why a scrunched up nose is never becoming

Awhile back my brother said something that got under my skin. I mean, really got good and messy - hit a nerve I think because I flared up real defensive like. He said he hoped I wasn't becoming a cynic.

I scoffed and stuttered and scrunched up my nose in protest. Cynic? Me? The one who thinks optimistically about how many plans can be overlapped in one day and about how many grocery bags can be carried at once and that if you sing a song loud enough or dance a jig brave enough the whole world will notice? Me?

I didn't take it very well.

He brought it up because I wasn't really a fan of the newest social justice movement to hit social media. I wasn't against it, necessarily, but I wasn't throwing money in their direction either. The way I described it to my brother Sam was like this, "There are a lot of good things going on out there - a lot of people doing good. I just choose to support other causes."

Recently, while reading "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller, I decided it was about the shape of my eyes and the scrunch of my nose when I look at the world. I would never describe myself as a cynic, but there are times when I look at the world like nothing is possible. Like we're "headed to hell in a handbasket" and "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" - all the older folk, that is, who sit in the diners with 50 cent bottomless coffees and talk about how "everything's gone to pot."

Maybe that's when having an old soul is unfortunate - when you feel like you've seen enough of life to know that people don't follow through and good causes are corrupt and you can't even trust your own resolve.

That's when I realized the danger of furrowed eyebrows and a scrunched up nose. There's no wonder in that facial expression; no joy in the possibility of ANYTHING being possible. The danger of furrowed eyebrows and a scrunched up nose is what we don't want to grow up into. Because we never want to grow out of wide-eyed wonder. Never. Well, I don't at least. I always want to breathe hope in with deep, lung-filling breaths.

I want to live like everything is possible - like one person really can move a mountain by faith or bring a rainstorm with prayer or heal a paralytic with petitions. I want to believe that God could paint the sky in new colors tonight and that tomorrow I could wake up and not need my glasses (I always squint like spiderman to see if I'm cured).

I want to live like everything is possible because a scrunched up nose is never becoming. It's  not attractive to throw water on the fire in people's bellies and I think that's sometimes what I do with my scrunched up nose.

Today was gloriously opposite a scrunched up nose. Today FILLED to overflowing with possibility and I'm still drinking it in as my fingers stiffen with the cool, autumn air on the back porch. Today, my eyes were wide with the wonder of Creation singing the praise of its Creator while I breathed in deep so I could sing along.

I sent my brother a text the other day to thank him for calling me out. It probably seemed strange that it took me so long, but I'm thankful even if I am slow in learning.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz4ZOAsjW6g&feature=related] Thanks, Amanda, for delighting my ears with this brilliance!

grace for the grumps

I like my second job because of the people. I like to ask questions about their lives and find out what makes them laugh. I like to listen to stories from their growing up years and I especially like when the stories keep going after the time clock packs it's punch.

I don't like drinking a fountain soda without any fizz.

What I mean is... I don't like it when things that are supposed to be awesome, aren't.

The main reason I've held onto job #2 is because of the relationships I never would have had otherwise. And I love it. I love biking through campus to get there, throwing out my hellos when I walk in the door, catching up with Jeremiah and learning about Derek's newest future plans. I love meeting new co-workers and seeing them smile. I didn't really know why the print shop was the only part-time work I could find in the city of Ames back in December, but now I'm convinced it's because I needed to meet Jeremiah and Ann and Derek and Mike and Paul and Katherine.

They are the fizz in the fountain soda called job #2 and yesterday was missing the carbonation. I came in with my usual bounce, but fell promptly into a rut of work orders and frustrating design dilemmas and a case of the workplace grumps. All my answers were short and the space between customers was silent.

I fumed because I love my fizz (have you had ever fountain soda without it?) and then the dissonance got too great.

I punched the clock, walked outside with Ann and thought, "maybe the fizz is here after all." I invited her for dinner and then to a prayer class at my church.

Later on last night, when my new friends Ann, Alyssa, and Nicole (all new or new again to Ames) sat around a table playing Taboo, I thought about all the flat soda I'd been drinking... all those days that seemed ruined because they didn't go as planned. And then I thought, maybe it's a mental thing. Maybe when I expect a day to go flat, it does. Maybe there's a lot more fizz in my days and I just have to train my taste buds to recognize the flavor.

Maybe God grants grace for my grumps so that flat days still have fizz.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when fun breaks open like a piñata

By Saturday at 9 pm, the streets of Ames still lingered with the day's cardinal and gold victory. A fall chill had crept up after the sun hid itself away behind the horizon and the night was ...

the night was a piñata of possibility.

The coffee brewed with promise as we made plans huddled together like elementary children conspiring a make believe world takeover on the playground. After we'd quibbled about layers and assembled our ragamuffin band, we lined up to break the piñata of possibility and scrambled to enjoy all the fun spilling out.

How many mo-ped gangs do you know that follow the blaring, ride-worthy music of a DeWalt stereo bungee-strapped to one of its riders? How many mo-ped gangs do you know that get high fives driving through campus and hollers as they go down the highway? How many, uh, mo-ped gangs do you know?

Sure, my headlight was actually a flashlight taped to my handlebars and James pedaled several times around the block to get his mo-ped started. Sure, we all felt the fumes of the vintage bikes and made frequent stops to regroup and collect the stragglers who couldn't accelerate enough to keep up. Sure, there were several Chinese fire drills at stoplights and shenanigans on straightaways. Sure, we pulled in to the gas station and $8.00 topped us all off.

The Mighty Unicorn gang rides the streets with orange caution flags waving proudly, picking up all the fun the nights can hold.

And by 2:00 am, every possible piece had been savored.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the destruction of dillydally

"Don't dillydally, don't load up on video clips and music, don't trust the power of your community service programs, don't rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel. Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting in some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we've gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples." (Jared C. Wilson, p. 193 in Gospel Wakefulness)

Wow.

What an altogether perfect word for what we're doing in Christian circles these days: dillydally.

We eat up the facebook snippets, read the books, tweet the deets, post the newest viral explosion and search for songs with the most emotional moving typeface. No one is immune. We all seem to love knowing the good news. We love the controversies created by differing doctrines and debating the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. We love to throw down the name of the newest book or sermon or method of sharing the gospel to prove we're keeping up with the Christian Joneses. I don't know why we do it, but I do know that dillydally is an altogether perfect word for all the acrobatics we use to get around preaching the gospel.

Wilson quotes 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (emphasis mine) before the excerpt above,

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Paul writes about the way the gospel came to the people in Thessalonica - in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. I can't speak to what kind of theatrics surrounded their speech, but it's pretty clear that the gospel was explicitly shared with the people. Paul makes it sound like this is obvious - to preach the gospel in word - but we are not so sure these days (the shorter the Sunday sermon the better - seriously, what newcomer wants to listen to a stranger ramble on and on and on about blood and sacrifice and propitiation?).

But how can people believe the gospel unless they've heard the gospel? Explicitly, unashamedly preached with full conviction. The conviction piece is important because our role is not to convince another of the gospel's merit, but to fan the flame of our own conviction that gospel is true. Wilson writes, "My brother, pastor, don't worry about bringing the heat. Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself to full conviction." I like that: just be hot.

Yesterday, I was reading Gospel Wakefulness poolside and a man asked, "What are you reading? Like, what's it about?"

A little sun-weary and caught off-guard, I fumbled before I found, "It's a book about the gospel... about waking up to the reality of what Christ did on the cross for those who believe."

"Oh, yeah, I believe that," he said, "I used to be really bad, like drinking and smoking and s---, but it was f----- up. I mean, I was hospitalized and I been sober since I got out. They gave me these new meds and I'm like s--- this is living. I mean, I can go out to the forest and be like, that's a f------ tree. It's like what I thought was normal was really screwed up. I mean, I feel like I'm finally awake after a life of hearing voices and s---. Like schizophrenia and all that s---. So, yeah I got out on Monday and it's been f----- awesome."

"Wow, that's really crazy." I didn't really know where this was going, but I was stationary on a lounge chair and it seemed like as good a place as any to discuss what is/isn't the gospel and how it relates to his hospitalization. "So, do you think it's the medication or something spiritual that happened?"

"Oh, yeah, totally that medication. It's crazy - the doctors had me on all kinds of s--- growing up and I was f----- up bad, but I just thought it was normal. But, seriously, there's no side effects to this drug I'm on. I sleep for 5 hours and I'm like gettin' s--- done before I go to work at 9 am!"

"Well, what this book is really talking about is the gospel (the good news) that we read about in the Bible. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve for our sins so that we can be free. He took on all our messes on the cross and gave us relief and joy in this life and forever in eternity with Him--"

"Yeah, I believe that."

At this point, I'm thinking 1) I should really brush up on my 'how to share the gospel when caught off guard in a lounge chair' skills and 2) does he really believe that?

"Yeah, it's like everyone believes," he went on, "You know, in a higher power. I mean, I believe Jesus is in all of us. Don't you believe that?"

I won't give you our whole conversation, but this guy was persistent, inquisitive, and interested. Granted, the situation was less than ideal - laying on sweaty plastic lounge chairs in bathing suits - but I suppose this is what it means to "always be prepared to give an answer."

I asked him some hard questions, mentally thanking Tim Keller for all those chapters in Reason for God that wrestle with doubts. We bantered back and forth and I was careful to not blink an eye with all his cursing. I'll confess I got kind of casual with my language, as we talked about who would populate heaven. He told me, "Well, I mean the good people. Like I believe we all put out vibes. I mean, if you're a b---- you're not going to be in heaven, but if you're good you will."

"But who determines who is good and who is a b----? I mean I might think I'm good according to my standards, but someone else might think I'm a b----... so who's going to heaven?"

More than ever in that conversation I needed explicit words. I did not need games or videos or pictures. I needed to speak the good news of the gospel into the chaos of crowded beliefs Joseph had assembled. And even when I spelled it out in all it's offensive glory, Joseph persisted with more questions and stories about his life.

I told Joseph about church on Sunday and he said he would come. He said it didn't even matter how early because the medication has him up by 5 am.

I pray he does come and I pray my pastor preaches the gospel because I need it just as much as Joseph.

Because we are all on the verge of destruction by dillydally... the painful beat around the bush game of kind of the gospel. We are all in danger of believing and speaking and hearing a gospel that is less than Jesus' words on the cross, "It is finished" and less than the glorious result of his work.

childlike, but not children

I got interrupted on the corner of South Kellogg and 3rd Street last week, right in the middle of my blazing hot run.

I had my rhythm (desperate run the suns, walk the shades style because of the heat) and my focused race face. My next stop was Bandshell Park for the water fountain, but I was a good 5 minutes from that oasis when a scene unfolded in front of me. I felt like I was in an episode of Early Edition (that show where Gary Hobson receives the paper a day early and then prevents many disastrous headlines as a result). I didn't get any forewarning, but I saw the scene play out as disaster and then rushed to change the ending and the image hasn't left me since.

The little boy was racing down South Kellogg on his bike as the wind took a yellow balloon bouncing in front of him. His face was focused and nervous as he threw his bike down at the corner. The balloon bounced it's way out onto the busy road and my words almost caught in my throat as I ran up beside him, "Wait, here buddy." An SUV and a sedan sped by in two-way traffic as the boy heeded my warning and then when the coast was clear I nodded, "Go ahead, but hurry."

He raced out to grab the less-than-inflated yellow balloon from the center line and raced back to get on his bike. I heard a "Whooopeee" as I crossed the road and continued my run.

Giddy anticipation of holding that yellow balloon pulled him racing down the sidewalk on his bike with reckless speed. The determined look in that boy's eyes would have taken him right out into the middle of South 3rd, his little body completely vulnerable. I couldn't get that look out of my mind as I raced on thinking about what almost happened. Maybe it didn't... maybe I imagined how almost it really was, but it rattled me all the same.

It made me think about the tension between Mark 10:15 and Hebrews 6. The former reads, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And then in Hebrews we read, "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God..."

We are to be "like a child" but we are to move on from elementary doctrine. We are and we aren't supposed to be children and this little boy stretched that tension taut in my mind.

The beautiful things about his excitement and wonder are often things adults miss. A half-inflated balloon blowing across a busy road is definitely not worth the chase. In fact, I know very few adults who would get excited about a balloon in the safest of situations. We are not awed by simple things.

But, there is a reason the adult will not run into the street and it goes beyond an awe of simple things. The world has roughened and toughened the adult so his critical eye sees danger and weighs risks. The windblown balloon bouncing across South Third is not worth it.

When the little boy grasped the balloon with both hands and ran back to his bike, his eyebrows looked different. They were no longer furrowed with mission, but instead rounded with success. He got what he set out to get and his loud, "Whoooopeee!" was the beginning of his enjoyment.

We are to be like a child in our delight of good things, in our discovery of good gifts from the Father, in our reveling in restored relationship with the Lord. We are to be reckless even about throwing off the things that hinder and running the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1). Shame and fear have no place when we are called children of the Most High. But we are not to be children. We are not to remain ignorant about the world, but wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). We are to throw all our childlike energies into knowing more about the Lord, finding out what pleases Him and doing those things (Ephesians 5:10). We are to let out our uninhibited "Whooopeeee!" as we relish the joys of living as children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5) who have access to the Father of Light.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

run the suns | walk the shades

The heat is heavy - like a blanket you can't crawl out from under. It runs in front of you and pushes in behind you and squeezes on all sides. The heat is heavy these days. A few weeks ago, I was haphazardly training for the 4 mile trail run I ran with my family this past Saturday. The Coast Guard Trail Run is not just any 7K race - it involves dunes and trails and an enormous amount of steps that take you to the top of a dune where you can see Lake Michigan touch the horizon. It was worth every step and much more fun when you have matching shirts that say "Nichols family running team."

But back to my training.

The heat seemed to suck all the smart out of me in those days leading up to the race. I kept deciding to run in the middle of the afternoon when the heat was most oppressive. Running isn't something I plan around in my day... it's something that happens when the window appears. It may be at 5 pm or 3 pm or 9:30 pm, but rarely if ever at 7 am (which of course is the coolest time of the day).

After about a mile on a 100 degree day around 3:30 pm, I had that familiar thought, "This might not end well." The heat was getting into my throat and my legs were resisting the steady movement pounding the paved path.  It was like my lungs knew things were about to get desperate. Good thing I had mapped out where all the water was on my route, because I don't think I would have made it without the rusty fountain in O'Neil Park. Right about that time I realized how far I was from my front door and how long it would take to get back there.

I devised a survival technique called "run the suns, walk the shades." I would sprint through the sunny parts of the trail and slow to a walk where the shade hovered over the sidewalk. As I made my way home in this pattern, I thought of G.K. Chesterton and Moses.

I know what you are thinking - I was delirious. This very well may have been true. But, I've since drank lots of water and slept many nights and the thought remains. Though Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to listen to the Lord, he did not sit down across the table to have afternoon tea. It was a frightfully powerful experience. When Moses wanted to see God, he was told to hide in a cave while the Lord passed by. An ordinary encounter is the farthest thing from God's powerful presence. In Chesterton's book, "The Man Who Was Thursday" we see glimpses (the backside) of the Sunday character (God). This character is meant (I think) to be the sovereign part of God and we cannot bear the weight of it.

Because the sun is too strong. Humans have a heat threshold and when we reach it, our bodies can't function anymore. There is a point where the heat jumping from the sun is too much for our skin and our head and our lungs. The sun is too strong.

If the power of the Lord unleashed, our eyes could not bear it. Our lungs could not breathe the weight of glory that He would display in His fullness. Even a glimpse would lay us out flatter than the most intense heat exhaustion.

And I felt the power of the sun as I raced to the shade. I'm a very steady kind of grateful because though the Lord could lay us all out flat with the weight of His glory, He gives shade. He provides covering in Christ that allows us to stand now in front of the Lord redeemed and under His shade until He returns.

That's a mysterious combination of glory and grace and it makes me want to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

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

the blessing of misadventure

We had big plans. The Fleur Cinema in Des Moines is about as big as plans can get on a hot Thursday night in central Iowa. Wes Anderson's new film Moonrise Kingdom would have been a treat in any theatre, but The Fleur kicks up the classy and adds the right amount of hip.

But, we never made it there. Eddie (my 2002 Honda Civic) had other plans that involved us not being stranded on Interstate 35. On the way out of town, in the middle of our build-up-this-weeknight-like-it's-the-weekend excitement, Eddie became averse to third gear. No matter how hard I punched my foot to the floorboard, he wouldn't budge past 27 mph.

I instantly imagine two things: this Thursday will not be spent at the Fleur and an Ames mechanic will quickly become my new best friend.

As you know by now, these things don't surprise me, but I felt terrible for my friends who may not experience series' of unfortunate events on a regular basis. They were like a pair of peaches, though, as we coaxed little Eddie along the backroads, up a gentle slope and over to the dead end on Oak Street where I counted at least four repair shops within two blocks.

I was breathing thanks to God for all the little things - all those almost disasters that we avoided.

We walked in the direction of our houses and then parted ways on 9th street, where I promptly called my brother who began diagnosing my car by the sounds I described (like a regular episode on Car Talk). He had it pegged as electrical or alternator-related in about 10 minutes, right as I saw my two girl friends pull up alongside me. They waved me into their car for some car trouble therapy and we filled the night with laughter.

Oh, how I love this strange series of events. Life doesn't skip a beat. I just jump out of one current and into another. I might flail a bit at the change of course, but nothing is ever as disagreeable as it could have been, if things had worked out differently.

things that don't surprise me

The heat is borderline unbearable, but I still love it. People think I'm crazy, but I love getting into my car and letting the thick, stale air hug me for a minute before the sweat starts to trickle. I wear my hair down and drive with my windows open and try to remember how much I longed for these days in December. I love summer.

This summer day reminds me of the days I lived in Chicago. The oppressive heat is part of it (it was walk or public transport if I wanted to go somewhere), but today makes perfect sense in light of my track record (read funny stories here) of strange things.

I had a meeting at the University for a social media project I'm working on. I know - you're jealous already. I'm getting paid to do social media and I'm still giddy about it. I decided to bike to campus because parking tickets are outrageous and because I love biking (thank you craigslist and that nice family man in Des Moines who sold me a purple beauty). I realized soon after I started that I would not show up to my meeting looking refreshed.

After I parked my bike and booked it up two flights of stairs to be 5 minutes early, I was wiping sweat off my nose and eyebrows for the next 20 minutes. After I had introduced myself and sat down, I realized my flip-flop was broken. Between my heaving breaths, sweat wiping, and random throat tickle (of all times to get a tickle attack!), I managed to ask intelligent questions while planning an exit strategy with a broken flip-flop.

At the end of the meeting, I peeled myself from the chair in the conference room and squeezed my toes in a last ditch effort to walk out with my dignity (and my broken flip-flop). When I realized this was impossible, I picked up the beaded thrift-store sandal (thanks, Dad) and said, "Well, I guess my flip-flop broke. That's awkward!"

I thought I'd dealt with the worst of it when I walked out of Ross Hall barefoot and then I climbed on my purple bike. With one flip-flop on and one flip-flop in my right hand, I biked back to my house with a ridiculous case of the giggles. I imagined the inner conversation of every person I met, "I wonder why that girl is barefoot... Doesn't she know it's illegal to ride a bike without shoes? Humph.... high school kids! Seriously, she'll lose a toe!"

And I just giggled. These things never surprise me.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

it was 1994

"... and then you put your legs up like this and be careful because my legs will swing around really fast. Now, put your knees up, balance, and jump."

I was transported to my nine-year-old self in the middle of this manic Monday as Meredith swung upside down from the metal bar on the swing set. She took the tone of teacher as she swung with the seriousness of a backyard gold medalist.

I know that seriousness well. My grandpa knew it, too. My birthday gift was unlike any other 9-year-old I knew. It wouldn't fit inside a gift bag and you can't find one at a store. It was a custom-made, hand-crafted balance beam with a limited edition, special carpet cover.

It was beautiful and it sat in our backyard where I was Dominique Moceanu or Kerri Strug on summer afternoons. My performance always decided whether we got the gold or the silver medal. The air hung thick with pressure (and good Iowa summer heat) and the beam was more than inches off the grass. It felt like miles.

I positioned my socked toe in front and stretched my arms up high (everyone knew the judges gave points for style and I never wanted to lose any - that was the easy part). I twirled, jumped, steadied, and then positioned myself for the dismount. The dismount decided everything - everyone knew that, even my dad. The question would pound in my head through the whole backyard routine, "Can I stick the dismount?"

I would back up to the very edge of the beam and then start my swirling combination toward the other end, where I would flip end over end (in my mind) and always land with two feet nestled into the Iowa grass.

My arms would erupt from my sides and I would proudly stick out my chest, acknowledging the audience of trees and cattle and cats on all sides.

It was 1994 and I just clenched the victory with that landing in my stocking feet. And it felt good.

the chase

Isn't it funny how little ones love to have someone run after them? Very few kids turn down the chance to be caught and smothered in hugs and giggles. They may act like they want to escape, but they can't hide their excitement about being wrapped up at the end of the chase. Oh, the chase! Don't we love it when someone seeks us out to show us love - when someone chases us down just to collapse with us into giggles?

Today, I was babysitting a little one with a fever and I couldn't tell if his laughter was delirious or if he just loved the game that much. When we weren't snuggling or singing, I would hide behind the coffee table and say, "I'm... gonna... get... you!" When my head appeared from whatever direction, he would burst into a fit of giggles that I couldn't resist.

I would join in and admire his dimples.

And then we'd do it all over again.

I almost forgot: the importance of clamará

I was standing between pews of neat rows and English words hung in the air above my head. I was supposed to sing along after the guitar solo opened the song, "Inside Out." I was supposed to be thinking of God's attributes. I wasn't doing either of those things. I was thinking about the word, "clamará" and the first time I heard this melody. Panic froze my praise. I grasped for the words - the right words - to fill in the space between me and the sky. I wanted just the right words to put my heart's love to song and English wouldn't do. The drums swelled and voices harmonized and I stood unable to sing.

I tried to read the words on the screen and translate, but the order is all wrong in English. The phrases are all out of place and the r's are dull.

I closed my eyes and my heart opened up.

Dios eterno, tu luz por siempre brillará y tu gloria incomparable sin final el clamor de mi ser es contigo estar desde mi interior, mi alma clamará

Every word climbed on top of the next, an expression in process - a verb in past, present, and future tense all rolled into one presentation of praise to my Lord. The word, "clamar" means "to cry out" and I love to picture my soul crying out in a way that rolls over into future tense. In Spanish, the chorus reads,

"God Eternal, your light for always shines/and will shine, and your uncomparable glory has no end. The cry of my being is to be with you From my innermost, my soul cries/and will cry out"

I'm starting to think the notion of "heart language" or "native tongue" can mean many things and sound many different ways. This morning, singing praise to my Savior meant communion behind closed eyes with the Lord in a second language that seemed to better explain the verb tenses of my soul.

A little waterfall followed my communion, but I meant that to be praise as well. I knew the Lord would understand. He speaks all languages and knows the importance of clamará and remembers the events that make it mammoth in my understanding of who He is. He knows each young lady who pushed me to a more honest "clamará" in Tegucigalpa as I desperately wanted to know, love, and delight in Him so that they would, too. He understands the unspeakable desires in my heart that won't ever find an outlet in letters. He knows my delight is and will always be found in knowing Him, finding out what pleases Him, and delighting to do those things.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

my car smells like a freshly showered man

I originally ventured into the automotive section at Walmart because my grandpa told me that a product called, "automotive goop" would remedy the flappy piece of fabric hanging from the door of my car. Of course, he told me to go to O'Reilly's, but I didn't have anything else to pick up at an Auto Parts store, so I opted to make it one of many things I could accomplish in one place (ever the efficient go-getter). Somehow, after wandering the aisles for several minutes and not finding this "goop" product (and, frankly, questioning the existence of such a product), I came to a familiar conclusion: my time in the automotive section would not be wasted. And that's when I saw the air fresheners. I've actually been meaning to pick up air freshener for my car (I had a little episode with ham and bean soup and another with coffee), but it was never at the top of my list.

The number of scents was overwhelming: fresh linen, citrus sunshine, new car scent, alpine meadow, summer breeze. I got impatient and went with "titanium rain." I thought - who could go wrong with rain scent? I love rain!

Well, turns out, they should have called it, "a mix between old spice and irish spring that smells like a freshly showered man."

The thriftress in me refuses to choose another scent and waste $2.53, so it'll just be another thing that brings out the gauche in me. Just so you know, if you see me driving eddie (my little honda) wafting in the fresh air with all the windows down, it's to balance out the smell of a freshly showered man inside my car.

Come on and laugh with me, will you?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

And if you're wondering, I ended up finding the "goop" product at Hobby Lobby when I was looking for something else and have since handy-manned that flappy fabric problem like a pro. 

brown sugar vanilla cappuccino

I know what you're thinking: this is either me taunting you about a delicious drink I bought for $5.00 OR me taunting you about a delicious drink I found on Pinterest that you would never make. Surprise! It's neither.

This delightful little number will make your morning, noon, and/or night taste like comfort. And, just so you know, the directions are about as simple as they come (which is good, because I spend a lot of time trying to make things in my life complicated).

Here's what you do:

1) Throw some of your best brew in your coffeemaker (nothing fancy, but make it on the strong side) 2) While your java's brewing, fill your mug halfway with skim milk 3) Add a capful of vanilla to the milk and a few lumps of brown sugar 4) Heat the milk in the microwave for 30-45 seconds 5) Place a wire whisk in your warmed milk and slide your hands back and forth to create a good, stiff foam 6) Pour your hot java into the foamed concoction 7) Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top to make it look like someone else made it

ENJOY!

This is how my morning started today - with a coffee that looked like it was ordered off a hip, chalkboard menu. If that doesn't put a person in a good mood, I don't know what would.

*My cousin Vince told me yesterday that my post was, "weird." I guess I'm trying to take a little break from the long-winded posts as of late. I'm sure my grandparents will thank me. 

regular about the best things

Last night I was listening to my grandparents tell me all their secrets for staying regular. Grandpa, a self-proclaimed cereal connoisseur, has got a mix for his mornings that's a perfect combination of taste and function (so he tells me). I think the recipe goes something like this:

1/2 bar of shredded wheat

a "shot" of All Bran nuts

a shot of Wheat Chex

some sweetened Puffed Wheat

a tablespoon of peach juice

peaches (optional)

milk poured over the whole masterpiece

Grandma rolled her eyes through the telling of this recipe and then plopped a container of prunes in front of her finished dinner plate. "He does all that cereal stuff and I do prunes," she told me.

There are a lot of things people do regularly, but not all of them serve a function as important as our internal pipelines. Our culture makes sure to get a regular dose of TV programming every week, meet for regular happy hours, and be a "regular" at the corner coffee shop. As crazy as our culture loves to be, we still like pieces of our lives to be regular. There's a certain steadiness and safety about knowing what happens every Tuesday at 7 pm and every morning at 8:35. We like regularities because they serve as mile markers on our journey that remind us we're still on a road (even if we're lost).

When we're young, we can be cavalier about what we make regular. When you get older, though, your body starts to decide for you - it makes priorities about what needs to be regular and you'll know it when you're not.

The body has a way of reminding you that you can't escape it's function. And even in this we see the intentionality and creativity of the Father. Our bodies are made with a rhythm.

And sometimes (can I say this?), faith is like that. Meeting with the Lord every day is as regular as the way our body functions... and sometimes just as unsophisticated.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

and load up on fiber!

Occupy Life: Stones

The eyes peeped out from under raised eyebrows with extra height from tippy toes. I was sitting square at my desk, imploring my computer screen to talk back when I asked it questions about facts and figures. Maybe it was because of my secretarial intensity that I didn't notice the peeping eyes right away. But when I did, I willingly jumped into a game of hide-and-seek with the boy standing on the other side of my office window.

I spotted his Dad a few feet away, making sure the landscaping in front of the building reflected the glory of the Spring season. And down he disappeared and wide went my gestures as I "searched" for him. Then, he slowly rose with two rocks and a broad smile, as if to say, "Can you believe I found two rocks? And aren't these wonderful?"

He placed them triumphantly on my ledge and I gave my most excited "Ah!" face in appreciation for his find. Then some more peek-a-boos and then up came those little hands with two more rocks. The same wonder filled his face, as if to say, "Can you believe I found two rocks? And aren't they wonderful?" He set them on display just outside the first two.

It didn't matter that he'd already given the first two rocks or that the parking lot had many rocks. His wonder at the rocks never waned because of quantity or accessibility - His wonder simply was because the rock was.

Two more rocks found their way to my ledge before he got distracted and traipsed off, but I left them there.

I want to remember that there is wonder in today, but not because of rarity or some arbitrary value. There is wonder in today because God is breathing it into existence. There are clouds and sunshine and meetings and people and rocks because God is willing them into being in this very moment.

And I want to hold each thing up in my hands triumphantly and see the wonder.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Each day you and I occupy physical time and space, making bold statements about what is most important in this life (whether we’re holding picket signs or not). Other entries: Spanish at an Irish Pubpancake battertying ribbonsAlejandra,  Lunch HourDelaney and Roland or the original post Occupy Life: Things One Might Do While Unemployed.

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]

"please stop doing anything that you like"

We were playing calmly (mostly listening to him list off all the things he would build when he gets older - houses, chairs, boats, picture frames, paper, castles, birthdays) when all of a sudden his little four-year-old hands came up like T-rex and he said, "Know what kinda monster I am?" "Uh..no?" I couldn't come up with something witty fast enough.

"The TICKLE MONSTER!" He just stood there with the gleamiest gleam in his eyes, both daring me to flee and daring me to stay for the attack (he was prepared either way).

So, I lept up from the ground and encouraged the chase. Over the toys, around the table, circling the stairway, through the front room and looping around the kitchen with a speedy, gleeful tail following me all the way. When I slowed ever-so-slightly he moved in for the attack, but not for long. He backed off quick and asked again, "Know what kinda monster I am?"

"Hm.. banana?"

"No, silly! I'm the TICKLE MONSTER!" The same gleamiest gleam filled his sweet blues and I got full of giggles, because this time I had my T-rex hands ready, too.

He chased and then I chased and he said, "No, IIIIIII'm the Tickle Monster."

"Oh, but I like to be the Tickle Monster, too," and I could see the wheels turning - this wasn't the way the game played out in his head but he couldn't figure out how to make me realize I was breaking his rules.

We played on - he chased and then I chased and then his little socked feet got slippery and he took a tumble on the wood floor.

That's when he looked up with solemn, instructive eyes to say,

"Please stop doing anything that you like."

Little Zachary was making the rules based 100% on what he wanted to do. The only way he could figure out how to respond to my rules (based on what I wanted to do) was to ask nicely for me to not follow my rules.

Hm.

I'm not sure we ever grow up. We just find a bigger vocabulary and adopt a new conversational dance. The bottom line is nearly always the bottom line: I'd like you to stop doing what you like and do what I like instead. At least children still have the innocence and decency to ask nicely.

Oh, the lessons we can learn from little ones.

Maybe a better question is, instead, "what is it that you would like to do?"

tuesday

Every once in a awhile, I'll have a Tuesday where it seems like Sarah Masen was telling my story when she wrote, "Tuesday."

tuesday after a reckless and used day i was running and running without a chance to stop and chat at the sky

finally i stopped for a breath in the evening  suddenly. i was caught by the scenery  painting a picture of You

day set, scatters of clouds in the distance they whitewash the backdrop of secrets whispering shadows of blue in more delicate hues

"Reckless and used" couldn't better describe yesterday's pace. Maybe it was more that my running and running felt ineffective and unreliable. I wouldn't say Excel spreadsheets or organizing registrations give me energy or joy - ever. Though I'm the first to laugh at myself and all my secretarial screw-ups, I don't enjoy feeling ignorant or getting things wrong (does anyone?). Menial tasks that make perfect sense to a more secretarial sister read like Greek to me and the added stress only multiplies frustration. Several times, a boss stepped inside my office to say I was doing a good job and that this is just a season. Running, running, running. 

I left job one for job two and set my eyes on stealing back my joy from the schemer. Sadness is failure when it comes from self-pity - and that's exactly what the schemer had convinced me was a worthy adversary to Tuesday's stress. I stopped to get coffee (every midday resolve needs a little caffeine boost) and the nice young man behind the counter asked, "How're you doin' today?" after I ordered the strongest thing that comes in 16 oz. I muttered around a response until I ended with, "Well, I... am doing okay."

He nodded like he'd heard that before.

I couldn't let him think that I was like every other caffeine-crazed customer, so I added, "I'm not about to let this day steal my joy." He smiled. We talked about his tattoo that took 4 1/2 years to finish. I picked up my coffee at the counter, where the owner had upped the size and made it fancy, in support of my joy resolve.

So, I walked into job #2 with a bounce in my step. With some amount of surprise, I responded to, "How is your day?" with "Actually, really great."

I had turned a corner. Tuesday didn't seem so terrible anymore. I was even 3 minutes early. Then, as I surveyed the scene, I realized the longest part of Tuesday was only beginning. Between the "priority" print orders and the room full of design students meeting a deadline, I barely stopped moving long enough to go to the restroom.

Then he walked in and I didn't recognize him at first in his plaid shirt and khaki shorts. When he stopped first at the popcorn machine and looked at me disapprovingly, I knew it was the mailman. He comes in on Saturdays and I always have the popcorn fresh. We banter back and forth once a week but this Tuesday appearance was unexpected. The computers were on the fritz, so I helped him print off the study on Isaiah 49-52.

We zipped around the store like a mini-factory - loading paper, cutting cardstock, replacing toner, gritting teeth - Mike and Derek and me. Those two guys are part of what make the mini-factory on Tuesdays a joy. We laugh... a lot. We fume and joke and tease and laugh... a lot. When one of us throws up our hands in exasperated surrender, another picks it up and carries it through. And there was a lot of exasperation last night and a lot more of that I'm-not-naturally-good-at-this feeling.

An hour and a half after I was supposed to get off, I walked out and the mini-factory was still swirling with activity. Walking out to my car, I tripped over a crack in the pavement and cursed behind my teeth. Really? Even the ground couldn't resist being a part of my "reckless and used" day?

Before I headed home, I saw a text from Derek, "I just want you to know that I love working with you and Mike. I wasn't in the best mood when I came in, but you both made it a lot better. I look forward to Tuesday nights every week!"

Hm. As I pulled away towards home, I thought about all the ways God had painted my Tuesday scenery - in the form of co-worker encouragement, laughter, extra coffee with conversation, the mailman, co-workers, laughter, and the way the rain smelled when I left at 11:30 from the printing place.

Sigh. Even reckless and used Tuesdays are canvas for the Lord's scenery.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

to let go

Lately, the songs on my ipod are making me go the distance (in preparation for the Dam to Dam 1/2 marathon). Jars of Clay, Leagues, Mark Scibila, Jenny & Tyler, and (always standard) Josh Garrels are helping me pound out the paths around Ames. People keep asking me if I like living in Ames and I'm always a little thrown off, "I... I love it here. But, then again, I can't remember living in a place I didn't love." Even for those 6 months of couch hopping, the days were simply too full of blessings to have room for anything else. I've realized I need to have some tangible things in response because people expect a tangible take-away in these kind of exchanges.

Here are a few I've found:

  • running paths (I take a new path almost every time I go)
  • college campus (I dive into deep conversations because people will just assume I fall into the 'collegiate and questioning' category)
  • friends (I know - it's the whole state of Iowa - but it's been SO easy to meet new, wonderful people)
  • family (after living in Michigan, Texas, and Honduras, I'm back in the home state and counting my many family blessings)
  • everywhere is close (after the capital city of Honduras and then rural southwest Iowa, Ames seems "just right" for now)

Those are some tangibles, but Josh Garrels was reminding me last night to "let go of all the things I can't hold onto, for the hope beyond the blue" and man! it was making sense to my soul. With adrenaline pumping, I'm convinced my mind and heart syncopate their rhythms - like my knowledge and emotions merge for those 40 minutes. Sometimes (with earphones in), I sing out loud and pretend no one will hear. Last night, I felt moved to affirm Garrels' words with emphatic arm gestures in the middle of the forest path. I'm not proposing this is normal or that you should understand, but I am certain your soul will be refreshed at the reminder: 2 Corinthians 4:18, "Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal."

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

[bandcamp track=1539623097 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

Stand on the shores of a site unseen The substance of this dwells in me Cause my natural eyes only go skin deep But the eye’s of my heart anchor the sea Plumbing the depths to the place in between The tangible world and the land of a dreams Because everything ain’t quite it seems There’s more beneath the appearance of things A beggar could be king within the shadows, Of a wing

And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn To listen, to love, and to pray and discern And to do the right thing even when it burns And to live in the light through treacherous turns A man is weak, but the spirit yearns To keep on course from the bow to the stearn And throw overboard every selfish concern That tries to work for what can’t be earned Sometimes the only way to return is to go, Where the winds will take you

And to let go, of all, you cannot hold onto For the hope, beyond,the blue

Yellow and gold as the new day dawns Like a virgin unveiled who waited so long To dance and rejoice and sing her song And rest in the arms of a love so strong No one comes unless they’re drawn By the voice of desire that leads em’ along To the redemption of what went wrong By the blood that coveres the innocent one No more separation Between us.

So lift your voice just one more time If there’s any hope may it be a sign That everything was made to shine Despite what you can see So take this bread and drink this wine And hide your spirit within the vine Where all things will work by a good design For those who will believe

And let go, of all, we cannot hold onto For the hope, beyond, the blue

Said I let go, of all, I could not hold onto For the hope, I have, in you