souls is not Truth, we need to find a different preacher (and I don’t mean at church).

A few years back, I read The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk by Shelly Beach and (in addition to the title’s brilliant alliteration) it brought a new awareness of the words my soul speaks constantly to my heart. More recently, after reading Joe Thorn’s book Note to Self (heavily influenced and inspired by Martin Lloyd Jones) I became even more intentional about using Scripture to guide those conversations.

My scripture memory verse this week is speaking the right words to my soul. I love reading the statement, “Hope in God” right after the psalmist has just probed for answers for his depression. That statement, “Hope in God” is an affirmation of who God is, a declaration of His worthiness, and a pronouncement of His grace to give such hope. I love that.

Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

This morning, I had an interview for a job in NYC and before/during/afterward my soul heard those words: Hope in God. Though I don’t have a downcast soul right now, I do often ask my soul about worry and fear and worth. And to these questions this morning, I preached: Hope in God.

He is trustworthy.
He is good.
He is faithful.

And I am satisfied in Him. I shall again praise Him – with or without a job. He is my hope!

all the million other reasons

My friend Nicole and I often recount the impossibility of our becoming friends. We love the silly madness of it – Nicole was looking to transfer schools during our first semester at Hope College and I was reveling in independent bliss with my new best friend Meghan.

Meghan and I were next door neighbors in the dorm and fast friends. It just so happened that we were assigned to the same Bible study group, where we learned that someone named Nicole wanted to transfer.

Meghan and I decided Nicole would be our friend, even though we knew very little about her. One day, we were biking from a football game and we spotted Nicole on the sidewalk. In our excitement, we fell over in front of her while trying to explain that we would all soon be friends. There are many surprising things – like that it was actually Nicole we saw (there weren’t many Asian students) and that she didn’t run in the other direction when we made a scene.

But we love that story because here we are in the present, remembering that first year of Bible study and the following years of friendship. Here we are, right now, playing phone tag because our friendship is the kindred kind.

And from such an unlikely beginning.

I have always recounted stories like these (it seems I collect them like kids collect seashells at the beach) and praised God for His sovereignty. How amazing that He cared about all the little details – all the punctuation in the writing of our beautiful story of friendship.

Recently, I rediscovered a friendship from childhood and I was praising God in the same way – expressing wonder that He would bless us in such an unlikely and surprising way. My new/old friend lost no time in being the iron that sharpens iron. She mentioned a Tim Keller sermon that had changed how she thought about unlikely circumstances in her life. Instead of thinking about all the reasons things happened for her benefit as God was writing her story, Keller challenged my friend to think about all the million little things He was doing in the stories of the people around her and in the greater and bigger story of Creation.

Think about that for a second.

God is, indeed, working out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But, I can only look back on my life and see the tiniest number of reasons why God might have worked the way He did. Naturally, we rush to explain that what we didn’t know then and do know now gives us a glimpse of His perfect plan. What about all the other hundreds of people who have stepped in and out of my little story… couldn’t some of the unlikely details and detours of my life play a part in their stories?

Most importantly, when we marvel at the way God is sovereignly writing the narrative of creation and holding it together in Christ, we must never be at the center.

Every unlikely detail of our lives followed by every unlikely consequence are sentences in a story about God’s grace and God’s love toward us.

His name and renown are always at the center of the story, even though we are the recipients. My unlikely friendship with Nicole might have started because our bikes tipped over by Holland Municipal Stadium, but there might be a million other reasons God started our story the way He did – for His name’s sake. I will never know all the reasons God blessed my life the way He has, but the little I do know has produced joy in overwhelming abundance. Maybe that’s why we don’t know all the million other reasons – the joy at His goodness would be too much.

Here are some reminders from Josh Etter at Desiring God that we are created, saved, and sanctified for God’s name’s sake.

We are created for God’s name’s sake:

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory (Isaiah 43:6-7).

We are saved for God’s name’s sake:

I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).

We are sanctified for God’s name’s sake:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:10-11).

but He has made provision

Thank goodness God, in His grace, gave me beautiful women mentors who ministered faithfully with the Word of Truth throughout my childhood and adult life. Even while I snubbed the corporate ministry of women, God was blessing me with the very personal ministry of a few very special women.

I was the kind of woman who ran the other direction when “women’s ministry” events were announced in the bulletin. The chit chat and the centerpieces and the circle discussions never seemed to get deep enough into the thick of theological things to convince me of their importance. I much preferred a coed conversation around the dinner table to a room full of hormonal ladies with space to air their grievances.

O, pride, you nasty little devil – keeping me from things my heart needs because my heart is too proud to receive them. 

But I have been feeling God make provision. He is creating space where pride once stood so that He could bless my heart and so that I could fall in better love with His beautiful design.

This weekend, I attended a two-day women’s ministry conference (gulp): many women, large room, round tables, chocolates, and vulnerability. I shuffled in just as a session was starting and the panel of speakers spoke on God’s design for womanhood and the way it reflects God’s over-arching story of cosmic redemption.

It was a slow succumbing, really. And it was kind of like a springtime bloom.

The room was full of ages – from pre-teens to great-grandmas – and I was realizing that God’s Word speaks the same beautiful message to each one of our souls. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” His creative display of His glory in mankind was very intentionally reflected in male and female. I need not roll my eyes at my femininity like it will carry me away to frivolity. God’s glory is displayed in His creation, intentionally in the inner-workings of relationships and uniquely in the differences of men and women. His reflection does not hide. His glory is proclaimed in creation whether or not eyes roll in rebellion.

And His grace pressed down on me with a heavy heartbeat.

This is my God, my Creator, my Redeemer – this God made me to reflect Him and know Him and love Him. His reflection does not hide behind my female-ness but shines through it.

I listened to wisdom from friends and strangers and teachers, just listening. My favorite moments came as we delighted in Scripture together. There is great power in opening the Word with right expectation that it will not return void. And, I believe, there is also great beauty in the corporate delight of Scripture.

The slow succumbing came as I swallowed the prideful expectation that women’s ministry events were about chit chat and centerpieces and circle discussions. The blooming came as I saw God’s nature reflected in the lives of these women. I imagine the honesty, support, and encouragement are exactly the reasons why such gatherings are so important.

After the women’s event, I spent the rest of the weekend making precious memories with my grandparents. What a gift. Not a moment was out of place, even as we squeezed every last laugh out of the midnight hours Saturday night.

And, when we listened to the story of Abraham and Isaac play out in Genesis 22 on Sunday morning, I felt fresh the reign of my rebellion. I marveled at Abraham’s obedience and his early morning departure to sacrifice his only son and I asked if my heart was capable of that kind of trust. My belly twisted as Abraham raised the knife to slaughter his son and I asked if my faith would ever be that kind of bold.

My spirit sighed when the ram appeared, overwhelmed that God had made provision. God had promised Abraham He would provide and Abraham trusted that He would keep His promises. Abraham’s trusting meant early morning obedience and his believing meant conquering his heart’s rebellion. When death was certain for his son, Abraham believed God to be a promise keeper.

Though death is certain, God has made gracious provision for our salvation, that by faith we would be rescued from rebellion.

Communion tasted different on Sunday. It was hard to swallow. Because this mystery of salvation doesn’t make any sense.

I choked down the bread and the wine and breathed the kind of prayers I imagined Abraham might have prayed after God made provision for Isaac.

Even for all my rebellious and prideful ways, He has made a provision that is sufficient for my salvation.

O, that I would trust that God is my constant provision.
O, that I would live believing His provision is sufficient.

just as He said

“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
Matthew 28:6, emphasis added

God keeps His promises – He will do what He says He will do.
He has never broken a promise, not ever

This morning I am caught up in the rhythm of believing – the every moment proclamation that God is, in fact, trustworthy. He did what He said He would do… freely, joyfully, and painfully enduring the cross so that we could come close and be reconciled. He suffered, as He said He would, on our behalf and for our ransom.

Then He rose, as He said He would, in victory over the grave and to secure our souls’ resurrection.

Just as He said.

He conquered death and offers us the every moment victory over the same. We are united with Him in His resurrection and invited to see just how trustworthy is our God.

Every moment, trustworthy.
Every moment, gracious.
Every moment, forgiving.
Every moment, loving.
Every moment, joyful over our reconciliation to Himself.

Every moment, keeping His promises.
I am moved to joyful belief because my God chooses to keep His promises to me.

Every moment, the God of all creation keeps His promises to His little, created ones.