any much joy than this

Everybody: Hey Krystiana, are you enjoying being home?

Krystiana: I LOVE IT. It’s beautiful. I’m so happy to be back.

Everybody: Cool. Glad to hear it. See you later!

That’s the short version. The long version is more complicated than that. It’s been rolling around my head, slowly, all summer long, gathering thread after thread, until it starts to make something that almost resembles story.

The long version is that never in my life have I felt more full, more content, than I am right here this morning.

The long version is that all this past year, when people would ask me how I liked Chicago and grad school, I would say “I love Chicago!” and talk about train commuting and Intelligentsia coffee and how much I appreciated the structure of my program, all of those things were mostly true, but it is not true that I liked grad school.

Grad school was hard. Not intellectually, because if I learned one thing by showing up at the University of Chicago, it was that I am smart enough to be there. That part was not hard. What was hard about this year was spiritual and emotional and whole-identity-vocational, or “figuring out what kind of person I am and what kind of work I should be doing.”

Life in grad school is a life mostly lived inside my head. And what I learned is that, while I’m good at reading the books and having the ideas and writing the words, hanging out in my head that much is straight up toxic. My head’s kind of messy, you know? Kind of murky. And when my head isn’t so nice inside, it is showing up to work with people and with my hands and feet and heart and soul that lets the light in. That is what throws open the windows and keeps them open, keeps the breeze moving, and lets me close my eyes and breathe deep of this grace.

And life now that I’m home is rich in grace.

Grace like a Naomi sister friend who has let me move in with her and makes the days so good. Who pulls out my (mattress) bed from underneath her (actual) bed for me when I’m coming home late, and who makes coffee in the morning, and who gets what makes me angry and what brings me delight and what makes me want to cry, because a lot of the time we’re angry or delighted or sad at the same things. And if we’re not, she listens anyway.

Or grace like pulling into town with Maggie just as the sun rose, after driving all night. And reveling in that beauty because we’d been looking for a sunrise all week long and here was this one just waiting for us to get home and find it.

Grace like saving up a story to tell Anna at church, and standing there at the projector stand right before service started and laughing so hard we cried, and getting crazy looks from the people around us. But not minding, because church is allowed to be a place where sometimes you laugh so hard you cry.

It’s grace like the chicory flowers growing in the cracks in the sidewalk on the non-cool part of Shelby Street. They grow other places too. Prettier places, like gardens and fields. But it’s the ones in the sidewalk cracks on Sunday morning that made me pause, because there they are not just pretty, but also tough and brave and redemptive. Showing up in an ugly place and saying that something alive and beautiful is allowed to grow even here. When I grow up, I want to be like the chicory.

Grace like having zero books to read for homework ever again, which means I can read whatever books I want to read for fun. Like ones that are Useful For My Life, as opposed to Useful For My Thesis. Or ones that are not even useful, but only beautiful and fun. That, AND right now I’m living next door to a library. If that is not providential, I don’t know what providential is.

It’s grace that I’m writing these words in the moments of pause while I make the chili and cornbread for the middle school girls we hang out with every week. Some of our girls live in houses where there isn’t always food, and so when we get together we make sure there will be. There will be food and there will be laughing and there will be awkward moments when nobody knows what to say, and somewhere amid the food and the laughing and the awkward silences, we pray there will be Jesus. And if a moment could sum up the kind of life I want to live, it would be this moment. It is a life where I have to keep washing my hands before I sit down at my writing keyboard, because my fingers are sticky from the middle schoolers’ chili.

And the thing is, this grace of belonging isn’t just in the happy parts. I’m still figuring out how to have and handle feelings like a healthy grown-up person, but this is what I know to be true: There will be hurt, but the things that hurt me here are things worth hurting for.

A few weeks back, some leaders at my church did a thing that made me ache inside. I hate that it happened. But it did happen, and I can’t reverse it and I can’t make up for it and I can’t stand up and say “hey fam, are you sure this is the most like Jesus?” But I’m also not going to leave. I am going to stay because I have to, because the gospel is big, and these people are the ones who have shown it to me. When this place makes me ache, I’m going to pay attention to the ache and let myself be stretched  by compassion and by the big gospel, and then I am going to keep showing up. Because this is worth hurting for.

It’s worth hurting when a crazy lady gave my friend a whole handful of very scary pills, and she took them to look tough and so that people would see her. And she could have died. And she is thirteen.  And when I think about that lady I want to storm into her house and scream at her and possibly knock her down because what in the hell kind of a person gives that to a child. Sorry mom, for swearing on the internet. I don’t want to live in a world where crazy people can give pills to a kid, or where the kid is so hardened and starved for whole love that she will swallow them to see what happens. But if this is the world where I live, I want to notice it. I want to let it hurt me. I don’t want to hide from it and I never want to be able to run away and forget how broken it is. Because if I’m allowed to forget the brokenness, I might forget the healing.

And this kind of hurt is where I want to be. Because when I hurt this past year in Chicago, it was because I was stuck with work that I did not care about, and that is a heavy load for a person to hold. Or because it looked like somebody else was possibly having a better, more human, more whole-hearted kind of life than me and I wanted what they had. Or because I remembered this year what it’s like to be lonely, and you would think I’ve already had enough of those feelings—like definitely my share already, okay?—but grace doesn’t work in shares. Grace is abundance. Always enough, and all that I need, and “it is finished.”

And right now I am in the middle of abundance, and I want to grab myself by the shoulders and say: HEY YOU. REMEMBER THIS JOY. The next time you are far away and outside of your communion and feeling like this is not the most human way to live (because it isn’t), remember the grace of right now. Of “see you tomorrow” at the end of the day, and early morning laughter on the porch with Naomi, and texting my Eliza sister to meet me at the new coffee shop on Washington street, and hanging out with a soft-cheek baby last week and singing the bridge of “You Make Beautiful Things” like forty-seven times at every nap until he fell asleep, and Lake asking us to hang out before he moves, and being able to invite Grace over for sweet potatoes tomorrow, and Sarah calling me up with a possible connection to a job, and Lynnette being brave and asking to talk when she needs it, and the middle schoolers tonight who are going to run up and throw their arms around me just because I’m there, and because their banged up hearts are easily won.

And I don’t know what God is thinking, giving all these people to one who loves them only so poorly. But this, right here where my feet are, is grace.

My friend N was telling her story earlier this summer, in a way that was beautiful and brave and gritty and funny all at the same time, because she’s that way. And for a person who hasn’t lived very long, her story has a lot of ugly parts. More than should be allowed. But at one point she got to a part in the story about returning home after being away, and then her feelings were too big for her words. And she shook her head and stumbled on, and said “and when I came home . . . I have never known any much joy than that.”

And that is the way that I feel.

I am home. And I have never known any much joy than this.

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