come along with me?

Hey reader-friend.

How’s your day? I hope you’re breathing deep, loving hard, and drinking something sweet and icy because it’s a zillion degrees out here.

Here’s the deal:

If you are looking for a long, wordy, fun-to-read blog post here, you’re looking in the wrong place! The place you need to look is over at krystianawrites.com. As of this summer, I’m working from a new website space, where I can combine the type of writing I’ve done here with the type of writing that people pay money for. I’d love for you to check it out, follow along, and tell your friends. Let’s make something new together.

Thanks for all the good times!

Love,

Krystiana

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the God who dwells in darkness

darkness

You’ve probably heard: I’m from the city, and right now I live in the deep suburbs. (Four more weeks and counting down, not like I’m counting down.)

So one thing I’ve realized about the suburbs: it’s dark out here.

We don’t have that problem in the city. In the urban center, if we’re talking about light, we’re probably talking about light pollution or switching our lamps to more energy-efficient bulbs.

But out here, I sometimes have to walk home after sundown, and then I notice the lack of light. There are like six street lamps on my whole route, and mostly I try to cross the dark space between one and the next as quickly as I can. The dark is unnerving. I’m used to seeing, and it’s uncomfortable when I can’t.

And I’ve been thinking about darkness. On one level, sure: I don’t want to get mugged. But on another level, maybe our concepts of darkness-bad and light-good are a little insufficient. Maybe they don’t account for the whole story.

In the Bible, when the Lord called Solomon to build the temple and the time came to dedicate it in front of all the people, the place for God was filled with a dark cloud. Not a mist, not a Disney magic glitter, not even lightning or weird tongues as of fire: a darkness so dense that the priests couldn’t go through with their offerings. This passage tells the story:

 “And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place . . . and a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, ‘the Lord has said that He would dwell in thick darkness . . . blessed be the Lord, who with his hands has fulfilled what he promised.”

All these years, the people of God had been preparing to have this place to minister. All these years, they’d been conducting their sacrifices in a tent, or not at all, trusting that one day they would have a temple that did justice to their God and what He had done for them. A place that would show the world that here was a God worthy of worship. Now the day of dedication is here. They get to go in to the finished temple, hauling in all their artifacts, making a crazy mess and burning animals like there’s no tomorrow.

And then God shows up.

And God interrupts all the activity. Suddenly, the temple is filled with a cloud. The priests can’t even see to stand and go through with their offerings. The actual presence of God forces them out, sends them away to wait and to pray, to celebrate, to marvel at the physical realization of the Lord fulfilling his long-time promise to be a God who dwells among His people.

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me the presence of God descending in deep cloud sounds a little scary. We have this idea, in our post-enlightenment (pun unintended but important) age of information and technology and all things according to plan, that if we’re with God and God is with us, we’ll be able to see. We even know the Bible verses to back it up, because the Lord is my light and my salvation. The lamp to my feet, and in Him is no darkness, and awake sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will give you light.

Now, the people of Israel had a lot of problems, but one thing it seems they got right. On temple dedication day, they recognized the coming of God even when it looked like darkness. They recognized it, because this was how God had come to their forefathers.

The book of Exodus tells us this part:

Now when the people saw the thunder and the lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, they were afraid. And they trembled and stood far off, and they said to Moses, “you speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear. For the Lord has come to test you, that the fear of Him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

The thick darkness, where God was.

In order to encounter God, to gain spiritual sight, Moses had to physically follow, and voluntarily step up into the space where he could not see.

Meanwhile we’re over here sending people on “vision trips,” and praying for “clarity” in each other’s conundrums. And that’s good, but the danger in all those sight words is that they imply that if we’re really following God, we’ll be able to see and step forward confidently. And yet, sometimes God shows up and things don’t look bright and illuminated. Sometimes we’re plunging ahead with our plans, and God comes and shuts down our whole operation with straight up fog. Sometimes, on the way to light, we have to learn to follow a God who dwells in darkness.

Maybe the darkness is where it matters that He is our light.

Think about how God led the people of Israel in the desert. During the day, He clothed himself in cloud, and in the night He gave them blazing firelight.

Why the variation? Why not just a fire all the time?

Well, think about it this way. When you’re walking in the daylight, you don’t look for a lamp. When the sun is beaming down on the desert, why would you seek a fire?

If God came to the bright places where we feel confidence and clarity, where we feel like we can see and we can walk forward and we’ve got it under control, and God looked like just another light, we might not care.

So in the places where we start trusting our own sight, God sometimes shows up wrapped in cloud. He gets our attention by being the source not of lucid information but of mystery. When things are kind of making sense, when life is kind of routine and fitting together, God is really good at showing up with something that doesn’t fit quite as easily. A disruption, an invasion, or an invitation into a place where we can’t see anymore, and where our own judgement isn’t quite as sure. And God hangs out there until we agree to not be scared off by this place where we can’t see, or where we trust His sight more than ours. Where we can lean in like Moses, acknowledging that even here—especially here—He is present.

And in that darkness, when I acknowledge that the path is dim, that’s when I want a lamp. It’s always that way, right? When I’m confused is when I seek wisdom. When I’m hurting, comfort matters. When I’m facing my own brokenness, I remember the depth of grace.

When I realize that I would otherwise be lost in the dark, I appreciate that God is my light and my salvation. Because it’s true that in God is no darkness. But sometimes, in the darkness, there is God.

See, when the glory of God came down to the mountain in a cloud, it wasn’t just cloud for cloud’s sake. It was cloud surrounding the blazing glory of the living God. Light so permeating it set Moses’ face to shining. But to get to the glory, Moses had to agree to enter the cloud. He had to trust the presence of God more than his own perception.

To step forward, and meet the God who dwells in darkness.

boys don’t like smart girls (and other things to un-tell my high school self)

When I was in high school and tied as smartest kid in my homeschool co-op class, my mom warned me that I should probably tone it down, probably tread carefully, because you know, “guys don’t really like it when girls show that they’re smarter than them.”

Now, I love my mom. We may not see eye-to-eye a lot of times, but really I think she’s done a pretty solid job at this whole motherhood thing—especially given this daughter. If she’s maybe given some misguided input over the years, it’s a convicting reminder that if I’m ever a mother, I’ll do that too. There’s grace for that.

So I love my mom, but this time I was furious. Furious at the implication that my main object should be pleasing boys. I mean, it was up there on the list. But this is me, remember? You know, the one who has just been growing brave enough to make actual friends with guys, like, recently? If I needed advice, which I did, it wasn’t advice on how to be more guarded.

Deeper than furious, though, when I heard that line I was hurt. It cut deep to hear that this one area where I found confidence and security was also a Dangerous Bad Thing. Smart was the thing I was good at. My sister was good at sports and good at music, good at being funny and kind . . . but me, I was mainly good at being smart. Or at least it felt that way. Here was the area where I actually felt I did well, and now I was made to fear that even when I was succeeding, I was actually failing. Made to worry that I was doing it wrong, and wondering what in the world doing it right would look like. Nervous that this strong part of me would scare people away, when underneath that fake strong was a lonely kid who didn’t know how to begin letting people in, and wasn’t even sure she wanted to. So she made up for it, by showing up strong and showing up smart.

So where did that advice leave her? Her, who is actually me?

It left me assessing my walls and building them higher. Besides evaluating people against my particular profile of godliness (different problem, I had a lot, we can talk about them another time), I faithfully assessed whether they were smart enough to handle my brains. If boys were this wimpy, and if I was ever going to get married, I would just have to find someone to fall in love with me who was smart enough to not be scared. 16-year-old Krystiana might not have known much about being friends, but you’d better believe she had an exemplary homeschool-girl list of all the qualities required for a man after her heart, and “must be smarter than me” was right up top.

Yikes.

So there are maybe lots of things wrong with the “boys don’t like smart girls” situation, but a couple stand out in particular.

The first is that it is the opposite of empowering to warn people that the things they’re good at are scary. It’s crippling. It doesn’t help. As in my ramble on learning to be a body, I think what our generation needs is not just more warning against what is bad. Eventually, those warnings stop sticking. They irk us and we shake them off, and we sit there not much better than we started.

What we need is help leaning into what is good. Exhortation not just to shut down the bad stuff, but to cultivate what is beautiful and true in its place. To be told, “here is an area where you are strong: take it and live into it with joy, with humility, and with confidence.”

Even so, that’s not all the story. Empowerment isn’t a formula, and self-confidence is not the same as strength.

Believe me, I appreciate when people remind me what I’m good at. It encourages me, and makes me want to do even better (the opposite of the “you know, boys don’t really like it…” spiel). Furthermore, in this bumpy journey from being a tight-hearted insecure little girl to being a woman growing toward wholeness, I’m learning how my confidence makes me both able and responsible to inspire confidence in others. When I work from a place of security, I’m free to adapt, to listen, and to show up to remind you that I’m here for you. Remind you that when you’re doing well, I’m thrilled. That when you’re chasing this adventure or growing into that role, I’m on your team and I think we can win. Because you delight me. Because my success isn’t threatened by yours, and we’re stronger together in image-of-God strength.

But the thing is, your strength doesn’t come from you, and mine doesn’t come from me. We, together, boys and girls and just people, are in desperate need of the reminder that our strength is found in Jesus. That we are wretched, and that the ground we stand on is made of grace.

We are made to glorify God, and given abilities and callings to follow not in our own ability, but in His faithfulness. Which is why, although I delight when you’re thriving, it doesn’t shake my love when you’re not. And it’s why, although I dread (DREAD) letting you down, failing you isn’t going to break my wholeness. Because you and me, our identity isn’t in how confident we look or how well we can perform or even how faithfully we show up for each other. Our identity is rooted so much deeper than that, in unshakable gospel grace.

Those are the messages we need to be telling each other. Not “be careful about this thing you’re good at, because you could take it too far and people won’t like it and especially boys.”

Rather, “You are good at this good thing. You are strong here. Lean into this, chase it, live it to its redemption potential, soli Deo gloria.”

But under that, and after it, and maybe before it and all the way around, speaks the other truth.

The truth that, friend, your identity is not in this good thing. Not in your brains, or in your talent, or in your calling, or in the cause you stand for with all the passion you’ve got. Because some days, all those things are going to fail. Plans are going to change. You are going to let yourself down. Maybe you will let me down too. In fact, you probably will. And if those are the source of your confidence, your confidence is going to break. Because alone you are still finite, and impossibly broken. And it is grace that your identity is not in yourself.

By grace, your identity is in the love of God, incarnate in flesh and blood, lived out to death and back for you. That is what tells you who you are. It outlives your failure, because it’s already conquered death. It runs deeper than your strength or weakness, because it created them. It knows your frame, and remembers that you are dust. It makes you free.

Free to fall short, and free to keep going. Free from the control of the lies that used to hold you. Free to aim toward holiness, in the power of redemption. Free to open up and let people in, because we dwell in this grace collectively, and it is deep enough for all our failures of love or of conscience, and it shows up in us better together.

So, dear 16-year-old Krystiana, that’s what I wish you could have heard.

That, and that it’s cool that you’re smart. It’s cool that you’re a reader of books, that you’ll win awards in college for your parents to keep on the dining room shelf and never look at, and that you’ll go to grad school. But honestly, there are things about you that are cooler, and more important. And when you do go to grad school, surrounded by people showing off their smarts, you’ll realize that being intellectual is not a character virtue or a mark of quality. (And the realization will make you want to run away, but you will not, because you are learning so slowly to stay, and to be where your feet are.)

By the way, you’ll also stop caring whether you marry a boy who is smarter than you and fits your homeschool-girl list, which is great because that list sucked. You’ll care about different things. And anyway, whether you marry anyone at all is still tbd, so don’t sweat it too much.

In the meantime, it would help if you started looking at people with a little more charity, you know? A little more grace. Not just boys, and not just in regard to your smarts. That specific tip wasn’t actually helpful. But just as a general posture, you know, it would help. It would help for you to practice making more of others and a lot less of yourself. Reeeally would have made things easier on me over here if you’d been working on it a little longer. I’m feeling kind of behind the curve on this one.

But if not, hey. There’s grace here too.

Here’s to finding it and learning to live in it together. Past-me and present-me, and you my friend reading this with all your past and present too.

There’s room in this grace. It is deep. Let’s keep living here.

Sincerely,

Krystiana, broken, on the way to wholeness.

tenth-week gratitude

 It’s pretty much tradition at this point to have an increase in blog production right around the end of any school term. Whatever non-school things I’ve been neglecting, the minute I have three papers to write, chances are I’m going to do those non-school things. Questionable as that may be, this last week of winter term is as good a time as any to take a minute for pause and for gratitude.

So here, off the top of my head and between items on my to-do, are twenty things that I’m thankful for this week.

  1. A lavender mint candle, burning on my dresser as I write. If I can’t have it in ice cream, I will take it in aromatic wax.
  2. Dear people who still use your childhood nickname, when 95% of people who talk to you these days haven’t been around long enough to know it. It is good to be known. (Looking at you, Velazquez. Thanks for that.)
  3. The first night sleeping with the window cracked open, and not freezing.
  4. Salad for dinner because of springtime.
  5. Elise knowing to take me the right amount seriously when I suggest a trip to India. Because what else are friends for?
  6. Figuring out which pieces of clothing help you to believe that your body is good and strong and made on purpose, and eliminating a lot of the ones that don’t.
  7. Faces at the window who break into grins and shouts when they see you coming. This nanny job is blessing my soul, you guys.
  8. The first crocuses.
  9. A surprise goodbye album from the artist you didn’t want to quit but who did anyway. (that didn’t just happen this week, but it’s what I’m listening to as I write.)
  10. Conversation that moves from doctrines of hell and grace to internet quizzes without missing a beat.
  11. Sisters who make appointments for your tattoos together, HOLLA.
  12. 2 Corinthians 8:10-12. How faithfulness is measured in terms of giving what we have. Not in terms of what we’d like to be doing with our lives but can’t right now because #school.
  13. The one emoji that uses negative space and is so fascinating. (the hole one, that isn’t going to show up on computer: 🕳)
  14. Discovering that if you wrap your 50-cent day-old Jimmy John’s bread in plastic wrap, it gets soft again. You’re welcome.
  15. A minimal gold necklace.
  16. The lady who you sometimes have a hard time loving, telling you that she prays for you every day. Geez. This is grace.
  17. Baby showers with both women and men. (Woman or not, you’d better believe I would rather talk about the intersection of law and social justice than about baby clothes. And anyway, babies have dads. Invite the dads, people.)
  18. Tiny cilantro plants that I might end up accidentally killing but have not yet.
  19. Braids in your hair, and letting the spring breezes almost for a minute convince you that you could be a hippie fairy princess, and not a regular type-A student.
  20. Writers who challenge your understanding of grace with even more gritty, wild grace.

There it is folks. Happy “so very close to spring break that we can almost taste it.” Catch you on the flip side.

on home, hospitality, and pasta for one: notes from the middle of here

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If there was a Nobel Prize in hospitality, my mother would have one.

She’s the one with a guest book next to the spare bed, filled with sprawling notes from visitors who pause to say thanks for the grace they’ve felt in this scratched-up house in the city. She has a recipe book full of grease stains and little papers that flutter out when you open it, and the thing doesn’t make a particle of sense to anyone—but in her hands, it’s a treasure map, with a key in the corner of her brain. She knows exactly where to point her daughter when it’s time for the chocolate roll cake on Christmas Eve with friends, and where to find the recipe for the olive pesto when another guest calls up asking for it after a party. Hers is the penciled list on the side of the refrigerator, tracking inexpensive ways to feed the swarm of noisy college students who show up every week to eat a lot of tacos, talk theology from seats packed into the living room three rows deep, strum guitars until the wee hours of the night, and sometimes remember to wash the dishes. Maybe.

You get the idea.

This is the house I grew up in. It’s no wonder that when we talk about what we’ve learned from our parents and what we want to emulate, “hospitality” comes near the top of my list. (It’s the happy medium answer between “live in not a first-world country,” which is difficult to force, and “hundreds of books” which at this point who’s doubting?) I’ve written before on how my philosophy of hosting differs from my mother’s— she’s for menu plans, reupholstering the chairs, and dessert already made before the guests arrive; I’m for collaborative breakfasts, unexpected 2am tea parties, and any reason ever to sit on the floor. But maybe those differences mostly boil down to the difference of thirty years, and anyway she’s the reason I’ve ever thought about it.

Not a bad situation for the frontier of adulthood, right? Right. I agree.

At the moment, however, it’s also causing no small angst.

You see, when I moved away for this year of grad school, I knew I was leaving family and I knew I was leaving friends. Somehow it didn’t quite occur to me that I was also leaving the lifestyle of everyday hospitality. Before moving, there was a brief period when I looked up apartments around my new campus, envisioning homework parties, and lingering nights of talk, and laughter while we wash the dishes, and all those things that are my favorite about people in my home. In reality, though, that’s not the place where I ended up for this year. Through a surprise of grace and Parents Who Know People, where I ended up is renting one bedroom in someone else’s house, and an hour and a half commute from my campus by trains plus feet. Calling that grace isn’t tongue-in-cheek—this is grace. I’m saving money, getting to connect with a broader group of people than I would at school alone, and learning a lot about myself into the bargain.

One of the things I’m learning, though, is how much my soul misses the messy hospitality of home. I can’t invite people over for evening homework parties here. My bedroom shares a wall with someone who goes to sleep at 10pm and gets up at 5:30. I can’t ask friends from school to stop by for breakfast—that’s an invitation for my friends to spend three hours on public transit, and for my landlady to feel like she’d better clean the floor and light candles and do something about the dogs. Aside from the three friends who have visited for weekends (during which times my housemates have been super gracious about the late night laughter and the extra dishes), and the few more who have dropped me off or picked me up, no one who knows me has even seen this space.

I think that’s what makes it hard for me to view this as a settled place, as anything other than an in-between. Whatever exactly home means (and you’d better believe I mostly don’t know yet), it seems to me home is where you can welcome people. Somewhere in the perpetual tension between displacement and belonging and both being holy, there’s the truth that part of our Christian self is found in mirroring the love of Christ—and part of that love is in the practice of welcoming, speaking truth, and letting people know that they are known. Have a seat, I’m glad you’ve come, there’s more than enough for us all. It’s in the fabric of church as relational, the institute of communion, and the command to welcome the stranger and share our food with the hungry. When we practice hospitality, we imitate the Divine. We show each other what it feels like to be wanted and welcomed. We get the privilege of showing gracious, messy, openness to others, because that is what God has shown to us.

Living in a place where hospitality is stunted throws a serious blow to my security in those ideas. They become just that . . . ideas. Gospel grace starts looking hazy when I don’t have those hands-and-feet rhythms built into my life to remind me of it. When I don’t have to start the pasta without really knowing how many people there will be, but trusting that this will be enough and that anyway grace is enough.  When I make pasta here, carrying it to my room to free up the kitchen, I know how many there will be: there will be me.

All this isn’t fun, it isn’t comfortable, and I’m hard pressed to say even how it’s useful or sanctifying. I don’t feel sanctified, I feel stifled. There’s a lot of restless something inside me these days, that wants to get out but doesn’t know how, and I’m afraid that if it’s stuck there for too long it might get stale. And I don’t know if my faith can afford that.

What does hospitality look like when my home isn’t really home?

The day after I started jotting notes toward this post, my friend Daniel told me, unprompted and via text message, that “you know, sharing food with people is a way to show compassion.” And when I read it I wanted to smile a little, but also a little to throw the phone across the room and not respond because I KNOW BROTHER YOU’RE TELLING ME?

But, compassion. Maybe that’s what matters, under all the parts I love about the welcoming and the food and the washing of dishes together. It’s compassion that looks at another human being and says “Hey. I feel your humanity.” Compassion can’t be put on hold for a year because wait sorry I’m busy reading for my thesis and this kitchen isn’t mine. Maybe that’s part of why things like How To Talk To Dirty People have come to the surface this year more than lots of times. There’s room for them to bob to the top, in the space that used to be taken up with the living room laughter and who brings what for breakfast.

I still don’t know what that does to the part about home and this restlessness with in-between. Maybe it’s easier these days for me to give my trail mix to the person sleeping in the train station, because hey man I’m not sure where my home is either. That’s something, I guess.  But I want it to be easier than it is to say “right, so this year is one of the chapters on displacement, and how it’s okay to not belong, because my permanent home is Jesus.” This isn’t new, but also I don’t remember it being this hard when I was three and didn’t know what side of the ocean I belonged on because #MK. Either that or three-year-old me just got it. Maybe she knew what was up.

And then I think how in three and a half months this particular segment of in-between will be over, and I’ll most likely be back in the city that’s become the easy answer for where’s home. It’s become easy also to romanticize that mythical potentiality, and then that scares me too. I don’t want to get there and think “well that was a bust” because sure, I read like a million books and wrote a thesis and even made friends and had good times, but I also spent the whole year restless and not sure how or where or to what degree to put down roots. And I don’t even have to test it out to know that “Chicago was hard because I couldn’t have people over for dinner” isn’t a super compelling explanation, and it certainly won’t ensure that once I’m back everything will be peachy.

I don’t know the end of this story. I haven’t gotten far enough yet to consider this mess and say “ah look: narrative.”

Maybe one day. Ask me in a year or ten.

Until then, I’ll be mostly here. Not quite rooted. Not quite home. Trying, and failing, and learning things about grace.

But along the way, if you’d like some of my pasta, I think there’s enough for both of us.

from deep in grace,

k

a soul and a body, episode 2: an unhygienic love

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The other night, I did my homework in a coffee shop downtown and man, it was awful.

I mean, the chai was fine. The table and chairs were fine. I think they were even playing nice music. But it’s not a fun place to hang out.

Why?

Well, it smells bad.

Apparently this particular spot is a hangout for a number of people who likely aren’t welcome other places. They don’t look nice. I’d guess there’s some drug history (history, as in maybe the events of this morning). A lot of them don’t have houses to go home to at the end of the night. But they hang out here, and you’d better believe the air attacks you with body odor and weed and pee and maybe that other thing I’m not sure about.

I sat at my computer and tried not to breathe through my nose. Tried to avoid the piercing stare of that man at the next table, with tattoos on his face and clothes that hadn’t been washed maybe ever. But when I finished my homework and left, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the smells around me had seeped into my clothes. I sat on the train catching ghost whiffs of sour unwashed human, and wondered if the people in the next seat could smell it on me. When I got home, I took a shower, threw my clothes in the laundry, and lit sweet-smelling candles like this room hadn’t heard about lamps.

But after all those things, I did some thinking.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being a body. (You know that, I’ve written about it.) And really I haven’t figured it out. I begin to think I’ve got it, sometimes. That I’m getting better at being this body that gets sick and dirty and hungry and needy, better at understanding the goodness and the worship of it. And then something like this happens that is both bodily (oh hey nose) and relational (from other human people), and I realize WAIT NO. I haven’t got this at all.

It turns out that even when I think I’m okay, mostly I’m okay within the bounds of control. When the unpleasant things are contextualized. Dirty smelly people coming to my Indy church for food and clothing, discomfort in my body because I ate goat at a restaurant in this town in Ethiopia, an awkward bout with head lice after sharing close quarters and long days with kids I love—I can list plenty of annoying bodily experiences that still felt more okay, because I signed up for them. Or at least I signed up for the territory they came with.

When I’m uncomfortable is when that kind of bodily experience invades the parts of my life where I didn’t invite it. I went to that coffee shop downtown the other night to use the internet for my clean and pretentious homework, thanks, because it was close and it showed up on the map. I didn’t know I was going to have to hang out with you, smelly face-tattoo guy. You give me the creeps, and I’m pretty sure that’s legit.

And yet, Jesus.

Do I really think Jesus selectively filtered out the dirty parts, when he became a body out of love for us?

People, Jesus was a homeless person.

Somehow I forget about that. As if Jesus’s compassion for the crazy people was a really neat day job, but probably when he was done shaking hands with prostitutes and guys with leprosy, he could go home and shower and read theology and manage his social media, #thatMessiahlife you know . . .

Except, no. No, it wasn’t. No, he couldn’t. When Jesus chose incarnation, he chose it hardcore. He took on the lowest and the grittiest parts of humanity, so that we would have a Savior who knows the same aches and temptations and dirty smells as us. More than most of us. More than me for sure.

Even deeper, I think our God took our humanity to set an example for our worship.

Did you know that the root word of “human” is the same as “humility”? Jesus took on our humanity to show us humility. (See Paul on this.) And humility is where worship happens. When we accept our humanness, as Jesus did, we’re accepting what kind of people we are before God. We have to look head-on at this dirt and sin and need, and then look at the grace that makes it not matter. We have to sit in that realization long enough to let it inspire worship deep in us.

But when we grow uncomfortable with parts of being human, and talk ourselves out of the need for that honesty and awe, we also talk ourselves out of a responsibility toward the inconvenient dirty people around us. Surely God doesn’t want me rubbing up against dirty. That’s unhygienic. Unsafe. I mean, maybe it’s appropriate during missions trips and outreach projects, but I do those, so that’s enough, right? Surely we don’t have to make spontaneous room in our lives for people who sti—

When you love the least of these.

That’s what Jesus said about love that loves Him.

Somewhere in my cool intellectual theology, I forget sometimes that Jesus tended to identify himself a lot more with the social least (the crazy-eyed homeless man downtown) than he identified himself with the doing okay middle-class religious person (hi, that’s me).

Really, is my memory so poor?

Is my gospel so cheap.

Is my faith so sterile that I just hang around the edges of holiness, avoiding the messy middle where I have to remember the parts of being a human that shout loud my need for Jesus. Where I have to look at the creepy person and admit, “hey, you and me, we share the same image of God. We’re broken and needy of grace, the same. And the same Jesus loves us all the way to the end.” Those parts where I’ll really have to remember all that Jesus took on and then gave up, for the love of me and this homeless guy.

Friend, I don’t want a faith marked by cheap worship. I don’t want to love within the lines of hygienic. I want a worship that springs from deep and that means its words, because I am human and God is God. I want a love that loves deeply and freely, when it’s very not convenient and when it kind of smells bad. And that’s maybe the scariest thing I’ve ever claimed—scary enough that I’m nervous writing this, because now you get to hold me to what I say. And as of now, I’ve got an awfully long, uncomfortable way to go. A lot that’s scary. A lot of room for failure.

But maybe Jesus calls us for exactly that long and uncomfortable way. Maybe that’s exactly where he promises to hang out with us.

So anyway, that’s what I’m praying these days.

Savior, grow in us deep worship. Shape humility in our humanity. Stretch wide the reach of our love.

Because you first loved us.

to know that this is grace (a year of beautiful things)

Last year, I wrote this post about paying attention to the tiny beautiful things in my life, and then I liked writing it so much that I decided to make it a regular thing. It was a pretty great accidental resolution, actually. For twelve months, I deliberately kept a running list of things that made me laugh or reminded me to worship, or just that I knew I needed to notice because otherwise they would fade beneath the cynicism faster than I’d like to admit.

It was good.

Good to make it a discipline, and good to give myself the accountability of posting some of them here. Good to try and keep the beautiful parts a little closer to the surface, no matter the conversation.

I totally recommend it.

Also I’m not doing it anymore.

I loved the structure and regularity, but also the point of that kind of structure is so that one day you don’t need it anymore. One day, I should be quick to think of what’s beautiful and worth delighting in about that person or that part of my life naturally, and not just because I’ve been keeping a list.

So for now, I’m backing off the structured gratitude. Maybe I’ll try and do it more spontaneously, and just take the ten minutes on a complainy Wednesday afternoon to sit down and list twenty things worth smiling over. Or you could just ask me, sometimes, what’s been good about life today. I’ll ask you back.

//

That being said, I’m a nut for closure. So here’s a final list from December, to round out the year. And really, December was full, and joyous, and rich in relationship. I’m glad it happened.

Here’s twenty beautiful bits.

  1. Christmas cards handwritten
  2. Brother talk with Jake
  3. The exquisite, aching, “what we have done” confessional passage in Searching for Sunday. (That book though. Deep good.)
  4. Eliza arriving first and leaving last on so many, many serving days.
  5. Goodbye hugs, and hello ones.
  6. A friend showing up with a chai latte in her hand for you, for no reason but kindness.
  7. A breakfast picnic on the roof with Lydia and Dave.
  8. The whole entire evening of the KIDS Inc. banquet. The richest and wildest of deep-shared joy. Thanks for that.
  9. A spontaneous vision meeting on the kitchen floor with people who set my soul alive. (As a wise Naomi once said, “It’s good being friends with people who do things.”)
  10. Midnight tree-climbs and park-swings with Lake and SG.
  11. Catching the sunrise on the morning before Christmas morning, and remembering to dwell in the moments of expectation.
  12. Christmas Eve singing together that is tradition but also is beautiful.
  13. Happiest talk over candy and tea with my Daffodil on the floor. (recurring theme: my favorite talks happen on the floor.)
  14. Laughter so hard with the Medlongs and Silveys on the last night, to not think about being a little sad.
  15. Snow by surprise on a Tuesday morning.
  16. A bamboo plant from Kaitlin. My room feels classier already.
  17. Texts with Lynnette about incarnation, and the messy lifelong tension between raw and sanctified.
  18. A rice cooker. (I have a kitchen appliance now, so basically you can call me a real domestic.)
  19. The song “Sounds like Somewhere
  20. Julia (5), on exploration: “Yeah, I never go to space. I just go to earth.” Mm. Same, kid. Earth for lyfe.

//

There’s a lovely line in Marilynne Robinson’s Lila that’s been sticking in my head. (Really that’s kind of like saying “there was a pretty snowflake,” because the whole book is lovely lines.) In this passage, a character is talking about suffering, and how he’s had a lot of it and probably will have a lot more. But then he pauses. And he says, “But at least I’ve had enough by now to know that this is grace.”

To know that this is grace.

I want those words to settle down deep in my heart and live there all the time. Living is hard, and that will keep on being true. But no matter what, every day, I want to be able to say that at least I’ve lived just enough to know that here is grace. In the giant things like salvation, and the medium-sized ones like enough food and warmth and clothing, and the tiny ones like a walk through the city on a blue-sky winter day or a text message that makes me laugh out loud.

Maybe when I talk about looking out for the little beautiful things, what I’m really looking out for is grace. And grace doesn’t have to fit in paragraphs or lists or blog posts naming twenty items each. It can pop up in a conversation that we hadn’t even planned to have, or a glimpse of the sun on the rooftops new every morning, or the realization before I fall asleep that, you know, I really am glad I get to know that person.

Grace doesn’t leave. It doesn’t run away or give up because I forgot to keep track. Grace is deep and faithful and surprising. It’ll keep being there, whether we’re looking or not.

And yet, you know, looking doesn’t hurt.

Let’s keep it up.