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.

invitations are about movement

I was on the couch, curled up in Sabbath bliss and rubbing the watermelon belly that has become a part of me. We saw the due date come and go last week and a little bit of me thought, “Well, I guess I’ll just be pregnant forever.”

Irrational, maybe. But these are things you think when 43 days have gone by and the wiggles are still on the inside. Things I think, anyway.

Patrick came over and snuggled in to ask, “What can I do to encourage you?”

And then he started reciting Scripture in my silence, while my cheeks burned hot tears.

Philippians 4:4-8
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Psalm 34
“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

He kept reciting the verses from the list my mom sent us in an email a couple weeks back. I asked her to send me verses for laboring to calm my delivery nerves, but he memorized them because he knows it’s good to have Scripture saved up in your soul.

I kept silent, blinking and battling and defending my stubbornness.

The hot tears came because, sure, all the baby emotions. But the Word of the Lord never returns void and the chord it hit yesterday in my spirit was one I’ve been trying to avoid.

I want Baby K to come now because my calendar says Michication (our annual family gathering in Michigan) starts with a flight on July 10th. I want to go to the beach with my niece and nephews and I want to come back with sand in my shoes. I want to sit around campfires and toast marshmallows and play board games late into the night. I want to do all the things we have been talking about since we last left each other in September after James and Carly’s wedding.

That’s what I want.  And just above the din of my own heart and schedule I could still hear him reciting –

Psalm 46:1-3
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

God surely knows my need for fresh water and sibling laughter and firelight. He surely knows these are good things – things that soothe my heart and calm my spirit. He surely knows I need it just this way.

And still more verses cut through my innermost arguments –

Psalm 143:8
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

A couple weeks ago, we sang a familiar song after communion at church – it’s a song I have posted before and will probably post again. The song is a simple invitation to sit at a feast, but what I hear these days when I sing is an invitation to movement.

Come, Sinners Come
Come sinners, come for there is a spread
a table full and free
For all who thirst, for Christ has said
that all may come and eat

Come sinners, come
Come sinners, come
Oh, what a love is this
that bids sinners come.

All the way to a dinner party has felt too long to travel these past 10 months – from grief and worry and selfishness and fear. I know that celebration and belonging and courage and joy are just past that threshold, but sometimes I’m still holding the invitation on my doorstep – feeling the beauty and weight of the faith that hangs in the distance between.

I want to sit at the celebration, but I just don’t know if there are enough steps in my feet. And I guess that’s why I am realizing the invitation to “come” is all about movement. The “coming” might take awhile, but repenting is about direction as much as it is about destination.

Stubbornness and pride and fear and worry and anxiety will probably make part of the journey with me, but I guess you could say I’m slowly turning toward the Host.

Pat keeps on saying this whole pregnancy and delivery is a way the Lord is teaching us, speaking to us, and challenging us toward greater faith. I keep nodding that he is right while my feet are planted like cement on my doorstep, inwardly promising to move when I have less to give up.

It doesn’t work like that.

God’s invitation for sinners like me to “come” to the feast is not the reception after the main event I have planned. It is the main event. Movement toward that feast is a movement away from all the things I want instead – beach vacations and 7 pound babies and easy delivery. Every step believes that what is promised is the best there is, the absolute best.

There will probably be more Scripture quoted to a stubborn face hot with tears before Baby K arrives, but I’m praying that Truth will soften me to repentance and movement toward the absolute best.

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.

dear little one | all the celebrations

Dear Little One,

Mama is grunting a lot these days. Rolling over is rough and I am a little wobbly when I walk… maybe God wants me to get a sense of the struggles you will have when you finally meet the sunshine. Do you struggle inside there? Or are all your movements dances?

A kind lady named Mary J. performed freestyle poetry in Bryant Park for us over lunch on Thursday. You must have been awake because I was sitting in partial sun and her voice had a rhythm like reading a book. Anyway, it was wonderful and we tipped her – you and me – under those green, London plane trees.

You seem to be confusing the crowds, my sweet. A very nice Brazilian woman at the Bryant Park B stop told me you were most certainly a boy, but the day before a Peruvian lady in Jamba Juice said she knew you must be a girl (she also said I looked cute, which I appreciated). The copier repair guy thinks you are a boy because I’m pointy and your Papa thinks you are a girl because I am round. Oh, who are you, dear little one, and how will you laugh when I tell you everyone’s predictions?

I’m sorry for the confusion, by the way, about the names. I went ahead calling him Daddy before he was convinced that sounded just right. What do you think – do “Mama” and “Papa” suit us? You are really the one who will decide. Maybe you will call us “Nuni” and “Didu” – it would be so hipster if you made up your own mind. We’ll talk about skinny jeans some other day.

For now – this little story about your Papa. It happened 10 months ago, but I thought you should know more about the man with the funny voices who plays all the best records (and occasionally sings Justin Bieber’s, “Baby” right over my belly).

I had just finished work on the last Friday of August and I took my new route (the 5 at Grand Central, to the Q at Union Square) to the Prospect Park stop and then walked the short 377 feet to our new apartment building. I hadn’t seen it yet, because he’d found the apartment while I was at work two weeks before. This late August night was my first official “homecoming.”

I punched buttons for A64 outside the building and he buzzed me inside. When I got to the sixth floor, your Papa was waiting (dripping with a full day of summer, city moving sweat) and beaming with new apartment excitement. He scooped me up and carried me across our first threshold.  I was blushing and feeling silly , but I loved it.

We haven’t had a family meeting or voted, but that little threshold performance established a family rule: We will never skimp on celebrations.

You’ve already been a part of several of the big ones – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and some great birthdays. Do you remember the way the candles were lit in November and the way the champagne spilled out at Easter? But, sometimes special days don’t get a square on the calendar or vacation days.

This world will always try tell you how to live in it best, my little one.  But it never said anything to me about the day your Papa carried me across the threshold of our home or the Monday nights hosting neighbors and strangers in our apartment for pancakes or the night picnics on the fire escape. The world didn’t teach me how to celebrate well in grief or sing for joy in pain.

It’s confusing, this world.

But I’m not going to apologize for the struggle, though I want to. I want to say sorry for the broken down cities and all the deep, furrowed eyebrows. I want to say sorry for the days of imperfect weather and for the impatient commuters. I want to say sorry for the smog in the air and the greedy politicians. I want to say sorry this isn’t Eden, little one.

I am not going to apologize, no.

Because God – remember, your Creator who knows you so well? God is not apologizing. He is not sorry for making you. He is not sorry you are getting ready to say hello to a smoggy, grouchy, rough-and-tumble world. One beautiful thing about God is that he will never give up renewing things. He celebrates every day with a sunrise, every season with new colors. He celebrates with the stars in the skies and with the cherry blossoms lining the promenade in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He celebrates in the fertile ground of farms in Iowa and in the hearts of people gathered in His name.

He doesn’t hold back when it comes to celebrations, not even a little bit. He withholds no good thing. There is a verse in the book of Psalms, in the Bible, that says,

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

We want our home to be like God’s home for us: withholding no good thing. We’ll need your help, though, because the world does not get less confusing as you live more days in it.

Help us remember this – can you? Remind us that we want to receive all the celebrations God stirs up and we want to offer celebrations with the same spirit.

Oh, does any of this make sense darling?

love,

mama


Read all the dear little one posts here.

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.

worth it, every banana singing face

Have you ever thought that you are where you are when you are just for one soul?

Maybe it’s been 20 months or 20 years or 20 days in your current vocation, but you’ve found yourself still looking for reasons that explain why you do what you do.

I’m almost exactly at six months in my position as an in-home counselor and if I ever doubted why I spent the last half year doing this work, I got my answer this week. I had two littles in my backseat and we were singing an old gem of a camp song together. I thought it combined the right amount of encouragement toward healthy eating habits while weaving in excitement about delight in the Lord.

I like bananas
I know that mangoes are sweet
I like papayas (papayas!)
But nothing can beat
that sweeeeeeeet love of God

I’ve been walking-round-in-circles-five-miles-per-hour,
tryin’a find my way back to my Heavenly Father
the world tastes sweet but soon it tastes sour
then I ask Him in and I receive His power

We sang it several times, like a loop actually, because at the end we would bounce back and forth with “O!” until our “O!s” ran together and we swung into the bananas again. I saw the actions pumping in my rear view mirror and a smile stretched across my banana singing face. Some time in the middle there, between raps and bridges and verses and O-O-Os, one of the littles asked if we could pray. I gulped past the lump of months prayed for this case and the helpless mound of messes it was stuck inside. I looked into that rear-view mirror and said, “That’s a great idea. I’ll start.”

Before I could say amen, she said, “Now, it’s my turn.” And, oh! What tenderness came from that little one! She rounded it out by saying, “A-num.” After we talked about prayer (and how she can pray whenever and wherever she wants because God loves to listen to us), she thought she had more to pray, so we prayed again. Then we talked about how we can pray about anything – things that make us sad or frustrated or happy or afraid – and there were a few more things she wanted to add, as long as God was listening.

Then we started with the bananas again.

This moment – this one case, this one child, and this one family. This. Maybe every bit of my six months in this vocation has been for such a time as this. So that I can sing about bananas and mangoes and the sweetness of Jesus that is better than all fruit combined.

If every 14-hour-day had moments like these, working might happen with a little less effort. But I also wouldn’t rejoice as deeply or depend as desperately on the Lord for His provision of grace.

Maybe all this – whatever this is for you – is for one single, solitary soul. And, friend, I want to tell you today that that soul is worth every 14-hour-day of frustration. Worth every banana singing face and a million more. Keep pressing on – further up and further in, believing God is glorified by your faith that He is sovereign over moments like these.

Because Jesus left the 99 to rescue that one single, solitary lamb and then became a helpless Lamb to ensure our rescue could be complete.