the habit of meeting together

Winter is not in my marrow this year and I am trying to figure out why it bothers me so. I like a snow that settles fast and deep like a feathery blanket, and then fades without a slush parade. The snow of this winter is just exactly the way I like it and today felt like April. But discomfort better suits the Lenten season; the chill in my marrow is its perfect pair.

O, Lent. Old, steady, dark, and stubborn friend.

This is the season of giving up and taking up and pressing in. I added that – the pressing in. My soul is weary of resolutions and restrictions. I hear Grover saying, “Neeeeeeeear” …….. “Faaaaaaaar,” and this is my Lent dance – searching for the Lord and pressing in, getting near, bending toward, listening.

And meeting.

I joked with some guests recently that we host 10-15 times a week. We laughed because there are seven days and that’s silly… but there are also mornings, noons, and nights. There are coffees and teas and stop bys. There are neighbors and strangers and friends. And there is this little human named Zella Ruth, always bending out of the hold on my hip to see who will open the door next.

She has a shoebox in the kitchen with jar lids, measuring spoons and a hot and sour soup container. She spends a lot of time with that shoebox because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen because Team Kolts is in the habit of meeting together. In the first months of our marriage, we struggled to agree on our definitions of “an open door.” One night, I was angrier than I ever remember being in my entire life – so angry I felt heat puffing out my ears and we called an emergency counseling session with our pastor the next day (silly story about a couch, not even really worth re-telling).

All these … months later, we weekly compare notes to see who we’ve invited over and daily check in about who might be stopping by. *I got a text while writing this and now a friend is staying with us for the weekend. Don’t worry – no hot ears.

Lent is pressing in.

And I am holding fast the confession of my hope without wavering. I’m praying for the unwavering part, actually. But there is something so irreplaceable about meeting together. I remember an exasperated mom at the dentist’s office asked my parents once, “How’d you get your five kids to turn out alright?” And my parents said something like, “It was the Lord… but we did go to church every Sunday.”

It was never about attendance. It was about the habit of meeting together and I think I am starting to feel the best weight of that.

Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

I need this preached to me – I need to hear this good news that there is hope, the good news that God is faithful. And I need to preach the same.

Our pastor spoke recently about salvaging the word “preaching.” He said that we need to both hear and speak true words to each other, the good news that God says we matter and that what we do matters. We need to hear and speak the true words that the pain and hurt of this world needs to be reckoned with and has been already in the person of Jesus.

Sometimes I preach to Zella. Nose to nose, I sing into closed eyes and (sometimes) her open mouth wail, “…I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk let me walk close to Thee.” If she can’t hear the good news in it, I do. “Thro’ this world of toil and snares, If I falter, Lord, who cares? Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.”

After Will died, I needed preaching. I needed true words, simple words of hope and peace and kingdom come. I needed Jesus more and above anything else.

Lent is pressing in and I need the habit of meeting together to keep happening in my living room. I need friends who come looking for prayer and neighbors who accept invitations to dinner. I need conversations in kitchens and I need walks in the park. I need to be pressed farther up and further in, where the preaching is desperate because the siren song is too strong to stop.

Her eyelashes are like branches now, shading those sweet cheeks from winter skies gray. We ventured out on Ash Wednesday and Zella Ruth made irreverent babbles throughout the somber liturgy. She didn’t know Lent was pressing in, but I hope she felt something of the ash on her head and the silent exit from the meeting together.

I can’t seem to shake this Ash Wednesday prayer and especially that this liturgy assumes a gathering.

The Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

celebration war paint and resurrection

I painted over my dark grey/mauve nails with white and gold confetti on Holy Saturday. It was an act of defiance, like celebration war paint really, and all ten digits are still ready for festive battle. Every time I look down at the keyboard, every time I turn the page of a book, and every time I swipe my metro card – white and gold confetti remind me that we are in Easter season.

This is resurrection.

“Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power…we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptismal vows.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Last year, I was ready for wild delight, even desperate for it. I pondered Lent readings, daily reflected on my sin and brokenness, and (unintentionally) assumed a very downcast and despairing disposition. My mom started praying for Easter to come quickly just so my blogs would stop sounding so depressing. I ached for delight and hope deeper than I ever have before and I can’t tell you exactly why that was the case.

But, I can tell you that the despair had set in my bones long before Lent this year. The weight of brokenness was personal, but it wasn’t exactly the ugliness of my sin that had me trudging through the depths. It was the ugliness of death itself. It still stung with a dull and deeply weary sting because Lent started on August 3, for us. Is that too bold to say? That is when brokenness ripped our hearts in half and emptiness took up all the earth space my brother once animated with life. That was our Lent and still is, in some ways. I did not have the energy to plumb any further than I had already gone.

And that’s why this year was different.

Leading up to Easter, Patrick and I read the above words from N.T. Wright and there was a subtle stirring that raised all my arm hairs and tingled underneath my rib cage without asking permission.

Resurrection.

Something very peculiar marched its way up to my frontal lobe from all the stirring in my rib cage: we are alive. The resurrection of Jesus did not just secure my place in a glorious future, it secured my place in a glorious now.

The apparitions my hands have been grasping at – reaching through and wrestling with – melted into a new, solid reality. We are resurrected, Will and I, right now. We are more in a similar place than different because we both have our truest identity in Christ. It sounds very wrong, very strange to pen that down – but maybe it’s the celebration on my nails that makes it seem okay. We are resurrected because Christ is resurrected. Me no less than him and him no more than me. Resurrected.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

That’s what I was singing on Holy Saturday and early on Sunday morning when I woke up to put the empty tomb rolls in the oven, light every candle in our apartment (+ some sparklers), and start the crockpot full of homemade (thanks, mom!) hamballs.

I’m not better because death is still ugly… but if I wait till I am I may never come at all.

His invitation is for those lost and ruined by the fall – for those wrecked by the death that has crept into creation. That’s me. As I believe (and pray for more belief) in Christ’s death that swallowed up death and his resurrection that brought new life, I believe God literally breathed resurrected life into me. When he ascended to plead the merit of His blood before the Father, he secured my resurrection, wholly and completely.

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Venture wholly. This is the posture of Easter and the movement of resurrection life that bustled in the fellowship hall of the church last Sunday. The loosely delicate bouquets, the white and gold confetti splattering the long maze brown paper covered tables, the party poppers and candles and yes! the champagne waiting for every person when they walked in the doors.

“Happy Resurrection Day!”

I imagined it sparkling like glitter in my eyes and bubbling like champagne from my spirit and getting thrown like the confetti on my nails.

Words create realities. Like those first words that created the world and the words that formed Adam and the words that prophesied a Messiah and those words that sentenced the same Messiah to death. And those words the angel spoke when the women were standing speechless at the entrance of the tomb, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6) 

Words create realities and the words, “Happy Resurrection Day!” are creating a new reality in my spirit – one that doesn’t require my being “better” to participate.

Even with my favorite apron on, I got scotch eggs and roast ham on my Easter dress. I had to trade out my wedges for sneakers when we started packing things up. Champagne spilled and party poppers got popped prematurely by the best, most zany Brooklyn kiddos. And many of my distracted thoughts throughout the Easter service and celebration were of William, one year before in the very same church – dunking his bread in the cup for communion and leaving a floater, carrying picnic supplies to the middle of the park for our Easter gathering, and grinning next to Grace on my couch as Patrick proposed to me later that night.

For eight months those memories have followed me like a host of apparitions, like moving post cards only I can see. They probably always will, I guess. But this new resurrection reality is spilling over and out of the collective cheers of our festive gathering on Sunday.

I will never be better, maybe. But I will always be resurrected. 

And in that resurrection life, I will live. I will invite friends and neighbors into my home. I will pray for this new baby God is growing in me. I will cheers champagne and non-alcoholic pear juice. I will giggle with my husband. I will make up silly dances. I will do all these things before I am better, because that is the power of resurrection.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Here’s the song “Come Ye Sinners” (written by Joseph Hart) and sung by Fernando Ortega. I can’t find the simple version we sing, but (honestly) once you know the tune, acapella is pretty beautiful.

If you want to read more from our family about this grief journey, you’ll find the grief notes here.

a perfect and wonderful surprise

At 6:37 am this morning, my hands were already covered in lamb juice, worcestershire sauce, wine, tomato, onion, and a mix of blurry other things. I forgot for a moment why I was preparing lamb and why the sunlight on this day breaks open the most precious gift in all creation.

Resurrection Sunday.

There is something more final than death and sunlight is singing it over all the darkness today. There is something more final than death and His name is Jesus. I opened my window and gloried with the birds in the breaking day. I whispered, “Happy Easter, world!” and threw my smiles up and down Hawthorne Street.

Today, we celebrate how completely He conquered the grave. I can finally shake off the Lenten despair because God planned such a perfect and wonderful surprise.

the sun will rise

Love as Christ loved.

That is the message of Maundy Thursday, the new commandment Christ gave to the disciples in his final, informal sermon. Love one another. He commands it because He knows it can be done, though it is impossible.

We are not naturally lovely people – not naturally kind or caring. We are selfish and proud and have been since that forbidden fruit. We guard our independence and vacation time and personal freedom and charity, considering others sparingly and only when we feel like it. To “love one another” is an impossible command, but Jesus commands it because He knows it is possible. His is a love that can swallow up every force that opposes it, even death.

His is a love that empowers love when the network of human nature fights against it.

Christ shows us love and then commands us to do what only He can make possible in our lives. “Love one another” is not a reason for Easter resolutions or a slogan for social justice. “Love one another” is an impossible command that Jesus obeyed perfectly on the cross, a command that we can obey by way of His righteousness.

Jesus commands us to love one another and then He shows us what love looks like as he lives out the prophecy spoken in Isaiah.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
[ISAIAH 53:1-6]

I still do not understand it, but I read myself in these words. I hid my face, esteemed him not, and threw my grief on his bloody back. And today we remember that He was crushed. He was pierced and wounded because of our black hearts and secret sins. Today, we remember the sky went black when death killed the healer.

This is the darkest day, but there is hope on the horizon. There are rays hiding behind the dark sky, lit by the glory of the Creator – our God who knew all along that there would be a resurrection. And the resurrection lights the way for our love of one another.

hot pressure heartburn

It felt like heartburn, but I am sure it wasn’t.

The hot pressure pushing against my rib cage on Monday might be as close as I have ever felt to groaning with creation for the coming of the Lord (Romans 8:19). My body craves Jesus’ return as much as my spirit, and together (I think) they press up against my bones to remind me of my true home.

This week is about death.

Even in the triumphal entry on Sunday, we know it is death toward which we process. Even as we sing “Hosanna!” on the road into Jerusalem with the redeemed, we save our breath for the “Crucify!” in the center of the city with the masses. The true drama of the scene churns up this hot pressure heartburn behind my rib cage.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. This God, who loved the world so much that He threw His seed to the earth to be sown in death. The evidence is in the palms of His hands and the scars on His sides.

The resurrection is waiting on the other side like the buds breaking through dead branches and the sprouts peeking out from dry ground. Resurrection is hiding, buried safe in God’s plan for redemption.

This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called  children of God; and so we are. In this the love of God was made manifest  among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live  through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us  and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 3:1, 4:9-10).

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For  one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person  one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we  were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be  slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Passages from the Journey to the Cross devotional.

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.

not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I’ve battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it “at once,” I think. I’d rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.
This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.