Last Sunday was the anniversary of our rector’s first Sunday at our church, and the anniversary of our first Sunday as well. It’s been a year of transitions, and we’ve had lots of hard days. I’m surprised that we’re still here, at a church, at this church. It feels odd and good that I’m getting more involved here, rather than feeling overwhelmed and wanting to flee. Things haven’t gone as planned, and this is just one surprise of many.

I need to think on this, this year and this anniversary.

I keep a list on yellow notebook paper, of short term, big goals, and I keep it on the wall above my desk. It’s a sort of bucket list–if I die in 6 months, I’d like to have most of these things crossed off. My best friend and I started doing this about two years ago and it has been a private touchstone. This is who I want to be, this is how I want to be. Sometimes I look at it when I’m feeling restless, disliking who I am and where we are.

My best friend and I updated our lists recently, and I crossed a lot of things off. Some, I laughed at and hadn’t gotten around to–and didn’t want to get around to anymore. Some of the items I had followed through with, and following through with them had created a sea-change in how I see the world. I huffed at others, knowing I should do them, but resenting them anyway.

But writing out the new list and looking over the old one provoked some gratitude. Since this time last year, I went through [a continuation of] a shattering of my old, comfortable worldview, and stared down old things I had been in denial about for years. Things my sister remembers vividly, but I blocked out. Breaking the safety glass to that part of my life left me tired, with my hands all cut up, and some relationships tattered.  Long emails with hard words were exchanged. Late night crying jags because I didn’t know how to process it all. My husband listening to me talk, talk, talk myself dry.

Last September saw that struggle beginning to ease up, becoming less viscerally overwhelming. I was able to express myself with better articulation and less emotion. The long emails dwindled, and we began rebuilding relationships and I started to fight my disillusionment.

Kevin found himself without a job, and we were strapped for cash but free to visit churches and try to find a home for ourselves. I had spent the summer skipping sermons to read Harry Potter in a plastic deck chair outside the back entrance of the church. I needed to soak in language that wasn’t steaming with moralism and appropriateness. I read things that were previously wild and unwelcome, I tasted sharp words on my tongue, and I avoided telling anyone I was thankful, blessed, convicted, burdened, grieved, or overjoyed. The minister there meant well and loved his congregation through his teaching, but I was full of dry ashes inside after the damage of my previous church had burned itself out, and I needed to spread myself out in the sun and let the wind blow over my soul for as long as it took to uncover the good soil under the charred grime from before. And so I would slip out after the last song during the announcements, and I would lay my shoes under the chair and read in the sunlight until I heard the piano start up again inside. I would sometimes help with the babies in the nursery, finding their arguments about sharing sippy cups and delight over going down the slide far more palatable than the astronomy sermon analogies demonstrating how we are to be lights in the world and have our polar axes directed by the gravitational pull of the sun, that is, to reflect God’s light and move in his Spirit’s leading.

But that job ended, and so we were free. He and I had been attracted to the Anglican tradition in college, and wanted to find a sanctuary that was similar. And I, I was finally ready to listen to a sermon, to actually hear his words and not tune out the weathered catchphrases with my bone-dry weariness.

Fall was hard, last year. We did find our church, and we did find a pastor who could preach a sermon with meat and genuine language, who welcomed us on our first Sunday with a sort of buoyant giddiness. Where communion wasn’t crackers and juice masquerading as a “memorial service” for a dead-sounding Jesus once a month or so, but a sacred act where you ate his body and blood every week, lining up with all the other hungry people, claimed for Christ and confessing his potent resurrection in unison before lifting up hearts and blessing each other.

Kevin was out of a job in September, and then got mislead by his temp agency when he was told that he  had been given a permanent position, while the real hiring process went on behind his back. He was out of work again in November, and in December he took a job waiting tables at a nice DC restaurant. Some people shook their heads and said he could do better. But he ironed his long white aprons and threw on his starched blue shirts with diligence, and we slowly adjusted to the late nights and aching, tired mornings. I was so proud of him for keeping us afloat financially, and yet so hungry for more of his time when he would come home around midnight and fall asleep before finishing the third bite of his late dinner.

And I took charge of my own work situation, stewarding as best I could in a job I felt ill-equipped to thrive in, in a work environment I was fitting into less and less as time went on and I kept re-evaluating my beliefs and priorities. After months of anxious uncertainty, I did find a better fitting position with another company, at the same time Kevin was solicited to apply for a job he would enjoy more and would treat him better than waiting tables.

We began to make friends, too. Moving to this unfamiliar area was a difficult transition, and it felt like I didn’t know anyone until about nine months after we moved. But slowly we gathered to ourselves a group of people who would come play games and watch stupid movies with us, who I’d feed when Kevin wasn’t home to eat my dinners, who helped us out when we needed this or that, and eventually were our generous and hearty moving crew when we moved into DC.

Since last fall, my best friend has gotten married, my sister has found a good man she loves and agreed to marry him, my little brothers have gotten baptized, and my parents and I continue to grow in understanding each other better. My grandma passed away, and in doing so brought her children and grandchildren together in new and better ways. My in-laws have truly become my second family and second home, and Kevin and I have begun to feel like we’re on the other side of the awkward transitions newlyweds have to make and work through together.

We thought we’d be living in Virginia now, with Kevin in graduate school, and perhaps with me working for a newspaper or bartending or styling hair, while writing on the side. We thought we might be in an Anglican church, but instead we find ourselves in an Episcopal church, and we’re starting to reevaluated the party lines that dictated that preference. Kevin didn’t plan to start acting lessons, and I didn’t plan to teach Sunday School. But here we are.

And it’s not bad at all. I’m no longer feeling so overwhelmed that I just want to go hide in a closet and sleep until the seasons change. We’re getting somewhere. I can notice the light again.

I had to write about it. So I wouldn’t forget. 

What do you need to remember about where you were last year?

May has been a month brimful with emotions. I need to discipline myself to write every day, rather than doing short recaps like this.

This month I turned 23 and was alone a lot. The day after my birthday I found out that my grandmother had passed away, and I discovered didn’t know how to grieve. I know that if I let myself feel, I could write about it, but I don’t know how to let myself feel these things sometimes. Taking communion on Sundays and giving thanks for the simple, tangible grace of bread and wine helps me feel solid again, though.

Later in the month I had jury duty for three days. This helped me break out of a reading rut and gave me time to enjoy some of the many good things sitting in my birthday book pile. [I think the reading rut is tied to my writer’s block, so I am hopeful about writing again soon.] Reading during jury duty allowed me to remember again the wholeness that comes from swallowing a book in one piece. I also loved the first-hand experience with our judicial system. I have new appreciation for a good judge and am surprised to discover that I really disliked the lawyers.

In the midst of these things, I had some job interviews. These left me breathless and deliberately strangling my growing sense of anticipation. I’d been feeling the need to leave my current position for a while (my desire to work with publications rather than fundraising wouldn’t die). With my experience in primarily Christian organizations and my lack of interest in public policy, I was less than optimistic about my chances of finding a fulfilling editorial position with potential for growth and mental stimulation. But then I got a job offer which was more wonderful than I could have hoped, and I feel a little guilty for feeling so incredibly happy and for being handed something so good. I wrote a professional notice of my resignation last week and handed it in, shaking. I was then surprised by unexpected congratulations and kind words. It feels really good to have a concrete to-do list for my last days and see a good conclusion to my time here taking shape. I have learned so much in this job and will be sad to leave the people [and the cushy commute] behind. It’s a good end to this season.

As if this news wasn’t good enough, Kevin was also interviewing for jobs and received a really fantastic job offer. He will be starting his new job on the same day I start mine. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am about this and about the prospect of normal work schedules for both of us. I’ve been so thankful for his patience and commitment to his grueling restaurant job, and am just giddy that he gets to do something more tailored to his skill set in a place where he will be treated well for good work.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts in my head and probably could have written a post here every day this last month. But most of these thoughts have instead been channeled into long, long emails to friends discussing complementarianism, Sovereign Grace Ministries, marriage, and family stuff (see: my grandmother died). Kevin says that what gets posted here is the tip of the iceberg and also the cleanest and most well-thought out writing that I do. He’s right. Maybe I’ll do some Q&A posts based off of a couple of those emails. Oh, and I’m also featured as part of a panel on the “Raised Quiverfull” series over at Libby Anne’s blog. I think I’m the only active professing Christian on the panel, which I realized after I wrote my answers to the questions. I would probably revise some of my answers after reading those of the other panelists to be more thorough, but I really haven’t had time or energy.

There are lots of other emails from friends to which I haven’t replied yet. If that’s you, I’m sorry, and I’ll get to it soon. If I’ve been putting it off, it’s probably because it touched a tender spot and I’m still waiting for the words to say what I need to say.

Other sweet things have happened, too. There was a birthday party for the daughter of a friend and a spontaneous road trip to our alma mater, and we have good friends in town for the summer. We’ve had some wonderful family gatherings with good food and music at my in-laws. My family is going on a month-long road trip across the country, and our church continues to be a haven for us. I got to see a delightful author speak live at a book festival, and I bought plane tickets to see friends and family this summer and fall. And I’ve been making a lot of caprese salad and dark ‘n’ stormys. Life is sweet. Lhude sing cucu.

Tomorrow Kevin and I regress into the “need” of having an internet connection at home. There’s a lot of good things that will come with this, but I’m trying to steel myself into Wendell Berry-esque curmudgeonry so I don’t forget the real life things that we value more than connectivity and entertainment or feeding our information addictions.

I’m not going to apologize for going AWOL for a bit. My real life has been rich and full. Writing stagnated while other things thrived.

Since I wrote last, we celebrated our first anniversary and dreamed big while spending a long weekend in the Shenandoah Valley. Kevin stopped temping irregularly and started working regularly as a waiter at a snazzy DC restaurant (everyone loves him–he’s great with customer service). We downsized to one car. He’s planning on starting school for music therapy in the fall. I got a UVA hoodie. I finally got around to reading Quivering Daughters (and highly recommend the first 2/3rds of it to anyone who grew up in a conservative Christian home where “courtship,” “gender roles,” and “homemaking” were buzzwords). Nearly the entire department I work in turned over and I’m adjusting to the new strategies and work styles. My dad called a family meeting and we had a Christmas miracle. Kevin and I flew to Oklahoma for my best friend’s wedding.  My sister came home from college and is taking charge of her life in healthy ways. We found a church we where feel comfortable and welcomed, and are seeking to get confirmed in the ACNA. Kevin wrote new songs. Old friendships were discovered to have life in them yet, and we started attending a monthly couples’ dinner club + Bible study with new friends.


In the meantime, I need to decide which of my blog post drafts from the last few months to finish first.  It’s never too late to post on Advent, right?

I have an ikon now. But what about “Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven image”?

First: I do not think that God is in the picture in my kitchen. I do not think he looks like a double-chinned Caucasian with doe-eyes. I do not believe I am kissing the face of Jesus when I caress this image, and I am not worshiping a picture for its own sake.

The remarkable thing about an ikon is this: prior to the Incarnation of Jesus (when he became man and took on our skin and bones and the sheer tiredness and little pleasures of being human), it was wrong to make an image of God. God was not flesh, God was spirit, and no one had ever seen his face. It would be wrong to make a picture of God, for there was nothing under heaven and on earth that could be designed in his likeness. The commandment in Exodus is to this point. You can’t have an image of God the Spirit.

However, I am not monocovenantal and I believe that God is with us and has been one of us. Jesus’s incarnation gave God a face and a body and a true empathy with humanity’s frailty. Jesus had a nose and eyes and ears. He probably had crooked teeth, bad breath after eating onions, feet that smelled and needed washing. He had hands that got torn up during carpentry work and broken through by the brute force of nails on the cross. He was just like us.

The literary trope of the Everyman is so appealing because we subconsciously know that God cannot have compassion on our troubles and joys unless he becomes just like us, and the Everyman is a hero who is just like us.

To make an image of Jesus is not blasphemy anymore, because an ikon/iconic image of Jesus depicts him as the Everyman, the suffering kinsman who also happens to be the one who can save us all from ourselves.  An image of God the Son can be made because he did become flesh that could have been pictured if only he had sat for a portrait. Since he didn’t, we can’t assume he looked exactly one way or another, but that’s part of the beauty of not knowing what he looked like. He is perpetually preserved in our historical imagination as the ultimate Everyman.

Ikons aren’t a violation of the OT commandment. Jesus was made just like you. And Jesus can inhabit my kitchen. He’s just not contained to a picture. And he’s not bound by your abstract idea of his historical person and actions. Go look in your mirror and see Jesus in your own humanity.

revised 11/29 for clarity.

The Good Shepherd

This is now hanging on my kitchen wall, in between the copper-tiled backsplash by the stove and my apron hook. I’ve been hankering, no, craving, an icon in my home for over a year now, since I first saw icons in a home of one of my professors (who happens to be Orthodox). This family has them over the doorway to almost every room (but not the bathroom, which I find an amusing contrast to the Episcopal/Anglican tradition of a house blessing, in which there is a prayer for every room including the bathroom). It really adds a degree of beauty and sobriety to the house that I found very satisfying. Little gestures of eternity in the everyday of a home make me stand a bit smaller [read: more humbly and more thoughtfully] and take me out of the perpetual self-monologue in which I’m wont to live.

Kevin took me to a Catholic bookstore in DC on Saturday as part of our date out on the town. We went to a crêperie for lunch (and while he wouldn’t admit it, I think he liked the chicken and pesto crêpe), and then to the bookstore, where we purchased this icon. (ikon? I think I like the latter form better, to avoid confusion with internet/desktop icons).  Afterward we went to Georgetown, which was just lovely at sunset. Kevin geeked out at the Apple store and I wandered around. The Potomac was nearby. I’d like to spend more time walking along it sometime.

On Sunday Kevin had obligations with the worship team at our old church. I don’t particularly care for that church’s services (the people are nice, though), and so I played hooky. It was refreshing to have a long morning with coffee and a book and I even got to have a nice chat with a dear friend. There’s something sacred about restful recreation without a particular purpose, especially in the morning. Even though I very much missed the prayers of confession and receiving communion at our church, there was a reverence and an understanding that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, and that Jesus is honored when his disciples respect themselves and his given order by taking rest and allowing themselves to stop their striving.

We finished our Sunday with the prayers for the close of the day, after getting drinks and dessert with some friends in town and having lots of good talks about everything and nothing, and working on a crossword puzzle together on the metro.

I feel a little sheepish saying this, but I think that such a restful, unstructured weekend was a gift to me from my Shepherd, and that when I savored it for all it was worth, he was smiling on me.

After a couple months of steady discouragement fogging up my thoughts, I’m waking up to discover that it’s melting away. All I can see are new ideas, new options–life rearranged in a myriad of shapes, and they’re all pretty exciting.

This morning was a grumpy morning (Monday showed up and Thursday called in sick): the cat had shredded an entire (new) roll of toilet paper all over the bathroom, my dress pants were missing, my pearls were missing, I didn’t have any leftovers ready to go for lunch, I ran into horrible traffic when I took my husband to the subway so he could get to work, and then again on my own route to the office.

Yeah, it sucked. But it wasn’t really anything bad and none of it really affected anything important, and the day went well and I felt like I was a productive person, and I had Chipotle with my husband for dinner and we got drenched in a downpour. And that was funny, because we had to dry off under blow driers in the restrooms and wipe our faces with paper napkins. We’re just silly kids, and there’s grace to not take ourselves or our plans too seriously.

I think I like this. This uptight firstborn INFJ is learning to enjoy options. To change plans. To savor the freedom of waiting on the next thing and not know yet what’s around the corner. My job is good. It’s stable, and I’m enjoying it. My guy’s got some temp jobs and piano lessons, and we’re making ends meet. I lack nothing.

Being married to a second born is a serious lesson in adventure for me. We’re painting pictures of tomorrow and I’m learning how to laugh. I have to admit, it’s really fun.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 

– 1 John 4:15-19, ESV

I suppose, if I were the tattoo-getting type, I might get this inked on me in some artsy fashion: Perfect love casts out fear.

This passage above was the catalyst for one of those epiphanies which we have when we are at our most broken and some phrase sticks in the mind and beats on the heart until its origin is dredged out of memory and brought to light. This phrase came to me several times when I was discouraged and anxious about my relationship with my then-boyfriend/now-husband (let’s just call him “Jayber” okay fine I’ll use his real name: Kevin) and how the choices we were making were creating a strain in my relationship with my parents. Perfect love casts out fear. The grace I knew I had in Christ came through that perfect love and did not require me to be fearful or anxious about how I was measuring up to ideals, standards, or values I no longer quite identified with.

This phrase became my touchstone. With Kevin, I was not afraid. After living under a spirit of fear for nearly my entire adolescence, this was a new, bright, and relieving experience. I didn’t have to be anxious about measuring up, I didn’t have to apologize for everything, and I didn’t have to tiptoe around the expectations of others, fearful of raising a “I-fear-for-your-soul” lecture dripping with guilt-trips. I could just be and know that Kevin still loved me because Jesus loved me. I was safe. I could spill the thoughts brimming in my heart and ask the questions which were lined with doubt–and I would still be confident that I would be accepted and loved, even if I was confused or weary.

My husband’s example of tenderness and patience demonstrated to me, in the most tangible way I had ever known, that Jesus and His redemptive love were real. Because Christ loved, Kevin loved. And in that love was a miniature reflection of redemption and grace on a heavenly scale.

And it was the sweetest thing I had ever known.