preparations // anticipations

I called my Grandma last week for advice about pie crust made from scratch for my pretend thanksgiving gathering. She’s my domestic expert – the neighbor lady who is always volunteering to drop off baked goods for baby showers and has a steady store of homemade cookies in the freezer. She’s that kind of grandma and I know she loves my phone calls for domestic advice.

“Oh, honey just buy one,” she said, which didn’t sound as fun (though I’m sure it was much more practical).

Instead, I Macgyvered a recipe involving a (knock-off) food processor and let my butter-chunked dough plates cool for 2 hours in the fridge when I ran in the park. While warming (but not boiling) apples on the stove and manhandling an unconventional pie recipe to fit my NYC kitchen, I cut up sweet potatoes for a maple mash situation. I was a little nervous I would end up combining both recipes in a typical disaster, but I managed to keep them separate.

Mid-bake I realized I was supposed to brush on egg whites to the crust… who has a pastry brush? Not this girl. I pulled the pie out and smothered some across the top, but I knew it was a mistake (that I ended up scraping off later).

My lumpy, delicious smelling creation came out about 15 minutes before we walked out the door. We maneuvered it into a paper bag and then inside a tote with the maple mashed sweet potatoes and a bottle of wine.

The kitchen is sometimes my favorite place because it is where magic is made – the magic of gatherings and spread tables and finger licking and… community. Community gets baked inside kitchens, even if they are skinny like closets and even when they don’t have pastry brushes.

And there is magic in the preparation.
Maybe that’s why people like to crowd in the kitchen space.

I don’t know if my mom would call her kitchen method “magic” – but I do know what it felt like to crowd in and taste the spaghetti sauce, to keep one eye on the broiling toast in the oven and the other eye on the fruit salad, to run out to the garden to cut a head of broccoli so it could be smothered in cheese. There was nothing gourmet or fancy about what she did in there, but we wanted to be close to the preparations because it was magic.

Soon enough, all seven of us would sit down around the long wooden table in the dining room and my dad would end grace with the words, “…bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to your service.” I’m not sure where he picked that up, but I like it. And we all knew that it was code for, “dig in” so it was a pretty popular phrase amongst the siblings.

All that preparation in the kitchen happened so we could gather and “pass the food to the left, leaving our right hand free for self service.” All that sweat in the kitchen got us to sit around in a circle, scooping out large helpings and chatting about the day and the farm and the news in our little town and the news in the big world.

Preparations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about preparations, since I’m hosting real thanksgiving this Thursday but also because Advent is a season of preparation. Next Sunday is the first day of Advent and it seems fitting that it should follow a week of thanksgiving. I can’t imagine what these last few weeks must have been like for Mary as she made preparations to give birth to the Messiah – what her prayers must have sounded like and how her fears must have felt.

Preparations are magical because anticipation is hidden inside.

When my brother Samuel “sampled” the chili and when my sister Christina “tested” the stir-fry, a scolding would accompany my mom’s raised eyebrows, “It’s not dinner time yet.” Because preparations are about something that is going to happen. 

I don’t want to rush past what it feels like to anticipate.

I don’t want to lose the magic of the kitchen space, preparing for something wonderful. I especially don’t want to waste the magic of preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth. If you are looking for a way to celebrate the season of Advent with your family, this Advent guide from the Gospel Project is free right now. I’m hoping my roommates will agree to be a family for the next month, so we can anticipate our Savior together!

Thanksgiving (crowded kitchens and tables and stovetops) is a great place to start.

if you are in the area, you are welcome to come to our thanksgiving gathering
if you are in the area, you are welcome to come to our thanksgiving gathering

we walked through trees on fire

Much of the park was still green, but some of the trees looked as if a lighter had been held beneath them – as if the leaves were leaping flames in gold and amber and rust hues. We admired them like fireworks with our wide eyes, each a new treasure we pretended to hold in our un-mittened hands.

It is beautiful to wonder at the world together – to accept an offered hand to hold on the adventure, to share the same whimsical twinkle that will lead a pair into an agreeable and mysterious future.

It’s beautiful to wonder together at the world.

I might not have seen the deep amber color or marveled at it quite the same. I might not have paused with my face toward the wind to see the lake at dusk. I might not have ducked in to the brewery and appreciated my way around a meat and cheese plate with the most delicious fresh whole grain mustard.

I suppose I don’t know that for sure, but I have my good guesses. Because I like to wonder at the world a certain way, with my certain eyes and my certain gait. It is much different to wonder together – to make a destination with intertwined fingers, with different appetites and different strides.

We made friends with the autumn air, walking with intertwined frozen fingers around the top of the park still admiring the trees on fire. It didn’t matter that it was Thursday and today was a work day. I think there is a sense, as you wonder together at the world, that the present moments are more worth admiring. Maybe not. I guess I feel an urgency and responsibility to wonder regardless of my company.

Still, there is something different about being ready to say “Yes!” before the question is even asked. “Yes!” was on the tip of my tongue before he ever suggested coffee and definitely before he mentioned buying a board game and playing until after midnight with friends.

Wondering at the world together is a magical thing. It is something worth crawling out of my private wonder to enjoy. It is something worth an invitation and something always worth a “Yes!”

Because, I think, I can get wrapped up in my personal world of wonder. I can be selective about what inspires my soul. I can be even too discreet about what grips my gut and what makes me sing. I can look too much for what has made me wonder before and I can forget to look for new mercies.

We walked through trees on fire last night and a piece of my sleepy heart woke up to wonder at the world God has made.

always believing

We can be all kinds of emotional. All kinds – nervous, joyful, sad, fearful – all kinds. It seems like mine have run the gamut here in NYC. I can sink in sadness and in the very next moment be heaped in hope. They are all mixed up here in NYC; maybe emotions are mixed up everywhere.

But in every kind of emotion we must be always believing.

I think this is taking deep root in the soil of my soul these days and certainly as I read the lectionary reading this morning from Psalm 119.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart! (Psalm 119:30-32, ESV)

I love to read the conviction in David’s declarations, because I know he was an emotional guy and he had every right to be emotional. Chased by death and failing kingdoms and family matters and desert armies, David lived the kind of life that seemed to warrant fist shaking at the sky.

But inside his mixed up emotions, David chose the way of faithfulness. Because he was not helpless against the affections of his heart. David set the Lord’s rules before him and clung to the Lord’s testimonies.

In choosing and doing these things, David is actively believing that this is the best way to move forward with mixed emotions.

Sunk in sadness or heaped in hope, David chose to run in the way of the Lord’s commandments. I can almost hear the pulse of his feet pounding the desert path in the direction of the Lord’s commandments. It sounds strange, even as a word picture. Why would he run in the direction of commandments – in the direction of something that appears to fix his feet in one place? Why would David love the Lord’s rules that seem to restrict instead of set free?

Running is freedom, at least it seems so to me. It means throwing off hindrances and making steady progress in a particular direction. And David is running in the direction of the Lord’s commands because freedom gives birth to freedom. The Lord enlarged the heart that powered his running feet and with his freedom he ran in the direction of faithfulness. David believe that the Lord would keep His promises and that being near to the Lord was the best destination, the best lifestyle, the best routine – that meant being near to His commands.

David knew inside his heart of mixed emotions that the Lord’s commands were not a straight jacket but a mysterious wardrobe where marvelous things were hidden. David believed the Lord’s commands would grant him more freedom than anything the world could promise him.

The Lord granted David freedom to run and with that freedom, David ran in the direction of most delight – the way of pleasing the Freedom Giver.

I can’t imagine experiencing all the range of emotions tangled up inside David’s heart while he was hidden in caves or castles or closets. But I do know where he found strength when he was sunk with sadness or heaped with hope. He found strength as the Lord grew his heart and he ran in the way of faithfulness.

He chose to chase the mysteries of the Lord’s commands because He wanted to please the Freedom Giver… and because (I think) he knew that the most joy in this life would be found running toward and not away from God’s gracious constraints.

In every kind of emotion, God grants the grace that we can be always believing.

to be a better thinker / Q & A

My cousin Vince started the email with “Carolina!”

He wanted to ask a few questions for a project he is doing at Baylor. Questions are kind of my jam, and for this guy I’d do about anything. He is a really amazing picture of what it looks like to battle in the trenches of the faith while serving the people around him. Every time we talk, I learn more about how I can better live out my faith.

Here is the little Q and A.

Why did you first start blogging?
I attended a conference called Faith and International Development at Calvin College while a junior at the rival liberal arts school Hope College in Holland, Michigan. At the conference, many of the things that had been bubbling up in my spirit collided and I needed an outlet. At the time (ahem, 2006), blogs were the newest and coolest way to give life to creative expression. Although I didn’t consider myself new or cool, the feeling of pushing publish was especially satisfying creatively and I’ve been doing it ever since.

What is the hardest thing about maintaining a blog?
Writing.

I never pretended that my blog was going to be about pictures or quotes or anything especially clever. Well, maybe I considered all of those for a hot second, but I never felt as much pleasure doing anything other than just writing.

I write because I love to write in a Eric Liddell kind of way – in the way that I feel God’s pleasure when I do it. But, writing is also the hardest thing about maintaining a blog. It means writing when you don’t feel like it and writing when you think you have nothing to say. It means starting a sentence when you think it sounds stupid. It means thinking of writing ideas when you are at the park and starting a blog while you are getting your hair cut or while you are riding the subway or while you are putting in your 9-5.

Writing is also the hardest because it is easy to be scared. I am afraid of what I write being less than good – that it will not be as interesting or as alive as it feels when it comes out of my fingertips. Sometimes that keeps me from writing. And if I don’t write, I don’t have a blog.

Would you say that blogging provides an outlet for you to express your thoughts and emotions? How?
Yes, I would say that exactly.

Sometimes, I think blogging pulls out of me what I didn’t know was inside. There are times when I stop myself in mid-conversation because I know the words will sound garbled until I’ve blogged them out first. It’s like therapy, I guess. But it’s also like exercise. It’s exercise for my creative spirit and my soul because I can stretch muscles in my imagination and in my intellect that don’t get used anywhere else in my life.

It’s like a playground where I my mind can run around, climb jungle gyms and swing off monkey bars. It can be (and is probably too often) an escape where I go to sort out the tensions in my heart.

Why do you continue to write your blog?
I suppose I continue to write my blog because it has become an inextricable part of my processing. The way I see the world and the way I engage with the world has a whole lot to do with the way I write the world. When I’ve thought something through and let it run out of my fingertips, I know it better… more fully. I know my weaknesses better and my fears and my vulnerabilities. I know my dreams and desires better. I know where I’ve let curiosity live and where I’ve let wonder roam, but I also know where I’ve hid light under a bushel and closed the doors on joy.

Maybe I don’t know any of these things better because I blog, but it sure feels like I do. And that’s why I keep blogging.

My mom called me from Iowa recently. She said, “Honey, I’m glad you finally blogged again.” I was kind of surprised to hear that she knew I was in desperate need of some blog time. “Mom, how’d you know?” Maybe in my cross country move or my new job and new relationship the need is more obvious than I realize. But, not everyone assumes a person needs to blog. “Well, I just know that sometimes you need to blog in order to think,” she told me.

Maybe that’s really why I write my blog – because it makes me a better thinker.

*If you want to know more (and feel better about how often/not often you are awkward in social situations) check out this post on my very gauche life.

gauche

if concrete tears could hang like a cloud

If all of New York City’s concrete tears could hang like a cloud across the concrete streets, it would be the heavy haze of this early evening. My homeward bound steps felt like sadness tonight, which is unusual because I have learned to love my commute (and the love came easily).

I felt deeper the tension of people in close proximity absent any affinity for one another. I felt that tension on the subway platform and on the J train and when the crowd of people threw elbows and pained expressions at Broadway Junction. I felt it more tonight than I have before.

Perhaps it was the fog – because when I stepped off the B44 on Nostrand, I promise I looked the city in her face and her eyes were brimming but her face was dry. It was like she was holding back, trying to hem in whatever hurt had happened on Thursday. And the hurt that happened was thick.

It’s getting darker. These days turn to night before I am ready. That might be the only sad thing about autumn – it sleeps too early.

I could blame the melodrama on the quesadilla I ate today, from the Mexican place by my work that is run by a nice Chinese couple. But I’d be lying if I said the tension didn’t feel real. It does. But, who is surprised? The city is a ruthless place. But, there is always tenderness. 

There is always beauty inside and around ruthless. Always. And every once in a while, when I let the stubbornness of my soul soften up, the Lord shows grace so I can see. Grace to see His provision and grace to believe His provision is enough.

Grace.

The end of this day is full of grace because the whole day was full of it but my soul was just now soft enough to see. When I knocked on my neighbor Elsa’s door to respond to the note she taped on mine, I found her with a beautiful flowering plant to share. Later, when I opened my door to a knock, I found Patrick with a bag of groceries and dinner plans. When we sat in our now a-little-less-empty living room drinking cinnamon and nutmeg, I found laughter.

And this is grace. Sweet grace when the concrete tears hang like a cloud on concrete streets.

if my heart wrote my soul a telegram

This is, ahem, very personal. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to read something else today.

Remember in the Sound of Music when Leisl tells Rolfe about the telegram she would write him as they exchange teenage love declarations in the gazebo? She started with, “Dear Rolfe (stop)” and then he called her a baby.

If my heart wrote my soul a telegram yesterday, it went something like this:

I have two fears (stop)

I wasn’t prepared to feel what I felt or to feel it so intensely. But, the telegram didn’t get sorted until about 11:00 pm last night when I finally stopped the repetitive rhythm.

Yesterday, Patrick and I trekked up to the INHABIT conference on the Upper West Side, sponsored by the International Arts Movement. We listened to plenary speakers and attended breakout sessions with several hundred other folks from across the country who care about the ways art intersects with faith and how that translates into culture care.

And in the middle of all the note-scrawling and introductions and processing, I realized I had never invited someone into this space before. This very metaphysical, very precious and precarious space I had tucked deep away where it couldn’t get broken.

Maybe it’s what a comic book junkie feels at a comic book convention or what a car enthusiast feels at a car show or a musician feels about the symphony. I know I’m not the only one who feels uniquely at home in a very unhome-like space because I am surrounded by people who speak the same language.

This is what I feel when I pack my notebooks and pens, when I check in at registration, when I listen to the philosophical implications of architectural structures and the words communicated through a brick used in its traditional function or adapted for a new purpose. This is what I feel when I am around people asking questions about beauty and meaning and longing – people who wrestle and wander and wonder because it feels right to do so.

Eric Liddell’s painful conclusion in “Chariots of Fire” paints well the picture of this affection and deep delight, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

I’m not sure how exactly God made me – I am not fast like Eric Liddell, nor am I particularly brilliant in a profession, nor am I an established or even struggling artist.

I just know that when I work the muscles in my brain and respond with the muscles in my heart and typing fingertips, I feel His pleasure. I feel His pleasure in a strange and not altogether happy way, but in a way that I do not feel anywhere else. There is a familial comfort in knowing that other people want to use the same language, to plumb the same depths, to wrestle the same lions – believing it is a worthy pursuit and even a pursuit that reflects and delights our Creator.

These types of gatherings have been home to me for years and there are few people who share the same affinity. But that’s never mattered before. I do not expect people to understand this language and I’ve learned to filter my excitement and my conclusions and my muddled processing.

But yesterday, the fear-filled telegrams pushed up behind my eyes. I felt a bit like my self-confident exterior got cracked like an egg and all my fear dripped out. So, I have two fears.

I am afraid of being misunderstood.
I am also afraid of being dull.

I am afraid that my love for beauty and questions and doubts and language and words (and all those things I have hidden in a precious and precarious place) will not make sense to the person I love the most. I am afraid words won’t come and when they do, that they will tumble out incoherently.

I am also afraid that my rambling and circular processing and childilke chasing will make my favorite person bored. I am afraid he will not enjoy the moment in a superlative way and that his lesser enjoying will be my fault.

I am not saying this is rational, I am just saying this was the telegram that I was finally able to communicate to Patrick last night after we rode his motorcycle out of Manhattan. Between sighs and frequent pauses in our late night, neighborhood pizza joint, I tried to explain that I didn’t need him to love what I love or to understand why this language feels like home. I explained that I didn’t need him to be someone who loves conferences and note-taking and the cultural implications of the functionally changing purpose of bricks.

I just don’t want to feel crazy.

I just want so much for him to experience the superlative delight I feel when I’m around this language. Whatever that is for him, I want to say yes to it. Part of what pained me yesterday was thinking that I had asked him to live less in the full delight God prepared.

In his typical and patient way, he told me I wasn’t crazy. He really said a lot more, but I think I just needed to hear that I wasn’t crazy and that I hadn’t ruined his day by making mine great.

I didn’t expect to learn this lesson along the way of love. I really didn’t expect to struggle so sincerely, but I guess I didn’t know how precious or precarious this language was to me.

And in this lesson learning, I am bending to the beauty of Christ’s love. Alone, I can hide things and keep them safely hidden. Alone, I can pretend my vulnerabilities are transparent and my guard is appropriate. But in love, I can see how tenderly Christ completes my affections – how perfectly he understands my needs and how patiently he provides.

I did not know my soul required this kind of care and I was overwhelmed yesterday when I realized Christ has been caring for me in this way all along.

As I receive love (by way of opening up my hidden spaces), I can boldly believe it casts out fears.

Two fears is too few, but it was the number needing cast out yesterday and I believe Christ is able. Not only that He is able, but that He promised to be the One who casts out. I believe that.

I am so thankful for these hard lessons, for these painful purgings of what I didn’t know was hidden.

My uncle sent me the above song today, a song I have returned to when I need a reminder of Christ’s sufficiency. Today was a beautiful day to be reminded.

same park, same path, different heart

The day was not more or less beautiful. The park was not more or less packed.

The children played soccer under the same sun’s evening glow, the same moving mass of strangers ran in circles around the same lake, the same warmth burst out from the tips of trees and into the same cool, autumn air.

Everything about my run was the same, except that it was different.

I rounded the curve last night on the East side when it starts to slope down and I realized a smile had stretched across my face. It was a facial expression that defines stupid grin and it was amplified by my oogly eyes marveling at the sky. For the entire steady slope, I grinned and oogled the sky.

I smiled at all the strangers who had made me feel uneasy and emotional a few days before, but I thought my delight might be entertaining (if they create stories in their minds about strangers like I do). I befriended one lady, in a runner’s world kind of way. She was about my height with a similar stride and a purple headband. We ran comfortably side by side and I imagined her story until she sped on ahead around the south curve (confirming my prediction after seeing her serious running tight/skirt combo and determined arm swing).

Everything was the same, but my heart was different.

I was not afraid.

I felt like Kevin from Home Alone when he opens the front door to his empty home and yells to the Christmas darkness, “Hey! I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I’m not afraid anymore!”

To get empty of fear is liberating, but only if I am getting filled up with something else. Otherwise I’m just yelling at darkness and hoping my endorphins will keep pumping boldness into my blood. The emptiness has to be displaced – the fear has to be replaced by something strong enough to shove it beyond the bounds of influence.

Christ got empty. He emptied Himself so that we could be emptied of emptiness – emptied of that vacancy we feel when fear screams out from our insides.

My salvation has pushed emptiness out and fear with it. Hope has displaced strife and faith has removed worry. I am not afraid anymore because I believe the fullness of Christ is pushing against and spilling beyond my boundaries.

I am not afraid of missing out. I am not afraid of being a stranger. I am not afraid of hugging this city when it doesn’t hug me back. I am not afraid of being unknown. I am not afraid.

I am not afraid because Christ emptied my fear when He got empty.