when everything is magnificent

It’s true what they say about being a newlywed.

It’s like an contagion you would be glad to catch – it makes you want to stay in, to say endless cheesy lines, and to build forts in your tiny New York living room (let’s be honest, I would do that regardless). I’m a week and a half old in newlywed years, and I’m obsessed with the idea that the two of us are a unit.

But let me pause a hot moment for some #realtalk.

I haven’t got it all sorted, but I think I can boil my thoughts down to this reflection that bubbled up inside me while traveling around Iceland for six days:

A magnificent thing is never less magnificent next to other magnificent things.

God is a good Creator – the best there is, really. Everything He makes is good and He holds each magnificent thing together in Christ. The reality of God’s magnificent handiwork sunk in while we viewed the alien landscapes with dropped jaws and wide eyes – landscapes that changed almost immediately as we rounded pristine snow-topped mountains and followed black sand coastlines and maneuvered bright green countrysides under dreamy fog.

So much magnificence.

The fields of yellow flowers were no less magnificent than the hodge-podge fields of bright green, moss-covered black rocks. And those moss fields were no less magnificent than the erupting geysers. And the geysers were no less magnificent than the Hobbit looking valleys.

All of it was magnificent and sometimes I had to close my eyes to give my soul a rest.

But, back to #realtalk. This side of marriage is a different kind of magnificent, but not different in a “finally made it” sort of way. Not like that at all. The beauty and joy of my solitary journey with the Lord has emerged in deeper hues these first weeks of being newlywed.

Because I was always first and most in love with the Maker of magnificence and that has not changed.

Last Sunday, we sat our newlywed selves in the familiar church pew (on the left side, in the middle and towards the back) and listened as our pastor talked about real hunger. Everyone everywhere will always be hungry because that is how our bodies are made. And this very real, very deep hunger is mirrored in our spiritual selves as our bodies groan for something that satisfies our souls.

Jesus offered Himself, the most magnificent thing at the most costly price, so that we could be the best kind of full.

He offered Himself so that we can experience all kinds of magnificence (Icelandic landscapes, weekends with friends, singlehood, pancake nights, married life) knowing that He is the Maker.

I still have my rosy newlywed shades on, sure. This is a grand life I’m living with my best friend in the world. I would not hesitate to call all the cheesy phrases and the midnight Icelandic adventures and the breakfasts in the morning “magnificent.”

But I also would not hesitate to call magnificent the year I lived with my sister in Des Moines or the road trips with Alejandra from Colorado or the conversations on porches in Iowa and Michigan or the endless, ridiculous adventures in Honduras. They are all equally magnificent only because they have a Maker who never changes, a Maker who knows our hunger for good things and does not hesitate to provide perfectly.

frivolous friday

In the spirit of lavishing love “just because,” I set out to soak as much in as possible this morning before I leave for Iowa in about an hour. I woke up to run in the park, dropped off my laundry, biked over to chat with Lele in our other favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and wrote out some thoughts. Then, when the responsible and predictable part of Caroline said, “Go home and pack” the carefree and whimsical Caroline looked at my beautiful bike with a basket and said, “Adventure instead.”

So, I did. I biked up Bedford and through Fort Greene. I meandered away the minutes I didn’t have walking the streets where no stores were yet open. I swayed under the shade and I smiled for no reason. I closed my eyes and walked with my head toward the cotton candy clouds, just because.

I jumped back on my bike, noting the ridiculousness of my summer dress and the goofiness of my grin, and biked over to Park Slope where I did more aimless walking. And all the time, it was okay that my joy didn’t have direction. It was okay that I wasn’t frantically checking and re-checking my bags I packed last night while watching Runaway Bride (it was free on Amazon Prime and who doesn’t love Julia Roberts with Richard Gere?).

It was more than okay, it was perfect.

What is the dumbest thing a bride can do one week before her wedding? Ride down the big hill in Prospect Park with her hands outstretched and her knees/elbows/face exposed to possible catastrophic collision. And that’s exactly what I did. I spread out my hands and embraced the breeze and it was exactly the best way to leave Brooklyn before coming back a Mrs.

I know it doesn’t make sense and I promise it isn’t just because I’m in love. I think I am finally realizing that adventures, a lot of times, are not planned. And receiving love brings joy to the giver as much as it does the receiver (if not more). So, when God gives good gifts like this absolutely beautiful day, it delights Him when I step completely into it.

Turns out, His delight is my delight. Let the adventures begin!

double surprise | double love

Two nights ago, Patrick and I were walking home from one of our favorite places in the neighborhood.

He was gnawing on a 5 pound vegan chocolate spelt pound cake log and I was slurping the last bubbles out of a decaf iced coffee with almond milk under perfect summer clouds. Emily, the owner and our new friend, wouldn’t let us leave without giving us that giant loaf and Patrick’s sweet tooth couldn’t wait to try it. He had just moved the last bit of his belongings into my little room in my little apartment and I had just picked up the most adorable plantable wedding favors. We were a sight at that café on the corner of Midwood and Rogers, clicking through lists and speaking assurances and sharing our fears that all the celebration will slip by too soon.

Anyway, the funny thing about all that emotional commotion in the coffeeshop, is that we parted an hour later – him to go to the gym and me to go for a run, with plans to meet up after he got his hair cut. Nothing extraordinary or special about the night before he was to leave for Iowa.

Meanwhile… I had been planning a surprise for him on the roof of his building with a bunch of our friends and neighbors. It was organized like a ragamuffin. As I sprinted back from the park and jumped in the shower, I kept up text conversation with everyone to make sure nothing was spoiled. I confirmed the plan with the neighbors, dropped off blankets and ran to the store to pick up summer snacks (watermelon and finger foods).

I showed up to his apartment in one of my new white dresses and I blushed when he said I looked nice. I have to find reasons to work all the white into my regular wardrobe in order to justify cost per wearing (thank you 4-H). Anyway, after our friend Rebecka made him look extra handsome in his new haircut, he suggested we go to the roof.

I thought he was playing right in to my surprise until HE surprised me with stargazing and proposing a second time with the perfect ring that finally came back from the custom jeweler. I said yes the first time, but I melted all the same when he started listing the reasons he wants to love me forever. And there we were – just the two of us looking at the big ole Brooklyn sky – still on this side of marriage and claiming every moment for joy.

Then I texted the neighbors (who I thought only knew about my surprise) and up they came. Patrick was so confused as they all filed out through the door. We had the most wonderful gathering of folks we love – huddled around candles and covered in the Brooklyn night sky.

roofparty

Aaron, our friend and neighbor and the most faithful pancake Mondays eater, said, “When I found out you were both surprising each other on the same night, I said ‘Of course. You would do that.'” Of course we would double surprise each other, using the same friends to make it happen and confusing them all. 

And it’s okay for love to be like that, just wild and ridiculous and ready to tackle naysayers.

It’s good when love makes a double surprise that ends with friends glowing on a little roof in Brooklyn. I’m learning that not every love proclamation needs to get results or have a purpose. Sometimes, gifts of love are extravagant and just because.

This is how God lavishes His love on us – it’s His kind of plan to double over surprises without condition or desired result. There is no reason to overflow a glass that is already full. A glass can only hold so much and a heart can only receive so much love. But, God loves us abundantly “just because.” He overflows us where we are full and where we are empty. He sustains us where we think we need it and where we think we don’t. He is unbelievably faithful and kind – too much so. He is good just because He is good and His love makes me melt.

This is the kind of love we want to double in our marriage – the ridiculous, ‘just because’ kind of love that brings glory to the only God who could author it.

 

we were made for campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens

Maybe, one of the sweetest successes in hosting is when you become the guest.

That’s what happened tonight when we brought our black bean cilantro salad over to the neighbors’ apartment who have enjoyed pancakes on so many nights. Patrick’s neighbors opened their door (with a clever invitation taped to the front) to a Cinco de Mayo feast they spread on their coffee table in their little NYC living room.

the cinco sign on the neighbors' door
the cinco sign on the neighbors’ door

I think we made community, this little pancake crew. Somehow, being a guest made it feel official. Our conversation was about things “we” do and games “we” should play together and other nights “we” should all host. Patrick’s apartment building missed him tonight, but while he was in Spain we were celebrating Mexico’s independence with the sweetest neighbors you could find.

We were made for this – for campfires and coffee tables and kitchens.

Two months from today I get to promise forever to the man who loves campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens in the very same, excessive amounts. That is a lot of handwritten notes on doors, a lot of pancakes, and a lot of side dishes sealed in tupperware containers. Not all of it is romance. Sometimes the recipes flop and sometimes the neighbors don’t show up and sometimes there isn’t enough bacon. But, thankfully enough, the requirement for community is persistence. Between the two of us, we have quite a bit of that (in between and in the midst of failures/successes). Still, the most precious necessity for community is persisting in knowing the One with the original idea.

We try to take our cues from the Lord, who was so persistent to send Jesus to show us what love and community look like when they are done perfectly.

Community is my favorite. I think I can say that and not mean it like ice cream or sunshine or the breeze in my face while biking the west side of Prospect Park (because those things are some kind of favorite, too). Community is for bruised hearts and for delighted souls and everyone is welcome to the table.

Did I mention that I really miss that Mr. Kolts? He gets back on Thursday and I am hoping we can squeeze in some non-wedding planning time to enjoy the magic of community.

I kind of promise I won’t write every post about my engagement/wedding. But, I am hoping some of you readers cut me some slack because I only get to be in this stage for two months. You don’t mind, right?

truth is the best comfort

The wind squealed through deserted school windows today, pushing raindrops against the panes. It is Spring Break and the 14 foot creamy white office ceilings felt cavernous above my head. I wrote some proposals and planned some programs and printed some decorations for bulletin boards. I pushed play on my rainy day Spotify mix and wished the Jewish Passover holiday meant seven days of job-free preparation for Protestants, too. My heart is not in the office because my heart is racing toward the Resurrection.

It might have been this passage from Isaiah 25 that swelled the ache in me, but I’m pretty sure the ache was already there. This is one of those rare situations where the word “epic” is actually appropriate. A mountaintop, a feast of rich food, an abundance of well-aged wine… and the main event where death is swallowed up forever. Forever death is swallowed up and forever the reproach of God’s people is taken away.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” [ISAIAH 25:6-9]

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.” There is brilliant, unmatched weight in these words. The mass of the Milky Way and the heaviest mountains are pebbles to these words. I imagine whispering them at the table the Lord will prepare, for the crushing joy will have stolen my voice.

“Behold,” I’ll whisper with the widest eyes, “It is all true and you are God. I have waited for you and believed that you are my salvation. You are the Lord!”

Truth is the best comfort.

Truth is not easy or cheap or immediate or luxurious, but it is really the best comfort. And I guess comfort is what I needed on this rainy day when my heart is preoccupied with the Resurrection celebration. In my impatience, I started to wonder if I am secretly hoping Easter weekend will naturally reorder my joy. Maybe I let the ruts of the Lenten road sink too deep in my soul and maybe I have hung all my hope on this weekend to pull me out.

You all probably just think I need to take a break from introspection, which is probably (always) true. I regret the mazes of my mind, too, but they are there still, haunting me regardless.

Honest? I want hot chocolate and blankets and movies and sleep all day. Because that sounds like the kind of comfort I can taste and feel.

But, when I read this passage from the pages of Isaiah, I know that Truth is best. When I read the word, “Behold” I realize the rain is temporary, the career questions are temporary, the sunshine weekends are temporary, the personal struggles are temporary, and the best joys on earth are temporary.

Truth is the best comfort because there is a day when I will say, “Behold,” when I stand in front of the One who prepared a feast.

preparing for Passover

I was distracted because my mom was on the phone. One of us was telling the other one of us updates about our equally crazy lives. She is pulling her classical friends Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven out of the cabinet archives in the music room in preparation for a wedding this weekend. Meanwhile, she is preparing students to sing in state contest on Saturday. Nbd. She organized a women’s ministry retreat last Saturday and the awesome train just keeps chugging along.

Anyway, between her telling me she will be playing piano in a literal zoo this weekend and me telling her about my Easter planning escapades, I got off at the wrong bus stop. I spent the next 27 minutes walking instead of riding to home group, navigating strollers and long black skirts and babies/boys/men with curls swirling out from under hats. I was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and I did not regret one minute in the nearly Spring sunshine.

Passover is coming.

The boxes in Williamsburg have overtaken the sidewalks for several weeks now. Aluminum pans and serving dishes and mountains of bags of potatoes are crowding pedestrians space. There are mobile trailer grocery stores outside the regular, freshly stocked Jewish grocery stores. I walked my purple pants past the bustling storefronts and smiled at all the similarly dressed children on unadulterated parade, riding scooters and trikes and other wheeled revelries.

Passover is coming and I felt a growing anticipation well up from somewhere my commute normally cannot touch.

Our Feast of the Resurrection will be a different kind of Passover celebration, but those sidewalks were pregnant with a very similar excitement. And all of a sudden, my excitement got multiplied by history. The same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the same God of Mary and Joseph and John the Baptist; the same God of Matthew and Moses is the God who sent His Son to be our forever Passover.

Are you ready to throw a party that is unlike any other party on your yearly calendar? Even if it is a small and simple gathering, are you ready to really supremely celebrate the way Jesus changed history?

If you are in the area, I would suggest a walk around Williamsburg to get you in the right spirit. I might get off at the wrong bus stop a few more times this week…

“The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.”

I do not have comment wars here on the blog. I barely need to screen for spam because most of the comments are the sweetest encouragement. Yesterday, I read this comment out loud to friends and I read it out loud again today so the conversation could continue. Here is just a little snippet of what Lexi said, but you should definitely read the rest.

It is hard to put ourself second, or third, or ninetieth because of the fact that that is still ultimately where ‘we’ ‘I’ want to be. There is no complete Joy in the thought of putting yourself anywhere. You say ‘I love you’ to someone–or a thing– because you desire it–fully. It brings you to a place of desire for that moment in which you can speak to it and let it be known how you desire to be with it. You are not thinking about how much you are loving that thing– or person– more than the last- Or how well you are doing it on that day. You are thinking of it. Solely the ‘it’. It’s a longing–and it’s deep–and very very Joyful.

You are not first because you are providing pancakes (or your house) and the other is not second for eating them. You enjoyed baking them (or else you would not have done it) and the friend enjoyed eating them (because we all must eat and what better to eat than breakfast for dinner!) You both are at the crux of love in the form of friendship, neighborhood and company. It is in Jesus’ delight (if I may boldly dare to say what he feels) that you both are simply enjoying. The Miracle lives in your spatula as much as it lives in their fork.

Maybe I am chasing after “second” when I really should be chasing after Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). It seems like the life of Jesus was about the pleasure of His father – the joy always before Him actually changed the circumstances around him.

We never hear Jesus say, “I must be thoughtful about putting others ahead of myself.” He lived a life of love in all the ways He enjoyed pleasing His Father and we are supposed to imitate his life. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)

Sometimes I aspire to endure. I aspire to get joy by way of inconvenience and hardship instead of enduring all circumstances for the joy already set before me. Jesus longed for something that already existed (joy) through the grace and provision of the Father, and in doing so He served and loved well.

Joy is not something you strive to have, but something that happens when you are longing for something else.

Joy happens as we realize there is an eternity and that eternity is imprinted on our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Joy might happen when we see someone smile or when we hold a child or when we meet the neighbors or when we set a full table or when we walk around a rainy city all day with friends from home.

That’s where I was today, slopping around on rainy sidewalks with people I love. I didn’t set out to get joy or to be inconvenienced. I set out because joy was waiting to happen and then it did. We were a sloppy wet mess of joy soaking in spring rain.

Lexi’s comment yesterday made me think about the way I think about joy (too much thinking, I know). Or maybe it made me think about it less. Mainly, it made me admit that it is okay not to concentrate on inconvenience and hardship and pain as it relates to being first or second or ninetieth.

It is better best to concentrate on taking joy in what pleases the Father, whether you are holding a spatula or a fork.

———

There was another comment I read out loud, but it was because Sue Barnett, BA English thought I wanted the whole world on LSD. I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion, but you can read the comment at this post what if the grass was pink.

miracles trump excuses

The morning is waking up and there are horns bleating outside the front window. Every several days, someone blocks the one-way road and the traffic behind that someone alerts the whole neighborhood of the inconvenience. But I’m inside listening to William Fitzsimmons so that somehow makes me immune to early morning annoyance.

It is Friday and there are Iowans invading NYC to see the Mayor and his team play tonight at Madison Square Garden, Spring keeps promising to be around the corner, and the work day will be short because other work days this week have been long. Today is good because it is today, because there is provision in sunshine and life and breath and being. Today is already good before it begins.

But today, I am still percolating a Monday conversation – still stewing about what it means to consider others’ needs ahead of mine in the context of city life and neighbor life and human life. How do I walk with Jesus to the cross as He made himself nothing in service to others? How do I forsake all else so that the love of Christ might be known?

There are excuses and legitimate ones, like exhaustion and safety and schedules and mental stability. We put ourselves first because we are too overwhelmed by lights and noise and commotion to do anything else. But, I am taking the legitimate excuses of city living and raising them a miracle. If excuses played poker, I think they might always go “all in” but they would definitely lose against miracles.

Miracles trump excuses.

I can always put myself next because miracles trump excuses and the keeper of miracles has called me His child. I am not invincible – I require sleep and quiet time and sunlight. I am not invincible, but God is and His portion is big enough to overflow mine.

I need to learn how to love others when it is inconvenient and when it is not self advancing and when it is painful and when it does not make sense – not because I am trying to be superhuman, but because I believe that miracles trump excuses. God provides the energy and wisdom and abundance and joy and this miracle overcomes every excuse like a tidal wave. We are freed from the striving that would be losing, so that we can share the burdens of others.

The weekend is dawning and I am already looking to the coconut cornmeal pancakes I will make for the next Pancake Mondays. I will probably still be percolating this community idea when the neighbor crowd gathers around the toppings to talk about city living.

What are your thoughts, friends?

Why is it so hard to put ourselves second or third or fourth (with joyful hearts)?

Christian talk should sound different

I caught a glimpse of my face in the glass of the subway last week. I picture my subway face as expressionless, but my furrowed eyebrows and set jaw were full of an expression that made me jump inside my skin. I didn’t recognize the round winter silence or the way my eyes determined not to look at anyone.

But, last night after the pancake guests left, the apartment living room was the city on a hill and I imagine my face looked much different. We talked about the city darkness and we talked about the light inside us. We shared Scripture and spoke encouragement and prayed with intention.

We were not at home group or Bible study or church or a special prayer gathering. We were just regular believers, huddled around the common experience of big city commotion trying to understand what it means to take a genuine interest in the welfare of others.

Because talk is not Christian simply because Christians are talking. No, what makes the fellowship of believers different is the content – the words on top of words that uplift and encourage and inspire because Christ is central. This difference is what draws outsiders in, nearer to the abundance that has set us apart.

We talk a lot and the city talks back and it all sounds like noise. Chatter about the closest trains and apartment sizes and the weather. Chatter about prayer requests and work schedules and stressful roommates. Chatter about chatter and it all sounds like noise.

But Christian talk should sound different. 

And the sound of it last night refreshed my soul. Praying out loud and hearing prayers out loud affirms the power and presence of our Savior and I am aware that I have neglected this conversation.

We prayed to be filled with an abundance that could be poured out into the lives of others and the energy to seek out those lives needing to be filled.

because His love won’t run out

The last neighbors, strangers, and friends had just left Pancake Mondays at Patrick’s apartment when another neighbor knocked to say thank you for the invitation we left on his door. Ted had lived across the hall from Patrick for 6 months, but they had still never met.

For some unfortunate reasons, we have moved the Pancake Mondays operation to Patrick’s apartment for the month of March. And (are we surprised?) what appeared to be every bit evil, God has turned into every bit good. Patrick and I both have griddles now and the ingredients float between our apartments as we host neighbors, strangers, and friends for pancakes and waffles and bacon.

the sign on my door...
the sign on my door…

Last night, we all sat on armchairs and stools and leaned against the wall with criss-crossed legs on wood floors. Tam took drink orders and I flipped waffles in the kitchen and Patrick taste-tested until we got the recipe and timing just right (wafflemaker courtesy of my favorite neighbor-friend Yeun). 

Everything about Monday night was just the right amount. Laughter, conversation, neighbors, and friendly banter. Good, old-fashioned neighborhood love was happening around a coffee table stacked with waffles, coconut jam, peanut butter, raspberry jam, coconut, syrup, and chocolate chips. 

I think we tripled a cinnamon vanilla waffle batch and served 13 people in all. I saw several neighbors as I was taping up invites and those who had plans asked if there would be a repeat the following week. “Yes!” is fun to say when it means more pancakes and neighbors and crowded living rooms.

I kept wandering into the kitchen to let out excited squeals and Patrick kept following me to match my joy because community was happening in the other room. It’s like we uncovered a secret that God has already spoken so plainly: the love Christ has lavished on us is meant to be lavished on others.

So, we crack the door open, mix up some batter, and trust His love won’t run out.

photo by Patrick
photo by Patrick