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.

stand still

My morning devotional was not about the 4 train, but I’m going to pretend that the “Express track” was also taking direction from the Lord in Exodus 14:13, “Stand still – and see the salvation of the Lord” because it makes me feel like we have a common goal. Spurgeon writes,

“Faith … hears God say, ‘Stand still’ and immovable as a rock it stands. ‘Stand still’ – keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward!”

I get impatient for those “go forward” words and I am bad at standing still. If I must not be advancing, I end up stationary wrestling (like a stationary bike, without the bike and without the exercise) and that always makes a mess of emotional knots.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past three days: only God can speak the “Go forward” words with authority and only God has, for a time, said to me, “Stand still.” Only His words matter. My words, persistent though they may be, are light like feathers.

I will always be praying against unbelief, because being still and being patient will always be a struggle. I am learning that I sometimes fight repeat lessons with the same stationary wrestling. But God is so faithful. He gives grace upon grace so I can believe that what He says is true. It reminds me of the song my mom chose as a theme for all the three months of wedding planning.

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

He is not surprised or disappointed when I pray for more grace and more belief. He knows how much I need both and He is delighted to give without limit. When I am listening, I can hear him reminding me to stand still in faith so that I can go forward in faith when He is ready to give that direction.

some days I’m like Thomas

Not the Bible Thomas (I am like him a lot). No, I am like Thomas in Flannery O’Connor’s “Comforts of Home.”

“Thomas had inherited his father’s reason without his ruthlessness and his mother’s love of good without her tendency to pursue it. His plan for all practical action was to wait and see what developed.”

Thomas excelled at mediocrity, like stale water in a garden hose excels at being lukewarm by evening. Though he had a whole host of good genes between his father and mother, he had somehow settled into a temperament decidedly in-between, where his practical action looked like paralysis.

Well, I have days where all my practical action looks like paralysis.

Days when I stand in line at the DMV to change my name but never get to the front, when I fill out my W-4 three different ways and then somehow it ends up in my backpack at home, when I follow the micro-phoned Subway voices across the platform to trains with open doors but nothing ever starts moving, when I forget to lock the bathroom door and a nice lady opens it in the middle of my business… days when I have all sorts of ambition after work to make chicken enchiladas for the freezer and to clean the bathroom and to get groceries and to channel writing prowess for some freelance work and to do some crazy summer workout in the park.

But I got home at 8:30 and now my practical action looks like a glass of cranberry juice I can’t finish and this blog post. It’s now almost 9:30 and the shots fired outside my window shook my ambition if my weariness hadn’t already.

There is always a sermon for Thomas days.

Sometimes it is hard to locate, behind selfishness and vanity and a mad desire for dark chocolate… but, the sermon is there because there are no new words. God has already authored all the words we need for life and godliness. He has already penned the encouragement and understanding and hope that every Thomas day needs.

If the only practical action I take is to preach Truth to myself, mediocrity is defeated and the most important thing is accomplished on my list.

Communion.

It’s okay if nothing else gets done, but that preaching has to happen.

Tonight, the sermon is from Jeremiah 1:12.

tiny and giant, fast and slow

I watched the silhouette stride across the three mammoth windows of Grand Central Station – just a tiny stick of shadow making its way through giant panes of light. Nobody minds when someone stands still in the middle of Grand Central because everyone is either a commuter or a tourist. Commuters rarely pause and tourists rarely speed. The two kinds of Grand Central Stationers coexist easily and well, as long as they respect the plaid crossing pattern when they do decide to move.

You know the pattern I mean, right? I remember it from marching band and 5th grade choir concerts. One line of people meets another line of people at a diagonal and when the lines intersect, the people alternate so both lines pass through toward different directions. Anyway, that’s how movement happens in the Station and it is a wonder to observe. Diagonals on diagonals and motion on motion and it all buzzes like a beehive of ambition toward productivity of work or play.

And above all the commotion was this solitary figure last night, the tiniest silhouette framed by summer evening city light.

I straddled the world between tourist and commuter (because I am rarely fully either) and tilted my head toward my right shoulder to consider what tiny looks like against giant and what fast looks like inside slow. It was probably foolish, stopping like that for no reason.

But I can’t shake the mystery of feeling both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

Living in the city is like that for me. It is why my body felt like a hundred dead weights by the time I reached my apartment door with groceries last night and it is also why I went on a bike ride with my husband to listen to jazz in a tea room an hour later. The perfect sunset breeze, an upright bass, and the best conversation over a decaf cappuccino is what summer date nights are made of.

And so we rush a little bit to slow down a lot. We subway scurry home from work and we bike to lazy trumpet sounds. It is like the calm, steady stride of a silhouette in giant train station windows above a frenzy of motion – both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

a series of unfortunate events & my favorite human

Do you have a favorite human?

Before you all say, “Jesus” in the spirit of Lent… let me give you spiritual immunity to choose someone else. Favorites have always been really difficult for me – if you ask for my favorite musical artist, I would ask you in what genre. If you ask for my favorite food, I would ask you baked or cooked. If you ask for my favorite season, I would ask in what location.

Favorites are hard, but my favorite human is becoming an easier question to answer. I still have many favorite people, but there is some significance in being able to say there is one person who is my favorit-est.

Last night, I walked in to my apartment feeling very defeated after two weeks of restless/little sleep, a frenzied work and social schedule, and all my life packed away in separate and sealed plastic bags. I have been keeping this nitty-gritty life news off the blog because it’s embarrassing and because it didn’t seem appropriate to publicize my misfortune. Now that (it seems) my apartment is in the clear, I will cautiously share the series of unfortunate events that led to my confident conclusion that Patrick Kolts is my favorite human.

You might remember that for the last couple weeks we have been hosting Pancake Mondays at Patrick’s apartment (which is conveniently and miraculously 2 avenues from mine). Previously, I had been inviting the neighbors in my building via handwritten postcards taped to their doors. I also invited folks who lived in the neighborhood, the security guard at my school, my coworkers, church friends, and really anyone who was curious. And they came. And it was beautiful. Some nights, we had a full crowd of folks who stayed for board games after all the pancakes were passed around. Other nights, we had more intimate gatherings around our little table.

Every Monday on the other side of our open apartment door, there were pancakes and toppings and bacon. Patrick came over to fry the bacon and share hosting duties and my roommates were unbelievably gracious with all the shenanigans. Tam orchestrated the tiny bowls that held all the toppings and Elise whipped up vegan pancakes on several occasions. We didn’t have much to offer, but the bacon smell wafting through the open door was enough to draw them in and the conversation was enough to keep them.

We did not apologize for all the things we couldn’t offer our guests and instead offered everything we had with the biggest neighborly smiles.

Then, about a month ago, I was writing a blog in my bed when I looked down to find a bug on my shirt. Bed bugs. My New York initiation continues. Apartment hunting, root canal, commuting woes, and now what most natives call the apartment dweller’s worst nightmare. The next morning the bug was confirmed and over the next 48 hours I heard stories from plenty of folks who told me my life would be literally and figuratively turned upside down to get rid of those little devils. Awesome.

The worst of it, among drying every item of clothing at high heat and stuffing every belonging into sealed plastic bags, was that my favorite part of living in the city (hosting) would not happen for awhile. Well, it was a lot of worst, honestly. The time it took to dig through multiple plastic bags every morning for something presentable to wear to work, the skeptical stares of people who kept their distance because they knew my “situation,” the paranoia about every piece of fuzz and every person in the subway… all of it was worst, but God is gracious.

The exterminator came and went the first time with a list of instructions several pages long and additional instructions to complete before he came a second time. And life did not stop. I didn’t tell people because I felt ashamed and awkward. We just kept trying to keep up with the city pace – work, outings, and winter hibernation. I slept on the loveseat and on air mattresses that never seemed to stay inflated. And I faked it a lot. These are the times when you claim the joy you cannot feel. These are the times you test the full commitment of your dependence. Mine failed often, but God’s grace held me up.

In the middle of all this, my pastor asked the Pancake Mondays crew to host a pancake feast at the church before Lent started and we did. We flipped pancakes for around 130 people and they smeared fresh whipped cream, jams, coconut, chocolate chips, and syrup all over the tops. It felt crazy, but it also felt really good. Long tables with vases of flowers and crayons, filled with people fellowshipping over a pancake feast. It felt perfect, actually.

The very next night, we shifted Pancake Mondays over to Patrick’s apartment and had an unbelievable turnout from his building. They loved his handmade invitations and the pancakes and the conversation around his coffee table. And so it has gone for the past three weeks – every week has blessed us in new ways. New neighbors, new friends, new conversation and inspiration and new encouragement to our weary spiritual bones. I guess I can just speak for myself, but all these things are more true than the words I am writing.

The exterminator came and went the second time and told us we could start moving our belongings back on Thursday. We held our breath for signs of the bed bugs that would prevent any unpacking of plastic. No signs.

Meanwhile, I slept little and spent even less time in my room because the sight of piled plastic bags and a deflated air mattress was more than my spirit could bear. That brings me to last night, when I staggered into the apartment after work around 7 pm, carrying several bags of groceries for my early Friday morning staff appreciation event.

My roommates were mid-giggle when they suggested I go in to my room. There, I found my old bed replaced with a new bed, a new carpet, lamp, and bathmat. And I just stood there weeping with my coat still on and my bags still in hand. I was so tired I could only think about crawling into that new bed and sleeping for two days.

Patrick had asked me that morning what he could do to help and I told him I wished I knew what I needed. Well, it was that bed. I needed to sleep and I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I almost made a puddle of tears on the floor, where all the plastic bags still sat. He knew what I needed even when I didn’t know how to ask for it.

“This man,” I thought, “He is my favorite human.”

As it turns out, this whole ordeal is not just an exercise in willpower and stamina. It is not just another in series of unfortunate events that have initiated me into New York City. It is not just something I had to “get through” in full survival mode.

The Lord is good. He is gracious and He is faithful.

The Lord reminds me often that He is the best host. He is the best at throwing parties and loving neighbors and giving things away. He wrote the book on hospitality and His well is so deep that it is never empty. There is always pancakes and always bacon and always conversation and always love in His house. His pockets are deep.

God does not depend on the circumstances to be just right. When you own everything, the circumstances are always just right.

It was never my apartment or my idea or my food or my doorway or my energy. He is the provider with access to all provision and He never withholds any good thing from His children. All the abundance of blessings that have come in the three weeks of bed bug-induced mayhem are overwhelming and each one had everything to do with God’s hosting abilities and nothing to do with mine. Inside this series of unfortunate, new-to-the-Big-Apple events God never withheld a single good thing from me. 

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

He protects and blesses and sustains and cheers with an abundance that made me weep at the sight of a new bed last night. And these are growing pains, in a spiritual sense. I will never learn His provision completely or depend on Him perfectly and that is okay.

He is the best host and we are always invited in to His house to learn this lesson over again.

choosing Love

photo (1)

Something about leaving my dentist appointment in Chinatown to wait impatiently for the J train at Canal Street with my large Starbucks and NY Times made me feel especially New York this morning.

It’s all a miracle – the dentist in Chinatown, the daily subway navigation, the insurance coverage, the dreamy roommate situation, and the two avenues between Patrick and me. These are all daily, mysterious miracles from a gracious God who sees me in the middle of all these city lights.

But, I have also felt especially Austin and especially Chicago and especially Tegucigalpa  and especially Ames and especially Des Moines in the recent string of years and God’s grace has pursued me in every location with daily, mysterious miracles. I have not found God to be less wonderful or faithful or beautiful in any of these locations, but more so.

My pastor recently shared a story about the first time he saw the mountains. After a long road trip with friends, he finally saw the sharp peaks stretch out into the sky and they were all overwhelmed with emotion. Words didn’t seem to fit the new beauty standing like stone giants in front of them.

And then my pastor asked if we should have a similar response as we step into a crowded morning subway car. We all laughed because that’s ridiculous, but then we all got silent.

Because if we really believe humanity is as special as God claims – that He breathes life into our bones and thought into our brains and movement into our muscles to give Him glory in a way the rest of creation cannot – then every human is marvelous.

People ask me, “How do you like New York?” And I promise I’m not copping out when I say, “I choose to love it.”

I’m not saying something between the lines or hinting something inside those five words. I am just saying that loving New York is a choice and I am honest about choosing it.

I choose to love the crazy crowds of people and the commute (a fight I lose on the regular) and the millions of possibilities for social plans and the red hot ambition of artists and entrepreneurs and Wall Street analysts. I choose to love my neighbors and my strangers and my friends. I choose to love the sunlight through my third floor window and our little house plants and the guys who smoke weed in our stairwells.

But, I am learning about choosing love and about miracles and about all that makes creation marvelous.

Because my arms have not been twisted into this love and my days are not full of resignation, though my writing might read that way. I wish you could stand in the kitchen with me on a Monday night or sit at my desk with me during a crowded lunch period or sing next to me in Williamsburg during Sunday morning church or stumble up the subway steps at Winthrop on my way back home – then you would know what a joy it is to choose to love this place, full of marvelous people God created with great intention and care.

I choose to love NYC because this city is lovely. Depraved and thoughtful and broken and inspired and lost and scarred and… lovely. Love here (and everywhere) is not an emotion I can muster from my heart or an action I can force from my hands. It is what happens when you stand in front of a breathtaking miracle (and a crowded subway of them) and let awe seep out of your soul.

Choosing to love is believing all that God has said about humanity, and then believing Christ (on the cross) overcame my every desire to live like the opposite.

little things

I have a whole box of random things we’ve exchanged over the years – a wooden piggy bank from a thrift store and a tiny pencil drawing from Germany and a bouquet of plastic flowers from the dollar store in Waterloo, Iowa. Of all the things I could choose to bring to New York, my box of random gifts from Patrick would definitely raise the eyebrows of my minimalist friends.

When he came back from a work trip upstate last fall, he brought several treasures… including this little, red bird caller keychain. I love to picture his face when he gave it to me as he produced an identical one from his own pocket and proudly demonstrated the quiet, high-pitched squeak.

that little red thing squeaks like a little bird
that little red thing squeaks like a little bird

He loves the little things and he invites me to love them, too. It’s hard not to be amused by the question that accompanies every tissue covered treasure, “Isn’t this awesome?”

Because it is, all of it, and I have to grow my eyes bigger to take it in. I generally consider myself a joyful, wonder-filled human – more like the junior high students I work with during the day than the adults I hang out with at night. But, Patrick’s curiosity and love of little things inspires me to take notice, to consider what I might have overlooked.

And this is why I am saying good night to Henry, my statue pet pigeon (who now lives in the decorative bird cage Yeun gave me). I didn’t get the full story on the pigeon, but I imagine Patrick thought it a fitting gift for NYC living because pigeons seem to survive so well here. But (and thank goodness) it’s not just about surviving. Henry is my reminder that ordinary things have stories.

Ordinary days, where I am just an average human doing average things, are beautiful because they are made up of many little stories. Maybe Patrick and one of my favorite sages would be good friends…

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
– G.K. Chesterton