Nancy’s Fragrance: Journey

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
2 Corinthians 2:14-15

“Amy, check out this Mary Kay perfume. I’ve decided it’s going to be my new signature scent.”
Nancy smiled broadly at me as she spritzed a small amount of the perfume into the air so I could take a whiff.
“Mm,” I inhaled, “it smells just like you were meant to.”
I didn’t say that lightly. The perfume smelled light, airy, and flowery, which suited Nancy perfectly.
“I think I’m going to wear it for the first time tonight,” Nancy declared, donning a sparkling lavender dress, and checking her reflection in the mirror as she pulled on a sweater.
“You definitely should,” I confirmed. “It’s the perfect night to introduce your new ‘signature scent.'”

And so it was. It was December 1, 2011, Nancy and Jeriah’s one year anniversary and quite literally the first day of the rest of Nancy’s life. Little did we know we had less then ten days with Nancy on this side of heaven.

At the time, the conversation did not seem at all significant. Just two sisters, chatting easily as one prepares to go out. I was sitting on Nancy’s bed, offering occasional opinions and pointers, helping her with her hair, hyping her up with compliments. These interactions with Nancy came as naturally to me as breathing does. It was an integral part of my life, as familiar to me as my own hand.

Nancy misted the perfume over her outfit and turned to me. “Thoughts?” she inquired.
“You look perfect; Jeriah will love it,” I responded with a smile.
“Thanks,” Nancy grinned eagerly, grabbed her coat and purse, and swept out her bedroom door. I followed her down the stairs, wanting to catch Jeriah’s reaction when he saw her. I was not disappointed. His eyes lit up upon seeing her, and a smile creased the corners of his mouth and dimpled his cheeks. I sighed inwardly. This was what dreams are made of. I couldn’t even imagine the joy of looking at someone with that measure of pure love, and seeing it reflected back at me in their eyes. Mom snapped a few pictures of them before they left, and then together they floated happily out the door.

Ten days later, on December 11, I looked into those same eyes that had stared so blissfully at my sister on December 1st languish under the crushing weight of grief. As Jeriah and I sat next to each other overwhelmed by tears and attempting to process what had just happened, we each had the same thought: what next? Neither of us knew what our futures would look like without Nancy in it. Without Nancy, it seemed the sun could go on rising and setting but the world would still be dark. The future suddenly seemed to be a dark and cold abyss, robbed of the sun.

I selected that same lavender dress that Nancy had wore on her final date with Jeriah to have her laid out in her casket in. Interestingly, without her soul filling her body and movement filling her limbs, the sparkles seemed muted, even dull by contrast to when she wore it on her date. At my request, in a vain attempt to mask chemical smell, her coffin was drenched with the same Mary Kay perfume she had worn that night; the perfume she had declared her new ‘signature scent:’ Journey. The Mary Kay website describes this perfume as a “light, sheer floral that attracts the woman who has a zest for living life’s adventures, everyday.”

It smells just like Nancy was meant to.

Psalm 139:16 states: “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” Nancy’s death, though seemingly on the cusp of the next chapter in her journey and untimely, was not a surprise to God. Even Jesus couldn’t be crucified without God’s allowance. When Pilate asked Jesus if He realized that he had the authority to release Him and the authority to crucify Him, Jesus blithely answered that Pilate would have no authority if it had not been granted to him from God above (John 19:9-11.) Thus, nothing, not even death, can occur apart from God’s allowance.

“If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all. They are meant to make you useful in His hands.”
– Oswald Chambers

The longer I am in Christ, the more it is impressed upon me that “my” story is not “mine” at all. Nor was it ever meant to be. My story is reminiscent of Who my God is, and should be treated as such. It is idolatry to treat it otherwise.

Jesus’ experience on earth wasn’t for Him at all. He didn’t need saving. His life on earth was an outpouring of gratitude towards God and all that He is. It wasn’t self-indulgent, and it certainly wasn’t glamorous. It was tainted with grief and hardship, because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and even a perfect Person is affected by the consequences of imperfection in this fallen world. Jesus’ life illustrated to us what it is to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Jesus’ journey was marked by such a fragrant life of obedience that the fragrance is still lingering today on the gospel, some two thousand odd years later.


“Live each day in view of eternity.”

Nancy’s life wasn’t “for” her. Rather, it was for all the people she touched through her genuine kindness and thoughtfulness. Her fragrant journey still lingers on them.

Her fragrant journey still lingers on me. And because of that, a new fragrance is being developed through my story, one with hints of floral and sunshine, as beautiful as Nancy was, as unique as I am, as creative as my Savior is. But my fragrance is not a stagnant one, it is getting interwoven with the fragrance of others as it intersects with their lives and their stories. Through the intersection of all of these fragrances, God is pulling out the fragrance of redemption. My life is only a microscopic example of this. God is not only doing work apart from me, but in spite of me.

A.W. Tozer once said, “Outside the will of God, there’s nothing I want. Inside the will of God, there’s nothing I fear.” That is the freedom that I have in Christ.



Under Construction

“Almost all of the really beautiful, profound things God is going to do in your life are going to take place over a long period of time, through a lot of ordinary.”
– Matt Chandler

Since I’ve lived in New York State my whole life, I, like all true upstaters, am immensely adept at complaining about the cold, bleak winter that darkens about six months of the year (give or take). It’s a point of solidarity among New Yorkers, something that you can reference to a complete stranger and likely receive an earful on.

However, I don’t actually hate winter. I grew up right outside the snow belt and a recipient of Lake Effect Snow, so winter is like an old familiar friend to me. I enjoy how muted and fresh the world looks under a fresh blanket of snow. I like to ski. I like to sip hot chocolate, curl up next to a fireplace and immerse myself in a book. I like wool socks, scarves, and cardigans.

Yet, in spite of all that, this year I needed it to be spring in a way I haven’t previously. It has been a long, dark, cold few months in my personal life. I am sick of the outdoors reflecting my inward state.

I am ready for growth.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks. Its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
– Cynthia Occelli

To be clear, I am not intimidated by winter – both inwardly or outwardly.

As someone who struggles with depression, the seasons serve as a source of continual personal encouragement to me. The seasons are a tangible reminder that change can be beautiful and that everything is impermanent. I am not going to get perpetually stuck in the winter months. Spring will come. Beauty will burst forth, and I will reap what I’ve sown. And, I’m certainly not scared of struggling. Shaming struggling is a facade. Everyone struggles; there’s no reason for shame. Thus it’s a facade I refuse to participate in.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am relieved that it’s finally spring.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
– Albert Camus

Was it Necessary to Do It?

I tell you that ant is very alive!
Look at how he fusses at being stepped on.
–  Mary Oliver

Even my church building has been a source of ready encouragement to me.

About a year ago, the church that I attend, Goodwill – New Paltz, finally had the privilege of opening the doors of its permanent location for the very first time. Together, we rejoiced as a church, as this is something we had been praying for consistently for the better part of a year and a half. Previously, we had been meeting in the Community Center in town, which, though accommodating, presented its own unique set of challenges. Fellowship was significantly hampered after church due to the fact other groups also used the building and we had to vacate the premises by a certain time. Not to mention the extraordinary outside effort and time it took each week to completely set up and tear down all of the chairs, tables and instruments required for both services.

And, not only did we finally have a permanent location, but the building that my church gets to call its home is, by no exaggeration, one of the most historically significant buildings in the Village of New Paltz. (Interestingly, though the building itself dates back to the Civil War era, my church was founded in 1729 – prior to the American Revolution.)

Feeding the 5000: Transforming a Steakhouse into a Church

The building that now houses my church has traditionally been at the center of the culture and hubbub of community activities. (Coincidence? I think not. God is good.) In fact, in 2004, the building was officially declared a landmark by the New Paltz Village Historic Preservation Commission. The two-story, 3,200 square foot brick building that sits on the corner of North Chestnut Street was initially built as a Village Hall in in 1864. However, it has worn a variety of titles throughout its history. It has been a traditional theatre and a “moving-pictures theater” on multiple occasions, (usually both at the same time,) as well as an Opera House, Community Center, and various restaurants. It has also housed a hardware store, a school of ballet, a barber shop, and a shoe repair shop. It has even briefly housed residents! It has hosted everything from basketball games to barn dances.

Pastor Josh has remarked on numerous occasions that: “To know that we get to be the stewards of this jewel of New Paltz – to me, the most iconic building in the Village – comes with a sense of great joy and great responsibility.”


Stupidly excited. God is moving in New Paltz, and it’s a privilege to be a part of that.

Turning a restaurant into a church is no small feat, however. Thus, for the better part of the first few months that we occupied it as a church, it was in a state of obvious construction. At this point, everything that is left to do is primarily cosmetic, but there was something very cool about worshipping God in a space that was still in the process of realizing its full potential.

After all, aren’t we all in a state of perpetual construction before Him?

“We, in Communion with Jesus Christ are a Community of friends and families who love and trust Him and passionately pursue the Christ-like Character essential to fulfill our Commission to change our lives and world for Him.”
(Goodwill’s purpose and identity statement)

We live in a society that rewards and celebrates the “big things” – starring in a play, releasing a single on iTunes, getting a metal at the Olympics. Social media has only contributed to this propensity to play into the highlight reel of our lives. But what’s not seen by the masses is the hours of rehearsal, the voice lessons, the frustrations, and years of daily pushing the physical limits that led up to each of these individual successes.

What’s not seen by a visitor of Upstate New York in the spring is the winter that proceeded it. What’s not seen by a visitor of my church now is spackle behind the painted walls; the long days put in by Doug Jeffries and many unnamed others to transform a restaurant into a functional church.

We need to stop waking up and waiting for something wonderful to happen. We are that something wonderful. Let’s make it happen.

“Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.
At the sound of His roar, sorrows will be no more.
When He bares His teeth, winter meets its death,
And when He shakes His mane, we shall have spring again.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Where, oh death, is your victory?
Where, oh death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-57

One of my least favorite phrases that has wormed its way into the Christian vernacular is: “God gives His hardest battles to His strongest soldiers.” (It’s right up there with: “God helps a man who helps himself.” Gag me.)

I detest this cliché for a myriad of reasons. First of all, it’s not Biblically grounded. It completely

  1. Disregards that the only way any of us stand a chance in battle is because of Who God is, not because of who we are. Please. Let’s not get presumptuously cocky. (I don’t know about you, but pride is never something that my Bible speaks of highly. But maybe you have a different translation?)
  2. Ignores how someone becomes a “strong soldier.” As aforementioned, just like most success, becoming a soldier is preceded and continued by a string of minute decisions daily, small, uncelebrated, and sometimes even unnoticed acts of obedience.

To be entirely transparent, I have often longed that the battles that God has given me to face and carry – my brother’s stillbirth, Nancy’s untimely passing, my depression – could be re-gifted to some other soldier. Not that I would ever wish sorrow on anyone else. But at the same time, I whine at God, why me?

I often get FOMO amongst my peers. Many of my friends my age have graduated college at this point, and are either in grad school or beginning their careers, getting married, or starting a family. I’m still struggling to keep my plants alive, and am not even yet settled enough somewhere to get a pet. My plans have been written and re-written over the course of the last few years, as what I want has changed, and I’ve been forced to take time off of school for the sake of my mental health (I’m actually on a leave of absence from school right now.)

In a way, experiencing grief so young feels like I got robbed of what remained of my youth, and was catapulted into adulthood without my consent or even any sort of warning. I was a senior in high school when Nancy died, on the cusp of finally experiencing the “best years of my life:” getting to discover who I was apart from my parents and hometown, and make irresponsible decisions without remorse. (I may have done that last thing anyway.)

I have often told God that if He wanted to place the calling He has on my life on someone else’s life, I’d be cool with it. (I’m not yet sure what He’s calling me to, but He has made it abundantly clear to me that He has work for me to do.) Because, the paradox of all of this is that “to much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

I have been given much, therefore much is required of me.

I personally would rather lie low. I’m rather fond of my bed. I’d be okay with just sliding by, unnoticed and uncelebrated, leading a “normal” life with “normal” activities. Unfortunately, that is just not accessible to me. God wants (and even demands) more for (and of) me.

So in trusting Him, I’m striving to celebrate the ordinary: this season of harrowing internal construction, even if it doesn’t look exactly how I had imagined or how I would have preferred. Fortunately, weather* it’s spring or winter, my Jesus is consistent in all seasons, and the gospel only gets sweeter with time.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is your life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.”
Colossians 3:2-4, emphasis mine

*entirely intentional.