elevating ordinary days in Eastertide

The greens are technicolor now, covering ground and overflowing branch and filling vase. Every shade and new ones without names greet my tired, morning eyes and I try to blink away the ordinary. All the impossible, tiny Spring buds gave way to a green life that is thicker than winter’s death. And I want my fingers to tingle with it, I want my cheeks to glow and my words to sing— that Christ is Risen from the grave and I rose with Him in victory. I want all 50 days of Easter to feel like a party, because this thing is impossible that He has done. For life to come from death and for my own death to die, nothing should feel mundane. It should feel like the magic it is. And not just Easter Sunday.

Easter week … ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope

Yes, just yes.

We raise glasses and light every candle, we say yes extra and look for light. We get silly with the wildness imprinted on our souls and eat marshmallows with chocolate chasers. If there is ever a season to shake free the shackles, it’s this one. We invite friends and neighbors and family and strangers to toast the One who could not stay dead, the One who invites us to a feast that never ends.

When my mom asked about Zella’s favorite part of Easter day, her face melted behind the biggest smile and she confessed, “Lottie and me got 4 or maybe 5 marshmallows and we ate them.” Her entire little folded frame, splashed in firelight and snuggled into Grandma’s lap, savored the memory and the thrill of eating so much sugar at one time.

To her credit, we made a big display of the marshmallows at our Easter party— filled a whole punch bowl with those fluffy white sugar clouds and set them right next to the champagne and the tall candles and the sparkler sticks. Because this is the season to get lost completely— inside wonder and joy and hope and victory and the Truth that the grave could not hold the one true God.

But, the kids spent last night throwing up and the confetti I ordered for our party was *not* the compostable kind, so you can find me in Eastertide sitting in small patches of our backyard picking up metallic foil strips while the kids make more laundry play with their Grandpa-made mud kitchen. The work does not disappear in celebration season. The baseboards need attention and the wind blew down all the loose branches stuck in our three lush pecan trees. There is no end in sight to the dishes in the kitchen. But, bathed in the beauty of Christ’s resurrected life is the life Christ resurrected in me— the regular, mundane, clean-up-puke-and-do-the-dishes life.

This is the life we celebrate in Eastertide— not a life that escapes ordinary, but one that elevates it.

Caroline KOlts

He redeems the lives we are living right now, not just eternity-in-heaven life or #Sundayfunday life or the life we wish we had. His redemption and this Easter season is about raising our current lives up from the grave. Our Monday afternoons and our Thursday mornings, our passive aggressive conversations with co-workers and our “is that your lunch on the floor again?” queries to toddlers. It does not all feel sparkly, Eastertide, because it is all still regular. But God has freed the dull and dirt, the mundane and monotony. He has freed us from the weight of sin that so easily entangles and freed us to the weight of glory that so easily delights in God and doing good. Eternity’s celebration is today’s confetti.

In Easter, we aim to cover regular moments with magic, to delight in what we know is true in a more intentional way.

So, here’s a short list and it needs your additions. These are just things we are doing at our house to cover regular moments with magic. They are both exceptional and ordinary. Some require planning and others are already in our schedule.

  • Throw parties. Every Sunday of Eastertide, we are having a backyard party where we invite friends, neighbors, strangers, and friends. If you want to bring your regular self, DM me for directions and then go find your party pants.
  • Go outside. We love listening to bird songs and finding snails, feeling small among tall trees and going on new adventures. God’s world is big and small and intricate and awesome and we want to see more of it!
  • Eat sweets. Normally, I’m a serious naysayer when it comes to sweet things. But, it is a love language my kids understand and I won’t be mad if they connect sweetness with Eastertide. Bake the cookies! Eat the s’mores! Pour the maple syrup! And we’ll say, “It’s Eastertide!”
  • Give invites. Basically, we want to invite people more, and not just current friends— to bonfires and popsicle runs, to neighborhood walks and sno cone stops, to church and to playdates and to sing-a-longs.
  • Sing and say celebration. We want the prayers we pray and the songs we sing to be especially full of joy. Extra, I think, is the name of the game. More sparkly celebration talk, more dance parties to celebration music. Start here and just try not to praise.

how I am making peace with the war against my dust

I forgot about the cross shaped ash above my eyes until gray shaded Zella’s right temple. My human wore off on her human and we sat snuggled, human dust together. She refused the ashes offered at the service, “One day,” she told me later, “when it’s that time, I’ll get some ashes on my forehead.” But she got them anyway, by way of her clinging nearness to me. Like Jesus, but with defiance and doubt.

I struggled to be completely present as we walked the short aisle to my “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” pronouncement. I spent all 14 steps whispering into Zella’s squirming cheek the reasons why we were doing this strange thing. But later, when motherhood wasn’t on my hip, I considered that Jesus became sin. His coming to earth was nothing like a charade, nothing pretend; God made Jesus to be sin (2 Corinthians 5:20, ESV), a crumbled corpse of human wretchedness so that we could enjoy the glorious perfection of God’s righteousness. Jesus became sin so that sin could die.

Jesus got so clinging near to me that He took on my worst thoughts, my worst days, my worst dust. And I am, yes, the child squirming on the hip – the defiant and doubtful toddler with skeptical eyebrows and too-loud voice.

The weight and the wild of this season pushes down and presses out, and I stretch my limbs in a contorted, desperate dance to make the mystery less ethereal; to feel the flesh and the blood and the dust of it on my skin and in my lungs and with my teeth.

“I love you and I want you to come here to my house and I don’t want you to die,” she said, “write that to her.” I filtered. I decided it wasn’t the kind of uplifting message we wanted for Zella’s library teacher, Miss Lisa. But as her crazy, fly-away (three day old) top knot bounced with squealing excitement to deliver the message, I knew I would have to tell Miss Lisa what I edited out. Zella does not want her to die and that is a wonderful thing to want for a person. A beautiful and pure and human thing to want for a person.

Maybe it is not ethereal yet, for her. Maybe she feels everything with her skin and lungs and teeth and I have long forgotten how.

I war against my dust. I am tempted to poof it like chalkboard erasers – to make much and little of it all at once, getting caught up and long-winded and concerned with the way the light hits it or how I can’t seem to see anything else. In Ecclesiastes, the word often translated as “meaningless” is used nearly 40 times to stress this human condition, but it is the Hebrew word “hevel,” which means: smoke or vapor. In Jesus, God again makes something out of nothing. He repeats the good work of Creation when he takes dust and makes it divine.

Jesus got so clinging near to get all my dust that I might get all His righteousness. 

the liturgy of ordinary time

I am keeping track of time, barely. Sweat drops and slices of fruit and sips from iced cold brew. Molasses and moonshine; slow, fast, strong, fragrant.

My fingers tickle the contours of her face. Feather soft eyebrows, a tender dip in the bridge of her nose, a jaw line that hides under squishy cheeks, and her little jut of a chin with a bumpy, brave scar. We started the tickle when she was tiny. Maybe it was one of those long car rides from Iowa to New York when I realized she loved all kinds of soft touch. Then it got bundled up with her night and nap routines and now she makes specific requests. “Tickle my hands, Mama.” 

Most days, I count it a privilege and the tickle is sweet and slow and savored. Every once in a while, I wrestle the inner voices arguing about my being subject to the tickle whims of a two year old as images of ‘real work’ roll through my mind. And then the tickles are rushed and tired and phoned in.

One night, mind drifting to our guests on the other side of the door, I rolled my eyes as my fingers flicked past nose, ears and cheeks hoping for a fast sleepfall. Then, she reached out her pudgy fingers and started her own tracing. “Tickle Mama’s eyebowwwws.” I didn’t know my shoulders were tense until they relaxed completely at her touch. “Tickle Mama’s nooooohs.” I hid my surprise behind the early summer darkness and gloried in the generous mind of my girl. And so, she traced my face and I felt the sweet and savored slowness of a rightly executed tickle. 

She fell asleep eventually. And we are still in Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time – that long and feastless stretch following Advent and Pentecost on the church calendar where there is nothing to anchor or move us like the drama of the seasons before. I’ve been waking up for more of the ordinary minutes – the slower, silent ticks of the clock before the day feels fast forward.  The sun reaches its bright, Eastern arms through our bedroom window at 5 and 6 am and my mind will not stay tucked in sleep.

C.S. Lewis and Martin Laird meet somewhere in my mind now, as I pick up the remains of coloring projects and a trail of books leading back to a disheveled bottom shelf. That passage from The Weight of Glory muddles into view: 

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When I first devoured these pages in college (oof, years ago), I felt lazy and disengaged in my slow moments. I prayed – Lord, please never find me inactive in the serious work of the Christian life. It is somber like war and I don’t want to be a mere civilian.

I wanted death to be real – all the awkward and cold angles of it – because I thought that meant I would do better at living.

Yesterday, I was bad at being alive. I transmorphed after those early, solitary moments of apartment sunshine into a turtle snail, a snurtle… or something that could escape inside itself without explanation. Except that I was in almost constant motion – in my mind and with my hands. I jostled household chores early and made plans for midday, but everything played like a private concert of dischord – all the notes were wrong and only I could hear the sound. 

I guess that was death – the awkward and cold angles of it – keeping me aware of my mortality and making me a human I did not recognize.

Because “aware of my mortality” means sin and demons and a herd of wolves looking like sheep – and all of that buried deep in my chest where the discordant symphony played its miserable song. This is who you are, human – short-tempered, impulsive, ungrateful, cynical, distressed. Living aware of my mortality is the real pits.

I read “A Grief Observed” after my brother died. Yesterday marked three years since that terrible phone call collapsed me on our apartment floor. I crawled inside the broken tenderness of C.S. Lewis’s grieving heart that pushed against death and all its agony for the living. Confused, angered, depleted, desperate, tired… not exactly motivated to greater motion, greater purpose. Just paralyzed by an invisible, writhing pain monster I could sometimes see. 

Your problem is, you don’t know who you are. Let me tell you who you are. You are a ray of God’s own light. You say you seek God, but a ray of light doesn’t seek the sun; it’s coming from the sun. You are a branch on the vine of God. A branch doesn’t seek the vine; it’s already part of the vine. A wave doesn’t look for the ocean; it’s already full of ocean.

Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land

My eyes stung when I woke this morning, evidence of what I couldn’t keep inside yesterday. I am still wearing the shirt that was soaked in snot less than 12 hours ago. We read the morning Psalm together and prayed as directed, “In the depths of our isolation we cry to you, Lord God; give light in our darkness and bring us out of the prison of our despair through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And this small, crawling motion. This, rhythm of entering the Lord’s presence with my fickle humanity and asking impossible things, is my mortal pace. I am trapped, bound in this body and darkness, but God – completely outside this constraint – shares His glory and shines His light.

Lord, I have called daily upon you; 
I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand up and praise you?
Shall your loving-kindness be declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Shall your wonders be known in the dark
or your righteous deeds in the land where all is forgotten?
 
But as for me, O Lord, I will cry to you;
early in the morning my prayer shall come before you.

I paused and read again Psalm 88 – about wonders and darkness and the forgotten land. I don’t have an exegesis hiding in my head, but I know my heart wonders often if the Light can reach all the dark – even the places I don’t understand, the places language fails and nothing is right. I am tempted to filter the verses with a simpler, safer tone in my reading with Zella. But God’s Word does not allow it. The darkness is too stark to be sweet, ever. And His light is too glorious to be anything less than complete.

My mortality is not going away, but neither is God’s eternity. And He has somehow mysteriously linked the two in the death of His Son. And that somehow mysteriously informs my identity – yesterday in my transmorphed paralysis and today in my Light-infused slow motion. And that all somehow makes sense in His economy.

I most hated that yesterday felt ordinary. I hated that oatmeal still cooked the same and the stroller was still cumbersome and the storm still changed plans. I hated forgetfulness and poorly timed naps and the innocence that was attached at my hip and in my belly. I hated the ordinary-ness so thoroughly I could not think of anything else.

Because death is not ordinary.

But, here we are – positioned still inside those dreadfully unimpressive words – Ordinary Time. Like the stretch of time after a dramatic Pentecost… the clock creeps on and the days stretch without celebration and I am mortal. But, God in His great mercy, reminds me I am His and He has conquered death and dark and despair in the kingdom come. He is Light and His mystery brings the morning sun that dried my puffy eyes in ordinary time.

when identity is anchored outside of worry

It started like a subtle uneasiness, bubbling somewhere between my bulging belly and my disappearing collarbone. I am not nervous, exactly. Lost, treading, hidden, furrowed, heavy… but not exactly nervous. Whatever it is beats in the blood stretching out toward my fingertips.

“I am alive,” this baby reminds me with a flutter. I watch the rise and the fall, the ebb and the flow of the new life hidden in me that is starting to hide my toes when I look down. It must be so dark in there, like the sea or outer space or the deep underground. Someone once told me that my emotional state affects the babies I carry. But then, I was pregnant in grief and birthed a joy child. So, even if this baby is perceiving my emotional waves or my pregnant negligence, there must still be hope.

Can this baby feel my strange worry, hovering just above the first home God is building around his/her life? Or maybe the refuge inside this womb is absolute – a formidable, soft fortress against whatever ails me on this side of birth.

“By the way, you are evil. That is half the gospel. That’s half the gospel, you are nothing.” – Tim Keller

Um, thanks Keller. That’s like one of those demotivational posters, but way worse. I need affirmation and approval and good vibes. The antidote to strange worry, I am almost certain, is not a giant wa-wa-wa.

Baby is twirling now. Oh, little one – does your home feel like a safe place to dance? And swim? And dream? And be? Do you feel like you are nothing inside there? Does the whole or the half of the gospel reach you?

Do you have my heart condition already – the one where you constantly need approval and good vibes only? In a talk on Galatians 6, Keller calls this heart condition “empty of glory,” which is to be desperate for recognition and affirmation. Because, according to Romans 1 and 2, deep down we know we were made to serve and honor God and nothing else.

It seems unreasonable for the baby inside me to be empty of glory while also being so close to it, knitted and formed and covered by Glory Himself. But then, I guess, the knowing is knitted in, too. We don’t begin to know we were made to serve and honor God. It’s a knowing that’s just there like blood and cells, I guess.

Imprinted on us, between the DNA and eternity, is a knowing that God is full of glory and we are empty of it.

But back to that demotivational, half-gospel before pregnancy brain unravels me completely. I am nothing – disappearing dust, withering grass, a whole year of my life passes like a sigh (Psalm 90).

And I feel the dissonance. It is 6 am and I am hungry. My body is growing in mass around this baby. All the cells on top of cells amount to something or my eyes and all my clothes are playing bad tricks. Also, this strange worry. Something chemical or physical or emotional or maternal is making my brain and my heart crazy. It is not nothing.

Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

So, I guess this is different – this nothingness. At the root of things, deep in the underground of it, I want to know who I am and (maybe more) that who I am is important. And, in this particular moment, I want to be seen and recognized and known for all the complicated, strange worry that I cannot explain. I am not even sure how to ask for this kind of knowing – for something to crawl into the space between belly and collarbone and sort it all out. 

 “Nothing will heal your heart except God looking at you and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Keller says. We are wired to want to hear those words. And not just from a Prime Minister or the Pope or Bey. We are wired to desperately want to hear those words from our Creator because His approval upon us matters more than anything else. And in our sinful search to find approval, fill the empty glory, and feel that we matter, we see a distorted view of creation. Our eyes are too clouded to see the people who need care.

Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

I can’t see to serve the toddling dancer who just dunked her cookie in milk before leaving it in a mess on the plate. I have no vision for friends and neighbors, each with bodies full of burdens, and even my husband fades behind my need. I cannot fulfill the law of Christ – to lay down my life for others. I cannot serve because I am in the middle of a constant search for who I am, hoping that who I am is important.

I still can’t find the words for this worry, but (praise Jesus) the words, the whole words, of the Gospel have found me.

And it is offensive. It is offensive to everyone, because everyone is empty and looking to be filled. Everyone is looking for affirmation – assurance that we are something and something important. Ideally, we want this kind of affirmation without God getting involved. We want to be so much something that we have enough to give away. But not a single person, even the most generous, has enough substance to serve out of abundance instead of need. 

But, God.

And Jesus. And the cross. The Gospel uncovers all the ways we look for recognition and approval in other things, but then it offers Jesus – our only hope of feeling the full approval we were designed to crave. Because, in Christ and “at the heart of creation and redemption,” says Keller, is Jesus saying “my life for yours.” At the cross, He embodied love in sacrifice. And, in Christ alone, we see past our need to be something so that we can offer all of who Christ is to the people around us. Real abundance.

Is this strange worry a tangled mess of approval seeking madness? I actually have no idea. But I do know that it is my human heart condition to swim inside it – to let it define, even a little bit, who I am right now and what I need. It is human to convince myself that, because I can’t explain it, it is incurable and requires endless and special attention. 

There is no darkness – anywhere – that is resistant to the light of Truth. The cross makes the midnight shine like noonday (Psalm 139). It anchors my identity outside today’s strange worry and enables me to offer abundance when I am completely empty. The cross is my only boast and battle cry, because apart from it I am nothing.

how to win while losing at motherhood

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14

She clung to my shoulders with her arms and knees, her neck wrapped on mine as the fountain misted our backs and absorbed our squeals. As soon as the wind changed, she anticipated the next mist and around the Bailey Fountain we went – a blurred, bouncing spectacle for the tourists posing in front of the mysterious, mythological scene. The sun beat down just as the mist dewed our faces and there are no photos of our delight. It lived so perfectly in that moment, just after 12 noon on a Tuesday.

Her little, tumbling giggle surprised us both. It was almost too generous – too full and wild. And, if I was guessing, I would say this is a little bit why little children can come to Jesus. 

This full and wild generosity of a child is unrestrained – like their Maker, ready to unleash lavish goodness in response to beauty and in the middle of delight.

There are many ways an adult can ‘become like a child’ and none of them are so easy. I have moments, like the fountain, where delight washes over and nothing ‘adult’ matters. But, most moments, I am aware of my unfortunate maturity. I squirm in skin that has worked hard to shake free of dependence – to get established and known and significant. But, the world is stingy with delight, starved of any true kind. All my slow (and unsteady) progress toward adulthood often feels like chasing after the wind. Meaningless. Culture doesn’t help me get past this curse – I’m constantly reminded that my life is supposed to be linear, that my work is supposed to build and progress and flourish into an evolving and important identity.

There is another baby bulging out of my belly, did I mention that? That’s very adult. The second time around is different for all the obvious reasons, but also because I am not in my first months of marriage and my brother did not just die. But my favorite part has been watching Zella’s sweet affection grow with the size of my belly. She leans in to sing her own made up songs. She tells the baby about all the excitement of this world (mostly noting the baby will get to drink milk). She perceives when the baby is awake and asleep. I’m glad she is paying attention; her wonder pulls me in.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;

I think about that stanza often. It plays in my head without invitation and all my neurons rush to find its melody. Maybe the elusive “winning” is the undercurrent of my everyday, the obvious wanting in every disrupted simple task. The edge of the full dustpan tips on the trashcan and empties on the floor. Not winning. The internet refreshes on days of blog rambles and doesn’t save a word. Not winning. The laundromat increases their prices 8 quarters more than all your cash and the nearest free ATM is 10 blocks away and your potty-trained lady just made a puddle by washer number 4. Not winning.

But God undoes win-lose scenarios – actually disappears them, and not because my daily losses are unimportant or irrelevant. But because he cares so intimately about the sweeping and the creating and the laundry, that He redeems and redefines winning completely. His measurement is an altogether different scale, interstellar dimension status. If not, the “right man on our side” would have been one big loser.

Were not the right man on our side,
a man of God’s own choosing

I get now why He let the little children come. They aren’t so wrapped up and weighted down with losses. Or, at least they aren’t keeping such close track. Or, they get His measurement system – where delight can disrupt the scales in the middle of a series of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad moments. If I’m honest, I need a million of those blurred, bouncing moments – chasing fountain mist with a giggling toddler. I need almost constant reminders of the different win-lose dimension scale.

In a recent talk (which, BTW is winning), Jen Wilkin said, “Human love is based on need. God’s love is not. His covenant stands because it is in no way dependent on me.”

Because God is altogether different, in being and knowing and doing, He is hope against wind chasing. Even as we become like little children – embracing their delight and dependence – we must be supremely aware of His absolute goodness and absolute other-ness. He is true and present in a windstorm and on a still day. In our struggle against a world of devils, it is His truth that triumphs through us – not because of all of our wind chasing, but because He is good. That is why He can be so generous, why His generosity never changes with temperaments or time.

His absolute goodness is in Him like our infinite humanity is in us.

good work, neighbor love, and kingdom come

I stretch out my limbs and too quickly my fingers reach the walls of our apartment. The cluttered cubic space shouts for thrown open windows and, in Brooklyn springtime, the windows shout back. Zella Ruth is sleeping now, so I have a chance to splatter thoughts on this page while the busses whir and that persistent man sings on the corner. His voice almost convinces me, six floors up.

But, back to these walls – these boundaries of our existence and mine especially as I newly articulate the bold title of “at home work.” The sun splashes against the wall of our kitchen – a hot, glorious reminder of a Spring long come and I stand in it awhile before clearing the remains of fresh salsa construction from our tiny countertop. I remember Zella’s scurry steps into the bedroom to babble very seriously about a broken something in the kitchen… and her pained brow when I found a special bowl in pieces on the floor. “It’s okay, Mama! It’s okay! I’m sorry, Mama. I’m sorry.”

Oh, this light. If only I could bottle it up! This patch travels up the kitchen wall, another climbs the bedroom above our bed, and a generous warmth makes a wake across the living room in midday. Windows are beauty and ours are giant, stretching almost floor to ceiling.

But, these walls. Every time I wash my hands in the bathroom, I wonder about the workers who tiled the walls. I wonder because it’s a curious construction, almost like a child’s mosaic the way the slivered pieces sometimes dwarf in comparison to the grout around them. And where the wall is uneven, more grout is applied and the effect is three dimensional. A statement of sorts about living in New York. Art.

We love this place. Even around the newest luxury condo, we can see the tips of the trees in Prospect Park, waving like sentinels and beckoning us to play in our neighborhood’s backyard. We often do. 

Well, anyway, the kingdom is here. In between the grout tile mosaic and in the view through dirty windows and under the gate leg table that opens up to fit twelve in our living/dining/den room, as long as everyone is cool with shoulders touching. The kingdom is in this midst.

I remember a sermon from a while back – one of those well known passages I almost tuned out but later I couldn’t get out of my mind. The kingdom is in my midst like the brothers in Luke 15. Their inheritance and mine is available right now, in its entirety. The robe, the fattened calf, the signet ring, the feast, and the best last name. Any good thing I can imagine requesting? Mine. A vast richness I could not possibly spend or exhaust or even fully enjoy. It’s that much inheritance. And the only way I can’t get to that inheritance is if I am not free.

The kingdom of God is freedom. 

But a kingdom has walls and gates and guards and I am skeptical like the son that there is any freedom inside. My mind drifts. I imagine the dreams I dreamt once – the ones that somehow wore charity and luxury at the same time, where dinner was never late or burnt or frustrating. Dreams chase freedom. And we chase dreams, hoping the blank will get filled in, “I just want to be able to ____” and the story ends well or doesn’t end at all.

And, I think, dreams are only bad if they have you convinced that you are not already free. 

The Band spins on the record player, a leftover request of Zella’s for “mugik” and that sermon from awhile back crackles over my laptop, “Both of these sons are on the precipice of being dead, of being lost… What’s most important to know is that you need to be found by the Father who wants to pull you into His feast.”

Hm. This kingdom, the kingdom of God is in the midst of us – another sermon especially settled in my bones. It’s a comfort and a horror to know that it’s here when I’m all unraveled and here when the knick knacks are all prepared for company. It, the kingdom, Jesus. Here.

Maybe this heart was getting annoyed at my spiritual procrastination and so started ahead that I might catch up. Or maybe these few sermons and a talk from Galatians 5 just started swimming together in the same direction in my spirit (do sermons swim?). This kingdom that came in Jesus had a vastness to it, a depth reaching outside existence. Yet, it was present physically in Jesus and is still present physically with us. The kingdom is here, and with so much repeat in the New Testament.

The message feels so precarious because the inheritance is so vast. The kingdom of lavish inheritance is everywhere, so why does our air feel so impoverished? Those brothers felt it too. With all the inheritance anyone could ever grasp for, neither was satisfied. They wanted a better freedom, something more fitting for the appetites in their bellies. Something not so established by a father who has everything. Something not so… available. They wanted different walls with different rules and different work.

And these walls, remember. And this work.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Called to freedom, yes. Use it to serve neighbors? Sounds like constraint. Freed to be constrained? Sounds like gates and guards again and that generous father’s farm. 

There was a watercolor disaster in the living room yesterday. I said things like, “I am very disappointed,” and “Mama is sad,” to a not-quite-two-year-old who doesn’t yet understand the cost of an area rug. Deep breaths, we take them together. I pretend like I’m teaching her about coping mechanisms for frustration, but it’s really about keeping me under control. Inside these walls and inside this work is the vast and glorious kingdom inheritance, but I will keep feeling impoverished unless I claim freedom.

Teaching on Galatians 5, Thabiti Anyabwile says Christian freedom is the antidote to the Galatian error, that freedom is even the goal of the gospel that we must embrace, enjoy and cherish. “We are freed to inherit all that Christ has purchased for us,” he said, “…but we must remember what we are freed from.”

I am freed from the desires of the flesh and freed to an inheritance. I am freed from a dream of better walls and different work, freed from the betraying appetite in my belly. Freed from chasing an answer to the open ended and paralyzing question, “What is my calling and God’s will for my life?” Because it all comes in the same inheritance-freedom package. 

Q: What is my calling and God’s will for my life?
A: That I would be free and use my freedom to serve others.

This inheritance that we are freed to accept – it so blesses us and so fills us that the greatest dream we can dream hangs like mist in the air above our fingertips. In love, serve one another. This is the most freed act. There is no haggling about worth or comparing about value, no hierarchy of importance or ranking of achievement.

The most free thing anyone can do with freedom is serve others. And not just the glory, headlining kind of service. The quiet kind – make a meal, tidy the toys, clean the dishes, disinfect the toilet, arrange the bookshelf, run the errands, write the letter, invite them over, wash the laundry, crunch the numbers, listen to the neighbor. You get it. Also the glory kind – definitely keep that around, but not for glory’s sake. 

This cold traveled slowly and took about one week to get from my chest to my throat to my nose. Now, it is flowing freely on this flour sack kitchen towel and my shirt sleeves, which I’ve newly re-purposed as handkerchiefs (why don’t we carry those anymore?!). One was not enough. The hum of the restaurants and traffic and sirens at street level drift up and settle between my cotton ears.

And there is good work to be done in this midst.

when you need an ebenezer

I stood there in the dark with the weight of her – soft knees tucked almost to soft armpits, her fresh bathed head pressed against my shoulder. She fit perfectly in my arms, not yet sleeping but not struggling against it. So, I held the weight of her and looked long into her slow blinking eyes, especially round and knowing in the window light.

We filled our bellies with breath, my weight holding her weight and moving from side to side. Slow and holy. Her soft fingers played on my wrist and I wondered why I would ever rush these moments.

What do I tell this little life that fits so snuggly in my arms? What do I say about wars and rumors of wars? How do I nursery rhyme this world for her?

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

The lines came out because I needed a lullaby. I guess I needed something to say to those round eyes looking up at me in the dark. The verses tumbled together with the chorus and a little monument grew in the corner of our bedroom. Count them, name them, remember Him, praise Him. When I trailed off, I felt my little bundle fill her lungs with one big, shaky breath and then let out the sweetest sigh I have ever heard. It filled the quiet completely.

It’s nights like this I need an Ebenezer.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Samuel 7:12).

Yes, ok. Remember and sing and believe and sway and sigh and say our redemption.