watch over us

In the past couple days, I have:

  • eaten a bag of popcorn for lunch
  • stood out on my fire escape in a snowstorm (a very underwhelming one)
  • used the mom voice to co-workers who are twice my age and raised my mom’s teacher eyebrows at them
  • gone to sleep early
  • had weird dream/nightmares about a giant pizza
  • eaten a personal, Brooklyn organic pizza for dinner (with a side of mint chip ice cream)
  • squatted in the middle of a crowded train after shedding a few winter layers – whatever it takes to prevent the unthinkable, folks
  • sang in every room of the apartment
  • talked for 1.5 hours with my uber wise grandparents
  • wrote and performed a rap over skype to my mom’s 6th grade class (who are in the middle of a hip-hop unit)
  • spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to coax Baby K into acrobatics with folk music
  • read a bedtime story to my favorite Michigan family, who were all snuggled into my nephew’s bed
  • sent a million urgent emails that my office won’t read, about what they are supposed to have done by Friday at 3 pm when the plug is pulled on our current office and we move into our new space

And that’s just the past couple days and that’s not even all of it. I just want to let you in, friend. I wanted you to know it’s not all saltines and sadness over here in the big city. Even though it’s been awhile since I’ve successfully buttoned my pants (let’s be honest, I haven’t done that for a LONG while), we’ve been able to fit a good amount of laughter into these winter days.

I can actually remember when the first laughter happened, after the very dark night of early pregnancy and the flu. I felt okay when I woke up that Saturday and we woke up slowly, smiling. We ate a bit and I still felt okay. (And all the while inside I was saying, “So far, winning!”). I remember, several times, hearing myself giggle and being surprised. What an unfamiliar sound – that laughter – and oh where has it been?

We ran a few errands and I still felt okay, so we got really ambitious. We went to Long Island City with our heads down against an unforgiving wind to get to my coworker’s birthday party. After mingling with the Irish, English, Polish and Spanish accents, we hit up a little cafe in the West Village where our friends were playing. By this time, it was getting respectably late and we were both impressed. On the way to the subway with our silly friends, we stopped to buy what I was craving (Cooler Ranch Doritos) and then took up the whole sidewalk like the younger version of ourselves – up to clean mischief.

I remember thinking how strange it was to be so surprised by my joy – surprised by the sound of laughter and surprised by the feel of a smile stretched across my face. It felt good and illusive all at once, like the longing the C.S. Lewis always talks about.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently, at the suggestion of my therapist. It was called, “Praying our Tears” and I should probably listen to it again. “Expect tears, invest tears, and pray your tears,” he said, after reading Psalm 39:12-13 and Psalm 126:1-6.

If we’re talking Psalms, there are more lamentations than any other kind. That makes sense to me – the weight of sorrow needs a place to land. The world is brimming full of it, with the words of even one story. And I have a hard time believing there will be a harvest from my sorrow (Psalm 126:5), if I plant my tears. I am okay to let my sorrow be an end in itself – that thing I crawl up inside when nothing makes sense. And I have been struggling to let sorrow and joy live together.

But God says I have to plant my sorrow. As Keller says, “to see my tears as an opportunity for fruit and growth.” That’s a far cry from where I am now, but I can hear it and that feels like progress. Joy will be the harvest when I plant my tears in compassion for others, in prayer, in love, in patience. Tears actually produce joy, he says. Again, I’m a critic. I believe tears can produce joy (2 Corinthians 4:17), but I am a critic in my weak flesh.

“There’s a kind of joy that comes through avoiding tears – that doesn’t really change you. Then there’s a kind of joy that comes through the tears that does.” – Keller

I’m learning.

His last point answers the question, How do we plant our tears? Prayer. Pray everything – all the biggest and worst and most confusing emotions. Pray them with shaking fists and pray them in the hot shower and pray them in confession kneeling in church on Sunday. Pray. Pray for opportunities and direction and fields and the right soil. Pray for strength to throw out the sloppy, wet messes and pray for belief in what is planted. Pray.

Praying has been hard for me. I’m a steadfast, headstrong believer … but praying is hard sometimes.

This song has been helping. It feels to me like a prayer – one without answers or a lot of boldness, but a prayer that is honest and believing. A prayer that lets me laugh and cry in the same day without having to sort it out.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

in the habit of naming good

“Our task in the present … is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.” N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope

Then came the morning, today. Somewhere far away from city clouds, the rhythm God set in motion so long ago woke up like it was waiting for the rest of the sentence.

…then came the morning.

I started thinking on the phrase when Lone Bellow released a single by that name from their upcoming album. It’s so weird that you can’t resist the morning.

Like a light, like a stone rolled away… the morning.

Jesus’s resurrection happened in the morning, after that third day. Seems like it was the most fitting way for him to conquer death, with the sunrise as a backdrop after night took over at noon the day before. And we are supposed to be resurrection people – baptized into the very resurrection of Jesus to live transformed lives – lives lit with the rhythm of the morning.

But that sounds way more glorious then sewing the seam of my shirt at work today, hunched in front of my computer monitor and trying to appear nonchalant about the rip that I can only blame on my hips. It sounds more triumphant than my sob session after church on Sunday with a dear friend who stood in front of me until I got all my sorrow out.

But I can’t resist the morning. It is God’s clock, the sunrise timepiece He throws over this little earth at the beginning of every day. Sometimes, I shut my eyes and shake my head and furrow my brow against it, like the valiant efforts of a stubborn child. And then sometimes, giggles get out and eyes open wide on a bike ride back from Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue – down the stretch of hills and green lights before Empire. I biked right into that little bit of resurrection sunrise at 11 pm and I said, “This is good.”

It is good to name good.

Maybe it is another way to be image bearers, to be fully human – to name good without any qualifiers or reservations or conditional statements. Because, in the beginning everything was good. God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the stars, the plants and creatures and oceans and lands, and then He said, “This is good.” Then He made humans and said, “This is very good.” There is power in his “good” declaration and we are invited into it as His image bearers. There are still good things here, on earth. All the “good” is not gone from God’s declaration and we (resurrection people) are invited to name all the “good” things about God’s design.

But, boy, is it hard.

I am praying to get more in the habit of naming “good,” believing that God has not forgotten what He so carefully designed. I know because… then came the morning.

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

 

something worth bleeding out

Last night, Brandi Carlile invited The Lone Bellow back up on stage in the middle of her set, backlit by a lazy summer sun at the Simon Estes Amphitheater in Des Moines. They were the opening act, these brilliant three, but they were the reason my sister and I paid the big bucks to sprawl out on a blanket by the river with expensive drinks (the kind they make you buy inside after making you dump your waters at the door).

Something clicked when they sang this song. It’ll get unhinged soon enough. I’ll forget and I’ll fret and I’ll fury. But something about those few minutes was bound to break my blog silence.

Vacation was too good to me. It swallowed up my bones in bliss and I was happy there, really happy. Every clockless morning and every unplanned afternoon, every impromptu tennis match and every adventurous trip down to the beach, every late night campfire-lit conversation, every slice through the water in the kayak, every forest run, every conversation – everything.

Vacation swallowed up my bones in bliss.

I didn’t really know how to shake myself out of it – how does bliss make sense with clocks and schedules and plans and expectations? How do you get un-swallowed? How do you not wish yourself back in those blissful moments when you’re in moments that feel so regular?

Then The Lone Bellow started to sing and I started to sway with all my hippy hair, belting out this brilliant tune.

Yes, I lost myself a little bit and I’m not worried about your judgment.

I was probably 1 of 10 concert-goers who had heard of The Lone Bellow, so I was definitely one of few singing along. But, I belted it anyway – like the ba-ba-da was something inside me fighting to find air.

There is a reason life isn’t endless vacation.

And that reason made sense as I swayed to this tune,

“Breathing in, breathing out, the salt in my mouth
gives me hope that I’ll bleed something worth bleeding out”

It might not shake vacation dust off your feet, but it did mine. This is an anthem that says our hands should get dirty and calloused and worn, an anthem that reminds us that respite gives fuel for our daily fight against the lies we can sometimes escape on vacation.

“All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us
And they shout from their rooftops words we can’t trust
Like you’re dead, you are tired, you’re ruined, you’re dust
Oh, you won’t ‘mount to nothing, like thanks full of rust”

These are the lies of life, the weary and rugged and cumbersome kind that sneak into kitchens and coffeeshops and haunt our closet space. These are the lies that try to make our lives less redeemed. But, in Christ, there is no more or less saved. There is no scale to our redemption.

Our sin entangles with all kinds of cruel efficiency and the dull hum-drum of everyday life is its favorite booby trap. But a sliding scale salvation would strip God of the power to make it complete, and we are not capable of making Him any less glorious than He is.

Thank God. Thank God He did not leave us as exiles from the kingdom of God, banished from forever beauty and bliss.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Thank God, in His grace, the blood coursing through our veins is more than mostly water. In Christ, this blood we carry around is something worth bleeding out. It is not nothing. It’s this blood, keeping us alive to proclaim that we’ve been redeemed and redemption is free by the grace of God and the cost of Christ. It is the blood by which we can sing the next lines,

But we scream back at them from below on the street
All in unison we sing, our time’s been redeemed
We are all of the beauty that has not been seen
We are full of the color that’s never been dreamed

Because nothing we need ever dies. Isn’t that so? Our needs – physical and otherwise are slippery things, but we get parched and desperate for them. We beg and plead for them, our needs. And those needs never die.

But there is one need that trumps all other needs and it’s what started beating like hope in my chest when I heard this song. There is a reason life isn’t endless vacation and it is because there is work to do. There is toil and sweat and there is work to do. My blood is worth something because Christ’s blood was shed on my behalf.

O, precious HOPE that redeems us in the bliss of vacation and in the dull hum-drum of Monday-afters. I’m still swaying to this precious hope that my life in the regulars and the weekday sways and sweats for a greater story.

Even if I was lonely, even if I was broke
Even if all the dogs in the pound left me notes
Sayin’ it’s never over, it never ends
Grab my heart and the fire, let us descend

To the darkest of prisons, break their defense
We will rattle the cages, rules will be bent
Oh, remind us our days are all numbered, not spent
And peace it comes easy like mist on a ridge

Chorus
Breathing in, breathing out, the salt in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll bleed something worth bleeding out

All the horoscopes tell us to break all our ties
To our families and loved ones we leave when we fly
To the cities we think we need in our lives
Oh, you Manhattan jungle, you tangle our pride

Chorus

All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us
And they shout from their rooftops words we can’t trust
Like you’re dead, you are tired, you’re ruined, you’re dust
Oh, you won’t ‘mount to nothing, like thanks full of rust

But we scream back at them from below on the street
All in unison we sing, our time’s been redeemed
We are all of the beauty that has not been seen
We are full of the color that’s never been dreamed

Where nothing we need ever dies
Where nothing we need ever dies

a tree I’ll grow

I had a no-show today and it’s tearing me up.

How can you just not show up to see your little baby girl? What is more important?

I’m shaking off my judgments and getting a good helping of humanity today – the unfinished, raw, and unruly kind of humanity. We are all capable of this, we are.

Still, it’s tearing me up.

This is the love I wish all the children could crawl into – the kind that never leaves and always stays, the kind of love that is older and stronger than this breath of life, the kind of love that has roots deep like a tree.

I don’t know who this song is sung to, but I’m singing it today.

Sometimes melodies are just better than plain words.