I want to get in His sights

I am wearing white for Eastertide.

It started because we wanted to see and feel Easter – to shake off everything regular for our greatest festival celebration. So, we literally put on our party, looking like a wedding where everyone is the bride. And then somehow it stretched into the whole Easter season… my high kick to winter and death and the muted colors of typical Brooklyn fibers.

Yesterday, I folded into a wooden pew next to Patrick after I successfully passed Z Ru off to the nursery magicians. I followed the stitching on the white that hung just over my wrists as Vito talked about the deep sadness of joy – the weeping and the wearing and the working of it.

Jesus preached that there is blessing – there is joy – absolutely inside the worst things. Yes, absolutely. Because Jesus is inside the worst of things, just exactly where you think He is not. He is behind and in between and above the worst, saying, “Come, heal, breathe, hear, repent, believe, stay, rest…”

And that’s hard. I disbelieve that for joy, I think.

I already confessed my light Lent, but I forgot to say that there is something else I feel – something other than regret. The world is brimming with weeping and wearing and working, in bad ways. The worst. I am not strong enough to even hear all of it. I don’t know what to do with the headlines and the histories and personal hells typed out in simple texts. Because I am afraid I can do nothing, afraid what I can do is not enough.

My grief weight is heavy. Just the weight of my sorrow could sink a ship, I am sure of it. But there are entire cities, countries, and continents filled with people who bear the same weight.

The sheerness of my white sleeves put a fuzzy filter on my arms, a weird and welcome distraction from the message about sad joy. The points rolled out on Luke 6:20-26, just two about joy coming by way of discipling relationships and consolation.

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26 ESV)

I heard myself mmhmm. Jesus. I want to get in his sights. I want to be there when he lifts up his eyes because then I might feel sure about being in His presence. I know that is where joy reaches fullness, somehow.

But He pairs blessing with the absolute worst things: poverty, hunger, weeping and then being hated, excluded and reviled. How can joy get inside these things? Jesus.

Somehow, mysteriously- magically even, Christ is deeper than dark. Light came into the world and the darkness could not overcome it. I memorized that when I was nine, but I always thought it was a light like the break of day, chasing cold shadows to corners and covering like a warm blanket that keeps only good underneath. I’ve always imagined light versus dark as a cosmic battle of no contest, where the two rushed in from separate directions to make a messy collision in a long, deep valley. A crowded mess of thunderstorms and white robes and lightning and dark forces and probably Gandalf, but the sides stayed easily distinguishable – in my mind.

But this deeper-than-dark light is something new to me. If in Christ all things are held together – the aloe plant in my window, the rain drops dripping April, Zella’s squishy little body, and the superlative worst – then He is there in all these things, too.

Inside poverty and hunger and sadness – the deepest of it – Jesus is deeper still. It seems wrong to flip the superlative like that. Find the absolute worst thing, and there find the absolute best thing hiding. It doesn’t make any sense for Jesus to promise that. And then I think about the cross, the whole cruel journey of it, and the story looks different.

He was the light that couldn’t be overcome, but he was crucified. He was so, so deep in the darkest of us. He is light in the deepest, darkest of us – holding all things together, overcoming death and claiming victory over evil. Definitively. Absolutely. Making joy the surest thing because He (Jesus) is the surest thing. Surer than death, even.

I ended up with a whole loaf of communion bread on the bus ride home from church. Zella wriggled under my chin, fighting sleep, and it felt deeply appropriate to rip off fistfuls of the sourdough and let it work my jaw. The body broken for me… the darkness lit for me… the joy assured for me.

It still doesn’t make any sense. I think the light hiding deeper than dark scene is hard to choreograph behind my eyes. The light that doesn’t come from darkness… the light that is somehow deeper than darkness and can reach all the sunken ships full of the world’s grief weight.

And in that mixed up meeting of light and dark, there is our joy called Jesus. And we are happy with Him alone.

This was the offering song Sarah Gregory sung for church yesterday and it is still sweet honey to my disbelieve-for-joy soul. She learned of the song four hours before she sung it. God is so good and full of grace for us.

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.

the teachable moments are for me, too

She picked up a tiny clementine from the bowl in the kitchen window, in mid-story and mid-sentence. But then, my new friend paused, “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry – I just grabbed this orange and I didn’t even ask!” She peeled as I nodded of course with hands deep in dishes, and on with the story she went. The night was a mix of prayers and tears and talks and poops, all of it good.

We had fallen into this Sunday spontaneously – kitchen clean-up after church, brunch after clean-up, ice cream after brunch, Life Aquatic after ice cream, van shuttle after Life Aquatic. The four of us, five counting Z Ru, claimed one pew earlier Sunday morning, under those brilliant painted glass windows where 5th and Rodney intersect in Williamsburg.

Daylight Savings meant warm, golden beams hugged our shoulders through the passing of the peace and the reading of Scripture and the singing of hymns. The city is good at blocking the light – good at crowding and casting shadows on cold concrete – so when there is light it is an especially important and good thing here. It feels that way to me, at least.

A handful of days before the Sunday light, I was bouncing Zella Ruth in our living room because she hadn’t pooped in five days and she wasn’t happy about it. Who would be, I guess. Her constipated cry sounds so much different, so helpless and confused. So, we bounced and I sang. Since Welcome Wagon has been the Kolts family jam lately, this was my song… And a funny thing happened as late afternoon sun made squares on our hardwood floor. The Lord searched me.

I was singing the song because that’s what we do. It’s a house rule I explain to Zella Ruth in serious tones, “As long as you are under our roof, there will be singing.” We are pretty strict about it. She has songs for burps and hiccups and mornings, songs for driving and songs for park walking and songs for standing. There is a medley of hymns for those times she stretches out tall on our knees: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” followed by “Standing on the Promises” and then it closes out with “Victory in Jesus.” But the singing is for her – the training up work of hymn singing so her heart will be full of light when her world gets dark.

If deepest darkness cover me,
the darkness hideth not from Thee
To You both night and day are bright
The darkness shineth as the light

I joined Zella Ruth in her tears, but she was crying about poop and I was crying about the brightness that makes darkness light. The singing was for me, too.

Reformation Day came and went last weekend and I made vague goals about how our house would handle the confusion of saints and costumes and theses nailed on doors. Constipation is far behind us, six poops in 24 hours and three destroyed outfits later. Now we are teething, so she presses her face into my neck to gnaw on my collarbone and wipe boogers on my shoulder. The baltic amber necklace around her neck makes us look like hippies and I am not convinced it works (for reducing teething discomfort). It’s just incredibly hard to disprove and stays mostly hidden under her chins anyway.

I can’t get enough of her fingers – soft like purity and innocence. She likes to use her new grip to grab my nose, but I love when her soft palm drifts up to tour my cheek and chin. And I love to sing into her neck. I love to choose song instead of stress, keeping tempo instead of tension in my bones when she screams upset in the middle of a living room full of Pancake Monday.

Sundays, city family, soft fingers, songs… and movement in the right direction – where the teachable moments are for me, too.

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.

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.

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.

slow Sabbath

Today is a new day and today is the Sabbath, so it has two things going for it and the clock still says 8 am.

The Lord welcomes me when days have weight I do not understand.
The Lord is faithful and He is strong.

And today I will not pretend to steal strength.

Maybe if I start off admitting my weakness, I will not be so surprised when I need to lean on His strength. More than just admitting, though, this day’s beginning needs believing that it is good to not be God. It is good to believe God is completely and uniquely God, that all things rest on His shoulders and all things are held together in His hand.

“In our giving heed to God’s power there rises up in us a realization that God created the universe for this: So that we could have the supremely satisfying experience of not being God, but admiring the Godness of God — the strength of God. There settles over us a peaceful realization that admiration of the infinite is the final end of all things.” Solid Joys DevotionalGladly Not God

It is good to believe that being human is okay and even just the way God planned things. It is good to praise God for the strength it takes to hold the world together. And as I praise this God of strength today, I will not pretend to steal strength away because it never works.

Being human and weak is the only way we can rejoice in the freedom of God being God and strong.

In His strength, we are held up.