|kept|

He wore a blue Nike track jacket, but I didn’t know that until we were above ground at Union Square.

My head started to clear with the smell of city rain and I realized clumsily: I didn’t know this man who had walked me up the steps from the subway, thrown down his backpack on the sidewalk for a seat and was now carefully explaining that he would walk 10 feet to buy water from a food truck. I was nodding. He would be back in less than two minutes. More nodding. I sat there on his backpack and breathed. There was laughter hidden somewhere in my future self – looking back on this very personal NYC moment. He returned with water and I drank the whole bottle. I leaned on his arm and we went back to the subway after deciding that water and fresh air had cured the worst of my spell. Then he found a seat for me on the 6 train and we talked about life in the city, his wife and the family they want to start, and all the neighborhoods they have lived in. I asked if he would be late to work and he said he would be just fine. When I assured him I could make it the three blocks to my office beyond Grand Central Station, he went on to 57th.

And that was how I met Rick, my Tuesday subway angel.

My doctor said it is one of the most common calls she gets – fainting in the subway. The morning rush is shoulder to shoulder, the overheated air is stale, and the underground is dark like a cave. Over the course of this pregnancy, I finally learned what my sister has been telling me since I moved to Brooklyn in 2013: Care, you can do whatever you want – nothing is surprising in NY.

And it’s true. I’ve crouched in a corner of the Q train, thrown up in a subway grate, bypassed the bathroom line at Bryant Park, worn tennis shoes with everything, thrown up in Starbucks cups, stretched out pre-pregnancy work clothes, thrown up in trash cans, used an embarrassing amount of dry shampoo, thrown up in ultrasound appointments, consumed a senior citizen’s portion of fiber, and regularly rubbed my belly like a little buddha. Oh, and one of my coworkers just left an entire box of thin mint cookies on my desk, so I might add “consumed an entire box of thin mints in one sitting” to the list (Update: proudly did not).

I’m not a pretty pregnant lady. But I didn’t have time to create expectations about my pregnant self in the whirlwind of marriage and moving and newlywedding and grief and winter and the general pace of life in the city, so I guess that means I’m not disappointed. It’s probably better that everything is a surprise.

And the surprises come in all kinds of ways.

The other night, I lost track of time while I tracked the rolling and tumbling movements on my belly. I still can’t believe there is a human in there. I watch and I hold my breath for the next fist bump or soccer kick to bulge out beside my belly button… and then my eyes get big and I gasp, “Oh! There you are!” Every time the sensation of a little, moving human surprises me. There is a little human in there.

And I am the home for this little human for another 9 weeks (maybe less if Baby K gets antsy).
I am the home, but I’m not the keeper.

The words “you hem me in” are making new sense from Psalm 139. This baby is hemmed inside the walls of my womb – kept on all sides. And I am learning that God’s keeping of us is the purest preservation and the most perfect protection.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121 ESV)

His is a keeping that never sleeps, never tires, never wearies, never pauses. His is a keeping that is attentive to tiny fingernails and to terrible nightmares. His is a keeping that is secure like a mountain and tender like a magnolia.

This is a Psalm of Ascent – a song the Israelites would sing as they traveled up into the city of Jerusalem, believing God was literally keeping them from the harsh sun, the dark night, and all evil. Just as he keeps the heavens above the earth, he is keeping us too.

He will keep your life.

That line really gets me – that promise to guard and protect my life and the life inside my womb. I close my eyes and imagine He is keeping us in the same way, in the cleft of the rock and in the palm of His hands. I open my eyes and don’t know how analogies translate. All the tidy “hemming in” gets pushed outside the lines in 42nd Street traffic and fluorescent lights and fainting subway episodes.

But, there He is. Keeping me.

stand still

My morning devotional was not about the 4 train, but I’m going to pretend that the “Express track” was also taking direction from the Lord in Exodus 14:13, “Stand still – and see the salvation of the Lord” because it makes me feel like we have a common goal. Spurgeon writes,

“Faith … hears God say, ‘Stand still’ and immovable as a rock it stands. ‘Stand still’ – keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward!”

I get impatient for those “go forward” words and I am bad at standing still. If I must not be advancing, I end up stationary wrestling (like a stationary bike, without the bike and without the exercise) and that always makes a mess of emotional knots.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past three days: only God can speak the “Go forward” words with authority and only God has, for a time, said to me, “Stand still.” Only His words matter. My words, persistent though they may be, are light like feathers.

I will always be praying against unbelief, because being still and being patient will always be a struggle. I am learning that I sometimes fight repeat lessons with the same stationary wrestling. But God is so faithful. He gives grace upon grace so I can believe that what He says is true. It reminds me of the song my mom chose as a theme for all the three months of wedding planning.

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

He is not surprised or disappointed when I pray for more grace and more belief. He knows how much I need both and He is delighted to give without limit. When I am listening, I can hear him reminding me to stand still in faith so that I can go forward in faith when He is ready to give that direction.

In His power and with His joy…

We wrote drafts of our vows in Atlantic, Iowa, a little town halfway between our parents’ farmhouses. Our tired eyes hovered over cups of bad coffee that a very sweet, very blonde waitress brewed happily after she heard what we were doing. It was supposed to be our “date night” the week of the wedding, but the bowling alley wasn’t open and we didn’t feel like hanging out in the Hy-Vee parking lot or at the Tropical Sno stand. We were getting married in a few days, which also made “scooping the loop” seem a little silly.

So, we slid into a booth at Oinker’s and scribbled on scraps of paper while we imagined what covenant and promise and marriage was supposed to be about. We looked at other vows and wrote out our own words and I mostly remember saying, “We are really getting married!” over and over again.

There is nothing light about making a marriage covenant. The first covenant in the Bible involved God walking through halved animals with a vow that the same would be done to him if the promise of provision was broken. Covenant promises are heavy things and when something is really heavy, I seem to go in search of large rocks to have “writer’s block” against.

writing vows

So, I mostly sat there while Patrick mostly wrote versions of our vows and then read them to me out loud. At some point, we both realized that making any statement of promise was completely ridiculous. We were weak, and not just because we had planned a wedding in three months. We were weak because we were (and are) human – fearfully and wonderfully made humans whose words and promises are limited just like our existence.

But the promise we were powerless to make to each other in front of God and witnesses was still possible. I will never forget the statement of introduction we wrote that seemed to both honor the weight of our commitment and resign our powerlessness to keep it on our own.

“I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.”

I still have the scribbled scraps of paper. I found them in the zipper pouch of my backpack this past week when I was fishing for a pen. I’m not sure how they got there or why I decided it was a good place to keep them. But, there I was, staring out at lunchtime commotion in Bryant Park and thinking about all the things God was holding together in that moment.

Somewhere in the mad middle of our three month engagement, our pastor challenged us to write a mission statement. Our excitement to make a declaration about how we wanted our love to honor God and bless others seemed more important than parking arrangements and party favors. So, we thought and wrote and prayed in the summer quiet of his living room. I don’t think we realized at the time that our mission statement would have the same foundation as our vows.

We are disciples of Christ and believe that in Christ all things are held together. We will proclaim the Lord’s name to one another, family, friends, and neighbors through acts of service, words of encouragement, and invitations to break bread.

As it turns out, our belief that in Christ all things are held together (Colossians 1:17) has been one of the most beautiful truths to preach to ourselves in the first few weeks of marriage. Our excitement for this new adventure feels like holidays are happening every morning. In Iceland, we were almost embarrassed by our goofy grins enjoying lobster soup at little roadside cafes and standing at the bottom of glacier mountains and holding hands in coffee shops. We were that couple, on honeymoon.

And, as gratitude for this new life spilled out over the unbelievable horizons and breathtaking views, we were in awe of just how completely Christ holds things together. Our confidence in Him grew as we thought about our vows – confidence that the God who holds all things together is holding us together and empowering us to do the same.

It has been exactly two weeks and I am now more convinced than ever of my inability to keep such a crazy promise as I made on my wedding day.

But, God. He’s such an abundant provider! He is making it possible in this moment for me to keep my promise. He is holding us together like He holds together the Icelandic moss fields and Iowa’s rolling hills and the New York City skyline. He is making it possible for us to make these promises again today.

I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.

I, Patrick, take you, Caroline, to be my beloved wife. I will lead you, protect you and provide for you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.

I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.

I, Caroline, take you, Patrick, to be my beloved husband. I commit myself to you, striving to encourage, uphold, forgive and affirm you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads us. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.

tiny and giant, fast and slow

I watched the silhouette stride across the three mammoth windows of Grand Central Station – just a tiny stick of shadow making its way through giant panes of light. Nobody minds when someone stands still in the middle of Grand Central because everyone is either a commuter or a tourist. Commuters rarely pause and tourists rarely speed. The two kinds of Grand Central Stationers coexist easily and well, as long as they respect the plaid crossing pattern when they do decide to move.

You know the pattern I mean, right? I remember it from marching band and 5th grade choir concerts. One line of people meets another line of people at a diagonal and when the lines intersect, the people alternate so both lines pass through toward different directions. Anyway, that’s how movement happens in the Station and it is a wonder to observe. Diagonals on diagonals and motion on motion and it all buzzes like a beehive of ambition toward productivity of work or play.

And above all the commotion was this solitary figure last night, the tiniest silhouette framed by summer evening city light.

I straddled the world between tourist and commuter (because I am rarely fully either) and tilted my head toward my right shoulder to consider what tiny looks like against giant and what fast looks like inside slow. It was probably foolish, stopping like that for no reason.

But I can’t shake the mystery of feeling both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

Living in the city is like that for me. It is why my body felt like a hundred dead weights by the time I reached my apartment door with groceries last night and it is also why I went on a bike ride with my husband to listen to jazz in a tea room an hour later. The perfect sunset breeze, an upright bass, and the best conversation over a decaf cappuccino is what summer date nights are made of.

And so we rush a little bit to slow down a lot. We subway scurry home from work and we bike to lazy trumpet sounds. It is like the calm, steady stride of a silhouette in giant train station windows above a frenzy of motion – both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

those who return to Him

As the father looked upon him, and kissed him much, there probably came another kiss, which seemed to say “There is no soreness left: I have not only forgiven, but I have forgotten too. It is all gone, clean gone. I will never accuse you of it any more. I will never love you any less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person.” Probably  at that there came another kiss; for do not forget that his father forgave him “and kissed him much,” to show that the sin was all forgiven. There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father’s goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, “I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine,” I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, “My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me.” This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. – Charles Spurgeon, “Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son”

This is sweet beauty. This is the “gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him,” this is His delight over diamonds that never lose their value. The Spring season is bursting with its own diamond offerings, of bright colors and bold raindrops and the warmth the winter was craving. Spring wears beauty so well and I am obliged to “waste” New York minutes admiring it.

There are too many kisses for us to gloss over the story of the Prodigal Son in a synopsis.

Greedy child asked Dad for inheritance early and then wildly wasted every penny before coming home, where Dad received him with a party.

The father’s undignified run was too brilliant to get smashed into the word “received” and the kisses were too many for this reunion to be an average greeting. He kissed the soreness out and the guilt and the shame and the worry – He kissed it all with the power of a Father who forgives.

I’ve been thinking about value and worth and (okay, fine) diamonds. There has never been a time in my life when I have thought more about what I don’t have. I suppose NYC does that to everyone, to some degree, but it has never been part of my rhythm. Contentment has carried me through the sparse and plentiful times in miraculous ways, so this thinking is throwing me for a loop.

People (particularly women) everywhere are obsessed with knowing what might make them more lovable and that manifests itself in all sorts of colorful and crazy ways in this city. My sister’s advice when I moved to New York was, “Care, you can wear anything and no one would bat an eye. That’s the nice thing about New York. You’ll sit next to someone in a suit and someone in fishnet stockings on the same subway ride.”

Turns out, she was right.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way my eyesight has changed. I am more aware of myself, my style (and lack of), and all the categories I do not fit inside. People say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” I’m still trying to find out what “make it” means to figure out if I passed. But I’m not trying too hard to understand that litmus test, because there are too many kisses in the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.

When my pastor preached on Luke 15 this past Sunday, I thought about the Father’s eyesight instead. His love that covers a multitude of sins looked out on that haphazard hellion of a son and broke with compassion. The worth of the son was not about the words he prepared or the way he presented himself. The worth of the son was bound up in the love and compassion of the Father when the son returned home. He lavished love and kisses and let all the neighbors talk about his ridiculous sprint when the son was still “a long way off.”

This is the beauty the spring shouts, because winter did not deserve to be reborn into Spring. Winter died because God blew in Spring with the power of His words.

We are worthy of the Father’s love because He has said it is so and we hear those words spoken over us when we return to him, haphazard and tangled and unkept. This is the freedom of Spring – that the tree did nothing to earn its blooms and the sky did nothing to earn its shine. God, in His grace, is speaking His love over creation. And those who return to Him will hear the words spoken directly over their souls.

Hello, Spring! Hello, Easter!

a series of unfortunate events & my favorite human

Do you have a favorite human?

Before you all say, “Jesus” in the spirit of Lent… let me give you spiritual immunity to choose someone else. Favorites have always been really difficult for me – if you ask for my favorite musical artist, I would ask you in what genre. If you ask for my favorite food, I would ask you baked or cooked. If you ask for my favorite season, I would ask in what location.

Favorites are hard, but my favorite human is becoming an easier question to answer. I still have many favorite people, but there is some significance in being able to say there is one person who is my favorit-est.

Last night, I walked in to my apartment feeling very defeated after two weeks of restless/little sleep, a frenzied work and social schedule, and all my life packed away in separate and sealed plastic bags. I have been keeping this nitty-gritty life news off the blog because it’s embarrassing and because it didn’t seem appropriate to publicize my misfortune. Now that (it seems) my apartment is in the clear, I will cautiously share the series of unfortunate events that led to my confident conclusion that Patrick Kolts is my favorite human.

You might remember that for the last couple weeks we have been hosting Pancake Mondays at Patrick’s apartment (which is conveniently and miraculously 2 avenues from mine). Previously, I had been inviting the neighbors in my building via handwritten postcards taped to their doors. I also invited folks who lived in the neighborhood, the security guard at my school, my coworkers, church friends, and really anyone who was curious. And they came. And it was beautiful. Some nights, we had a full crowd of folks who stayed for board games after all the pancakes were passed around. Other nights, we had more intimate gatherings around our little table.

Every Monday on the other side of our open apartment door, there were pancakes and toppings and bacon. Patrick came over to fry the bacon and share hosting duties and my roommates were unbelievably gracious with all the shenanigans. Tam orchestrated the tiny bowls that held all the toppings and Elise whipped up vegan pancakes on several occasions. We didn’t have much to offer, but the bacon smell wafting through the open door was enough to draw them in and the conversation was enough to keep them.

We did not apologize for all the things we couldn’t offer our guests and instead offered everything we had with the biggest neighborly smiles.

Then, about a month ago, I was writing a blog in my bed when I looked down to find a bug on my shirt. Bed bugs. My New York initiation continues. Apartment hunting, root canal, commuting woes, and now what most natives call the apartment dweller’s worst nightmare. The next morning the bug was confirmed and over the next 48 hours I heard stories from plenty of folks who told me my life would be literally and figuratively turned upside down to get rid of those little devils. Awesome.

The worst of it, among drying every item of clothing at high heat and stuffing every belonging into sealed plastic bags, was that my favorite part of living in the city (hosting) would not happen for awhile. Well, it was a lot of worst, honestly. The time it took to dig through multiple plastic bags every morning for something presentable to wear to work, the skeptical stares of people who kept their distance because they knew my “situation,” the paranoia about every piece of fuzz and every person in the subway… all of it was worst, but God is gracious.

The exterminator came and went the first time with a list of instructions several pages long and additional instructions to complete before he came a second time. And life did not stop. I didn’t tell people because I felt ashamed and awkward. We just kept trying to keep up with the city pace – work, outings, and winter hibernation. I slept on the loveseat and on air mattresses that never seemed to stay inflated. And I faked it a lot. These are the times when you claim the joy you cannot feel. These are the times you test the full commitment of your dependence. Mine failed often, but God’s grace held me up.

In the middle of all this, my pastor asked the Pancake Mondays crew to host a pancake feast at the church before Lent started and we did. We flipped pancakes for around 130 people and they smeared fresh whipped cream, jams, coconut, chocolate chips, and syrup all over the tops. It felt crazy, but it also felt really good. Long tables with vases of flowers and crayons, filled with people fellowshipping over a pancake feast. It felt perfect, actually.

The very next night, we shifted Pancake Mondays over to Patrick’s apartment and had an unbelievable turnout from his building. They loved his handmade invitations and the pancakes and the conversation around his coffee table. And so it has gone for the past three weeks – every week has blessed us in new ways. New neighbors, new friends, new conversation and inspiration and new encouragement to our weary spiritual bones. I guess I can just speak for myself, but all these things are more true than the words I am writing.

The exterminator came and went the second time and told us we could start moving our belongings back on Thursday. We held our breath for signs of the bed bugs that would prevent any unpacking of plastic. No signs.

Meanwhile, I slept little and spent even less time in my room because the sight of piled plastic bags and a deflated air mattress was more than my spirit could bear. That brings me to last night, when I staggered into the apartment after work around 7 pm, carrying several bags of groceries for my early Friday morning staff appreciation event.

My roommates were mid-giggle when they suggested I go in to my room. There, I found my old bed replaced with a new bed, a new carpet, lamp, and bathmat. And I just stood there weeping with my coat still on and my bags still in hand. I was so tired I could only think about crawling into that new bed and sleeping for two days.

Patrick had asked me that morning what he could do to help and I told him I wished I knew what I needed. Well, it was that bed. I needed to sleep and I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I almost made a puddle of tears on the floor, where all the plastic bags still sat. He knew what I needed even when I didn’t know how to ask for it.

“This man,” I thought, “He is my favorite human.”

As it turns out, this whole ordeal is not just an exercise in willpower and stamina. It is not just another in series of unfortunate events that have initiated me into New York City. It is not just something I had to “get through” in full survival mode.

The Lord is good. He is gracious and He is faithful.

The Lord reminds me often that He is the best host. He is the best at throwing parties and loving neighbors and giving things away. He wrote the book on hospitality and His well is so deep that it is never empty. There is always pancakes and always bacon and always conversation and always love in His house. His pockets are deep.

God does not depend on the circumstances to be just right. When you own everything, the circumstances are always just right.

It was never my apartment or my idea or my food or my doorway or my energy. He is the provider with access to all provision and He never withholds any good thing from His children. All the abundance of blessings that have come in the three weeks of bed bug-induced mayhem are overwhelming and each one had everything to do with God’s hosting abilities and nothing to do with mine. Inside this series of unfortunate, new-to-the-Big-Apple events God never withheld a single good thing from me. 

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11

He protects and blesses and sustains and cheers with an abundance that made me weep at the sight of a new bed last night. And these are growing pains, in a spiritual sense. I will never learn His provision completely or depend on Him perfectly and that is okay.

He is the best host and we are always invited in to His house to learn this lesson over again.

choosing Love

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Something about leaving my dentist appointment in Chinatown to wait impatiently for the J train at Canal Street with my large Starbucks and NY Times made me feel especially New York this morning.

It’s all a miracle – the dentist in Chinatown, the daily subway navigation, the insurance coverage, the dreamy roommate situation, and the two avenues between Patrick and me. These are all daily, mysterious miracles from a gracious God who sees me in the middle of all these city lights.

But, I have also felt especially Austin and especially Chicago and especially Tegucigalpa  and especially Ames and especially Des Moines in the recent string of years and God’s grace has pursued me in every location with daily, mysterious miracles. I have not found God to be less wonderful or faithful or beautiful in any of these locations, but more so.

My pastor recently shared a story about the first time he saw the mountains. After a long road trip with friends, he finally saw the sharp peaks stretch out into the sky and they were all overwhelmed with emotion. Words didn’t seem to fit the new beauty standing like stone giants in front of them.

And then my pastor asked if we should have a similar response as we step into a crowded morning subway car. We all laughed because that’s ridiculous, but then we all got silent.

Because if we really believe humanity is as special as God claims – that He breathes life into our bones and thought into our brains and movement into our muscles to give Him glory in a way the rest of creation cannot – then every human is marvelous.

People ask me, “How do you like New York?” And I promise I’m not copping out when I say, “I choose to love it.”

I’m not saying something between the lines or hinting something inside those five words. I am just saying that loving New York is a choice and I am honest about choosing it.

I choose to love the crazy crowds of people and the commute (a fight I lose on the regular) and the millions of possibilities for social plans and the red hot ambition of artists and entrepreneurs and Wall Street analysts. I choose to love my neighbors and my strangers and my friends. I choose to love the sunlight through my third floor window and our little house plants and the guys who smoke weed in our stairwells.

But, I am learning about choosing love and about miracles and about all that makes creation marvelous.

Because my arms have not been twisted into this love and my days are not full of resignation, though my writing might read that way. I wish you could stand in the kitchen with me on a Monday night or sit at my desk with me during a crowded lunch period or sing next to me in Williamsburg during Sunday morning church or stumble up the subway steps at Winthrop on my way back home – then you would know what a joy it is to choose to love this place, full of marvelous people God created with great intention and care.

I choose to love NYC because this city is lovely. Depraved and thoughtful and broken and inspired and lost and scarred and… lovely. Love here (and everywhere) is not an emotion I can muster from my heart or an action I can force from my hands. It is what happens when you stand in front of a breathtaking miracle (and a crowded subway of them) and let awe seep out of your soul.

Choosing to love is believing all that God has said about humanity, and then believing Christ (on the cross) overcame my every desire to live like the opposite.