dear little one | your uncle will

Dear Little One,

Is it you who craves ice or me? We make quite a pair, you and me – so round and so ready. Sometimes I lean down and say, “Mama’s here” just to remind you I haven’t left. I guess that’s silly, but I do it anyway.

I’ve tried writing you this letter several times but I have to stop in the middle because the words won’t come and the words come too fast. I’m not ready. I want you to be here so badly, my dear sweet, but I am not ready to be your mama.

Maybe that’s okay, maybe every mama feels like this when they are 37 weeks round.

It’s June now and that means warm, sticky heat. It means the park is so thick with green it can make you forget there are skyscrapers. And this year, it means night pacing in the bedroom we will share with you soon. Because I cannot sleep. Last June, your papa and I were planning our wedding. We were fretting over silly things like lamps and talking about serious things, like how we would love each other.

And, you know, none of that talk made me less afraid or more prepared for the life that has happened this year.

What I’m trying to say is: I am not ready for you to meet this world without your uncle Will in it. I am not ready to just tell you stories about this man, not ready to have you meet him in pictures, not ready to insist on his specialness. I’m not ready for you to be here when he is not. Oh, I know it makes no sense.

You will soon stretch out into your first brave cry and we will say “you are alive!” This is the most confusing part: your uncle Will is alive, but he is not here. He died in a car accident on August 2nd, 2014. That is a very hard sentence for mama.

Because I can’t say the things he would say or laugh the way he would laugh or think the way he would think – he is gone in a way I can never be present on his behalf. I learned that from a grieving book by C.S. Lewis. And all that William space he filled so well is very empty now and I don’t know how that will feel to you.

I can’t tell you about his treehouses or his childhood tantrums or his tenderness. I can’t tell you about the time we went to the zoo with Heidi and Amaya or the time we sang the Newsies at the cousin reunion or the times we stayed up too late telling stories. I can’t tell you about the time I told him I liked your papa.

I could tell you all those things, but it’s not the same.

Oh, darling. Even now as you bulge my belly with your feet and fists, I know I am not the mama I pictured myself being. I only have 23 moonlights until you are scheduled to arrive and I am a mess most days. I am afraid of many things. And I don’t know how to tell you about your uncle Will, but this is a start. He is alive with Christ, but he is not here. It will never make sense. I’m sorry about that.

love you,

mama


Read all the dear little one posts here.

watch over us

In the past couple days, I have:

  • eaten a bag of popcorn for lunch
  • stood out on my fire escape in a snowstorm (a very underwhelming one)
  • used the mom voice to co-workers who are twice my age and raised my mom’s teacher eyebrows at them
  • gone to sleep early
  • had weird dream/nightmares about a giant pizza
  • eaten a personal, Brooklyn organic pizza for dinner (with a side of mint chip ice cream)
  • squatted in the middle of a crowded train after shedding a few winter layers – whatever it takes to prevent the unthinkable, folks
  • sang in every room of the apartment
  • talked for 1.5 hours with my uber wise grandparents
  • wrote and performed a rap over skype to my mom’s 6th grade class (who are in the middle of a hip-hop unit)
  • spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to coax Baby K into acrobatics with folk music
  • read a bedtime story to my favorite Michigan family, who were all snuggled into my nephew’s bed
  • sent a million urgent emails that my office won’t read, about what they are supposed to have done by Friday at 3 pm when the plug is pulled on our current office and we move into our new space

And that’s just the past couple days and that’s not even all of it. I just want to let you in, friend. I wanted you to know it’s not all saltines and sadness over here in the big city. Even though it’s been awhile since I’ve successfully buttoned my pants (let’s be honest, I haven’t done that for a LONG while), we’ve been able to fit a good amount of laughter into these winter days.

I can actually remember when the first laughter happened, after the very dark night of early pregnancy and the flu. I felt okay when I woke up that Saturday and we woke up slowly, smiling. We ate a bit and I still felt okay. (And all the while inside I was saying, “So far, winning!”). I remember, several times, hearing myself giggle and being surprised. What an unfamiliar sound – that laughter – and oh where has it been?

We ran a few errands and I still felt okay, so we got really ambitious. We went to Long Island City with our heads down against an unforgiving wind to get to my coworker’s birthday party. After mingling with the Irish, English, Polish and Spanish accents, we hit up a little cafe in the West Village where our friends were playing. By this time, it was getting respectably late and we were both impressed. On the way to the subway with our silly friends, we stopped to buy what I was craving (Cooler Ranch Doritos) and then took up the whole sidewalk like the younger version of ourselves – up to clean mischief.

I remember thinking how strange it was to be so surprised by my joy – surprised by the sound of laughter and surprised by the feel of a smile stretched across my face. It felt good and illusive all at once, like the longing the C.S. Lewis always talks about.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently, at the suggestion of my therapist. It was called, “Praying our Tears” and I should probably listen to it again. “Expect tears, invest tears, and pray your tears,” he said, after reading Psalm 39:12-13 and Psalm 126:1-6.

If we’re talking Psalms, there are more lamentations than any other kind. That makes sense to me – the weight of sorrow needs a place to land. The world is brimming full of it, with the words of even one story. And I have a hard time believing there will be a harvest from my sorrow (Psalm 126:5), if I plant my tears. I am okay to let my sorrow be an end in itself – that thing I crawl up inside when nothing makes sense. And I have been struggling to let sorrow and joy live together.

But God says I have to plant my sorrow. As Keller says, “to see my tears as an opportunity for fruit and growth.” That’s a far cry from where I am now, but I can hear it and that feels like progress. Joy will be the harvest when I plant my tears in compassion for others, in prayer, in love, in patience. Tears actually produce joy, he says. Again, I’m a critic. I believe tears can produce joy (2 Corinthians 4:17), but I am a critic in my weak flesh.

“There’s a kind of joy that comes through avoiding tears – that doesn’t really change you. Then there’s a kind of joy that comes through the tears that does.” – Keller

I’m learning.

His last point answers the question, How do we plant our tears? Prayer. Pray everything – all the biggest and worst and most confusing emotions. Pray them with shaking fists and pray them in the hot shower and pray them in confession kneeling in church on Sunday. Pray. Pray for opportunities and direction and fields and the right soil. Pray for strength to throw out the sloppy, wet messes and pray for belief in what is planted. Pray.

Praying has been hard for me. I’m a steadfast, headstrong believer … but praying is hard sometimes.

This song has been helping. It feels to me like a prayer – one without answers or a lot of boldness, but a prayer that is honest and believing. A prayer that lets me laugh and cry in the same day without having to sort it out.


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

observing grief

One of these days, someone will tell me I need to take better care of my eyes. And I will listen because that person will be right.

It is probably irresponsible to wear my brother’s old contacts – the ones that arrived in the mail on Friday, hours before the accident. But I love that he sent them, because “our prescriptions are close enough” and he didn’t need them after lasik surgery. The conversation went something like this…

WN: Care! What’s your prescription?

CN: Uh, I don’t know… why?

WN: You can have my contacts!!

When we found out both Christina and I had equally similar prescriptions (and equally hazy memories about what those prescriptions were), he intended to divide the spoils fairly between his two sisters who do not have vision insurance. We love him for this… this being so typically “Will.”

I don’t know why I tossed that brown mailer package out, with his efficient and upside down scrawl on the label. He used to start his letters from the bottom because he didn’t like to waste pen strokes and now the last ones he wrote to me are on their way to a landfill in New Jersey. I don’t know if he was still starting all his l’s and i’s from the bottom… I’ll have to ask Grace, she would know.

I paid full price for a copy of “A Grief Observed” at a snobby bookstore in Grand Central Station after taking the train over my lunch hour to find out the largest used bookstore in the city didn’t have it. But my eyeballs were burning from these free contacts and I am observing grief. It felt urgent; I knew C.S. Lewis’s hazy combination of intellectual and emotional fog would make me more normal.

Pancake Mondays only gets better and the joy is almost painful. We moved around in that sliver of a kitchen, chef and sous chef-ing that packed out Monday night like the apartment restaurant owners we aren’t. Our MacGyvered cold brew coffee sat in the freezer and six batches of batter rested in the fridge while our test pancakes were devoured with plenty of time to cook the (coconut) bacon to perfection. The neighbors came and the friends came and the strangers came and they all came through that open door and my face got confused.

This is still joy and it feels both welcome and wrong. I push against it and every emotion that distracts from this new, awful reality. But I am drawn to it, because joy is the only emotion with any strength in it anymore. There are a lot of emotions, but just joy has strength in it. It is made of the same stuff that allowed Jesus to endure the terrible tragedy of the cross, scorning the shame that would be our salvation.

“For the joy set before him…” There is something very “set before us” about joy. It is something far off as much as it is something near, like muscles making our bones dance toward a sunset.

One night last week, Tam moved the furniture around my glazed-over figure in the dusk light of our common space. Chairs got pushed to the walls, the rug got adjusted to make more space, and the clutter got cleared enough away for our legs and arms to be free. And we danced in that summer dusk light. Each separately working out whatever it was we needed to work out on the poorly refinished wood floor – separately stretching misery and mercy with untrained movements and with (for me) little grace.

The “joy set before me…” had settled in to all my knotted muscle groups, its presence pushing like thunder against my ribs but escaping like mist with my breath. Joy.

I am pushing against it. How is there still joy and why is it the thing that is strong and brings strength? It seems best and most appropriate to step into sadness and lock the door. But even then it seems joy pursues me and lives inside locked rooms, too.

I got a card from my grandparents, with one of my Gram’s flowers printed on the front. A lily, I think. Will’s fingerprints are all over their house – the shingles, the support beams on the addition, the wood shop, the storage shed. There’s the smallest knick in their living room where he missed a beam with the nail gun. They are remembering.

For the joy set before us, camped around us, living in us… this, we endure. There is no sense-making of it. We are on this side and he is over there. And the joy set before us is the same.

All I know is, a small package arrived on Friday, August 2nd and now my eyes burn like the fireballs Dad used to hide under the seat of his Chevy pickup. And I’ll let them burn until someone tells me I need to take better care of my eyes. Meanwhile, I’ll be hitting the Visine good and hard.


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

truth is like gravity

C.S. Lewis calls it “chronological snobbery.” I call it imagined progress or fake sanctification or foolishness. His words are better, I know (are we surprised?). He only needed two words to pinpoint our pride in the tick marks of a timeline, but I’m going to use this whole blog post to pound out my thoughts.

We are not the Israelites complaining in the desert and we are not Hitler’s Germany in 1914 and we are not our more segregated relatives and we are no longer our 15-year-old selves. Chronology cancels things out – time does not allow us to live in minutes that have already passed.

But chronology does not cancel out Truth.

Truth is always the same because God is always the same. What was true for the Israelites and wartime Germany and Rosa Parks and high school youth group – all of that is true right now, because truth does not change. Humanity is depraved and that depravity rears its ugly head in every generation. We will always fall short, always fail at perfection, always choose our own way. But God, being rich in mercy…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

Somehow, with all our progress, we have not developed out of a need for salvation and we never will. We still very much need God to be rich in mercy. We will always need for Him to show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes, it seems like our tendency is to talk down to our 15-year-old selves – like the truth we heard in our youth was too simple, too naive, and too old-fashioned. It is tempting for my generation to look back on history and be proud that we don’t segregate water fountains or worship golden calves or let our taxes build incinerators. But truth doesn’t change like gravity doesn’t change. It just is. We will always need salvation and we will always need truth – the same truth the Israelites needed and the same truth Hitler needed and the same truth my youth pastor taught my 15-year-old self every Sunday night.

Depravity needs truth and truth never changes. We should be neither proud of our progress nor discouraged by our sinful state because depravity has an antidote. We are sanctified from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), but it is more like lights turning on in a farmhouse than mile markers passed on a highway.

We are not better than our ancestors or our younger selves; we all are faced with the same Truth. Little children and old grandparents and 15-year-olds in youth group and post modern hipsters in Brooklyn – by God’s grace we can all know the kind of truth that sets us free. And the truth of Jesus Christ never changes, ever. As we mature and grow in knowledge of the Lord, we are diving deeper into the same well.

If I read Ephesians 2 every day, I would be overwhelmed by the same Truth – different lights in the same house of my soul and none of the lights would cancel out.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:8-22 ESV)

These are my morning musings – the things I can pound out in the 30-45 minutes before leaving for work. I do not pretend they make every kind of sense, but I do hope they inspire thought and response and a deeper examination of the Word. 

“The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.”

I do not have comment wars here on the blog. I barely need to screen for spam because most of the comments are the sweetest encouragement. Yesterday, I read this comment out loud to friends and I read it out loud again today so the conversation could continue. Here is just a little snippet of what Lexi said, but you should definitely read the rest.

It is hard to put ourself second, or third, or ninetieth because of the fact that that is still ultimately where ‘we’ ‘I’ want to be. There is no complete Joy in the thought of putting yourself anywhere. You say ‘I love you’ to someone–or a thing– because you desire it–fully. It brings you to a place of desire for that moment in which you can speak to it and let it be known how you desire to be with it. You are not thinking about how much you are loving that thing– or person– more than the last- Or how well you are doing it on that day. You are thinking of it. Solely the ‘it’. It’s a longing–and it’s deep–and very very Joyful.

You are not first because you are providing pancakes (or your house) and the other is not second for eating them. You enjoyed baking them (or else you would not have done it) and the friend enjoyed eating them (because we all must eat and what better to eat than breakfast for dinner!) You both are at the crux of love in the form of friendship, neighborhood and company. It is in Jesus’ delight (if I may boldly dare to say what he feels) that you both are simply enjoying. The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.

Maybe I am chasing after “second” when I really should be chasing after Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). It seems like the life of Jesus was about the pleasure of His father – the joy always before Him actually changed the circumstances around him.

We never hear Jesus say, “I must be thoughtful about putting others ahead of myself.” He lived a life of love in all the ways He enjoyed pleasing His Father and we are supposed to imitate his life. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)

Sometimes I aspire to endure. I aspire to get joy by way of inconvenience and hardship instead of enduring all circumstances for the joy already set before me. Jesus longed for something that already existed (joy) through the grace and provision of the Father, and in doing so He served and loved well.

Joy is not something you strive to have, but something that happens when you are longing for something else.

Joy happens as we realize there is an eternity and that eternity is imprinted on our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Joy might happen when we see someone smile or when we hold a child or when we meet the neighbors or when we set a full table or when we walk around a rainy city all day with friends from home.

That’s where I was today, slopping around on rainy sidewalks with people I love. I didn’t set out to get joy or to be inconvenienced. I set out because joy was waiting to happen and then it did. We were a sloppy wet mess of joy soaking in spring rain.

Lexi’s comment yesterday made me think about the way I think about joy (too much thinking, I know). Or maybe it made me think about it less. Mainly, it made me admit that it is okay not to concentrate on inconvenience and hardship and pain as it relates to being first or second or ninetieth.

It is better best to concentrate on taking joy in what pleases the Father, whether you are holding a spatula or a fork.

———

There was another comment I read out loud, but it was because Sue Barnett, BA English thought I wanted the whole world on LSD. I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion, but you can read the comment at this post what if the grass was pink.

trying to rightly rejoice

My cheeks hurt like madness this morning and my sides a little bit, too.
And it feels like bliss.

Oh, I guess I don’t know what to call it. But have you ever looked around and wondered how things got so good? How did I find myself here – smack dab in the middle of a world of blessing? How did I end up with such joyful creases across my face and such painful aches across my abs. Several hours of straight smiles and laughter, I guess.

Last night, I felt the fullest kind of content… so much that I had trouble counting them out to the Lord in thanks. I hoped He could hear my heartbeat because that seemed to be making the most sense. After a LONG day of work, I sat with the greatest laughing companions and the scene-making followed us all night.

I forgot we were in a public place because our laughter was busting out the doors. From the restaurant to the frozen custard stand to our eclectic living room to the bike paths around Gray’s Lake – I kept wanting more of whatever was bubbling up inside of me. It wasn’t a wanting that came from lack, but a wanting that came from a glorious abundance.

Is bliss a Biblical concept? Is this the longing that C.S. Lewis spoke so fondly about in Surprised by Joy? Whatever it is that is churning inside my heart, it’s not of this world. I’ll tell you that. This contented, blissful, beauty is not something you can calculate, coordinate or capture.

I slept very little but very soundly last night after a day that stretched beyond the normal limit. I am (clearly) overwhelmed as I consider the beauty making itself known like the 4th of July in my life. I’ll be spending the next week “oohing” and “ahhing” at all the ways the Lord loves – all the beautiful, blissful ways that we can be content in Him and His glorious abundance.

I say all this gobbledigook because I am trying to righty rejoice. I am trying to breathe in the blessings slowly and then be a blessing with all the magic bliss brings. I am trying to rightly rejoice in the Giver of these good gifts.

Maybe sometimes right rejoicing sounds like smiles and laughter and contented feelings in my soul. 

raced the river

Last night, I raced the river (chasing the current like I thought I could catch up) with a silly smile across my face. The trees had shaken off the snow from the mysterious Spring storm and I shared the path with bikers, runners, dogs, and the most adorable lady with a walker. I threw my smile at all of them, giggling at the children who roamed unaware of the etiquette I assume is standard on any city path (don’t walk directly towards someone running in your direction).

I raced the river and caught several times on the breeze what C.S. Lewis would describe as “joy.” It was an excitement that fluttered with a “heaven-like longing” that cannot be fully satisfied on earth, but even the presence of the longing overflowed in delight.

Dr. Jerry Root explains one of the central themes in Lewis’s writing, heavily influenced from his own experiences with Joy. He spoke reverently in “Surprised by Joy,” his autobiography, about the brief passing moments where he experienced an unexplainable bliss and then was left to figure out how to experience it again.

Well, anyway… as I raced the river last night I knew I wouldn’t catch it. I knew I could not really take in the beauty of the cool early evening in the way I wanted to, the way the evening wanted me to. I think that was part of the blissful moment – knowing there was too much beauty to take in, even if I drank in every scene as I ran on the path.

So, my joy bubbled out because it couldn’t be contained. The river, the overcast sky, the families, the bikers, the little old lady with her walker, and the children wandering out into the middle of the action – all these very simple and mundane threads in the fabric of a Sunday night, but every bit a reason to smile.

Sunday evenings are great medicine for Monday mornings, yes? The scenes are different, but there is joy hidden in this day – the sunshine, the birds, and that crazy owl that is trying to tell me a story. I’m on my way to a staff meeting, but I’ll first be dropping off these little love bundles for “every day in May” creative challenge.

blessings, stamped and ready for sending
blessings, stamped and ready for sending