a deep and bellowing good

I am not prepared for this, for Advent.

Last week we feasted and gave thanks and it was the starkest thanks I’ve ever offered, I think. It was rickety and raw, like the rusty farm gates on my childhood farm. It was a functional thankfulness that felt very different than singing “Count Your Many Blessings” with all my aunts and uncles and cousins in the basement of Grandpa’s house. No less abundant (my head tells my heart) but very much different.

I think that’s okay.

A special place had been prepared for each guest and our table boasted a capacity crowd. The whole day was arranging and baking and tasting, folding special printed napkins and finding/ironing the tablecloth we bought at Fat Albert’s, the neighborhood “everything” store. Olive branches hung from string lights above us and the Feast of Thanks groove mix mingled between our shoulders.

I blinked it all in behind candlelight and treasured the rickety emotions for later sorting (ahem… still sorting). We represented a collection of states and histories and families and stories, memories and pains and wounds and griefs. But we were all present and belonging at this table set for us.

There’s a little snapshot of the crowd gathered. We were present, each of us breathing and eating under a canopy of twinkle lights in a Brooklyn apartment in the middle of New York.

And now it is Advent – that season where we prepare to remember that God sent His Son to be born into this world. God sent His Son to breathe and cry and joy and struggle and feast and gather and mourn here, on this very earth.

My heart is sluggish and resistant to the idea of anticipation, but just today I realized how I have been very desperately looking for signs of life for a while now… looking for proof that life is good. Not family portrait good or campfire songs good, but a deep and bellowing good – the kind that carves the grooves my grief runs through. And here, in Advent, is God’s affirmation.

Earth was not just a good enough place for the Son of the Creator of the Universe. God sent His Son to get bruised knees and dusty feet and a full belly in a place that He still loves, for a people He still loves.

Advent has always been good news of great joy because I remember God’s provision in Christ – that God invited us in our sin to meet our Savior. But, this year I needed to feel God’s deep and bellowing affirmation that life on earth is not a consolation prize. We are not in a waiting pattern for something better, later, next, sometime, future.

In the middle of strife and sick and thorns and death and my rickety thanks, God is affirming that His redemption has already started. He is still knitting life together in wombs. Today, I heard a heartbeat in mine. That static-y “wooga wooga” sound is nothing like pleasantries and everything like bellowing affirmation.

I signed up for counseling today and my scattered heart needs it, but this was a special kind of therapy in a doctor’s office on 46th Street. I was squeezing Patrick’s hand and we were both watching life wiggle around inside my belly. “Oh, so active!” they said. We giggled and marveled and asked silly questions. And God affirmed, deeper than all my efforts to be okay or move forward or understand.

And it’s all very complicated, but I am holding on to that affirmation that God is making new life, because that somehow affirms all the lives that He is sustaining.

I can’t believe I am awake past midnight. Pregnancy is beautiful, but pregnancy is also super weird. At least I had some good Christmas tunes to keep this late night company.

it’s a [good] conspiracy

Well, right as I was walking out the door this morning to the field, I got a call. To be honest, I couldn’t quite understand it all, but I did get, “We’ve gotta work on the … and we won’t be up ‘n runnin’ right ‘way this mornin’ … I don’t know how long it’ll be … but I’ll give ya a call.”

I’m kinda bummed. I had my lunch ready and my coffee almost in the travel mug. I’m more bummed because this is a perfect morning for harvesting. Clear skies, sunshine and a chance to break out some serious layers to shield off the winter-ish breeze. I guess I’m even more bummed thinking about Eeyore trying to figure out and fix the problem in time to tackle the rest of that 90 acres like we planned.

On the flip side, I’ve got a little time to write. I’ve been farming by day and nannying by night, so I’m nearly worn out when I finally settle in. Yesterday was particularly stressful because Eeyore came over the radio, “Hey, Caroline? Why don’tcha follow me ’round …I’m gonna outline this field and I’ll dump ‘long the other side there … This’ll be a real test of your driving skills … I don’t want you hitting corn, but I don’t want you fallin’ in the river either.”

On the radio I said, “Tests make me nervous!”

In my mind I said, “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT “TEST”? This whole thing has been a test and I’m not just talking about my emotional well-being after returning from a developing country to be rejected by countless jobs and still uncertain of my place in the world. I’m also talking about driving a tractor at all. Now you’re telling me I’ve got to squeeze into a six row path with certain death on one side and certain employment death on the other?

Of course, I went. And he wasn’t kidding. I felt certain some of the corn was unfairly leaning out in my path and the steep ravine was unfairly jagged and unpredictable. With nothing short of near-hernia, I made it and felt pretty accomplished.

This whole thing (being somewhat professionally stuck) could be a big conspiracy to keep me humble and I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t fighting it. Speaking of conspiracies… when I’m not following Eeyore around in the tractor or cracking jokes with Partner, I’m either reading or writing or doodling or all three.

I’ve already started writing/doodling my Advent Conspiracy list! If you don’t know what Advent Conspiracy is, check out the video below. The idea is that Christmas ≠ consumerism, so our preparations should reflect that. If we give gifts of presence (time together), then what we treasure is each other and not just something in a box! I also try to make most of my gifts (which can get tricky for the boys in my family) and this year I have a new source – Pinterest. There are so many clever and crafty ideas – from baked goods to stuffed animals from old gloves! Anyway, apart from enjoying people more and tapping some of the creative genius we all try to ignore, we also save money by giving this way. The Advent Conspiracy suggests there are some really amazing things we can do with it!

[AC] Promo 2011 from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

So, maybe it’s a good conspiracy that I’m farming… and even that I’m able to take moments like right now to process … and apply for yet another job.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

where suffering meets joy

Here’s a little piece I wrote for the guidance newsletter this month:

My friend went to Kenya in 2008 and found himself surrounded by refugees displaced by civil war.

We all marveled at the pictures and listened to his tales when he returned, but after a while, we found ourselves again caught up in our lives layered with routines and more “important” matters. His experience was forced to fit into phrases like, “Oh, yeah, when you were in Africa…” because we didn’t have time for deeper questions requiring deeper answers.

As we step into this Christmas season, much of our discomfort results from crowded checkout lines and shopping cart traffic jams. Our culture presses in to define this celebration with catchy tag lines and guilt-ridden advertisements enticing us to add another gift to the cumbersome pile.

The joy in the angels’ announcement that filled the sky at Christ’s birth is somehow reduced to greeting cards and cavalier “Happy Holidays” thrown around like plastic swiped in those nifty little machines.

Scan of a Christmas greeting card.
Image via Wikipedia

Is the subject of your holiday adoration worthy of all the discomfort?

As I examine my own motives for crafting homemade gifts, my mind wanders back to my friend who went to Kenya. Maybe we moved on so quickly from his experience because being near to someone’s pain brings a certain suffering to our lives as well.

Thinking about Kenya beyond the powerpoints and post-trip Q & A is… uncomfortable, and we have a tidy way of stuffing uncomfortable stories in the attic while we stuff stockings over the fireplace.

Though we often set them against each other, suffering is not opposite joy. Christ, who for the joy set before Him, endured the great suffering of the cross. When we open our lives and hearts to let the Spirit move in us, we will experience some of the greatest suffering and most abundant joy.

Christmas is both a time to celebrate the joy of a Savior and a time to long for Christ’s appearing as the only response to the suffering around us.

The closer we walk with those who are suffering, the more we will wonder at God’s joy in this season. Who will you choose to walk beside this season, sharing their pain? Great joy awaits, dear sojourner… GREAT JOY!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

back from hiatus

That’s right. I took a hiatus – an “interruption in the intensity or amount of something” – from the blog. I know this means I did everything wrong in the eyes of the up-and-coming blogger. Consistency is key! Well, feeling real life on my fingers was key for the past four days and maybe you’ll just take my word for it.

In the case that you’d rather read a few words, I’ll indulge you with some snippets. In short, I get overwhelmed sometimes. I looked up the definition for overwhelmed, because I love words, and 1, 2b, 3, and 4 seem appropriate.

o·ver·whelm  (vr-hwlm, -wlm)tr.v. o·ver·whelmedo·ver·whelm·ingo·ver·whelms
1. To surge over and submerge; engulf
2.a. To defeat completely and decisively
b. To affect deeply in mind or emotion
3. To present with an excessive amount
4. To turn over; upset

Before my mom starts to worry about an impending nervous breakdown, I don’t think “submerged, affected deeply, presented with an excessive amount of something, and turned over” are altogether negative things.

It’s just too much.

Well, here are the snippets, anyway. Some are good and joyful and some are sad and painful. Maybe you can take all the overwhelming pieces and make sense of them.

  • My light bulb in my room is burnt out and I don’t seem to have the right multi-tool (which I was convinced could fix anything) to unscrew my complicated ceiling light), so I have been crafting for the last few days on my floor with the light of my computer and a desk lamp. I’m a little worried about the following: the color combos I am coming up with, my failing eyesight, the way I insist on spreading everything out around me and then bending over it for hours.
  • Watercolor. It’s amazing! Where has it been all my life?
  • The Christmas decorations have now been up in Tegucigalpa for a good, long month. Christmas songs are streaming out every speaker and you won’t find me a bit disturbed. Whoever made the rule that Christmas can’t start until after thanksgiving obviously never considered that, “Come, let us adore Him” is a year-round invitation!
  • I want to write. Sometimes I want to write ideas and notions so badly that I can’t touch a keyboard for fear I won’t do the idea justice. Words are so weighty. They are heavy and cumbersome and I love them. I wish I could find the space to fit the bulky words that have taken up residence in my soul. I’d love to park them somewhere nice.
  • We are in the final stretch for our Operation Christmas Box. We’re doing our own version of Christmas in a shoebox for the beautiful children of Amor y Fe y Esperanza. I’m so PUMPED!
  • I’ve got chocolate glazed pumpkin cookies cooling in the kitchen and 31 amazing seniors to deliver to tomorrow. Yep – THIRTY ONE seniors brought their Bibles to chapel today. My prayer is that the Word would be ALIVE to them. I watched and then chewed through this message by John Piper on Sunday, “Holding Fast the Word of Life” and I want more than anything that we would hold fast to the words spoken by the Creator of the Universe! “He is the Vesuvius of joy” and we turn our heads and say it is boring. Ouch.
    Here is an excerpt:
  • I hate sin. I mean I really hate it. I know this isn’t a surprise, but this week it was closer, raw, and ugly. I hate sin that causes families to break up and the sin that causes sons and daughters to hurt and the sin that leads girls to believe lies and the sin that prevents me from being at all useful. I hate it.
  • I’m still mulling over ideas about art and beauty. This is certainly one of the topics in which I’d gladly submerge myself, but I can never quite put the pieces together to write about it.
    I love this quote from contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura about art and culture,”We have a language that celebrates waywardness – but we do not have a language to bring people back home.” That’s kind of “it” in a nutshell, I guess.
  • Another thing I don’t mind being submerged in is God’s promises. Whenever I’m faced with hardship or a tough conference or the gnarly sin sneaking in to steal joy all over the place, I remember. I remember God is sovereign. He is good. His plans are never thwarted. Yep, I’d like to be daily “presented with an excessive amount” of His complete sovereignty.
  • Guess, what? THANKSGIVING is this week! I’m super-duper pumped to throw my thanks everywhere. I’m planning a Thanksgiving dinner this Friday for my senior ladies, which will involve a monstrous amount of baking. I’m also super pumped to set up our own version of a drive-in movie in someone’s backyard.
  • Last, but not least… tomorrow is the first-ever pep rally led by the first-ever pep squad coached by first-ever coach (you guessed it) me. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in history that someone is trying to calm high school nerves about a high school event at the ripe old age of 26! I almost couldn’t sleep last night, because I’m just sure the girls are going to get out there (they have absolutely no idea what they are doing) and then run off and I’ll be left to animate the crowd with my antics (which are usually reserved for small dinner parties!). Lord, help us!

Well, there it is. A comeback from a hiatus heaped up high with the verb “overwhelm.”

If nothing else, I pray this night finds you

letting LOVE fly like cRaZy

lovely links

I’m about ready to call it a night. If you read my last post, you might be surprised to know that the disaster on my bedroom floor has not resolved itself. In fact, it has somehow worsened.

I don’t mind.

I just want to leave you some encouragement tonight by way of some links. I hope this Sunday evening finds you tucked inside a well-worn love.

Sara Groves has started the “season of giving” early with her live Christmas CD, recorded at a women’s prison in Illinois. You can download the whole CD of goodness from her website.

Part of the reason for the creative mess on my floor is this idea I got from my roommate: art journaling and altered books. I know it’s probably been around the craft block several times and I’m new on this street, but I LOVE this idea. I will be working on some versions for Christmas presents, even though I am finding they take a LOT of work!

This last link is one I plan to muse on more later. I love the Gospel Coalition, as you might know, but especially the recent talk of art and its place in the church. I’m kind of chewing on some of the same questions and these insights are so helpful as I dig deep to know what is the heart of God in this. Here is the article, titled, “Art For, From, and Facing the Church.”

Hope you start your Monday off

letting LOVE fly like cRaZy