sisters weekend surprises

It was my idea to not tell anyone where we were going and what we were doing this weekend. Apparently, Christina took that seriously. She dropped off the radar with her friends and agreed to meet me at a quaint B & B. I left a louder trail, I guess, and I can't quite figure out why that is. I told someone we were having a "prayer retreat" and others that we were on a "getaway." I guess I'm uncomfortable saying, "Oh, nothing much" when someone asks what I'm up to this weekend. I guess I have to say something and then even I'm surprised sometimes at what comes out. Well, even if it wasn't completely secret, the B & B getaway was full of amazing, delicious surprises! It made me count the sweet blessings of being stateside, where I can spend time with one of my favorite people. Though you may not understand it, I can guarantee you'd be rolling in laughter for one reason or another if you had been there.

  • On the way to pick up crafting materials at Hobby Lobby, we stopped at the gas station for a Founty (our sister-in-law Bethany has endeared us to call our favorite form of soda by this name). While making too big of a scene for a simple fountain soda, the attendant wanted to know what was the cause of all the laughter. We must have had a case of the Friday-afternoon-loopies because we giggled out a joke lamenting our single status. As we were leaving, the attendant said, "All I know is, somebody's missing out!" We laughed our way into the car and then decided Daniel had been sent to speak deep truth into our silly lives.
  • At the Mexico-inspired B & B, we met Jaime and Daphne and their granddaughter who showed us to The Tabasco Room, where we would be staying. We were charmed instantly by Jaime's grandfatherly way and his thick Spanish accent. His birthday was today and so we played the age guessing game over mexican shot glasses of Jose Cuervo last night (btw, 100% agave is apparently the only way to buy Tequila). He guessed we were 19 and 22 ... and then attributed our youthfulness to innocence as we fumbled with comments about the smoothness of the liquor.
  • One of Jaime's daughters said, "I'm sorry" when she heard our true ages because she is convinced, "it gets better after 30." So, that is something to look forward to!
  • There was a couple celebrating their anniversary, a couple traveling back north from the State Fair, and a man in Ames on business. As we helped ourselves to some Mexican coffee, one of the men said, "You girls look like the Olympic sand volleyball team... just 6 inches shorter." We looked at each other with eyebrows raised and said, "Yeah.. we'll take that!"
  • One of the guests at the B & B was a farmer and he was pretty impressed with our ability to "talk shop" so much that he asked if we were in the business! We both felt pretty good about that.
  • One of the strangest surprises was the fact that no one thought we were sisters. We've never thought we looked especially alike, but people have always told us we do. So, it was weird when we had to keep explaining that we were related. But, maybe more weird was Christina's realization that it could look any different and her hasty explanation even when it wasn't warranted.

Our conversations drifted in and out of serious with a good dose of silly mixed in. No surprise there, I suppose, but a lot of refreshment. We have never really lived close enough for the kind of friendship that hangs out on the weekends. So, I'm trying to live in the moments where I do right now.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the world has lost its integrity

I was talking with my brother tonight (in the moments I could peel my eyes from the USA women's gymnastics team) and he said something that dropped like granite over the cell phone waves.

"Care, it's like the world has lost its integrity. What do we even do about that?"

We were talking about health insurance and welfare and the spirit of entitlement and somehow we got around to integrity. That was when my brother told me that the world doesn't have any - it's lost.

That's heavy.

I don't know if I said it like this, but I thought it, "Yes, the world has no integrity... but I wonder if what we do is, with the power only our salvation provides, what we do is have integrity."

We can't change systems or government structures or the way both can be manipulated by 'entitled' people.  We can, however, be people of integrity who are transformed by the power of a structure outside of earthly invention. We can offer an honest handshake in an honest business deal because we are not governed by earthly ambitions. Not because we are so great or enlightened or advanced, but because God is so great.

Because God is so great (and gracious), the world has hope of integrity. Because God is so great, our disgrace does not have to be the end of us. Because God is so great, integrity can be found.

how many daisies?

"Natalie. Build. Castle!"

"Oh, are we building a castle?"

"Uh-huh! Yep! Build castle!"

"Wow, look at that ca--"

"Natalie step on it!"

"Yep, you sure did. Now what are we going to do?"

"Natalie. Build. Castle!"

And so it went this past week - back and forth from the water to the shore and back again. Dig, rinse, scoop, pour, stomp. Repeat.

There's a beauty in a child's monotony that big people miss. We want our actions to produce something that wasn't there before we started. We want results that make sense.

And we are annoyed when rhythms appear (to us) to move without purpose. We don't delight in doing simple things over and over again. There's nothing delightful about laboring for underwhelming results.

We've lost our awe of little things.

But, oh, I wish you could have seen Natalie's face! She got so industrious with that shovel and had such purpose with the big red bucket. She kept beautiful busy - building or destroying - and every once in a while she would invite someone else to join her. Try explaining to great, big  2-year-old blue eyes that digging, rinsing, scooping, pouring, stomping and repeating isn't a good use of her time. Just try it.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I wonder what he would say to my 2-year-old niece who does the same thing over and over again and watches the result like it's the first time she's ever seen it.

She isn't expecting something different (she knows full well what is coming), but when "it" happens, she blooms with joy. Every time, like it's the first time.

G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy Chapter 4:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I love it.

love how Natalie could have the same amount of joy every time she built up the sand and every time the water washed it away... Every time I hid under the blankets and every time I appeared from underneath... Every time she said, "Natalie go outside, please" and every time she convinced someone to follow her.

Most of all, I love that "God is strong enough to exult in monotony." Every once in a while we stop and admire the way the water comes in to the shore and splashes the beach, but God makes the water work in rhythm every day with crazy, consistent joy. I love to think that God "has the eternal appetite of infancy."

Because how many times have we succumbed to sin, "growing old" with maturity marking our progress? How many times have we decided we don't have time for monotony or aren't interested or amazed by it anymore?

And how many daisies did God make today, delighting the same in the monotonous beauty of every one?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Fanfaronades and Delighting in Others' Delight

This word, fanfaronade, popped out in the list of Unusual Words Rendered in Bold Graphics. I love words, or don't you know that already? Well, I do. I love words because words make language. Language is that stuff that floats between people and between people and God. Language describes things, explains things, and... puts clothes on the skeletons of emotions, ideas, and surprises.

Fanfaronade is just funny to say. The syllables fold out like the person who wears them. You know the type, right? She's that person everyone is regularly embarrassed to be around. She's known for "making a scene" at the airport check-in counter and also when she's ordering coffee at Starbucks. Her recent accomplishments are never secrets and her failures are unfortunate misunderstandings of her gifts. She's never a supporting actress, even if she has to cause an emergency backstage to be front and center.

Though she would protest her theatrics described as such, fanfaronades are exactly what they are. The word doesn't even have the dignity of distinguished pronunciation.

fan-fer-uh-neyd

It sounds like something an Uncle Bob might say about his out-of-control, pre-teen daughter Samantha who insists people call her Savannah the Singing Star. "Somebody's gotta tell her we've had 'bout enough 'o them fanfaronades 'o hers," he'd say. Can't you just hear him?

I love the graphic from Project Twins because this is the noise following people who are known for fanfaronades - bleating horn blasts that crowd out all other sounds in the room.

I'm thinking about fanfaronades as I spend time with family in one of my favorite places - where beaches rival any in the world and half the blueberries never make it past the pickers. This little one, Natalie, is my almost constant companion for our West Michigan family vacation.

I chase her around and then she chases me. And I see how my brother and sister-in-law spot her fanfaronades and find many teachable moments. She announces her time-outs with resignation, but she always comes back calmly accepting her supporting role (at least for now). She doesn't exactly know she's fanfaronading, which is why she's not... yet.

But we should know better.

Why can kids call spades spades without hesitation and we struggle to admit our charades?

I love to be around Natalie because something wild in me wants it to be all about her - I want to do things that spark wonder in her eyes. I want to give in when she says, "again" again and again and again. I want to hear her giggle. I want to witness her taste blueberries off the branch and build sand castles on the beach. I want to watch her delight in life.

I know there's such a thing as smothering little ones with too much. But, I realized something happens when I'm around her. I want to do less fanfaronading because it's not about me anymore.

I've wandered around with words to land at these conclusions: 1) Jesus - the One most qualified to speak all and only about Himself - spent his whole life pointing to the Father. He didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped. 2) I've got to figure out how to take my affections for Natalie - the way I delight in her delight - and live that way with everyone. I want to delight to watch others delight.

Is this some of God's heart for His creation? Does he delight in us as He watches us delight in Him, in life, in others?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when faith is about living

I leaned up against the bed post and nestled in to reading position as I flipped the old, typed pages of a faded blue folder. These were weighty words - letters to my grandmother from friends and family shortly before she died. Some sent stories of college excursions and others talked about her hospitality. Nearly every entry spoke of her generosity and strong spirit. Many didn't say it just like this, but when people looked at my grandma, they saw Jesus. I didn't mind getting weepy as I read about her nickname "Tillie the Toiler" in college and about her effortless way of putting others first. But it was toward the end of the simple, typed pages that my eye fell on an entry from my dad. At the top it read, "From Dick and Cindy Nichols, third child and his wife." Though I'd been reading similar titles designating relationship to Grandma, this one shifted something inside and made her closer - more kindred.

I re-read the entry several times and my eyes fell on this sentence halfway through the last paragraph,

"I'm convinced that to live life to the fullest you must be able to face death confidently and with eternal assurance."

Part of me felt my own convictions fall freshly into step with my dad's, though I hadn't ever heard him phrase it that way. I was seven when my grandma passed away, so my eyes were still inward and unable to see my dad's pain and healing as he watched his mom wither and fade. But here, in these words, I found something beautiful like blooming Spring.

Though my flesh will fight it, my heart as a single woman is to serve the Lord and nothing else - but not as a regrettable sentence. I know with certainty both my supreme joy and greatest delight lie in this one passion. With eyes fixed on eternity, every moment of life has potential to be filled to abundance because Christ has overcome. This is all there is and somehow Grandma was able to keep it simple. With eternity figured out, she set about doing everything she could to bring the Kingdom to earth for those around her, knowing her reward was already stored up in forever communion with her Savior.

My dad shared a story about a pastor visiting Grandma in the hospital and saying, "It would be normal for you to ask God, 'Why me?'" Grandma answered (predictably, according to my dad), "I have never asked God why - I never ask God why."

When everyone expected her to cave... when everyone would readily excuse her for having little faith and a tired heart, Grandma kept her gaze steady on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of her faith. Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God. With this kind of vision, Grandma understood that joy was possible to the very end, even when others expected her to run out. Christ filled her to overflowing every day she endured the painful decay of a mortal body. She knew she would sit down with her Savior soon and it gave her great joy to use every earthly moment sharing this blessed hope.

I'm not sure if it's true, but my dad wrote,

"I don't think you ever thought about death much; because of your faith there was never a need."

She may not have thought about death much - the physical act of it with all the human details and baggage - but I know Grandma thought a lot about eternity. Her faith was not about escaping death. Her faith was about living.

She believed every moment could be lived abundantly on this side of heaven, spilling over into the lives of every person you touch. She believed death was not the end, but the beginning of a life where her faith would be made sight and she would sit joyfully with Jesus.

These old, typed words on yellowed pages introduced me again to this woman and again to her Savior. Oh, that I would live with this kind of faith.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JDrUtzpAyM]

love, recorded

He met me at the front door of the restaurant with the familiar, lopsided smile. He took his hands out of his Wranglers to wrap me in a hug before walking to the booth he'd picked out. I sat down and slid across the bench and he cut me off mid-sentence (because I'd been talking since I spotted him), "Oh, wait... don't say anything yet." Confused, I watched as he pulled out an old Sony recorder and placed it in the center of the table. He motioned for me to wait as he pushed the record button and watched for the red light to appear. "Okay, now you can talk. But, don't lean in ... just talk normal and it'll pick you up."

A smile leaped across my face as I realized, "Oh! This is for Grandma!"

"Not so loud, it'll record just at a normal volume. Now, let's check and make sure." His bronzed, carpenter-ruddy hands fumbled with the buttons as he looked down through bifocals with lips turned down in concentration. He rewinded, played and, sure enough, my voice came over the little speaker.

My sister and brother joined us shortly after and our lunch conversation filled with laughter thrown over shoulders (the Nichols children are famously loud laughers) and silent gestures to quiet the noise from utensils. The taste of joy was almost as delicious as the homegrown, Iowan food (have you ever had beef brisket on top of a bed of fresh lettuce, topped with bacon and cheddar?). Every so very often, I would watch my grandpa's eyes wander back to that little light to make sure it was recording. (Later, my grandma made sure we knew that she would have much preferred our company to the can of soup and a day of church meetings).

My grandparents have always been the same age in my mind. When my grandma recently offered to clarify, I said I'd rather not know exactly. Sometimes, if I focus hard on their wrinkles, I can see they've deepened and grown in number. But most times, I am too focused on their eyes to notice how they wear their age in wrinkles.  Most times, we're usually too caught up my grandpa's "school bus stories" or my grandma's detailed description of delivered baked goods and church meetings. I have never looked forward to "retirement" because my grandparents opted instead for a busy work/volunteer schedule that makes "not working" seem so boring.

Grandpa drives a school bus and his days are packed full of stories. He studies those kids in the mirror above the steering wheel and watches the little ones as they scamper up to the front doors of houses in rural Iowa. Every once in a while, he has to stop the bus to face a bully or, like the other day, to tell the little 4th grade girl, "No, we can't turn around to rescue the little worm you found by the bus stop. You'll find another one, I promise."

One story I'll never tire of telling is the love my grandparents have for each other. Simple, solid love that refuses to be complicated. Over coffee with my grandpa this past week, he told me about Grandma's shortness of breath and trouble sleeping. I noticed the worry wrinkles as he talked about fluid in her lungs, the tenderness as he cleared his throat and fidgeted with the coffee cup. The next day my grandma was in the hospital and the diagnosis is official: congestive heart disease.

It means a lot of things - no salt, limited water, and heavy monitoring, but it doesn't mean less joy. I can't deny the days as they pass; can't refuse that my grandparents have bodies that age. I can know that every physical breath is dependent on the Lord's sovereign, steady hold.

We mustn't fear the body's weakness because we know the Maker's strength. We mustn't fear what we see because the know the power in what we don't. We mustn't fear age because we know what is timeless. We mustn't fear today because we know the Lord governs tomorrow.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

couches and cardigans

I stood there staring at the beaded bristles for probably five minutes.I don't think I've ever purchased a brush in my life and I hope I don't have to return to the hairbrush aisle for a long time. But, as I was standing there, in the middle of my rare grocery run, I realized the weight of receiving.

Since returning from Honduras in June, I've tried to stay out of the giant aisles of excess in supermarkets. It was a mixture of solidarity with a country I loved and a complete necessity to spend nothing (unemployed for 6 months) that kept me a safe distance from materialism... or so I thought.

The real reason I rarely ventured inside Walmart or Target (or stores in general) might explain why I got a bit emotional when I shrugged into my sister's rust colored cardigan today after work.

I've done a lot of receiving since June.

I've crashed on couches and crawled under comforters and cozied up in cardigans that are not mine. I've talked a lot about the a la orden philosophy - how God asks us to make every bit of our gifts, talents, and treasures available to Him in our service to others. What I haven't really talked about is how many times I've been the recipient. For six months, I lived under my parents' roof once again, but this time as an adult. I ate their food, used their washer/dryer, drove their cars, and kept on receiving. Never did I see a tally or hear what I owed, but I kept on receiving. I made almost every Christmas gift with my grandparents, using wood and tools and raiding the refrigerator. The conversations were even more delicious than the meals; and I kept on receiving.

Every day I look down at my outfits and realize how much I've received. Boots from my mom, sweater from my sister, coat and jeans from my dad... every day I wear blessings. Every day I receive.

Last week, right when I realized scruffy skater shoes from high school may not be "work appropriate," my co-worker plopped a paper bag at my feet. "See if you can find anything in there you like," she said. (wide eyes) I couldn't have picked a more work-appropriate pair of clogs if I tried. That afternoon, I wore a new striped sweater home from work and ran in a fancy Nike running shirt before going to my second job.

And I keep on receiving.

Generosity has a fine aroma in the house where I now live. From dinner conversations to the open cupboard, it's hard to spit out thanks as fast as the gifts pile up. So many times, I don't know how to say it - don't know how to speak my thanksgiving for all the blessings I wear around. From the bed to the thick comforters, the sack lunches to the family meals, the seat in a familiar row at church to the books on loan...

and I keep on receiving

Truly, too much.

Last night, I got back from work and my brother had pizza ready to go into the oven. Later, my sister walked in the door with several things on hangers. "I brought these for you. I thought you might need something new in the rotation."

and I keep on receiving

Truly, too much.

I put on the beautiful, rust-colored cardigan today and almost wept. God is so good to care for us so completely... even down to couches and cardigans.

oh that I would let LOVE fly like cRaZy

my Saturday sountrack: Josh Garrels, Love & War & the Sea In Between (download for free)

[bandcamp album=2172528119 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

human eyes; heaven sight

This morning the ice clung to brown, lifeless branches.And we are all dying.

This past weekend my mom sent an email my aunt wrote about my grandpa's graceful, shuffling steps into this strange season of life. I've re-read these words so many times - grateful for the way they hug my soul. I know my dad and his seven siblings feel the weight of love and the weight of age in this man in a way I cannot, but as I read my aunt's words my eyes were wet with something new.

She wrote,

Dad's prayers were so personal and full of thanksgiving to His Savior, especially mentioned was the gift of Eternity and his family.  He didn't want to walk this road, but it's here, and he is going to walk it with grace and dignity to the best of his ability, and with his Savior's and his family's help.

Our bodies fail. They fall apart. And we shuffle where we once skipped. We shake where we once snapped with the energy of youth. We age. Our eyes grow dim and our ears faint. Mortals.

But the stiffness of his joints has not crept to his heart.

Eternity looks just as glorious on the horizon with shuffled steps as it does with skips. The promise of salvation is as bright with eyes of age as it is with the eyes of youth.

And with every sunset, one can turn to face the rest of the sky and see a glorious reflection. All the mysterious hues that explode before night falls, chasing after the golden orb, light up the rest of the blue expanse and color the clouds.

I'm witnessing this reflection as I watch my grandpa - human eyes with heaven sight.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.                                                    2 Corinthians 4:18

There is no way around it - we have human eyes confined to human bodies and human limits. But our sight - oh, our sight - is able to see clear through to heaven.

As Grandpa fixes his eyes on the unseen, we are blessed to watch the sky light up with the glory of his heavenly pursuit.

The ice will melt and the trees will bloom. Let the winter come, for it is the only path to Spring.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy with human eyes and heaven sight 

a letter to fathers

I remembered this post recently and thought now is a good time to revisit these thoughts. I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago, while working in Honduras. Maybe it's Valentine's Day that has me thinking about it again.

daughter & dad

___________________________________________________________________

John Mayer’s song, “Daughters,” scratches the surface of the longing a daughter feels to be loved by her dad, but (not surprisingly) it isn’t strong enough.

Fathers, be good to your daughters daughters will love like you do

It was simple enough to capture the attention of a whole crowd of daughters who wished for what this nebulously suggests, but I wish this song spelled out specifics.

Fathers:

  1. Be transparent about your first and greatest Love. For many daughters, your faith is a secret. You might go to church or you might have a Bible, but your ideas and convictions are as hidden and elusive as treasure on a child’s crayon-scribbled treasure map. It’s okay to be somewhere in the growing stages of your faith – in fact, it’s refreshing for us daughters to know you haven’t “arrived” yet. When your daughter can see you admit you need God, her heart and tenderness toward you will grow, but more importantly you will have pointed her gaze to the Father who never fails.
  2. Love your wife. One of the greatest ways you can love your daughter is to love and serve your wife. When your daughter sees you honoring, protecting, partnering, laughing, enjoying, and living in a way that reflects God’s design for marriage, she will respect your role and have an excellent example of a husband (especially important in those years when you cannot relate to your daughter. When nothing makes sense, love your wife well and I promise your daughter will see it!).
  3. Choose to be around. Your daughter will feel special when you decide the best place for you is next to her.
  4. Get personal. Some of my favorite memories with my dad are simple ones that we shared while we did chores together on the farm or as we drove out to a football game or prepared our animals for county fair. Every discussion doesn’t have to be deep, but if you open up first then you’ll gain your daughter’s trust and she’ll likely reciprocate (even if it’s not right away).
  5. Encourage, praise, love the God-honoring things your daughter does and push her in those things to be excellent. I’ll never forget my dad’s insistence that I study that little spelling book in preparation for the elementary spelling bees. My dad still types on the computer with his pointer fingers and English wasn’t his strongest high school subject, but when he found out I could put letters together in the right order, he was going to make sure I did it excellently. Those little things (though I assure you I didn’t love them at the time) made his love for me so obvious.
  6. Be gentle. Your daughter will appreciate well-placed words and respected silences.
  7. Be good to your sons, too. Your daughters are smart. They will see the way you are leading and guiding your sons. Right now they are making mental notes in their heart about whether their dream man will act like the father and brothers in their lives. Many daughters hold on desperately to the hope that it can be different. If they have to rely on Hollywood, they will be hoping for something unhealthy and unrealistic. Your daughter has a front row seat for what a man should look like - so show her!

 

let LOVE fly like crazy and let those people closest to you benefit

Occupy Life: copy shop and pancake batter

This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Each day you and I occupy physical time and space and we make our statement big and bold, whether we've got picket signs or not. Read here or here or here or here or the original post here for more. "And this machine - whoa. I gotta take a minute." Pause to breathe, "This machine is so amazing. It could probably cut through... a whole body (which would never happen because this protective plastic part has to be down). Seriously." Ryan stares at me, midway through my "training" at the copy shop, so that the magnificence of this cutting machine sinks in. "Yeah?" "It's just that, well, I think this is my favorite machine in this whole place." Pause. "Look at this huge stack of cardstock... we're gonna cut it." Pause for effect, "Are you ready?" Pause, "Oh, this is so great!" He pushes green buttons, the guide moves, then the blade, and then ... slice. "Ah! Wasn't that amazing? Whew! I could like go run laps that was such a rush!"

Meet my new friend and co-worker Ryan. A more delightful first day of training I have never had - his excitment oozed about everything from invoices to the newest printer - the 9000. I was immediately swept up into the banter and decided that we would be friends.

I typed my last email at my first job at about 2:55, rushed to pick up the obligatory black polo shirt for my second job at the copy shop and in between let the dog out for a quick romp, cleaned up the kitchen, and grabbed an apple for the road. Always moving, always learning, and always occupying this space called life.

As I was learning my way around the computer stations and printers, my friendly new co-workers shook off any first day nerves I had. And, I'm going to be honest, Ryan gave my awkward identity a run for its money. I'm not sure how this works, but awkward fits really well for him. I didn't think his excitement about the cutting machine weird at all - instead, I kept trying to find reasons why he might need to show me again.

At one point, during the the explanation of all the paper types, he stepped up onto a cardboard box. From his perch, he continued without pause until I said, "Um, are you on your own little platform, there?" "Yeah, I kind of like it."

And that was that. I didn't mind.

When Ryan thought I'd had enough training, I left for the night. I didn't need to turn on the radio on the way home, I was still amused by the copy shop goings-on when I pulled into the driveway.

Then, round 3 of amusement began. My cousin Vince is always ready to hash out philosophy or politics or religion - pretty much all the topics that people are supposed to stay away from we hit head on. And I love it.

Tonight, we tackled the Christian message of "don't," country music, and pancake batter, amongst other things. The pancake batter is for tomorrow morning, but he thought we'd pull out Aunt Shirley's recipe and save some morning rush. Well, turns out our approach to conversation is like our approach to cooking: completely different. Vince is super methodical and I'm a loose canon. I under-melted the butter and only partially measured the baking powder. Every time I turned around he was gesturing wildly and sighing about my lack of precision. "There are recipes for a reason, Caroline." Well, I'm not saying that any of my recipes can ever be replicated, but just to test things out I suggested we make a pancake tonight (chunky butter and mysterious baking powder and all). It worked. I could be making it up, but I think Vince even said with an approving nod, "It's good."

Today happened, every minute of it. I wouldn't subtract a moment and that's good because, well, I can't.

I'm occupying life.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

exhausted by joy

(First, I must admit that I've only just now recovered from a very colorful verbal exchange with my computer after it lost this entire post into the unknown cybersphere. As I go back and try to remember it, I can't help but think it's a little ironic.) I have so many plausible excuses, really I do! Chasing after early morning 2-year-old squeals and filling the night with laughter, for starters.

There's something about Christmas that won't let me sit down and spell it out, blog style. The rumble of excitement as family exchanges gifts with the lengthy explanations from every giver, the soaking in of silly faces with people who live too far, the together-ness that makes memories on it's own... This joy can be exhausting!

It'll park your eyes at a willing, wide-open stance. It will put dances into your toes. It will make you "poke the bear" until the bear revolts with a playful roar.

It will fill the air with delicious, contagious laughter that (I'm sure) seeped out from under the old wooden doors at my parent's house and warmed the night trees.

Exhausted by joy.

I wonder if C.S. Lewis would say we are as likely to be exhausted by joy as we are surprised by joy. Well, I submit that it is so.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph were exhausted by joy. I wonder if, when Mary finally gave in to sleep, she felt more than just relief that her vagabond pregnancy had ended. I wonder if Mary's soul was so full of joy at the coming of the Messiah that her heart got tired.

I wonder if receiving blessings and naming them in thanks can bring a good kind of exhaustion - one that wearies your bones into a prayerful posture.

I wonder at this beautiful Gift. Christ, our Substitute for the debt our flesh owes. Christ, our Provision for an eternal abundance of joy. Christ, our Hope.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a short list, but a good list

What's that you say? Christmas "spirit" got you down? Tired of overdone light displays and gaudy vests (and it's not even December yet!)?

Here is a list for you, my friend. It's SHORT so you are sure to make it to the end on this delightful Friday afternoon. This is about keeping the main thing the main thing (if you know what I mean).

  • You MUST pick up this Advent Jesse Tree Book! It's free (no swiping necessary!) if you sign up to receive emails from Ann Voskamp's site. She's a pretty neat lady, so you should check her out even if you don't dig the book. This resource will give you something to do with your family to prepare for the Christmas season and to remember well the glorious arrival of our Savior!
  • I know I talk about these guys a lot, but I really appreciate their music! If you are of the "Christmas music whenever you feel like it" camp, jump on the Sojourn Music bandwagon with me!
[bandcamp album=748307140  bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]
  • If you are all about a good deal (but would rather it be something to read then something to wear) then check out what Tim Challies is gathering for you at his blog. Leading up to Thanksgiving, he will post Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday deals for stuff you might actually buy! Check it out at his blog here.
  • I'm pretty excited at the challenge of making this another Advent Conspiracy Christmas at our house. There are some Ah-mazing ideas at their website about how to make it happen with you and yours! Here's the video: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9IN0W3gjnNE]
  • If you live anywhere near, around, close to, next to, or in the vicinity of Des Moines, Iowa - LISTEN UP. There is an AMAZING ministry that you might not know about called Freedom for Youth. You can support them by doing some Christmas shopping at their location (2301 Hickman Road, Des Moines, IA 50310) on December 3 and 10. Here's a snippet from their website, "This holiday season, Freedom for Youth Ministries is hosting a Christmas Village at the Freedom Center. We will be featuring the teens & young adults handcrafted items such as art, woodworking, food and more! Come for a soup lunch or Christmas shop for unique and handmade gifts for family and friends! Freedom Blend Coffee is on sale during these 2 days!"

That's the list, as promised, and still no overdone light displays or gaudy vests. #winning

let LOVE fly like crazy

I will sail my vessel

There is something about the view of rolling Iowa hills from the window of a tractor that makes singing along to the radio especially exciting. It's like "singing in the shower" with an incredible view! I'm not normally one to like country music (or at least admit it), but it does seem strangely fitting with this backdrop. I will say the songs that really get me come from my childhood. I'd wake up early (when it was my turn to help with the morning chores) and go outside before the world woke up. It's funny, country was the only station that ever seemed to work out there in that barn. I listened to Paul Overstreet, George Strait, Alan Jackson, and... Garth Brooks.

The other day, we were farming my grandpa's land and The River by Garth Brooks came on the local radio station.

I'll go ahead and admit it - I rustled up my best twang and sang from a deep place in my chest about sailing my vessel until the river runs dry - following my dreams like a vessel on a river.

I wondered how many times my grandpa said, "Well, we're just gonna keep on farming until the Lord tells us different."

With eight kids, nobody would have questioned him if he'd given up and moved on to something with a bit more promise of provision. But, in all my growing up years, I never heard his kids wishing their childhood happened any different.

The Lord certainly guided his way as a father as much as a farmer (of course, he had a wife who wouldn't let him forget it). Maybe my grandpa's quiet time with the Lord happened when he rode his horse out behind the barn to check the fields. I know my grandma would do her Bible study in the station wagon in the garage, where the kids were told she would not (under any circumstances) be disturbed.

I don't know how they did it.

There are so many stories. Maybe someday I'll start gathering and assembling all the stories I've heard that had this beautiful backdrop. 

Maybe someday I'll have stories of my own, like packing my family of 10 into a 4 door sedan for a road trip or setting a feast for dinner (even in hard times) and watching it come out, "just right."

Maybe someday I can ...

let LOVE fly like cRaZy in a way that generations after will remember.

learning gratitude

"Why do you love your mother?"

It was a simple question that came up last week at Bible study somewhere after, "Why do we suffer?" and before, "Will we recognize each other in heaven?"

It's an old question that tries to probe the origins of love for others. We went around in circles but agreed our love for our mothers is a response. I would add that my love for my mother has grown as I've realized how it comes without condition... often before I call home to spill my guts she'll have already anticipated my outburst.

Skip to tonight. I was at worship at the Micah Project where I heard a different Mothers Day story. Four of the littlest boys recorded a song to show their love for their mothers, though they do not know where their mothers are. The song broke my heart because it talks about trying to remember her face and her voice, but reassuring her that (wherever she is) she is loved.

I am overwhelmed. Not just that I have a mom who loves me without condition, but that I can picture her face when she is joyful, scared, sad, or with a fit of giggles. I know what she will look like when I get off the plane on June 24 and I know how her hug will feel. In many ways, my mom is home to me. So, when I see these boys throwing love out into the heavy night sky, I feel even more blessed to know exactly how my mom will answer the phone the next time I call.

And in all of this, I am learning gratitude. If I am loving my mom well, I am loving the Lord who shared her with me. If I am loving the Lord well, then I am responding first and always in gratitude to His kindness... and this means being a "mom" to those who throw love out to the night sky without knowing if it will return. With these boys and students and anyone God sovereignly places in my path, I want to be available to show the unconditional love of my Father (which will forever be on beautiful display in my mom).

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

A Valentine's Day Limmerick

In typical Nichols (CHEESY) fashion, my mom read this poem to me because she knew I would be absent from the celebration of love. Please enjoy it and read it several times over. This might give a little insight into where all my cheesy ideas come from! :) Here's the last Valentine's day picture of my family I can find (circa 2006?)  

 

A VALENTINE'S DAY LIMERICK by Cindy Nichols There once was a family strong Who usually all got along They just kept on growing All the while knowing God blessed them with love and with song!

We welcome two new Nichols girls They both have beautiful 'curls' Though Natalie's are short And better for sport Grace's are long and unfurled!

The boys are men now, it's so Their height has stopped to grow One is a dad One is a "Nav" And one's getting married, you know!

The girls all love to laugh To sing, to love, to craft They talk to each other And sometimes their mother Who gives cheesy advice on their behalf.

We daily count our blessing For our family of loving siblings God is making you strong To Him you belong There is no greater joy you are bringing!

-------

Isn't my mom great?

She knows how to let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

we are looking at the same stars

My mom sent me an email this morning, bright and early before electricity was working in my neighborhood. She wrote to update on James, who was released this morning, praise the Lord! He posted pictures on facebook from the collision and I am thanking the Lord for His presence and provision on Friday night.

God has surely preserved James so he can continue to live glorifying the Lord. I'm praying James's life verse will be rooted more firmly in his heart,

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39 ESV)

The only reason my mom left the first surprise hospital visit was to trek across the state to be with my gram in a different sterile room. My grandpa followed an ambulance in the middle of the night in a snowstorm on Friday and yesterday my mom joined them. Praise God, gram is stable and my mom is there to support both of them. She will get a pacemaker tomorrow and we will pray she flies through all procedures without any difficulty.

And here I am, making a mess of crafts in my bedroom.

I guess this is what I do when my arms can't reach that far.

I am so confident placing my loved ones in the care of my Savior. I am confident in His plan and in His eternity and in His love. And only for that confidence can I trust it will be okay, because in His presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). All the time, joy.

So, when I read my mom's last words of encouragement I smiled a silly smile inside.

"Have a great Sunday, sweetheart.  You are not that far away.  We are looking at the same stars."

Yep, we sure are. And, today, the goal is not to worry or be anxious, but to walk boldly in the peace of Christ,

letting LOVE fly like cRaZy, for the glory of Christ's name and for the good of all people.