amid the cold of winter

The weather outside is legitimately frightful.

I stuck my frozen toes inside the warmed oven several times because there is a north wind creeping through all the farmhouse cracks around kitchen windows. And, obviously, the kitchen can’t be avoided with Christmas baking and coffee making and cookie decorating to be done. The winter struggle is real and it’s about to get more frozen when we go Christmas caroling in a few hours.

There are perks to living in an apartment in Brooklyn – and one of those perks is that the heat is regulated for the whole building and always cranked high. But we find other ways to keep warm here – like chasing caped superheroes, putting out pretend fires, and running from sock hand monsters. There is a lot of commotion, but it’s all the good kind covered in giggles and belly laughs.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and we’ve switched up all our traditions this year because of sibling schedules. We are foregoing the three ingredient potato soup that we’ve had every Christmas Eve since I can remember and we already opened gifts yesterday while one of the little ones took a nap.

And, well, some traditions are not as important as Tevye’s deep, throaty voice belting out rolled Rs in Fiddler on the Roof. Some traditions are like frosting or gravy or jam – not the main dish. Today’s deep breaths are about holding on to the main thing – God’s great tradition of peace.

“We are invited to know the peace God extends to his favored ones, those established in a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. This is the soul-satisfying peace of God.” Joann Jung, from The Advent Project

This soul satisfying peace doesn’t look like a certain Christmas schedule or a table spread a particular way. This peace is way, way bigger than that. This peace is about identity – our identity that gets wrapped up into the splendor of a baby King who would later invite us into adoption, as co-heirs of his inheritance.

Identity has been more of a fight lately, which maybe surprises me more than anyone else. I am not timid or insecure or self-conscious, at least that has never before been the case. I’m not too concerned about thrifted fashions and keeping up appearances, but NYC is a sneaky devil about these things.

I have noticed a crack in my armor – a little voice that makes me doubt old shoes and my non-profit destiny. The subway stares and coffee shop conversations are a slow fade and Iowa is different enough to make all the colors clear. I would like to give more gifts to more people. And I would like to look more put together and I would like to have more established things to say about my career.

I guess I would like to have a better identity and maybe that’s the root of it all. That’s the sneaky devil and the crack in my armor, because there is not a better identity to be had.

This Savior I am anticipating and celebrating is my identity. God speaks worth and life into my fumbling limbs the same way He spoke life into His Son’s. Not only that, but my future is tied up in the glory of the Son of God, who lived and died and rose again to secure my redemption.

Pardon me, I’ve got to go warm up my vocalizer so I can match the alto pitches on these Christmas carols. The cold really does bite into a good harmony and I’ve got to be prepared.

living slowly, breaking ground

Slow does not seem to happen anymore.

Slow hangs like an abstract painting between more palatable pieces – between fast and lazy. This season is sick with fast and lazy, with running around shopping malls and with hiding under thick covers. Too much spending and too much rushing, too much pampering and too much justifying selfish pursuits. Too much. And the hustle is exhausting.

Somewhere along the way, we equated slow with “unproductive” and savor with “inefficient.” We let ourselves slide into routines of excess that glorify our gluttony. We are either obsessing about productivity or obsessing about recuperating from productivity.

We forget to experience good things slowly.

Last week was an exception. Last week, twelve new and old friends gave beautiful meaning to the phrase, “reclining at table” when we lingered for hours over our Thanksgiving meal. Our hodgepodge living room was candlelit and crowded. The laughter reached all the empty corners where bare walls still meet bare floor. We passed our potluck food around three stretched tables and no one was rushing. We lingered. From appetizers to desserts, we lingered.

A week later, I am learning these lessons of slowly. I am learning to be selfless with a “list of things to do on my day off” when what I think I want is fast and lazy. No, everyday cannot be a day I host a thanksgiving feast in my apartment. But everyday can be about intentionally experiencing good things slowly, like conversations and thoughtful gift making.

Rush, buy, build, pamper, play. I can’t keep up with the Joneses and I don’t know who can. I’m going to be honest: are the Joneses even happy, whoever they are?

It isn’t about doing less in life. Well, maybe it is. Maybe it is about choosing wisely so the good things we choose can be done slowly. I am tackling a “to do list” today, just like anyone would on a day free of 9-5 schedule. But, I want to tackle it slowly. I want my checkbook and my dayplanner to reflect a slow, savored, unselfish day.

And then, I guess I want that to be every day. It’s an upstream swim here in NYC, but it is everywhere.

This song by Sara Watkins is on repeat, literally. The rhythm reminds me to breathe deeply and walk slowly when more important people are rushing around my shoulders. The words remind me that slow living is not less important, not less accomplished. Living slowly and savoring good things is still hard work with sweet reward.

Living slowly is about breaking ground for good things.

There is a reward inside our slow, hard work when it is done unselfishly. We are free to be unselfish because Christ gave Himself for us. We are not confident in our efficiency and neither do we trust our cleverness to complete what we’ve started in breaking ground. We do not revel in past accomplishments or dwell on past failures. As we build on broken ground, we are not hasty in construction or worried about completion because that has already been promised.

We savor good things when we work slowly for others, trusting God to complete and perfect the work. He will take our hodgepodge to-do lists and our hodgepodge gatherings and our hodgepodge 9-5 work days – He will take them all and make them productive. We are left to savor slowly the miracle of working and serving and loving at all.

miracle: a guest list of practical strangers

Let me tell you about a miracle that happened last night.

It happened in one of those warehouse-turned-apartments in Williamsburg because that’s where my new friend Schuyler lives. That’s the address we took two buses to find because the trains were a mess.

She’s been here three months, a transplant from San Diego and she happened to be sitting behind me at church a few weeks back with her friend and recent transplant from Texas, Grace. Grace lives far from Williamsburg on the Upper West Side, but the two of them work at Patagonia in Manhattan. When I turned around for the “passing of the peace” we almost instantly talked like old friends. We followed up after the benediction and in those short 10 minutes we had exchanged numbers and agreed to throw a pretend thanksgiving party together.

I didn’t try to temper the excitement I felt. It was more like we were reconnecting than just meeting for the first time, more like we couldn’t wait to get back into the groove of friendship than just starting a series of awkward introductions.

Because this is usually how it goes:

“Hi, nice to meet you… what was your name?”
“Caroline, yes so good to meet you – have we met before?”

“I’m not sure but good to meet you again, now what do you do?”
“I work for a non-profit in Cypress Hills, working with middle school students. How about you?”

“I’m a freelancer (video editor, producer, photographer, actress, animator, painter).”
“Wow, that’s really cool!”

“Yeah, well good to meet you – again, I guess! We should get together sometime.”
“You too and that’d be great!”

It sounds pretty normal, if it only happened once. But it’s a constant conversation in this city because how does anyone have time to follow up with people, to invest time and treasure, to sit down and listen to the longer version of stories? So, instead, we run into people at church or in the apartment hallways or at the corner store and we have these same conversations all over again.

The emails flew across the interwebs in preparation for our pretend thanksgiving. We shared the recipes we would be “trying out” (because everyone needs a practice run before setting the real Thanksgiving dinner table) and confirmed the date/time/address. Invitations went out to more people and our pretend thanksgiving party of practical strangers grew to ten.

Yes, strangers throw parties together and this is what the menu looks like when they do:

To Drink:
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Mulled Holiday Wine
Pinot Noir

Appetizers:
cheese and meat plates
fresh sourdough bread
bacon wrapped dates

Dishes to Pass:
buttered, roasted chicken
mashed maple sweet potatoes
cornbread stuffing with mushrooms and herbs
roasted butternut squash with brussel sprouts
fresh bean and couscous salad

Desserts:
Classic Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie a la mode

What makes this a miracle? you might say with your skeptical spectacles pulled down on your cynical nose. Well, let me tell you.

may have been the only photo snapped all night... too many other wonderful things to think about
may have been the only photo snapped all night… too many other wonderful things to think about. My new good friend Grace is taking the picture.

Ten brand new friends held hands around two pushed-together-tables last night to say grace over a delicious spread of humble, homemade offerings. Ten brand new friends laughed and toasted and slowly savored small kitchen victories on paper plates inside the concrete city that never sleeps. Ten brand new friends reclined with full bellies, drawing the joy of the night out into the morning.

This is a miracle.

God made a way for friendship – for ten new friends to linger over fellowship and to let laughter seep out the warehouse windows into the night.

He planned and ordained gatherings such as these before we ever made our first introductions. I imagine His delight as we act out the miracle He authored in friendship – as we celebrate around a table and enjoy one another.

Delight is the taste on my tongue this morning – Lord’s delight and mine (I imagine) are intermingled as I think about the next menu, the next guest list of practical strangers, the next gathering to glorify the One who ordained friendship in the first place.

Coming soon: the Amelia Bedelia kitchen experience leading up to the pretend thanksgiving party.

counting blessings, and what to do when there are too many

We sang, crowded in concentric circles around the basement with my mom pounding out the hymn on the piano. We sang the familiar song that has accompanied every Thanksgiving I can remember – even the Thanksgivings where I have been far from this little countryside gathering. It seems that counting blessings got into my bloodstream real early and has never left.

When we had little, we counted. When we had much, we counted. When we struggled, we counted. When we prevailed, we counted.

The blessings always seemed to outnumber our math, so we counted by song and we’re still counting.

I can’t put my finger on the emotion hanging in that long skinny room this past Thursday, but every year it seems to swell for the new little ones and the ones married in. The emotion is heavier than the scent of turkey and stuffing and Aunt Jane’s coconut pecan pie. The emotion of counting blessings is a heavy one.

I wonder if we count our blessings like someone counts a harvest… and we’re accountable for what happens after it’s been stored away.

Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in the counting, overwhelmed by what I’ve been given. I’m drawn into thanks and into joy as I reflect on these gifts – as I look on the storehouses of blessings that are bent to bursting. And as I get caught up, I get stuck.

I stop at counting and thanking.

This year, I’m feeling the Lord asking me to count my blessings so that I know exactly what I am giving back to Him. It is not enough to be thankful. It is not enough to get overwhelmed and weepy at the Lord’s provision. It is not enough.

Thanksgiving and joy are part of the journey into greater joy and greater thanksgiving as we count the blessings as they go out from our possession. In the same way that we count the blessings we’ve been given, we must also count the blessings as we give. Because we were never meant to hold fast to anything but Christ.

I have so many blessings to count, but having many blessings is never the problem. The problem is my hoarding what has been counted.

As I read through Kevin DeYoung‘s Hole in Our Holiness, I came to his reflection on this passage from Timothy 4 and specifically verse 15, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

I thought of all the ways I make excuses for my slow progress on the holiness road and the excuses I allow others to make for me. I thought of the conversations in my head where I’ve said, “But you aren’t making hardly any money right now…” and “No one really expects you to give…” and “No one really knows your schedule, anyway…”

And I thought about how my beliefs about blessings sometimes stretch a great distance from my behavior with blessings.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:11-16 ESV (emphasis mine)

Counting blessings is only the first of a two-part transfer. The second part is the way you transfer the blessings to others. This I must practice in a way that my progress is noticeable. I must make my behavior – my speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity – match my beliefs in a way that transfers blessings into the lives of others.

I’m not discounting the ways I have succeeded in blessing others – by God’s grace I hope it does happen. But, we have never arrived at a final destination on the holiness road, so we must keep journeying.

And when my pack gets full of blessings, I know I must transfer the joyful load so I may travel light.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

on Christmas music

I just had a conversation recently about when is an appropriate time to start listening to Christmas music. I have an opinion and you’ll have a hard time convincing me otherwise (you can try, of course!).

Now.
That’s my opinion.

When I was talking about it with friends, I actually said, “Whenever my heart wants it.” Generally, this sounds like bad reasoning because it can lend itself unfortunately well to being swayed by emotion. But, in this case, I mean I will turn on “O Come Let Us Adore Him” whenever my heart wants a musical backdrop for the anticipation I feel for the coming of my Savior. I love imagining myself in the Before Christ place, where I am desperately hopeful (as beautifully as the Jews) for a Messiah.

Christmas music is not about chestnuts roasting or twinkling lights for me (although there is a time and a place for those tunes as well). Christmas music always ushers in that knotted up anticipation that refuses to stay locked up in my chest.

It is always a good time, in my opinion, to anticipate my Savior (whether imagining myself in the land of pre-Jesus or understanding myself now in the pre-second coming).

Enjoy (only if you want) some such music here and please let me know your thoughts!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy
(regardless of your Christmas music timeline)

Firsts

  1. First time away from my family over the Christmas holidays
  2. First time sunbathing in December
  3. First time I ever hosted a storybook character costume party
  4. First time I ever made bacon ice cream (don’t knock it – I got the recipe from some hoity-toity French chef and I’ll add that I got pretty much all rave reviews)
  5. First time attending Christmas Eve service in Spanish… and having a special prayer time at the end for two elderly ladies from the church who were kidnapped
  6. First time eating Christmas dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve
  7. First time celebrating many holiday moments via skype
  8. First time hosting a visitor in a foreign country for one of the most precious holidays
  9. First time (in Honduras) jamming out in the car to all sorts of songs with someone who DOESN’T think I’m crazy for doing so
  10. First time crafting almost every single gift I gave for Christmas (also the first time I worried like crazy that the recipients wouldn’t understand my artistic ideas and appreciate them enough to not throw away the hours it took to make them!)
  11. First time I witnessed in the craziest display of fireworking power in the hands of pubescent boys with gasoline and lighters and an awkwardly stuffed straw man who was blown to smithereens at the stroke of midnight… to celebrate the New Year
  12. First time the streets of Tegucigalpa were not bumper to bumper (for the entire holidays most of the roads were like a ghost town)
  13. First time I picked up a visitor in the afternoon from the airport and then didn’t let him sleep until 2 am … and then wake him up 2 hours later for our bus trip to the next country over.
  14. First time I achieved 7:47 on my first of four miles on the treadmill! I can thank my high school friend Joelle for this one. I have no idea why, but when I saw she ran a mile in 7:47 it became my goal to make that my first mile, but still run it at intervals. I know this doesn’t make any sense to anyone … but I was so excited!
  15. First time trying out my new treadmill moves (see Patrick Swayze post)
  16. First time returning to school from vacation feeling like I needed a vacation… and at least three days to re-adjust my body’s clock from 3 am to 10 pm bedtimes.
  17. First time (probably in the history of man) that two people started to completely randomly sing this same line at the same time, prompted by nothing in particular, “you get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go fishing in the crawfish pole…” Two brains can actually be random and weird at the same time!
  18. First time realizing how beautiful it is to have someone from one world I love walk around in another world I love equally as much.
  19. First time truly appreciating the power of family tradition and the importance of presence.
  20. First time I had people packing “to go” boxes from the spread of baked goods at my party.
  21. First time in a long while that I started an finished a nice, lengthy book in a few days.
  22. First time taking Nertz to a whole new level: I played in almost every eating establishment open late over Christmas in Tegucigalpa, in at least three places in El Salvador, with students in my house and in public places, individual and groups, and even outside. Oh! and did I mention I have a Nertz Christmas ornament? I do!

Okay, I know if I go on it will get boring. If I get a list out of the way, I generally am more likely to start writing for real. And I know there is at least one person out there (ahem, Hilda) who will keep asking me every day until I get back into the habit.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

December stands for ANTICIPATION

I love December. Even though it’s not snowy cold here, the flip of the calendar and the ushering in of advent has a sparkle all its own. I love that December means (if we weren’t before) we’ve all got our gaze fixed ahead in anticipation for something great… something beautiful and lovely and joyous is going to happen.

I just love it.  And maybe that’s why my bedroom floor can’t seem to stay clean. It might be a stretch, but I’m going to say it’s because I am looking ahead to times of joyful gatherings and love-drenched celebrations.

this is just a landscape shot of my floor - covered in crafts!

As long as I’m talking about making things and giving them away, I know you’ve all been anticipating the Honduran Horizon newsletter! So, I have good news – HERE IT IS. You can either view it right here or go to the Honduran Horizon tab at the top of this page to view all the newsletters.

Here are a few other recommendations:

  • Get some free Christmas music from Amazon right here.
  • Check out this little piece from Tim Keller on politics and faith, which I always seem to be tangled up in confusion over.
  • I continue to chew on questions of art/beauty/church/gospel and how they are intertwined – this article about a church in Chicago set off a crazy comment fire (for which I received endless inboxes) and resulted in this follow up article. Both are worthy of a read and if you are really ambitious, look at the comments!
  • In regards to the above discussion on art and faith, Makoto Fujimura is becoming someone I would really love to meet.
  • Just to throw in a twist and show I’m totally young and hip and youtube-savvy, check out this crazy video of a girl after she gets her wisdom teeth pulled… pretty funny – especially the RAP (my favorite part!).

Well, I just ate some unbelievable green beans and now I’m on to my main course: popcorn. It’s a whole grain, you know. It’s popcorn, crafts, and filling gift boxes for AFE. Wait… is that my beeping car I hear? Humph. We’ll find out in the morning!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy