oh, dear

Friends, this is one of those posts on one of those days. But I probably don’t mean what you think. Nothing dreadful happened and I am not hormonal.

Beauty got weaved in among other things – into the rearranged plans and the winter traipsing and the new basil plant in our little kitchen windowsill. Beauty got weaved in and now I’m writing by a candle my roommate lit to keep me company in the rest of these night hours. Just me and my chai tea + honey + coconut almond milk, candlelit and tucked inside this Brooklyn winter night – inside the beauty that got weaved in among other threads.

I am not quite sure what makes a beautiful day seem heavy or hard. Maybe I imagine sadness into open spaces or maybe that giant glass sculpture we walked through in the meatpacking district really did have a deeper effect than I thought.

I guess I think there is a way to experience beauty in the negative. It looks like sadness over sketchbooks that stay closed and sadness over craft boxes that stay hidden under beds. It looks like doodled inspiration for home improvement projects and the keyboard leaning in the corner of the living room.

And maybe that is the sadness that makes Saturdays feel heavy, because beauty needs space.

Beauty needs to be breathed in without a city metronome. Beauty needs to hear us say “Yes” when it isn’t convenient or instantly beneficial and sometimes my voice gets garbled up in my throat. Sometimes it is hard to know what is beautiful and life feels too crowded to do anything slowly.

That’s probably why I ended up sprawled out on my neighbor’s floor, looking at photographs of America in the 1900s. Photographs were different then – few were taken an arm’s length away. I turned the black and white pages slowly, reading captions and imagining the stories that unfolded after the moments were captured.

This is some of the beauty that got weaved in, but it made me aware of the beauty that got left out. How can I get more of the discernment to know which is which? And is it okay to be sad that I’m not better at choosing?

We’re in the middle of fashion week in this fine city. I know this mostly because I’ve seen more 6+ foot beauties working the sidewalks like runways. I don’t know how the wind follows them so it always blows their manicured hair in the right direction, but it is impressive. They look the right amount of tussled and flustered, with the cold concrete city as a backdrop.

And we’re all just trying to make space for beauty.

We are all trying to choose what is beautiful even when life feels too crowded to enjoy anything slowly. There is both nothing and too much to do on our lists of lovely things. Maybe I’ve imagined this weight and we do not need to be brave about beauty. But maybe not.

Maybe it is okay to feel like days have weight.

Maybe it is okay to be sad about beauty that never gets used or loved or held. Maybe it is okay that a sculpture sunk your spirit and it is okay that the feeling followed you all day.

Maybe beauty has weight and needs space.

miracle: a guest list of practical strangers

Let me tell you about a miracle that happened last night.

It happened in one of those warehouse-turned-apartments in Williamsburg because that’s where my new friend Schuyler lives. That’s the address we took two buses to find because the trains were a mess.

She’s been here three months, a transplant from San Diego and she happened to be sitting behind me at church a few weeks back with her friend and recent transplant from Texas, Grace. Grace lives far from Williamsburg on the Upper West Side, but the two of them work at Patagonia in Manhattan. When I turned around for the “passing of the peace” we almost instantly talked like old friends. We followed up after the benediction and in those short 10 minutes we had exchanged numbers and agreed to throw a pretend thanksgiving party together.

I didn’t try to temper the excitement I felt. It was more like we were reconnecting than just meeting for the first time, more like we couldn’t wait to get back into the groove of friendship than just starting a series of awkward introductions.

Because this is usually how it goes:

“Hi, nice to meet you… what was your name?”
“Caroline, yes so good to meet you – have we met before?”

“I’m not sure but good to meet you again, now what do you do?”
“I work for a non-profit in Cypress Hills, working with middle school students. How about you?”

“I’m a freelancer (video editor, producer, photographer, actress, animator, painter).”
“Wow, that’s really cool!”

“Yeah, well good to meet you – again, I guess! We should get together sometime.”
“You too and that’d be great!”

It sounds pretty normal, if it only happened once. But it’s a constant conversation in this city because how does anyone have time to follow up with people, to invest time and treasure, to sit down and listen to the longer version of stories? So, instead, we run into people at church or in the apartment hallways or at the corner store and we have these same conversations all over again.

The emails flew across the interwebs in preparation for our pretend thanksgiving. We shared the recipes we would be “trying out” (because everyone needs a practice run before setting the real Thanksgiving dinner table) and confirmed the date/time/address. Invitations went out to more people and our pretend thanksgiving party of practical strangers grew to ten.

Yes, strangers throw parties together and this is what the menu looks like when they do:

To Drink:
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Mulled Holiday Wine
Pinot Noir

Appetizers:
cheese and meat plates
fresh sourdough bread
bacon wrapped dates

Dishes to Pass:
buttered, roasted chicken
mashed maple sweet potatoes
cornbread stuffing with mushrooms and herbs
roasted butternut squash with brussel sprouts
fresh bean and couscous salad

Desserts:
Classic Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie a la mode

What makes this a miracle? you might say with your skeptical spectacles pulled down on your cynical nose. Well, let me tell you.

may have been the only photo snapped all night... too many other wonderful things to think about
may have been the only photo snapped all night… too many other wonderful things to think about. My new good friend Grace is taking the picture.

Ten brand new friends held hands around two pushed-together-tables last night to say grace over a delicious spread of humble, homemade offerings. Ten brand new friends laughed and toasted and slowly savored small kitchen victories on paper plates inside the concrete city that never sleeps. Ten brand new friends reclined with full bellies, drawing the joy of the night out into the morning.

This is a miracle.

God made a way for friendship – for ten new friends to linger over fellowship and to let laughter seep out the warehouse windows into the night.

He planned and ordained gatherings such as these before we ever made our first introductions. I imagine His delight as we act out the miracle He authored in friendship – as we celebrate around a table and enjoy one another.

Delight is the taste on my tongue this morning – Lord’s delight and mine (I imagine) are intermingled as I think about the next menu, the next guest list of practical strangers, the next gathering to glorify the One who ordained friendship in the first place.

Coming soon: the Amelia Bedelia kitchen experience leading up to the pretend thanksgiving party.

lessons in intervals

My mom doesn’t have time to write emails.

She juggles four schedules, a full-time job with teenagers, foster mom shenanigans, and now post-lymes disease syndrome is in the mix. She doesn’t really have time to read my blog or call me on the phone or listen to my heartsickness because she has a world that refuses to fit inside each day’s minutes.

I was standing on the subway platform waiting for the J train at the Crescent stop last week and the tracks made a very squeaky interval that sounded like West Side Story. It sounded like, “There’s a place for us…” and the phrase started accompanying the train’s song.

It took me back to all those nights with my mom in the piano room where we would practice listening for the “NBC” interval, the “happy birthday” interval and all those other intervals. She would play one and we would guess a fourth or fifth or seventh. I’m not sure why she had time to teach us things like that or how she had time to make them fun. We weren’t paying her for piano lessons and it wasn’t the easiest activity to undertake with five hooligans in a constant game of chase around the house.

But, I remember sitting there and sometimes rolling my eyes through my lesson. I remember her exasperation and her persistence. I remember thinking that she wanted me to learn intervals more than I wanted me to learn intervals.

“There’s a place for us…”

It’s like playing word association with melodies – like hearing fragments of stories sliding around on the breeze. And, anyway, hearing that interval from West Side Story was like comfort food. I was the only one standing there, looking at the sun going down and trying not to sigh into the New York commuter face. And I tasted the comfort in those notes – notes that took me back to the nights I learned intervals sitting next to my mom on that old, dented piano bench.

Yep, I thought. There is a place for me here, a place for us.

I got an email the other day from my mom.

Did you know that the color of the tree leaves in the fall is actually the ABSENCE of chlorophyll (which is required for photosynthesis)??

So let’s get this straight.  The leaves are more beautiful in color when they are empty of the thing that makes them green.  Hm..

Am I more beautiful when I’m empty?  Is this what 2 Cor 12:9 means?

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

Leaves get empty and what is left behind are cold fireworks that float to the earth in friendly piles. Leaves get empty of what makes them alive and that is when leaves get beautiful.

Why did God make even death and absence beautiful? Why did He get so creative with the season that ushers in winter?

I imagine he could have done many other productive things, tended to many other beautiful endeavors. Why think to drain the leaves of life and replace them with cold, colorful flames?

Because even (and especially) in this detail God is loving us. He is gently and divinely displaying His glory. He is drawing us into wonder, into whimsy and wide eyes. He is painting his beauty in the emptiness of creation and (maybe) revealing that He can transform something dead.

It was an email like interval lessons and my mom doesn’t have time for any of it. She is weak, like all of us, and today I’m glad for the lesson on power in weakness because we both need it. She is probably taking a lymes-induced nap before powering through Sabbath evening while I warm by afternoon window sunlight and think about the beauty of emptiness.

The first part of the Sabbath felt smooshed and time empty. It felt a little restless and run hungry. I needed to hear that familiar interval – the sound of Scripture reminding me that I shouldn’t ever fight to be full. I needed to remember that God considers His creation a worthy investment – a fitting canvas to display His glory in nonsensical ways.

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.

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.

I shall not want

It happened yesterday in Prospect Park – when I was rounding the bend down the slope, right after I stopped to take a picture of the lake. The Saturday children’s soccer games were in the middle of playful competition on the fields, various groups clustered around pastel balloons for birthday parties, and there was a small gathering who had followed hand-painted wooden signs down a slight slope to celebrate a wedding.

The colors were turning, but soft like a whisper. The sun was making warm paths of light to reach the turning leaves on the opposite side of the lake.

I got emotional.

I suppose that isn’t surprising, given my emotional history and over-dramatization of most events, at least for story’s sake. But it did surprise me and I had to close my eyes for a few paces to collect myself.

Have you ever stretched out your fingers into rays of sunlight? All the mystery of those rays reaching us, dancing on our fingertips, evading our capture – it normally makes me marvel. How is it that the light that warms our faces comes from a gigantic spherical furnace? How is it that it gets as far as earth and remains at the perfect distance to sustain life? How is it?

Normally, rays of light and soccer games and birthday parties and wedding celebrations make me marvel, but yesterday they made me emotional. I guess because I couldn’t hold the light or be in the soccer game or sit with the ladies in lawn chairs or wave a flag at the wedding.

I felt very small and very disconnected – like knowing and being known here is too distant a thing to reach.

The faces I met – on bikes and in strollers and in road weary running shoes – I did not know, not a single one. Commotion is not hard to come by in this city and with it the potential that I am missing out on something beautiful. Festivals, neighborhood parties, service events, art openings – commotion and opportunity and all this potential for beautiful make me acutely aware when I am outside and unattached.

This is not my city, yet. And it took me a while to shake the feelings last night or to do more than resolve the feelings away. Sometimes it is good to feel what you feel – to step into it fully and make peace with the way it got tangled inside.

This morning, I have different eyes to see the shortness in my chest for what it was: fear.

Today I’ll reach out and let the same sun dance on my fingertips, but I will choose to marvel because I have a God who keeps His promises. I know a God who is my Savior and who has promised to provide and protect and preserve these bones.

I shall not want.

fight the face

One week + two days and I’m already fighting the face.

It’s everywhere – on the subway, the sidewalks, the streets. Expressionless, the face often walks with headphones and looks most like aggressive stoicism. It says, “Don’t talk to me, don’t bother me, I’m important and confident and trying to play it NYC cool.”

I’m not good at the face. I smile too much and I think I come by that naturally – probably because there is always a conversation going on in my head worthy of laughter. The face says all things opposite to how I feel (please talk to me, I don’t mind being bothered, I’m not anything too special, and you and I both know I’m not NYC cool).

I’m not good at it, but I’ve still felt my eyebrows and cheekbones and jawline try to slide into this unhappy city facial posture.

I’m going to keep fighting it. Because joy is worth showing on your face.

So far, I’ve got only love for Brooklyn.

when you’re in an earthquake, sing

God provides.

Sometimes, He provides less than what we ask because He wants to give more than what we think.

That’s what happened tonight, anyway. My new roommate and I plodded our way to the 5 pm service, weary of apartment hunting and feeling like the persistent widow at the Lord’s door. “Please, Lord, provide!” We thought we were asking for His provision of an apartment today. We thought that was the only way His provision would happen.

And He did provide, but we’re still without an apartment. Instead He gave us Himself. We sat and drank in the words of the sermon from Psalm 77 and then we broke bread and drank the wine of communion.

He provided Himself and we got filled up.

He provides always, because He is a Provider. It is not in His nature to do anything else. Today His provision was Himself – which is not technically an apartment – but is more than abundant to meet our needs.

This is the firm foundation I can sing upon when there is an earthquake underfoot.

this tree grows in Brooklyn

What happens when an overflowing cup is set outside in a downpour – can it get more overflowed?

I don’t know the logistics or the practicalities of that question, but I can tell you that, yes, a cup that “runneth over” can get caught in a mid-summer downpour and that, yes, the overflow can grow. I can tell you this because it happened yesterday.

It was a quiet day – too quiet. I interviewed for a job last Monday in Brooklyn and they said they would let me know “by the end of the week” and it was already 5 pm EST. Somewhere in the middle of the day I realized I wasn’t waiting for the call. I wasn’t out-of-my-mind anxious or afraid or weary.

I was full to brimming with joy. With or without this job, I was moving to NYC on August 25th. With or without this job, I was trusting God to provide. With or without this job, I was enjoying God’s presence.

I didn’t need this job to confirm my cross-country move because the Lord already confirmed His faithfulness in my heart.

I didn’t need anything to be figured out before I got on the plane. I didn’t need this job to feel peace about moving. I was already overwhelmed with peace in the middle of all the madness.

But, God granted such a special grace yesterday when he unleashed the heavens on my already overflowing cup. I had just finished writing a blog post about this excitement being like jumping on a hot air balloon ride without a destination. I still knew nothing about the next month, but I was giddy with anticipation.

That’s when the downpour happened – a call from NYC and the invitation to join the team in the Cypress Hills neighborhood. I felt like my heart said, “Really, Lord? I was already all in, job or no job… and then you provided way before I felt desperate. This is too much.”

Anything else I write today will just sound like mush because I’m swimming in abundance. Why would God grant more when my cup is already overflowing? I don’t know, He’s just that good I guess.

This tree is going to grow in Brooklyn and I can’t wait to spread my roots! I’m super pumped to share Brooklyn space with one of my favorite bands, The Lone Bellow, and this is one song I’m sure I’ll be singing on these same streets. I’ve posted it before, but it’s too good not to share again.