how I am making peace with the war against my dust

I forgot about the cross shaped ash above my eyes until gray shaded Zella’s right temple. My human wore off on her human and we sat snuggled, human dust together. She refused the ashes offered at the service, “One day,” she told me later, “when it’s that time, I’ll get some ashes on my forehead.” But she got them anyway, by way of her clinging nearness to me. Like Jesus, but with defiance and doubt.

I struggled to be completely present as we walked the short aisle to my “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” pronouncement. I spent all 14 steps whispering into Zella’s squirming cheek the reasons why we were doing this strange thing. But later, when motherhood wasn’t on my hip, I considered that Jesus became sin. His coming to earth was nothing like a charade, nothing pretend; God made Jesus to be sin (2 Corinthians 5:20, ESV), a crumbled corpse of human wretchedness so that we could enjoy the glorious perfection of God’s righteousness. Jesus became sin so that sin could die.

Jesus got so clinging near to me that He took on my worst thoughts, my worst days, my worst dust. And I am, yes, the child squirming on the hip – the defiant and doubtful toddler with skeptical eyebrows and too-loud voice.

The weight and the wild of this season pushes down and presses out, and I stretch my limbs in a contorted, desperate dance to make the mystery less ethereal; to feel the flesh and the blood and the dust of it on my skin and in my lungs and with my teeth.

“I love you and I want you to come here to my house and I don’t want you to die,” she said, “write that to her.” I filtered. I decided it wasn’t the kind of uplifting message we wanted for Zella’s library teacher, Miss Lisa. But as her crazy, fly-away (three day old) top knot bounced with squealing excitement to deliver the message, I knew I would have to tell Miss Lisa what I edited out. Zella does not want her to die and that is a wonderful thing to want for a person. A beautiful and pure and human thing to want for a person.

Maybe it is not ethereal yet, for her. Maybe she feels everything with her skin and lungs and teeth and I have long forgotten how.

I war against my dust. I am tempted to poof it like chalkboard erasers – to make much and little of it all at once, getting caught up and long-winded and concerned with the way the light hits it or how I can’t seem to see anything else. In Ecclesiastes, the word often translated as “meaningless” is used nearly 40 times to stress this human condition, but it is the Hebrew word “hevel,” which means: smoke or vapor. In Jesus, God again makes something out of nothing. He repeats the good work of Creation when he takes dust and makes it divine.

Jesus got so clinging near to get all my dust that I might get all His righteousness. 

dear little one | dirty feet and flushed cheeks

Dear Little One,

You are not so little anymore and I am sorry for all the crowding – I’ll take most of the credit for that. “Petite” runs on both sides of your mama’s family, so there was really no way to escape it. Your great grandmas Avonell and Phyllis are firecrackers (and their daughters, too), so it’s fair to say height is never a good measurement of energy or character or spunk.

The tingle of Spring finally turned into bare shoulders, ice cream cones and a long riverside walk on Sunday afternoon. Did you feel the sunshine by the Hudson? Did you hear our laughter?

I forgot about everything productive I meant to accomplish over the weekend. Sometimes that is okay.

Conversation or adventures or that amazing patch of afternoon light on the kitchen floor are more important than lists sometimes. I won’t need to teach you that, in the beginning. I think you’ll come out knowing already. Is that the eternity in you?

Sunday church stretched into brunch and brunch stretched into ice cream and ice cream stretched into Joel asking questions in our living room about how to love people better.

When your daddy pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to see if we could have company later, I thought about all those productive things I needed to do – the laundry and the dishes and the floors with those grey, fuzzy monsters in the corners – all those things that take a backseat when the sun comes out… (when you get here, that list will be much longer they say).

I love your daddy for pulling me aside like he does – giving me time to prepare, even if I can’t actually clean anything up. I said “yes” knowing we would all walk into the apartment at the same time. But Joel brushed aside any apologies I had about the dishes in the sink and the socks on the floor, because we all share homes and lives and french press coffee.

People say this will change when you come, little one, but we are praying you get swept up in it, too. Or maybe we are praying that, for you, family and church and neighbors and home are all words with open doors and welcome mats. I pray this kind of thing over you while I rub the little basketball you live inside. Do you hear these prayers?

The sun was setting when Joel rummaged for some towels. I thought he was offering to help clean because your dad was knee deep in sawdust in the middle of the living room after re-purposing a table into a bench (so handy – I can’t wait for the two of you to be knee deep in projects together). But, instead he cleared his throat and said, “I felt convicted today in the sermon that, I … should wash your feet.”

I immediately thought about my feet.

I thought about sweet Joel and all his good intentions, but I mostly thought about my unpainted toenails and the last time I could reach over this basketball belly to give my heels some TLC. I fluttered around for a dish to put water in and your daddy and I sat next to each other on the new bench he just made. I squirmed and felt roses color my cheeks as Joel read about a man named Jesus washing his friends’ feet.

Joel knelt down on his knees, washed our feet, and then prayed over us. And all the time I was praying for a heart to receive this gift. Your mama can be is proud and receiving love can be hard. But this is the lesson of dirty feet and flushed cheeks, little one:

if we are ever too proud, we will always stay dirty.

We will grow up together – you and me and Daddy and hopefully some siblings. We will learn from you and you will learn from us and we will hopefully all be distracted by the right things. And we’ll all get dirty – sometimes with dirt and sawdust and toejam, but sometimes with invisible things like jealousy and selfishness and greed. There will be people who look like that man named Jesus, who help expose the ugly – to wash it and to remind us of the great and humble love of our Father who sees all the dirty things in our lives and still bends down to make us clean. These kinds of people are very special.

Anyway, these are my thoughts and I’ve rambled too long. There was a man named C.S. Lewis and he wrote about a boy who woke up as a scaly dragon and could only shed the skin if he jumped in a pool. Maybe I’ll read that story to you soon. It’s a very good story.

We miss you, little one. It feels like you are everywhere with us, but not quite close enough. I still think about your wrinkly knees.

all my 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.

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.

words after four saltines

I have been doing nothing for almost five days. Really, nothing. The flu kind of decided that for me, but I still have four saltines and a glass of water in my belly and it’s been a few hours – so I’m calling that a victory.

Somewhere, in the haze of many steamy hot showers (one of few things I can do), I heard the words, “Isn’t this what you wanted? To escape.” I could have been mad, but the truth was too true. I wanted nothingness – long days of nothing – and here I squirmed and slept and sniffled and well, everything else for five days. And, of course, I don’t want nothingness.

All the same things are still essential, for living. All the same things are still true, about life and beauty and God. Because when you drop a rock or a giant boulder into a lake or an ocean, the mountains don’t move.

Maybe they do, I would make a bad geologist. But when I think about all the ways the surface of our lives has been disturbed and rippled and waved, it feels like there is nothing unaffected. It’s like we are in a science fiction movie and everything has gone wavy – no piece of matter is firm enough to really matter because everything ripples to the touch.

It’s been about five months since Will died in a car accident and I’m not the same person Patrick married six months ago. He gets the groceries and cooks the dinners and makes me laugh when I don’t want to leave the apartment… again. I am rippled and wavy and hormonal and pregnant and very, very sad. I sleep often and cry in his arms and sometimes pray with him because I know he is such a good man for making me do so. But, the other day, he said something that hurt very bad because it was very true. We were talking about regular things and future things and life things. He said something like…

“Care, I realized that your heart is not up to me. Maybe the Lord is working on your heart and I can just support you, but I can’t fix anything.”

He said something like that. And a couple days later with a few saltines in my belly, I know it’s true. Because when that boulder fell into our depths and rippled up our lives forever, the mountains didn’t move. It felt like they did and sometimes I have to double take to see if the skyscrapers are shifting, but the mountains didn’t move.

Anything that was essential six months ago, for living, is still essential now.

I talked to my dad on the phone today. He was headed home from work and was just calling to check in. I said “Hello!” and he (like always) sighed into, “Oh, hi – how we doin’ today?” I love that. Because we are thousands of miles apart, but his empathy reaches me just fine. He’s “doin'” how I’m “doin'” and vice versa.

Anyway, he’s been thinking about living too. We all have, I’m sure.

He was reminding me about ornery Will. You may not have met him, but it was about six years in elementary and middle school. He was getting into things and sometimes it wasn’t cute, it was bad. One of our punishments on the farm was to run around the house (genius on my mom’s part – to get us out of the house and tired) and I’m sure Will accumulated the most laps. He was ornery. Dad said there was a very short time that he was on medication for something (not orneriness), but that didn’t last long. When Mom and Dad saw him resigned and quiet, they agreed they would do their best and believe God for the rest. It sounds cliché, but my dad said, “Caroline, we really believed God could take our ornery boy and grow him into a godly man. And he did.”

I really admire my dad for saying that. And I love him for remembering Will’s years of serious orneriness. And I love God for being trustworthy like a mountain.

This week, I memorized from Daniel 2:20-21, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons. He removes kings and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

I’m not all the way there yet, but I believe God is the mountain that didn’t ripple when everything else did on August 2. I believe He is the same and all the same things are essential, about living. I guess that means I have a sturdy place to be sad. But, I want to believe it also means I have a steady footing where I can be useful as a wife and friend and sister and daughter and mother. I want to believe that, because He changes times and seasons, removes and sets up kings, gives wisdom and knowledge, and He guided my brother into godliness.

in the midst of my escaping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

so we can intersect

Where are You?

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

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

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

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

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