Psalm prayers + silent Saturdays

I am glad for Psalm prayers I don’t write and for Saturdays where silence can really stretch out. I didn’t realize I was whispering at the bagel shop until the sweet red-haired girl leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows over tortoise shell Warby Parkers, “Sorry, hon, what did you say?”

“Um, ehm.. I’d like an egg and avocado…”

“Oh, you want number 4 on 7 grain? Anything else?”

I felt like a child whose mom sent her out for eggs and this redhead knew I was breaking the rules. But I just bought a Dirt Devil and I’m hosting Thanksgiving, so I read the [free copy of the] New York Times like I belonged in the adult world. I picked up a few groceries on my way home. And when I got home, I stayed. I baked and pureed pumpkin, hand wrote a few cards, made brown sugar+cinnamon+chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow, put away dishes and drank tea. (Okay, I also ate four Oreos but I did not feel good about that). At some point in the middle of the candlelit silence, I read this:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7 ESV)

And I breathed prayers without any new words. All these Psalm words are prayers enough and my words can’t get that big. My words can’t make heavens and my breath can’t make host to fill them. The waters ignore my commands and the deeps don’t respond. Only God can do this. And only God would want to cause this kind of creation commotion when He needs no one and no thing.

I feel very created today, very in my place.

Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

Why is the One who gathers the waters in a heap also my help and shield? And how is He that?

The radiator is hissing in the corner, sputtering like antique apartment heaters do. It feels selfish to stay indoors, but I don’t feel well and I can’t remember the last day when I didn’t have plans. I suppose that is an excuse. Scripture needs silent space and time. I came to no conclusions and wrote no prayers; I don’t feel better or wiser. But I am remembering. I remember who the Lord says that He is. And I remember that I trust Him.

I trust that He is God and He has not given up on His redemption plan. He is very much in the middle of making all things new – old things and dead things and dry bones and this old, stubborn heart.

I’ve been a lot of inward lately. Last week, I was walking out of the subway after a frustrating stop-and-go “We are delayed because of train traffic ahead. We apologize for any inconvenience” situations. I was bundled and hunched and leaving sighs on the sidewalk when someone touched my arm and pulled me close. Patrick was leaving to go to work, but caught me just in time to say, “Hey, I love you.” I hoped that he couldn’t see all the self-pity in my face because the streetlight lit up his and it was full of the best husband love.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1 ESV)

Sometimes living is labor. I don’t mean working the 9-5. I mean just living. I let Psalm 127:1 sing over some of the silence today until it felt like my deeps started to listen.

And I remember. Unless the Lord builds the house (read: plans, days, vocation, prayer, family, community), I will labor in vain. My building efforts end up being for my own glory or my own preservation or my own pride. But, the Lord – He is a great builder and none of His plans go to waste. None.

It is still Saturday and there is a bit of it left to savor.


To read more from my grief journey, you can find those posts here.

teach me to know

The trees lit up in shades like candles on a cake in the quiet of Maine. Quiet had a sound on those winding backroads and hiking trails and it was the perfect escape. After work last Friday, Patrick scooped me up into a North-bound surprise in a rented VW Jetta with 21 miles on it. I thought about putting pen to paper a few times, but I didn’t. It was a weekend like a benediction, that deserved my palms face up and free of distraction.

And I relented. I gave in. I let sunshine joy freckle my cheeks through the windshield and forest joy crunch under my feet and marriage joy come at me from all sides. It has been pressing in for a while now, but I have been resisting. I still am, I guess – resisting joy.

And that’s strange because joy has never been this hard… joy is something I thought I really understood. And then I got married. And then my mom called to say my brother died. And now things are complicated. The reality is, things were complicated before, but it felt easier to regulate when I only had to explain things to myself. If I didn’t feel joy, I believed it was there anyway and I pushed through with gritted teeth. I sometimes got silent or reflective and I sometimes hid away until the clouds cleared, but I was almost proud that I knew my way around joy.

Now there is someone in my life whose joy is wrapped up in my joy. My sadness and silence and sour days can actually hurt him – that is how much my husband cares about my joy. There are, maybe, legitimate reasons to resist joy (or at least reasons for tension) – like grief. But then there are very selfish and very proud reasons to resist joy and I am ashamed to say I know all the reasons. To make things more complicated, I care about Patrick’s joy too. I want him to be full of the most possible joy.

And being married feels like the craziest experiment in the human condition – both the condition of being image bearers of God and the condition of being broken by sin. It’s like putting everything most precious to two people inside a clothes dryer and cranking to high heat. Maybe it’s not like that. Maybe it’s more like what Paul says in Romans, “I do not understand myself. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

I can’t tell you how badly I want to step into joy, because I know joy is strength and delight… but also because I know Patrick cares so much about my joy. And it doesn’t make any sense to resist it. Not a bit of sense.

We were making our way back to the city on Sunday and the air in that little rental car was getting crowded. As buildings stretched up into skylines instead of trees, I squirmed under the weight of city living. In the last miles of colorful highway driving, I rocked deep to this song – as deep as one can rock in the passenger seat of a traffic jam. My favorite dusk colors were getting painted across the sky and my favorite human was all delight behind the wheel.

The “carried away” part is like the beats of my soul when I resist joy – carried away by questions and doubts and fears and failures. And I can feel my fingernails pressing into my palms. Carried away. The weekend was like a benediction, one I received with open hands and one that made me aware of my everyday posture – the regular way I hold my hands and keep my heart. Ahem… nails in palms and carried away. I swayed extra because I wanted that lesson of open palms and numbering days to get stuck in my soul. Almost a week later and I have bad news to report. Looks like this is a daily declaration, friends. And some days my declaration sounds more like a question.

I am praying that the Lord would teach me to number my days – not to know how many, but to believe that He does. Praying, believing, trusting, living, believing, praying, hoping, waiting. All these things.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

 

there is a crack in the door filled with light

If God is on my side, who could be against me?

I’ll tell you who – apathy and grief and sadness and confusion and depression and discontent, especially discontent. That’s who. These are all “against me.”

It’s gonna get good and honest, friends. First, you should play this song by NEEDTOBREATHE that I danced to in my living room last week. I didn’t even care that the curtains weren’t all the way closed and our 5-feet-away neighbors could probably see me stretching out in homemade modern dance moves on slippery hardwood floors. It’s okay, they clearly don’t care that we can see them.

Well, this is officially the weirdest part of my grief story (does it keep getting weirder?) – the part where I am still living, where I still have appointments and things coming up on the weekends and plans for this summer. This is the weirdest part of grief and it wrings at my insides usually when I am least prepared. Like when we watched a beautiful, northern New York sun sink behind mountains on Sunday or every time I walk in the door after a full day of work and see the excitement in my husband’s eyes because I am home.

People will find me after this post – perfectly lovely and well meaning folks – and they will say, “Give yourself time, Caroline. Give yourself grace to feel whatever you need to feel.” I get that, or at least I think I am starting to. But, I also feel the Spirit telling me to preach Romans to my fickle heart. Grief isn’t a trump card to “do whatever you want until you feel like doing something else.” I don’t get to sin that grace might increase.

And it isn’t all grief. That is the worst part.

I think am afraid of being content. I am afraid, I guess, that being “ok” where I am professionally, creatively, and intellectually means I have given up on everything I haven’t accomplished. I think I was/am afraid that this is it. I guess I want what everyone else wants: purpose, joy, fulfillment, significance. And grief makes me want all those things more while sapping my strength to chase like I could when I was less weary. So, I am afraid to be fully where I am if that place is too humble or too confused or even just too regular.

But there is a crack in the door filled with light.

I am learning about joy. There have been sweet times in my life where I think I felt the full freedom of joy and then there are times when I would rather slum it in the wasteland then turn my head towards the light. I would rather proudly declare the things that are dark than step into the light of the open doorway. Marriage is teaching me these things about joy and it is painful. I didn’t think I would be so resistant to my own benefit.

Pat is so patient and encouraging as I sort out my grumbles. He reminds me often that joy is a choice because God is not different in dark times. God is not less light or less provision. God is the same and He is all we need to get by, really.

There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament, one of my favorites. It’s actually in that long and tedious book of Numbers (21). The Israelites, all grumbles, are out in the desert. The whole freshly exodus-ed group was telling Moses they thought it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to wander around in the wilderness (as free people with miracle food falling from heaven). Then they started to notice snakes at their ankles, snakes that bit people and bites that took their lives. The people came back to Moses and pleaded for him to do something – to speak on their behalf to God (who they knew they had offended). God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole and to tell the people that whoever would look up at the pole would live. And that’s what happened – some looked up and some didn’t, but the snakes still swerved at their ankles.

I really relate to this grumble-heavy waywardness. After being saved from a tyrant and preserved in the wilderness, the Israelites doubt that God can/will provide for them, for their joy. To experience God’s provision, the people had to obey His Word. The snakes stayed, but He saved those who believed His word because God is a promise keeper.

I wonder… I wonder how they talked about that snake-saving event – if later they said, “I am looking at the bronze serpent and I am not dying, but boy are there so many snakes around my ankles.” Because, that’s where I feel I am.

My pride keeps me from stepping into the light of joy because I really like to remember how hard it is with all these snakes. It’s hard to fully step into the provision of marriage joy and work joy and friendship joy and creation joy… because half my heart wants to talk about snakes at my ankles.

The point of “God is on my side” is not that there is no one against me. The point is that God is sovereign over everything that is against me. There is not a single snake or emotion or creative brick wall that is more powerful or able to steal the joy God provides. If God is on my side, which snake can prevail?

I’d like to stand in that crack of the door filled with light – to make statements about joy that aren’t quickly qualified by snakes at my ankles. I’d like to bring the grief and grumpiness of me into that shaft of light and believe that His light is  enough to cast out all darkness forever.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

I want to live, but not like the short breaths of a bucket list

I’m staring at a square box at the end of a grid of square boxes that says today we celebrate William being born. I’ve been staring at that box all day, in my mind. During all the lame office emergencies and in between the tip-tap typing of emails… Yes, I’ll write those meeting notes for you, Ed. Sure, I’ll create a new job number for that client. Ok, I’ll have that little envelope sent by messenger.

Everything is dust because I’m staring at a square box in my mind, a blank square box because William is not alive inside of it to be celebrated. And it feels wrong.

It is Tuesday and then it will be Wednesday and then Saturday will come and then more days after that. The days are drunk, blurring slurs with excuses about all the ways my body refuses to be productive.

I can’t seem to make any progress on the list – that growing list of normal, important, useful things – because my body is all the meaning of the word “weight.” And it is effort to pull it up, make it walk and talk and dance and think and smile. It is effort I don’t have in me.

I am called to live.

It was the phrase repeating in my head to the question printed on the guide in my lap last week. We were meditating on Acts 3, on the way Peter and John fixed their gaze on the lame man and offered him something other than what he was begging for. The guide was asking us what we are to do with our eyes and hands and hearts in this city. I could only speak in my head, but it was just that phrase, “I am called to live.”

I am not convinced I know what that means, but it feels important. And it mostly feels important by default. I still have breath. I’m here on the day my brother was born and I am breathing while he is not. So, it must be a calling. God formed me 29 years ago and has since not stopped breathing life into my bones. He is actively preserving me from death today, at least for right now. Maybe calling that a “calling” is wrong, but it is that phrase that keeps repeating.

Being back in Brooklyn reminds me how much breath there is here. So many humans and all with breath in their bones – so many folks with life happening to them because God is declaring it so. I don’t know who is really living – it’s hard to tell. I work with the moneymakers. They are happy sometimes and very unhappy other times, but they are always at the office. I live with my neighbors and my friends and all the subway riders. They have their good days and their bad days, but they (we, most of us) are always in a hurry. I wonder who is really living and who is confident to define “really living” anyway?

I want to be alive.

I don’t mean I want to skydive and eat tarantulas. This calling that is happening to me and not happening to my brother feels bigger than extreme sport clichés. I don’t want to feel alive with breath catching in my lungs like a bucket list.

I want the most core, purest essence, the singlest bottom line of all of it. I want to sidle up to the very breath of life – the slows and fasts and quiets and louds of it. I want every moment I am present to be as heavy as every moment he is absent. I want the same heaviness without any marketing or mottos or catchy repeating choruses.

We must be a wayward mess of our calling. I am, anyway. Because I can’t catch the slows and fasts on the right beat. I can’t seem to run to the right finish line. I can’t pick up the right groceries for this calling. I’ve Amelia Bedelia-ed the whole thing – always flopping wild toward what I think is life in my apron with half-baked cookies. And we are a whole city of flopping, frenzied messes chasing life and breathing in just enough of it to flop and frenzy some more.

Life must be about getting close, like a nail under a hammer inside a board, to the One giving us all this breath. The steps are messier than chronology because days are like years and my brother is not here for his birthday. And if I was a beggar today by the entrance to the temple when Peter and John walked by, I would be asking for Will. I would have hands outstretched, asking for someone to bring him back to his wife and his family and his friends. And if Peter and John fixed their gaze on me, they’d probably say something like, “William I do not have, but what I do have I give to you…”

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:6-10 ESV)

I don’t know what that means for my “calling,” except that William will never come back. I’m not called to search for him. I know where he is, because he believed in eternity and he believed that Jesus prepared a place for him there by going to the cross. He is having the best birthday with the One who made him – all the mechanical brilliance and adventurous spunk of him. But, here, I am still breathing. I have a hole in my left, black sock and I haven’t changed out of my Manhattan work clothes yet, but I am still breathing.

The closest I can think – the nail under the hammer in the board – is knowing that same Lord, the one who is deciding to give me breath. The rest of it is still suffering to make sense – the minutes in every day and the celebrations and the guilt when I get paralyzed. The rest, outside of knowing the God who gives me breath, still feels like a thousand faces staring at me on the subway.

I am called to live. And I’ll start by trying to know the Life-Giver.

I have a place to start and that’s something. As far as I know, I have a box inside a grid of boxes called October and I would like each one to prove that I am alive.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

this is my father’s world

We are in a class called the Brooklyn Fellows and it meets on Mondays. Last winter, when we were applying to be a part of it, the whole “Mondays” thing was a big deal. It meant we could only host Pancake Mondays once/month. Cutting back on the “thing” that is making me love New York felt like a weird step forward, but we thought meeting with a group of folks who also voluntarily applied to something with a required reading list and syllabus was a good enough idea.

This past weekend, we gathered with this group around a long table and before we started our discussion on a very thick Church History book (that neither Patrick nor I finished) we sang this song.

This group of strangers and friends, this city, this body, this mountain, this sea, this grief, this joy, this song, this day, this sorrow, this job, this sunshine, and this. 

This. All of this.

I know the sound of His sweet song of praise – the melody of rocks and trees and skies and seas. I can recognize the joyful tune that creation sings and I have often sung along. These are words believers sing – strong words that proclaim a funny paradox. None of this is mine. There is not a particle I can claim, of the beauty I see. Even my own body is not my own because it was bought with a price.

Still, I rush all my particles up against the gravity pushing me down to say, “Not my this. Please let this alone so I can hold it close!” That is when I feel the funny paradox the most. None of this is mine, not even the thoughts I hoard like jewels. But all of this He shares with me. That’s a lot of this. And it just expanded more than the weight of the world in the last two and a half months.


That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet. 

This is my Father’s world,
why should my heart be sad? 

The lord is King—let the heavens ring.
God reigns—let the earth be glad. 

This is my Father’s world.
I walk a desert lone. 

In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze
God makes His glory known. 

This is my Father’s world,
a wanderer I may roam 

Whate’er my lot, it matters not, 
My heart is still at home. 

This is my Father’s world:
the battle is not done: 

Jesus who died shall be satisfied, 
And earth and Heav’n be one.

When this includes deserts and wrongs and sadness and battles on battles, the last lines of “My Father’s World” become especially important. Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav’n be one. The depth of this is infinitely deeper now because He includes us in His inheritance. Everything I can grasp and hold and hoard in this world pales to that union of earth and heaven becoming one.

But, what I am grappling with today is much more tangible, much more temporary and tactile. There is joy here, in all of this. God did not stop keeping promises when my world got full of grief. He did not stop being abundant life. God did not stop authoring laughter or dancing or sunshine or autumn breezes. He still authors all those things.

This world – all the beauty and all the ugly – is His and He will hear our groans until earth and Heav’n are one. Until then, I will sing, “God is the ruler yet.”


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

dust like dry mist

fragile dust clouds,
broken and crumbled parts floating,
dancing, disappearing
like dry mist into pale sky

out of it we came
particles on top of particles,
tiny pieces knit together
when we got formed

from dust…

I don’t write much poetry anymore. Most poetry I do have reads like someone who wants to hear herself think in rhythms – seems so proud and silly now. But Patrick is encouraging me to weave words differently these days. He thinks it would help and he might be right – it might be the ambiguity that punctuated sentences cannot afford. I’ll keep trying.

We felt the first breath of autumn Saturday and yesterday morning it swooped inside our open windows to wake us from Sunday slumber. I wish the seasons wouldn’t change. I want this new absence to be as present as this moment – to always feel strange and wrong and deep. But the September sun is covering a new nook in the living room and I am reading with a cup of hot tea and a breeze around my neck. It’s that push and pull again. All the wonderful things about September are now hard things, too.

 

IMG_2357    IMG_2368IMG_2366

That’s my new favorite sun-bathing nook and the front of our new building and our bikes before we took them for a ride yesterday. We had no destination, but I knew we would be fools to not make one up. It’s September, the month that ushers in the best season.

There are apple trees in upstate orchards and farmer’s market Saturdays and favorite cardigans and pumpkin recipes for every meal. There are bike rides and football games and homemade versions of fancy hot drinks. There are these things in September and I don’t want them as much as I do.

He was born in September, but just barely. September 30th.

Missing and remembering well is hard work, because it will never feel less wrong that he is gone. It will never get balanced out in a slow fade, especially never in September.

 …to dust

our bodies passing by like specks,
caught by shafts of light at dusk,
floating without consequence
or weight.

I’ll keep trying and writing and praying. September is a hard month, but it is also beautiful.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

He will not stay hidden

I press my cheeks into the clouds covering the Nebraska sky, “Come out, come out wherever You are! You promised You could be found!”

He promised.

I keep coming back to Jeremiah 29. I memorized verse 11 in elementary and then rolled my eyes at the way it was thrown on calendars and desk organizers for high school graduation gifts, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Plans for prospering and for hope and a future. Plans the Lord declares over us, even as He knows the number of our days. Plans and true words and nothing to roll my eyes about.

The next verses seem to me an encouragement toward belief when those plans don’t make sense, “You will seek me and you will find me if you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.”

That means sometimes He will be hidden. And sometimes He will even be so hidden that we will only find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts, like finding Him is the most important thing.

And now I’m on my way to California, with my grief cheeks in the middle of Midwest clouds. And I need for that promise to be true. I need for Him to not stay hidden. I need for Him to be found and for me to be found in Him.

This is the flip side of “dying is gain,” I guess. It’s the “to live is Christ” part that is so hard to swallow. Heaven I can handle. I can look forward to eternity with the One who would stop at nothing to have me in His presence forever. I can picture days emptied of pain and full to overflowing with the Creator of everything good. Heaven I can handle. But I am not in heaven, I am here.

And God said there is abundant life, here.

When Jesus came to bring life and life abundant (John 10:10), it was with all the authority of heaven and it was not a hidden operation. Everyone who sought Him out was found by Him; everyone seeking abundance found more than they could carry.

Believing God made abundance available in these moments is the hardest game of hide and seek. But I have noticed that we are all seeking. We are all turning over rocks and looking in closets. We are looking for answers and knowing no answer will make sense.

So, I pray I would seek the right thing. I pray for belief that joy is here, that abundance is here, that life is here… because God has promised to not stay hidden from those who seek Him with all their hearts.

And He has promised to be the strength for me to seek when “all my heart” is a scattered mess that can’t be made to wholly seek anything.


I wrote this on the plane to California yesterday. Less than 24 hours later and these thoughts feel so far away. But they are thoughts and I am typing them down because they are my grief notes and it might be helping. Find all our grief notes at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.