|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.

why communion makes me weepy

I used to be ashamed at the tears squeezing out the corners of my eyes when I walked up to take communion. I used to think I was too much removed from those summer camp experiences where tears and emotions seemed more appropriate. I used to think getting teary-eyed at the communion table would reveal some of the messy layers of my life I try to keep hidden – the less tidy and more sinful layers.

Sometimes I still try to blink away the emotion. I’ll try to focus on something other than the weight of my eternal destiny and the Savior who stepped in to change my course. Tonight, I let the tears slip down as I walked up the aisle.

I sang along to “Jesus Paid it All” in a soft murmur, believing every word because sin had left a crimson stain but He washed it white as snow.

And that’s a miracle.

It’s okay to get emotional when unbelievable things happen and it’s okay to have that emotion on a weekly basis. Because my salvation doesn’t make any sense.

When I take the bread and drink the wine, proclaiming Christ’s death until He comes again, I am believing that His death was sufficient to cover my sin. I am believing Christ as my substitute and that He ransomed my soul from the pit of emptiness by putting Himself inside that pit.

Unbelievable.

It isn’t a long walk between the wooden pews to the front of the church, but it’s long enough. The upright bass, piano, and saxophones accompanied my reflection and the tears were persistent.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

There’s no good reason for this weak child to find or be found, but God called my heart out of darkness into light. And so the short walk before I rip off the bread and drink the wine from the cup is full of ways I’m not worthy, ways I’m overwhelmed by God’s gift.

My tears may sound like nonsense, but I suppose to my heart it is the opposite. I am not sad for my salvation, just overwhelmed by it – by the bigness of it and the unlikeliness of it.

The walk back to my wooden pew after that little feast is always a beautiful celebration. I am always breathing deep sighs and lifting up my chin because as weighty as that communion dinner is, His grace is weightier still. Anything I may have brought up with me – shame or guilt or fear or doubt – He already covered in the sacrifice on the cross and I am free of it.

I get weepy at communion. It’s just a thing that happens every Sunday. Sometimes I try to hide it and blink it away, but other times I let those little tears roll because communion is a an emotional encounter.

the least likely place to feel worldly secure

Where, would you imagine, is the last place in the world you could feel secure?

A fashion trade show in Las Vegas, teeming with the fashion conscious, industry hungry, ladder climbers, perhaps?

This is a very legitimate “least likely place in the world” if you find security by way of comparison. There are beautiful people everywhere. Literally, we’ve spent the last 3 days looking across the aisle at American Apparel models parading around in front of their 8 foot poster likenesses in all their ‘made in the USA’ glory.

If you go down the hall or up the stairs to the big times, it’s even crazier – where the largest global market week for contemporary fashion earns its title.

Everybody’s got a limit and I think I just hit mine like a brick wall. I’m not a fashion conscious, industry ladder climber and I can still feel like 15 years old around people who are.

But, guess what? Sitting right smack dab in the middle of the least likely place to feel worldly secure (with my TJ Maxxed top and my thrifted jeans and my plump petite size), I’m the same amount of self-confident.

I’ve done a lot of people watching these last couple days. I’m sure people have done a lot of watching me too, but I didn’t really notice. There is a point, in the wee hours of 6 am, where I shrug at the mirror and say, “It’s not going to get any better than this” without too much fight. But often, in all my watching of fashion comings and goings this week, I would start to smile a little bit (hopefully underneath my facial expression, but I can’t promise that).

I would smile because even if I always feel 15 around people who are supremely fashionable, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel less accepted or less approved or less loved.

Isn’t that magical?

Worth is not negotiable. Approval is not a trend. Acceptance is not a fad – not for this girl, anyway.

I already have the approval of the most important audience and I did absolutely nothing to gain it. Not a single thing. It’ll shock me every time, but maybe this week more than others because it feels like people try so hard to gain worth and approval and acceptance.

I smile because this day is full of reasons to rejoice and worrying about what I eat or drink or wear or buy is a big distraction to that joy.

Tomorrow, I’ll get off the plane in Brooklyn and call it home for my weary, vagabond feet. I’ll figure out the trains and maybe someday soon stop living out of a carry-on suitcase. I’ll find a local deli and make friends with the neighbors. I’ll people watch on the corner and join the massive morning commute. I’ll put one foot in front of the other and every footstep will take me in the direction of something new. I will shake off the distractions of “all other things” and smile because of the first and best thing.

I can’t think of a better/worse place from which to set sail, because I’m not really leaving from anywhere and that can really confuse an identity. But, not this girl. Well, that’s what I’ll keep preaching to myself.

I am approved, accepted, and loved because God approves, accepts and loves.

He is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He is steadfast and certain. He is kind and patient, tender and just. He is my rock and fortress. This is my Lord who gives me identity, wherever my nomad feet roam and whatever my little hands do.

This is my Lord and my security.

what does freedom look like?

I remember having a conversation with my friend Sarah in Honduras – we were sitting on the patio at a café and blocking out the construction noise. We were talking about what it would look like for a person to live as if truly forgiven.

There was a point, soon after we asked the question, where we ran out of words. We just sat there with our eyes in the air and our imaginations running wild. I think we both giggled to break the silence and then agreed that a truly forgiven life would look like freedom.

This morning, that freedom found footsteps as the pastor preached through Galatians 5:13-26. We are designed to walk, but it’s an “out-of-balance” exercise – every footstep is like falling until our feet find the ground again. Movement is uncertain and uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Movement in any direction means leaving what is safe and stable (even if just because it is known).

But, we are made to move.

If we didn’t move ever, at all… we would never feel the freedom of motion. We would never get anywhere or experience anything outside of our shoulder width stance. Our safety in what is known would also be our prison, and one we choose for ourselves.

How does freedom work? How do footsteps happen?

After church today, over Panera with my uncle Tom and cousin Vince, we talked about freedom footsteps. Because walking is not an abstract activity. It’s not something you experience by dreaming or talking or thinking. Walking is something you experience by doing and we were made to do it.

So, how do freedom footsteps happen? Because Paul tells the Galatians that we were called to it.

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.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

We were called to a freedom that breaks us out of the prison of pride and idolatry, safety and self-promotion. We are no longer held captive by the idols that informed our spiritual paralysis. Through the work of the Spirit, by the grace of God, our feet shake the fear weighing us down.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Our walk – our freedom footsteps – displays the power and glory of the Savior who set us free. We do not keep in step with the Spirit to prove our worth. We keep in step with the Spirit to express our freedom.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.(Galatians 5:13-26, ESV)

Tonight, I met up with my dear friend Emma. We used to meet weekly for “Dream Sessions” where we challenged each other creatively and tonight we had a reunion. She is a very special inspiration and kindred spirit. Her wisdom is crazy years beyond her high school age. As we talked about freedom and footsteps, she shared this quote from memory:

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” -thought to be spoken by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

A ship is not made to sit in the harbor, but it can only sail if it is released from the shore. And the same is true of us: by God’s grace we are released from the chains of our shoulder width stance to the freedom of forward motion. Walking with the Spirit is not meant to gain our freedom, but to express it.

have you ever seen a tree dance?

Psalm 1 is one of my favorite word pictures in the Bible. Trees are a reminder of what happens when the Lord provides – the deep roots, lush leaves, and sprawling canopy flourish because of the Lord’s care.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1, ESV)

But every analogy has something in common: a limit.

A tree is inadequate to describe what we are completely “like” as we follow the Lord. As we move from one degree of holy to the next, we are not just rooted deep in the ground and stretched out to bear fruit. A tree as a picture of our sanctification is limited, even if it is a tree that prospers in and out of season and whose leaf does not wither.

Our Christian life is “like a tree,” but it is also more than this. We are rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17-19) but we have also inside of us the brilliant excitement that caused David to dance with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14). We have access to abundant life (John 10:10) in Christ, the kind that makes us want to sing and praise and laugh and shout (Acts 16:25, Psalm 98:4, Psalm 47).

Yes, loving the Lord and growing in this love means being like a tree, but it also means being like the bride and groom at the wedding I went to yesterday.

His gleeful squeals with outstretched arms and smile-covered face looked nothing like a tree. He was not composed and stately. He was drowning in joy and his bride was radiant with expectation. They were both very un-tree like when they bounded down the aisle after the “Mr. and Mrs. Groves” announcement and jumped into the air under the cloudy sky.

Their joy spilled out… it got into our hearts as we watched them celebrate. The love that was rooted and established in their identity as children of God was now displayed in their commitment to one another as united by God.

I have never seen trees dance.

have seen the glory of the Lord spilling over our ability to describe it. Yesterday, watching Riley and Brooke get married, was one of those times.

 

when you need a real rescue

Platitudes wouldn’t be enough.

I knew the conversation was S.O.S. caliber before it started, judging by the CAPS in the text message.

“AH! I’m just so frustrated, but it’ll be okay,” she said, when I got her on the line.

She was giving me the litany of reasons the day had unraveled and all of them were legitimate. This friend of mine is not one to over-dramatize anything, so when she says she is, “frustrated” and that “this is so hard” out loud… it’s getting desperate.

She knows.

She knows God is good and that’s why she followed her frustration so quickly with, “… but it’ll be okay.” She knows God’s character of faithfulness and that He is trustworthy. She believes it, too. But…

Sometimes we need to speak the depth of our drowning so we know to cry out for a real rescue.

We need to open our eyes underwater and see how desperate the situation in order to delight rightly in our rescue from those depths. It’s not enough to say “it’ll be okay,” even if we know it will.

Because that flippant faith doesn’t give God enough glory. He is God when we are desperate – not because our trials are little things, but because they are big. He knows all the thousands things that went wrong in our day and how desperate they have made us. He doesn’t want us to brush them aside with a simple, “… but it’ll be okay.”

Minimizing problems with platitudes does not glorify God’s magnificence.

Being honest about the depth of our drowning means being honest that we need a real rescue. A real rescue – not the kind that gives you a quote or a margarita at the end of a long day. Those will never pull you up from desperate depths.

Nope, an S.O.S. like I got last night is an opportunity for us to believe God to be faithful to reach as far down as our day has gone. And she did. She spoke out her need and called out for real rescue. She stepped into the kind of belief that makes God seem the glorious Rescuer He is. He will rescue, when we believe Him for it. 

My friend remembered Wesley Hill’s words recently in a lecture at Bethlehem Baptist, “Ignoring is not the path to redeeming.”

When we have sin and struggle and stress and sadness, our redemption will always come by way of an honest assessment that we are drowning and in need of a real rescue.

there is a record repeating

There is a record repeating inside your head.

I don’t know what your record sounds like, but I can tell you mine. While baking and biking and bantering with my dear friend this weekend, I leaned in to hear all the layers of God’s grace. While running and laughing and backyard bonfiring, I tried to feel the beat of His provision for my soul.

Some things are too precious to pare down into typed phrases… the music rightly refuses to be smashed into lyrical lines. But as much as beauty transcends structure, it also acquiesces in a way that allows us to see and hear the glory.

Ok, enough of the abstract.

Today the words of Psalm 18:30-31 gave lyric to the melody I’ve been hearing for the past week. Deep inside the anxious moments full of questions – those moments that threaten to steal beauty’s song (When will I move to NYC? Will I have a job? Am I stupid for relocating across the country? Is God’s grace deep enough to reach me when I’m stupid? Money – do I have to make it?), God is there. Deep inside the moments where I don’t know how to rightly enjoy all the gifts – when I am drowning in blessings and beauty and grace – God is there. As sure as Mt. Everest is rooted in the ground of China and Nepal, God is steady and faithful and sure. Always.

Steady, faithful, sure.
Steady, faithful, sure.

This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—

There is no debate, no blessing, no disaster, no gift, no doubt or heartache that can alter His character. Who is like God? No one. Absolutely no one can say what God can say and be truthful.

This record repeating in my heart found words today in these verses. I have been singing them all day long, trusting and hoping and believing that the word of the Lord proves true.

And as I trust his way is perfect, his word is true, his shield is refuge – as I believe these things deep inside the tangled mess of beauty/grace/anxious/doubting moments – I claim His victory over death and His provision of life.

He is steady. He is faithful. He is sure.

What a beautiful record repeating in my soul. Now, that my heart would align with the song!