a psalm for grief

What is this low, deep darkness –
where only apparitions play?
My hands grasp and find nothing;
my voice cries and the sound is soaked up.
Here I am! Inside the furthest dark,
and where are You?

O, be strong and steady –
do not disappear when I reach out
or go silent when I plea.
Be ever with me in this dark-
ever present in this death,
Be with me.

Restore to me the hope of resurrection
and the peace of a seated King.

You will not be shaken,
and You are keeping me.
There is no dark where your love is not light;
There is no light that is not yours.

I am found in You, my light
my home.


It’s been a while, but here are some writings as my family lives out the grief and sorrow of losing William. I do not usually write poetry, but this was an assignment when I was in grief counseling last year. I dug it up to help as I sit with sadness today.

It sounds too easy, too light and defined.

If I was a better poet, I would make it messy. I would make it say things like “wring the numbness out of me / and never forget to feel the pain of death” and “break morning light on this dark day to vanish the chills of night” and “wrestle and make my mind submit to a glory bigger, better and outside this pain”… or something. I would make it tangled and I would make it have the harsh sound of typing keys. click click clackety CLACK clack CLACK. The meter would feel staccato with something like a long cello line running through it. And the edges – the space around the words – would move in close to hug the anger out.

And still it would read wrong.

 

|kept|

He wore a blue Nike track jacket, but I didn’t know that until we were above ground at Union Square.

My head started to clear with the smell of city rain and I realized clumsily: I didn’t know this man who had walked me up the steps from the subway, thrown down his backpack on the sidewalk for a seat and was now carefully explaining that he would walk 10 feet to buy water from a food truck. I was nodding. He would be back in less than two minutes. More nodding. I sat there on his backpack and breathed. There was laughter hidden somewhere in my future self – looking back on this very personal NYC moment. He returned with water and I drank the whole bottle. I leaned on his arm and we went back to the subway after deciding that water and fresh air had cured the worst of my spell. Then he found a seat for me on the 6 train and we talked about life in the city, his wife and the family they want to start, and all the neighborhoods they have lived in. I asked if he would be late to work and he said he would be just fine. When I assured him I could make it the three blocks to my office beyond Grand Central Station, he went on to 57th.

And that was how I met Rick, my Tuesday subway angel.

My doctor said it is one of the most common calls she gets – fainting in the subway. The morning rush is shoulder to shoulder, the overheated air is stale, and the underground is dark like a cave. Over the course of this pregnancy, I finally learned what my sister has been telling me since I moved to Brooklyn in 2013: Care, you can do whatever you want – nothing is surprising in NY.

And it’s true. I’ve crouched in a corner of the Q train, thrown up in a subway grate, bypassed the bathroom line at Bryant Park, worn tennis shoes with everything, thrown up in Starbucks cups, stretched out pre-pregnancy work clothes, thrown up in trash cans, used an embarrassing amount of dry shampoo, thrown up in ultrasound appointments, consumed a senior citizen’s portion of fiber, and regularly rubbed my belly like a little buddha. Oh, and one of my coworkers just left an entire box of thin mint cookies on my desk, so I might add “consumed an entire box of thin mints in one sitting” to the list (Update: proudly did not).

I’m not a pretty pregnant lady. But I didn’t have time to create expectations about my pregnant self in the whirlwind of marriage and moving and newlywedding and grief and winter and the general pace of life in the city, so I guess that means I’m not disappointed. It’s probably better that everything is a surprise.

And the surprises come in all kinds of ways.

The other night, I lost track of time while I tracked the rolling and tumbling movements on my belly. I still can’t believe there is a human in there. I watch and I hold my breath for the next fist bump or soccer kick to bulge out beside my belly button… and then my eyes get big and I gasp, “Oh! There you are!” Every time the sensation of a little, moving human surprises me. There is a little human in there.

And I am the home for this little human for another 9 weeks (maybe less if Baby K gets antsy).
I am the home, but I’m not the keeper.

The words “you hem me in” are making new sense from Psalm 139. This baby is hemmed inside the walls of my womb – kept on all sides. And I am learning that God’s keeping of us is the purest preservation and the most perfect protection.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121 ESV)

His is a keeping that never sleeps, never tires, never wearies, never pauses. His is a keeping that is attentive to tiny fingernails and to terrible nightmares. His is a keeping that is secure like a mountain and tender like a magnolia.

This is a Psalm of Ascent – a song the Israelites would sing as they traveled up into the city of Jerusalem, believing God was literally keeping them from the harsh sun, the dark night, and all evil. Just as he keeps the heavens above the earth, he is keeping us too.

He will keep your life.

That line really gets me – that promise to guard and protect my life and the life inside my womb. I close my eyes and imagine He is keeping us in the same way, in the cleft of the rock and in the palm of His hands. I open my eyes and don’t know how analogies translate. All the tidy “hemming in” gets pushed outside the lines in 42nd Street traffic and fluorescent lights and fainting subway episodes.

But, there He is. Keeping me.

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.

when almost and mostly everything is undecided

Almost and mostly everything these days is undecided, though it produces less anxiety in me than it used to. I think that must be in part due to weariness, but I am thankful regardless. It is good to not be anxious, even if being “made to lie in green pastures” comes about by swollen, pregnant ankles and grief brain. I think God’s goodness is inside these things – when our eyes shut without being told and when our shoulders sigh without great effort.

I had an urge, several times in the first months of pregnancy, to lean over slightly to a fellow subway rider and say, “I know this might sound strange, but would you mind if I rested my head on your shoulder for a few stops? I’m just… so tired.” I didn’t ever follow through, partially (I think) because I had played it over so many times in my head that I would either be unsatisfied by rejection or unsatisfied by the thought that I was just doing it to make the story in my head true.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Patrick said recently, “You have a glow, you really do!” He added the last part because he knew I wouldn’t believe him. He knew I would try to make it about having showered or wearing a new shirt. But I knew he wasn’t joking, because weariness has a way of making you a truth teller. If you are well acquainted with being made to lie down in green pastures, you gladly accept the honest and brilliant words “you have a glow” and then you pack them in your travel satchel – within easy reach for when the journey spreads from the recline of pastures to the incline of a mountain.

There are other things in that satchel, too. Ultrasound photos and conversations with sisters and deviled eggs. Well, not actual deviled eggs. But, the deviled eggs we packed in cupcake tins to take to dinner last night.

After meeting up with our neighbor friends for rainy day Dim Sum in Chinatown, we sloshed back to prepare roasted potatoes and deviled eggs to complement the roasted chicken and lemon tossed brussel sprouts our friends’ were making a few subway stops away. Patrick whipped up homemade mayonnaise while I tossed salt and pepper potatoes in thyme, sage and olive oil. He convinced me the the whole grain mustard would be better presented in small dollops on top instead of mixed in with the egg and relish. I should always trust his photographer’s eye.

Walking in to their basement apartment is a little bit magic. We relax into hugs and updates and banter while we shuffle coats and food and chase their little one in circles around the kitchen. The deviled eggs are set out for appetizers and the guys huddle in the office while we talk about baby preparations and bring things to dinner-ready in the oven. Then, we sit down to pray over the food.

All of it regular and all of it magic, like the sun that warms a patch of kitchen floor or the way a flower bouquet speaks reassurances in its silent post on the mantle. Regular magic.

And the deviled eggs remind me that we talked – really talked – over dinner. We scooped portions on plates and opened every conversational door that is supposed to stay closed at dinner parties while the little one peppered our deep thoughts with very serious requests for grapes and strawberries. We nitty gritty talked about marriage and love and community and insecurities and the times we’ve given in to irrational fears. Equal parts affirmation and question, equal parts confidence and fear, equal parts doubt and faith. Equal parts certain and unknown. All parts family.

Because almost and mostly everything is undecided these days and it is good to know we are not alone in indecision. And sometimes we need to be reminded that our indecisiveness is not weakness.

We pushed against the expectations of culture and role models and voices in our heads and then, one by one and in very different ways, we spoke truths about God and the identity He gave us. We said things like, “I have seen the way that God has blessed your work – what you do is really amazing.” And, “..We have to start from a place where we believe God is sovereign, a place where we believe He gave us our identity.” And, “We can see God’s heart for hospitality in you.” And, “You have really been such an encouragement to me.”

Our words came easily because it’s instinct to bandage a broken body and because this is kind of what we are made for, to “encourage one another and build each other up.” God is good to fill our mouths with words He has already written and promises He has already spoken, so that we do not forget His faithfulness and persistent renewal of creation. None of us are less broken or more figured out – we are equally unsure of how all our stories will unfold.

Nothing is more figured out today. No questions got answered in the way we would all prefer. No decisions got made about the future last night.

But, I am remembering a little bit more that I am called “child” in a family with a steadfast and faithful God who knows about the wiggles in my womb and the swelling in my feet. And He knows exactly and especially when His children need to come together to speak truth when almost and mostly everything is undecided.

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.

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.

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.

“I will slow the pace”

Today, the rain.

The slanting, pounding, and unforgiving kind.

I’m only a little bit sad I can’t go to the laundromat, again. Instead, I am nursing a tall glass of water, lighting my new creamy Anthropologie candle, and letting this Rain for Roots album preach to my heart.

Simple truths.

I could say I am singing these songs for my little one – so I will have all the words memorized when Baby K comes. But, the truth is, I need to hear this invitation. I need to remember that God is not rushed in His love for us. He invites us into a slow and steady love, full of peace and rest and strength.

My pastor mentioned a passage in Ezekiel several sermons ago that I had never heard. In Ezekiel 16, God is remembering the history of the people Israel and compares it to a baby being born. This baby was abhorred, thrown out into an open field without clothes and without care, without compassion. But when God passed by, He reached into all the naked, bloody mess and said, “Live!” Our pastor had us imagine a God who would tend to an infant child like a mother or a father would – with gentle hands and sweet assurances.

God deals with us in such a way, with kind and slow attention to the dryness on our elbows and the rain that seeps through our boots to our toes. God cares for us in such a way, but I forget.

Yesterday, I forgot.

It was a day like a backwards onion, an ugly one. Layers on layers of frustrations and emotions but I couldn’t figure out how to get back to the root of it all so I could be “okay.” I do not trust pregnancy hormones and I already had a bad relationship with woman emotions. I would rather swallow everything down with the eight glasses of prescribed pregnancy water I am drinking everyday.

It got messy in the middle. You would think that a girl who has morning sickness-ed (and stealthily recovered) at the Q train Canal stop, the reception desk, the conference room, and various bathrooms could swallow down an onion’s worth of emotions. Nope, sure could not.

I met Patrick at Brooklyn Fellows class and we went through an ancient prayer exercise called The Examen where you use Scripture to move through these five meditations:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

It was a bad day to have this kind of meditation. Review the day with gratitude? I had spent much of my day feeling faulted and failed. Pay attention to my emotions? They went haywire. I had a meltdown. I fell completely apart while saying, “I hate that I’m falling apart.” There was a lot to pray about. Looking forward to tomorrow was hard.

When we got home, I jumped right into bed. Patrick came around to my side to tuck me in with encouragement, but I pulled the sheets over my head and said, “I can’t talk to you right now.” I don’t know why I said that. I knew the tears would come and I didn’t want him to have to deal with the onion I couldn’t seem to swallow or peel, even with St. Ignatius and his ancient prayer exercise.

He didn’t let me hide. He hugged me as I cried it out and listened as I sputtered, “I don’t even know myself… I’m so frustrated that I am angry… and I am angry because I don’t like who I am right now, because I don’t know what to do about it.”

I don’t know how long he listened or how long I cried, but at one point he pulled back the covers and said, “Get up. We are going to pray.” And we knelt by the bed and he prayed it out. When he got done with all his honest words I said, “Amen.” He refused to let anger sleep in our bed. I think you should pray, he said.

I was still tense and slobbery, but I got some words out and relaxed into a simple conversation that has lately been God’s one-sided, “Come.” I confessed anger and asked for peace. I started to feel the slower pace of His rest and I started to believe He had compassion on my slobbery face.

Come to me,
Walk with me
Learn the rhythms of my grace

Come to me,
I have all you need
Learn to rest even while you are awake

Are you tired?
Are you worried?
Worn out from the day?
Have you been in a hurry?
I will slow the pace

My sister got some hard news this week. My mom had a hard day on Friday. Some might say these days feel the worst, but our family has respectfully redefined our use of superlatives. That is part of the onion layers, too – the figuring out emotions and frustrations in light of the great grief weight. I think we fall apart more than we stay together, but that’s why there is this simple truth about the tender care of a Father who slows the pace.

In New York and Des Moines and little Lewis. In Michigan and California and Ames. In every place where there is hurting, every place where there is brokenness, and every place where God’s creation lives, there is an invitation to slow the pace.