Pizza-Booze-Telly & Divine Rest

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Decorative vase with flowers

There is a phrase my husband and I picked up from the British television show Doctor Who. Said very simply and quickly, (and with an accent), it goes: “Pizza-Booze-Telly.”

The phrase invocates the perfect stay-at-home evening: a delicious (and comforting) mix of carbohydrates and entertainment. And while we don’t replicate it exactly (neither of us feeling pizza so often would be healthy—nor being inclined towards beer—nor having enough money in the budget for alcoholic beverages EVERY time we watch TV)—the phrase has nevertheless come to embody our mutual love of cozy evenings.

The recipe goes something like this: You say to yourselves: Shall we eat in the kitchen? Nah, let’s bring our bowl of hot-something to the couch. Shall we stay in our work clothes? Of course not. Comfy pajamas it is, then. What shall we watch? Nothing scary. Nothing intense. Something sweet. And almost kind. Nothing cruel, or corse, or unrefined. How about something British?

Pizza-booze-telly.

We sit, swathed in blankets and pajamas and each other’s arms, and we forget the aches of the day, the cares of tomorrow, and for just a little while life is simple.

I remember at times, in days past, feeling a pang of guilt that such evenings weren’t spent more productively. Like… reading. Time has replaced that guilt with thankfulness.

Our days (and evenings) are now what you might call over-productive. I have a twelve-hour day and get home from work late in the evening only to cook, clean, grocery shop, and fall into bed to do it all over again. Due to long commutes, I even read over two hours of literature a day. My husband likewise has a long day and late evenings of study for his two masters degrees. We are nothing if not productive.

And do you know what it’s made me realize? That leisure is a gift. That while comfort, when at the expense of work, is laziness, that rest from one’s toils is both needed and not always forthcoming.

We are not owed evenings of cozy togetherness. But in a culture where being busy is deified as an inherent virtue, I am reminded that we are called to live daily lives. Sufficient to each day is its troubles. Give us this day our daily bread. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.

I am reminded of Abraham—sitting out on his tent porch in the heat of the day, eating a meal with his heavenly visitors.

I am reminded of God Himself—walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Perfect industry, taking perfect rest.

Isn’t that what He calls us to in the Lord’s supper? Come all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest? We break the bread and drink the wine remembering that the perfect sacrifice was paid for our guilt: that blood and sweat were spilt so that we might cease striving and find perfect peace in Christ.

So if you will excuse the comparison of the common to the holy, at the end of our daily labors there is sometimes (and not always) a kind of supper and rest. For a lucky few, I suppose it looks a bit like our pizza-booze-telly evenings. But for most of I suspect our rest takes different forms. It is when the busy mother cherishes those few quiet moments of bed-time story telling. It is when the father bows his head and prays over the meal. It is when the student puts his books away for a Sabbath Rest. It is in the few cherished moments a couple gets at the end of a long day. And always it is in the bowed head—when we who are burdened quiet our hearts, cast our cares upon Him, and remember: He has given you rest.

Let us meet those moments with joy—and accept rest with thankfulness.

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L’essence

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l'essence

Over the last week I have nearly cried three times missing France. Three times.

If you think about it, that’s kinda pathetic. Miss something you experienced for 9 days? Miss the “vacation” experience—which is so different from every-day-life (even in a foreign country!). Cry over French bread? Sigh wistfully over 2 hour lunches where the waiters don’t bother you and the dry, brilliant sun casts long shadows under cypress and olive trees? Ah, yes, sigh.

We are learning to take our once-in-a-blue-moon memories and experiences and weave them back into our everyday lives. For one, we are learning to eat our meals slowly. Growing up in big families our meal-times were always something of a race. (“Let’s see who can make the meal which took an hour to cook go from plate to stomach in under 7 minutes?!?”) We are learning to put our forks down in-between bites, to take our plates outside, and to sometimes just gaze at each other while our food takes in the air.

I know the French would approve. Dans ces petites choses est l’essence de la vie.

French books now intermingle with English ones on our bookshelves–particularly a gilded copy of Flaubert’s Salammbo purchased after wondering over Paris’ Latin Quarter, peering into every librairie we passed until we discovered a Dickin-ish mess of a store with a haphazard Professor-type who knew the history of each of the wondrous novels which towered from store floor to ceiling (intermingled with papers and a good deal of dust). We wanted something très vieux, très beau. He had no English to speak of, but we understood one another, and we did not leave till the old book, the beautiful book, was triumphantly in hand.

Dans ces petites choses est l’essence de la vie.

Speaking of old things, we visited the Catacombs in Paris. Wifey (c’est moi) had saved up her “standing in line” points by skipping the touristy attractions such as the Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe—and she spent them all lavishly on seeing the Catacombs. The line wasn’t long–scarcely half a block–but it moved at a deathly crawl. Two and a half hours we waited, while making the acquaintance of a Christian Lebanese man named Rudolph. He was considering moving to the States and wanted to know about Social Security and which states were best for business. We spent our time doing everything from talking about marriage and Islam to sharing a Nutella crepe off of a street cart and playing a hand-game in which we relentlessly slapped each other.

Dans ces petites choses est l’essence de la vie. 

Inside the Catacombs I had a moment which I am indescribably proud of. I have long had a rather persistent inclination to over-accommodate everyone around me. (It’s the wide-eyed, people-please-er part of me which makes strangers tell me their secrets.) After our two hour wait we whirled down what felt like eight stories down a narrow, spiral staircase into the earth. We walked along a narrow passage for a long time—till we reached the entrance to the underground ossuarie where 6 million people are buried. There are signs reminding you to be respectful, this is a place of the dead, ne touche pas, do not touch the bones. For there are bones! Walls and walls of stacked bones and skulls for passageway after passageway: we saw just an hour of a 200 mile matrix.

We had only just entered, our breaths caught in our chests in dreadful awe, when our respectful reverie was broken by raucous laughter some 10 yards behind us. A group of American teenagers had entered the catacombs.

As our skin crawled in embarrassment, we felt anguish for the visiting nationals—wondering if any (usually) quiet-spoken French person would find it worthwhile to take another annoying group of American Tourists in hand. Unlikely.

Then something happened that I simply couldn’t bear. They began to touch the bones. And then, horror of horrors, while laughing in a hysterical, jeering sort of way, one of the boys grabbed a large femur off of a burial mound and started waving it in the air, “LOOK! This used to be a DEAD person!”

I felt a hot surge of anger flood over me. Every ounce of older-sister indignation (or college RA authority) I’ve ever possessed came rushing to my aid. All at once I heard my own voice ringing out in decisive, cutting clarity, “GUUUYYS—!!! YOU NEED TO PUT THEM DOWN!”

I think if their own long-dead American grandparents had suddenly coming to life out of the bones to scold them they could not have been more shocked or chastened by hearing “ne touche pas” declared in their native tongue in the French House of the Dead.

The bone was returned, and they henceforth behaved themselves.You’re welcome, France. Dans ces petites choses est l’essence de la vie.

We did our best never to self-identify as tourists of any kind. We always tried to speak as much French as possible (Bonjour, je voudrais deux billets, si vouz plaît). I did my best to dress as French as possible (no patterns or bright colors—a dead giveaway even in fashionable american women). We met nothing of the so-called French rudeness, not in Provence where we stayed nor even in Paris. But we saw enough rude tourists to warrant any reactionary behavior! I figure, in the end, that the French are like any people group—if somebody came up to you New York City (let alone rural Michigan) and asked you without so much as a how-do-you-do in a huffy, annoyed sort of voice where the National Park was… in Spanish, or German, or French, you would be annoyed too. We did our best to speak French—we smiled and bade pardon—and were met with as much eagerness to known and be known and communicate back as we offered. It was delightful.

Instead of rudeness we met the eager warm of our host in Aix-En Provence, where we had olive oil pressed from her garden, were urged with smiles and careful instructions into zip-lining on the property, and received a vineyard recommendation communicated in French-for-children (for we were like children with our small sentences and eager gestures).

Instead of haughtiness, we met one of the kindest, most welcoming people I have ever met. Our Parisian host waited for us on the street to arrive, gave us wine and got up early every morning to bring us a French breakfast (croissants, baguettes, cafe). He shared his stories, and he shared his medicines in the middle of the night when we were at various times unwell! He spent hours giving recommendations and hand-writing directions and tracing routes on our map. He laughed with us at the funny pictures and stories we brought back every evening. He teased us, (the 1815 building had a small glass elevator… “Very small—but then—you are small people!”). We exchanged ideas. He was the consummate gentleman–a man who welcomed us into his home and heart as if we were not just staying a few days but had known each other all our lives.

Dans ces petites choses est l’essence de la vie.

I found myself loving little things I noticed. The way everybody says hello to everyone. The way I saw such tenderness to children—I never heard a raised voice or an impatient tug (until once by an American mother in Paris). Every parent’s hand was holding their child’s, or stroking their arm or their head. Even the two-year-old who wailed almost the entire plain-ride there was lovingly rocked all six hours.

I had also expected, in some strange way, to find a more aggressively secular society. And I suppose France is as modern and agnostic as any modern nation these days. But I think I had expected that, whereas in America we were founded by Puritans and God-fearers who revolted “justly” and “lawfully,” (and now our cities are virtual alters to selfishness and sensuality)—France! (surely) who had built alters to the Goddess Liberty—would be even more devoted to her unrighteous causes.

It would be unfair to make any direct comparison based on 9 bare-eyed days. But I will say I was surprised. I was amazed and comforted at the unabashed presence of cathedrals, saints, crosses, and even the little Christian bookstore we wandered into and purchased Le Petit Prince (l’essential est invisible pour les yeux). The places we visited in Provence were as wholesome as idyllic villages in 1800s Austen novels. Even the quasi-nudity in the rocky coves of Cassis’ calanques took on an au-naturel wholesomeness I had not expected to find so unshocking. (Perhaps a culture that has never, in Gnosticism, accused the body God made Good of being evil, finds the body more natural than sexual when unclothed.)

We were also surprised to find Christ’s Body in France. In the little city of Aix-En Provence, known for its fountains, we found a Reformed Evangelical Church. On Sunday we worshiped with God’s people—and there I cried again. Cried to connect so deeply with worshiping Dutch and German and French believers that there gathered. Touched that the language of Divine Love translated so easily through word, look, and song. Moved that I could sing “A toi la gloire” and know, “Thine be the glory, O Lord forever and ever, Amen.”

L’essence de la vie.

I understood very little of the sermon, but I gathered it was on Acts 20, Paul’s heartfelt farewell to the church of Ephesus—whom he was leaving, never to see them again. I kept hearing the Pastor talk about the “situation difficile” the difficulty of Paul’s situation, the difficulty of ours.

The church is the same the world over. Somehow worshiping in France brought all the beauty and wonder of our trip into perspective. Perhaps, yes perhaps, one could live somewhere else in the world where it is better. Simpler? Safer? Older? Realer? Tastier? More lovely? And sometimes those chances come to us and I think it is okay to take them. But it will never be our aim in life to live easily, or our best lives now. God has put us where we are, just as he put Paul in Jerusalem and Rome, not to gorge ourselves on what this earth has to offer but to take these tastes of heaven (whether in God-made beauty, the family of believers, or at The Table) as sustenance during our journeys Home. Even the Christians in France are strangers in a foreign land. We “taste and see that the Lord is Good—happy are those who take refuge in Him.”

And so we return to our church, our jobs, and our little New England town. And we say, “this is ours”—ours to show Grace to, ours to show Christ to, ours to Love. For in these small things is the essential of life.

Waking Up to Wonder

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Bedroom with bed and linen. Natural lightAll my life I’ve hated waking up. Something about being very nice and warm and accepted under the covers and the room being cold and the day foreboding and starting in-any-and-every case too early. Why not just stay asleep?

The unknown is strange and foreign, the best place is where we already are.

I sound like a poster-child for the agrarian movement with that last sentence. Stay rooted! Wrap yourself up in the comforter of contentment! Be Ok with Bed.

But that’s not where this post is going. You see, I always hated getting up in the morning until about seven months ago. Seven months ago my mornings changed—and with them each subsequent day.

Seven months ago I woke up the morning after my wedding and found to my utter and almost uncontainable delight that I wasn’t alone. And then, as the Someone whom I was with slowly woke and realized that he wasn’t alone either—he had me—suddenly our morning turned into rejoicing.

You’re still here. With me. My love.

Rejoice.

Suddenly waking up became one of my favorite things—and falling asleep often delayed simply for the delight of being consciously in my beloved’s company.

Toe-touch. Are you still awake?

Hand-in-hand. I love you.

Kiss. We should probably go to sleep now.

One last hug. Ok.

Roll-over. Good morning.

How could I have known? That what I hated most about the first few moments of the day was not the loss of sleep but the fear of being awake. There I’d lay: alone in bed, dreading another day. I remember particularly depressed times in my life when I would delay going to sleep for as long as possible not because being awake was all that fun—but because waking up to face the next day was so overwhelmingly daunting. Sometimes the sheer knowledge of my waking consciousness in the first few moments of the day was enough to spark tears. Burying myself in the sleep and warmth of the covers was in a very real way a denial of the day. And no, I’m not saying that there aren’t still days when I truly am incredibly tired—or facing a day full of challenge—but I am saying that my dread of the morning has been wonderfully replaced by a joy in what the mornings bring.

You, my sweetest man. I look forward to the sleepy smile. The strong arms wrapping around and drawing me close. The struggle together to leave the wonderful comfort and start the day—eager for the work week to be done or the weekend together to begin. Love makes the difference.

Isn’t it strange that when love shines on even such a small corner of our lives morning turns to gladness? And isn’t that what Christ is at work at within us? Shining the light of the gospel on our marriages, our children, or home, our work, our passions and ambitions saying: Love makes the difference.

But we are slow to wake up, aren’t we? We’d rather cling to darkness—known and familiar.

And maybe this is just another way we’re being prepared for heaven. We’re still learning what it means to love as we are loved. For I imagine now that arriving in Heaven will be a bit like the moment I realized I no longer feared mornings. Sunlight, warm, accepted, with our Beloved. All our striving will be over. We’ll wake up and realize, “This! This is love.” We will walk in the glory of His Truth—in the Light of the Son—and we’ll realize the darkness is gone, and there is nothing left to fear.

Endnote: I feel compelled to add a caveat. I am quite sure that not everyone’s dislike of mornings drastically evaporates once married. My husband’s mornings have, in his words, gotten “much worse” since he now has the added trial of leaving ME ever morning to go to work—and leaving me he does not like at all.

The Cult of Ignorance

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Teddy bear and pretty girl Martin Luther, prior to wedding his worthy wife Kate, once said that he remained unmarried, “not because I am a sexless log or stone but because daily I expect death as a heretic.” Such unequivocal honesty is astonishing in today’s age because he presumes on a presently much eschewed reality: that it is possible to not be a sexless stone while still a godly man (or woman) yet unmarried.

I want to talk today about the Cult of Ignorance which has marched over conservative Christendom, taking premarital sexuality under lock, stock, and key. As a perhaps natural reaction to the hypersexualization of our culture (with its graphic and violent media, objectification of both men and women, and sex ripped from its sacrificial, marital, and procreative context), far too many parents (and particularly their daughters) have opted for the idealization (and idolization) of childhood innocence.

What am I referring to? I am not referring to innocence as in guiltlessness (not even children have that), but rather the ignorance of children when it comes to both the evil of the world and their own sexuality. While we all have a natural nostalgia for the days of our youth, (when our hearts were full of unblighted hope and wholeness), Christendom has gone far beyond nostalgia to the point of prolonging and elevating the ignorant mind. We cloak this phenomenon in terms of “innocence,” as if children were without sin natures and if kept ignorant of the facts of life would remain so indefinitely.

I think of Christian college students who have no conception of broken families (even the brokenness of their own classmates), the chilly silence when it comes to depression, abuse, and addiction, and most particularly I think of the strange pressure put on young ladies to be sexually asleep for the decade(s) until marriage. The sad part is, while these beautiful young women can be lulled into a sexual sleep through a steady stream of negative messages, they can not just snap out of that sleep once married, when suddenly they need to desire their husbands. While Luther could acknowledge that celibacy is a perfectly good thing for the “sexless stone” who has the gift of singleness, today many who aren’t even remotely “burning with passion” are still marching to the alter.

Again, as a subculture, we have idolized ignorance, as if “not knowing” was a virtue in itself. When it comes to sex, the bible is clear on two points: that we are to be chaste until marriage and free from lust. Two difficult tasks, but clear ones. Yet somehow these mandates have been expanded within Christian culture to a sort of sexual cluelessness. A friend once told me that the majority of her sex education came from Shakespeare. Hah! But for many, sexual desire comes naturally with teenage hormones. How are young women to wade the waters of sexual purity, complete with bodies coursing full of desire, when their community reacts with a horrified hush and treats such feelings as only belonging to men? (Men whom Christendom, oddly, never expects to be “unawakened.”)

I have girlfriends, too, who if they have any desire have never so much as whispered it. Or, it is at least veiled in vague terms and spiritual niceties (read: “He has fine eyes and I think very highly of him. We’d make great prayer buddies.”). Many of my female friends haven’t the foggiest idea of how their own reproductive system works (just imagine what dangers that puts them in). Again, we have equated ignorance with purity. As if, maybe, if you don’t know any details—or have never felt your body react to the opposite sex—you are somehow more pure or of a higher moral fiber.

In contrast, I want to share with you an incident which happened shortly after I’d gotten married. For several months I had struggled to relate with the secular, singles’ culture of my workplace. Then I got hitched—and all my unfulfilled desire found glorious resting place in my husband’s arms. Now, at least, I had sex in common with my co-workers! Or so I thought.

But one day I walked into the office the morning after an office-party. The lights were off in the cubical-complex next to the lobby, (just about everyone had a hangover).  A group of women were huddled around each other, talking in low tones and giggling over their iPhones. As I joined the group, I caught the undertones of a conversation on who-slept-with-who in their drunken state the night before and oh-look! photos. I wandered off, feeling like a child who stumbled into an adult conversation, or had been sent to bed early.

And then it clicked. I had expected to relate with them! After all, I knew how sex was done, and how to do it well! But it didn’t make any difference. Because it wasn’t about knowledge—it wasn’t even about experience—it was about purity. I had expected that sexual knowledge—loss of ignorance—would make me less pure. But it hadn’t! Because purity isn’t about ignorance—it is a way of life, a kind of Being in Christ. I was just as pure as before marriage, and would go on being pure (God keep me) even when I am old and have a dozen grandchildren.

And isn’t this the beauty of Christ? That in Him, all things are pure and beautiful? After all, was He, in the sense I have described, ignorant? Guiltless, yes! Pure, absolutely! But lacking knowledge? As Lord of all Creation, there is no beautiful thing, nor horror of evil, which He does not see. Furthermore, Jesus Himself on earth knew so much evil first hand: the loneliness of the outcasts, the brokenness of the prostitute, the injustice and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He ate with them. He put His hands into their wounds, on their leprous and lecherous heads, let them kiss his feet, and with His own suffering won them for Himself.

If we are to be like Christ, there is no place for ignorance. Let children grow in the bubble-wrap of “innocent” happiness if need be, but we do nobody, least of all the unbeliever, any favors by being barricaded, naive adults.

So whether you are in your teens feeling the hot rushes of sexual awakening—or the crushed and world-weary traveller first learning of Christ—know that it is not what you have done or experienced which constitutes your purity but rather the purity of the Holy One whom you know! In Him your past is renewed, and in Him our experiences find their proper place—whether that be laboring alongside the broken, bringing light to dark places, experiencing grief, or your very first kiss from your beloved, He orders all things.

Let us not then disorderly value the ignorance of our childhood, but know that as we grow in Knowledge, in Christ we also grow in Beauty and Truth.

So Soon, My Heart

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vintage color effectThis morning I walked out into one of the most beautiful days I can ever remember. It wasn’t just the bluest of blue skies, nor the greenest of spring grasses, it was the early morning haze which infiltrated the purple-buds of trees, etherealized the clouds of blush-white cherry blossoms and made the tips of tender new leaves shine a golden emerald. I suddenly realized that my days among this Virginia beauty were numbered—and that mornings such as this glorious one were fast fading away.

Oh! be still, my heart.

We, Tim and I, have entered into a new stage of waiting in our lives as the summer approaches and with it a move to Boston. You can imagine my delight in knowing the time remaining at my current job is limited, yet there is sadness too as we prepare to leave our first, beloved home as newlyweds and the church whose people we have already come to know and love. We wait to know where we will live next, I wait to know where I will work, I wait to know what new roads and shops will become my life, what new space our lives will fill.

Waiting.

It seems to me that our whole lives are made up of seasons of waiting. I remember being fourteen, “waiting for life to begin” as I put it—when the boys (whom I already liked) would finally wake up and notice me. Then I remember being seventeen—the anxious days waiting to hear back from colleges about acceptances and scholarships. There were semesters of college, waiting for tests, waiting for finals, waiting for a dance or performance or date. Waiting for graduation. Waiting for a job. Waiting for marriage.

Waiting for Tim! Ah, I waited a long time for him, and he for me. There were countless days and nights of tears waiting—and hoping—for him. Wondering what strange (and seemingly impossible) circumstances would have to align to bring us together. But God brought it about.

And now that particular waiting is over. Just yesterday I had to just stare at his beloved profile in the car—awed yet again that we live our lives as one—hand-in-hand, side-by-side. My dream come true.

Oh, my dear heart.

When did that waiting end? and this new waiting begin? All along, this happiness was so incredibly soon! It was waiting for me, just around the corner. And now that I’m there, you’d think that somehow the waiting would end, but no, instead I find new things to wait for. When we whisper our dreams at the close of the day—Tim and I are still waiting, waiting for a permanent home, waiting for our future children, waiting to know what our life will bring.

This season turns into next. Someday we’ll be waiting for our children’s dreams—their graduation and marriage and children. 

And it is right, in some way, that we are always waiting.

I sensed, felt more than thought, this morning the curious juxtaposition of our daily lives in light of waiting for our eternal home. We are called to embrace the NOW—the fleeting dream that we live—even as we realize that we are not where we will one day be—that there is so much more awaiting us in our heavenly home of the Forever Now. When Goodness and Beauty and Truth will never end. When all the tomorrows become Today.

But we are waiting for that day—and days such as this morning remind me of that glory—and that it’s coming.

So soon, my heart.

Ratatouille Moments

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This past weekend my family came down from New York to Virginia to visit me and my husband. It’d been several months since we’d seen them, so we filled up the weekend with seeing Arlington Cemetery, General Lee’s house, and having lots of long talks and culinary experiences. On Saturday we all shared one big injera at an Ethiopian restaurant (a sourdough sponge like bread from which we ate our lamb and beef and pea curries), Saturday night we had my dijon-and-rosemary pot roast, and then on Sunday we finished off with Mexican food at a little hole-in-the-wall called Jarochita.

As is my habit at every Mexican restaurant I visit, I always ask to see if they sell horchata, a rice and cinnamon drink I’d had as a child. Usually the answer is “no.” A very few times in the last fifteen years they’ve had a powdered version—usually rather chalky, dark, and overly sweet and, once tried, enjoyed only for the shadow it bears to the original.

But Jarochita is a special Mexican restaurant. You can’t order except in Spanish—and, lucky for us, my Dad is fluent enough that just this past weekend he was asked whether or not he was actually American (he is—and the proper grandson of Italians). He was entirely in charge of ordering, so out came plates of beef and lengua (tongue) tacos, garnished solely with sweet onions and cilantro. Out came a plate of grilled cactus. And then! Then out came three styrofoam liters of horchata. We took the lids off and I felt a happy glimmering of recognition as I saw the pearly-white liquid swishing around ice. I took a sip.

And my eyes filled with tears. anton 1

I couldn’t help it. It was just like that moment in Ratatouille when Anton is transported back to his childhood. I realized I hadn’t tasted that refreshing, light, milky-sweet-cinnamon taste since I was five or six years old in California. All at once I could see again the little Mexican cafe in San Leandro—plopped, as it seemed, in the middle of a parking lot like a drive-through Dairy Queen… half of its sides were windows, and inside were a few small, bare tables and two percolating machines of aguas frescas—cool waters, horchata on ice.

“Oooh, Linda! You feeling nostalgic?” cooed my eleven year old sister, grinning sympathetically.

“Yes…” I replied, a little pouty and blinking away the tears.

I sipped my horchata contentedly. And I thought how strange it was that this was the first time I had experienced anything like Horchatathis—such vivid transportation backward through taste alone. I suppose it is because so many of my favorite childhood tastes I still enjoy—my mother still cooks the same amazing soups, stews, meats, beans, and desserts as she always has. There is nothing else I can think of but horchata that holds such a loved-and-lost place in my palate.

Loved-and-lost-and-found. We declared Jarochita the best Mexican food we’d had outside of California. “No,” Dad corrected himself emphatically, “outside of Mexico!”

And I suppose it was. But it was also deliciously like what I remembered in California, and for that I am grateful.

Washing Feet [In a Corporate Office]

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Office reception desk

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

Can I tell you a secret? I hate my job. After years of writing, english and art classes, public speaking, and a liberal arts education—through several (at the time sensible) decisions I ended up as the little receptionist of a rather big political consulting firm.

I expected such a position would give me ample opportunity to do what I love best: connect with people. Between phone calls, guests, and scheduling, surely countless people would cross my daily routine, and I, like I had in jobs before, would have the opportunity to shine my cheerful smile and the light of Christ across their path.

What has instead come to pass is perhaps the most humbling process I have ever voluntarily submitted myself to.

I sit alone in a front lobby almost as large as my apartment—complete with industrial flooring, glass doors and walls, and a flat screen TV which runs the muted news all day. Four chairs, their bottoms larger than their backs, lounge like minimalist art statues around a magazined table, flanked by the aforementioned tv and two dying plants. At different points in the day the office is so quiet you could hear a pin drop, at others the muffled reverberations of laughter drift from the sections of coworkers down the hall.

Most days the phone rings less than four times, (I inevitably forward the call or take a message). Most days we have under four guests—whom I escort to the appropriate place (properly watered and coffeed).

Sometimes, of course, things get interesting. A package arrives and I must sign my last name. One time I wrote training material. Four precious months of my life were spent doing thousands of pages of data-entry. On a particularly memorable day, somebody called the front desk and let off half a dozen F-bombs.

But most days I buzz people through the locked front doors, clean up the kitchen and conference rooms, stock the fridge, and try to pass my nine-hour work day as productively as I can.

The loneliness is the worst part. For a variety of reasons (which have given my psychologist streak ample material for hyper-analysis), people simply don’t stop and talk to receptionists. It’s sorta like I’m furniture. Even my boss has only given me about three five minute conversations since August.

Once, (and I mean once), a visiting woman turned and looked me right in the face and said “Thank you!” for the drink I’d brought her. Its sincerity was so out of the ordinary it went through my heart and buried itself deep inside. I nearly cried later.

I’m like the contractor they’ve hired to sit desk and wipe up their coffee spills. Not a proper coworker at all. On a team of one.

My usual optimism and runaway imagination have not aided me. After seven full months, the only part which has improved is that I no longer have emotional breakdowns on my husband twice a week. I hate it as much as the week I began.

But that is not to say that I am not learning and growing a great deal.

I have daily fights with resentment and bitterness. Furthermore, I have had to struggle against the basic instinct to put my identity and worth in my work, accomplishments, and reputation. Because I think I have my whole life. I think we all do. “I’m a teacher.” “I’m a mother.” “I’m a programmer.” What we do matters and too often defines us.

But what I do every day does not matter. And I don’t want it to define me.

I feel an unwelcome comradery with the cleaning lady I see every few hours, the five or six UPS, FedEx, and delivery men I see every week, and the bus and metro drivers who take me to work every day. I don’t want my job to define me.

My instinctive reaction in the face of such monotonous drudgery is to smile brighter—to work even harder to connect and witness. Maybe those precious seconds with guests—maybe they will matter! But even at a job like mine, such thinking can only take you so far. You can’t make people stop and talk to somebody they don’t even fully realize is there.

And without words, my smiles are office flowers—sometimes droopy.

So I’ve been thrown back—again—to square one. If I, like so many people in our society, shudder to put my identity in being a cog in a machine—what do I put it in?

“You make  known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)

Christ. Christ. Christ. He of all people had reason to boast. Son of God, Ruler of Angels, Miracle Worker, King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

And sometimes, on good days, I can wrap my head around Him coming to earth: He had a divine plan, and He submitted Himself to a Divine Will. Even the nativity story can grow stable-ordinary.

But I am struck of late with His washing His disciple’s feet. Most of all Judas’. It says in John that “he knew who was going to betray him” (John 13:11). Yet He washed every single disciple’s feet.

I wonder how He felt when He got to Judas—when He lifted those dusty, sweaty feet—the kind that had worn the same pair of sandals every day for years. Imagine the smell. Dirt under the nails. Hair kinda slimy. Did Jesus look in Judas’ eyes as He wiped the grime away? The same hands that had turned water into wine washed the traitor’s feet. And He did it with a thousand times more love, forgiveness, and humility in His hands and eyes than when I (too often begrudgingly) wash counters and fill fridges with water.

If Jesus can wash His friend’s feet—and His enemy’s too—I can do today’s equivalent of mundane and thankless tasks with a humble spirit.

Now mind, I don’t say this to recommend taking a job like mine—if you can find meaningful work I think you are by far better off. But I am saying that it has taken being in a job like this to even glimpse how much in the way of humility I need to grow.

Humility. I used to think it was an attitude, as in “not boasting”, not feeling the need to air your accomplishments. Sure. Okay. But I’m learning it’s also a way of living. Living humbly. Being ok with not being noticed, not doing anything note-worthy, and serving gladly anyway.

I am learning to give my reputation over into the hands of the Lord, for I have no control over what anyone thinks of me (good, bad, indifferent). I can’t change that being a married Christian woman in a male and single dominated office makes me a bit of an anomaly. (Drink and party on the weekends? How about cooking and cuddling with the husband?)

I am learning to hide away my identity in Christ, to give it to Him for the safest of keeping. For in my own hands I have found it to crumble quickly.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Sometimes it feels like my coworkers are the thieves in that verse—stealing my joy with belittling comments and passive demeanors. But they aren’t. They are not so powerful—let alone so purposeful. The only thief capable of stealing my joy is fear. “The fear of humility … / The fear of being lonely … “ (Audrey Assad)

And I am not alone. My lobby is in the very court of my King. My heart is in His presence. And there is fullness of joy.

And I suppose when it comes to it that is the best witness I can give—trusting that even a faltering testament that goes unnoticed somehow glorifies God.

And I would rather be a doorkeeper in Your house than live my life anywhere else.