God the author, we the actors

I assume a certain posture when words escape me. Thankfully, it's a much more culturally acceptable posture than the one of my mind in the same moment (jumping, leaping, and exploding with wild gestures). It looks like pursed lips, furrowed and thoughtful brows, shoulders bent in, and eyes fixated on the thought threatening to wriggle free of my grasp. This is how I spent the weekend - with body borderline catatonic while my mind raced after revelations that came as a steady stream through the preaching and teaching from the Word at the Desiring God Conference. My pen sped across journal pages to scratch out notes and doodle inspirations; every once in a while I would nod or grunt or breathe out an "Amen!" with an agreement my heart could feel.

I think I would say this is one of many postures of praise, informed by a grace I still don't fully appreciate. It is in this posture I heard these words,

God works in you as the Author of the miracle and then you act the miracle.

Jesus gave sight to the blind, but it is the blind man who opened his eyes to do the seeing. Jesus healed the lame man, but it was the lame man who stood up to do the walking. Jesus canceled my debt of sin at the cross (Colossians 2:15), but it is I who must do the living out of my new sinless status. Through faith, it is I who must daily conquer that canceled sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine if the blind man had not opened his eyes or the lame man had not stood up to walk. Imagine the miracles begging to be acted out, already authored by God but with hearts unwilling to be the actors. If the blind man does not open his eyes or the lame man does not stand, there is no evidence that he can see or stand. We must act out this miracle because in its acting out we see its reality.

I must act the miracle God authored because, as John Piper said, "Killing sin - pursuing holiness - is essential for salvation. The will to kill sin is the SIGN that sin is canceled."

Whooooosh. Like the thrill in knowing a roller coaster must descend with the rush of gravity after climbing to its highest height, my heart raced with these words that explained a truth already hidden in my soul.

Though my arms waved wildly in my mind, I maintained my outward posture of praise as I considered sanctification. I felt literally swept up in the joy and exhilaration of acting out the miracle God has already authored in my life. The process of becoming holy begins with the reality that God is holy - and we are invited to share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

We are invited to be like God (1 Peter 1:14-16) as we effectively conform our feelings, thoughts, and actions into complete harmony the infinite worth of the transcendent, trinitarian fullness of God.

What. an. invitation.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when home is hard to... define

If you ever want to get good and sad, do a search in your iTunes for the word "home." I trimmed the playlist to 50, but that's 3:30:06 worth of accompaniment for where I'm not. I've got quite the assortment - from the Peasall Sisters to Coheed and Cambria, from Matthew Mayfield to Waterdeep and from Eliza Doolittle to Trent Dabbs, from Mark Scibila to Iron & Wine and Mates of State to Sarah Jarosz. Simon & Garfunkel even make an appearance, followed by Phil Wickham and William Fitzsimmons.

And they are all singing, desperate and hopeful, about home.

I can't really explain it, but these melodies rustle up a restlessness that says, "You're not home in this moment" and it doesn't even matter where my feet are currently planted. I could be standing in the middle of my childhood home or lounging in one of 10 places I've called "home" since then and it wouldn't matter. There's something distinctly not home-y about life and there are reasons to be discontent about it.

Come on, join in with me. Throw your discontent in my kettle and we'll stir us up some comfort food.

I'm not where I thought I would be at 27... I really wish I had the kind of friends who... It seems like nobody really knows me around here... My laundry does not have the "this definitely came from my house" smell... I can manage to go from Monday - Friday completely anonymous, if I want... If only I could get away and have some time to think... I would feel at home if I was a "regular" at the coffee shop... Home feels more like a tractor when I'm at an office desk and more like an office desk when I'm in a tractor...

I don't know what makes where you are not home, but it's a funny science - this discontent. I think I realized as my heart beat along with the rhythm of these tunes that I need to add home and here and there to the list of "things to hold loosely."

When we are tempted into discontent about the place we find our two feet (for all the pages of reasons we rush to number), it's okay to be honest. It's okay to sing sad songs about home and speak our discontent into the unforgiving air.

But discontent will become our sin when we hold too tightly and hope too strongly for what we don't have.... then discontent becomes a bitter root or a seed of jealousy. Our comfort in the most desperate, sojourning moments is that our always home is not attached to location or city or nation.

In those kind of moments - when I think about all the places I am not - I breathe deep and trust that God is.

If you need to speak your wandering, sojourning spirit into the unforgiving air today, here are some tunes. But, please, don't hold too tightly or hope too strongly for what you don't have.

You have an invitation to always home.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/37645381]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHAZz6HqJ8U]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zM3-gGB_rMw]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbr80q4Rq1o]

Here is the one you listen to when you realize where you are always home.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

wherever your feet are planted in this moment

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!

shouting praise with sinner-strangers

Lord of all the earth we shout Your name, shout Your nameFilling up the skies with endless praise, endless praise Yahweh, Yahweh! We love to shout Your name O, Lord!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0eL88Zufic&feature=related]

There was something sacred about a the crowd of sinners filling up the Knapp Center with praise last night. And I'm not just saying that because sacred sounds postmodern and ambiguous and the right kind of religious. I use the word sacred because sometimes I need to shake off all my cynicism about Christian music and shout the name of the Lord with a bunch of stranger-sinners because the Lord deserves my praise.

Period.

I didn't know very many people - what kind of car they drove up in or what kind of family situation they'd be driving back to after we all filed out - but we must have all understood the invitation to fill the skies with praise. I was literally sing-shouting in harmonizing fashion and I couldn't stop the grin that raced across my face. I felt like Will Ferrell in Elf,"I'm in love, I'm in love and I don't care who knows it."

J.I. Packer said, "Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology." And sometimes we have to start singing to remember all the songs hidden in our hearts. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the time signature and the notes on the page and the really tricky key change on page 43... and we forget to sing.

We forget all His benefits. We forget His abundant goodness. We forget what we once were. We forget He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

We forget to sing.

I really did get a little overwhelmed - thinking about all the sin we brought into that place; all the brokenness and despair and guilt and regret that hung on us like dark clouds. Sin is not unfortunate or uncomfortable - not something we can "get over" or medicate with the right public service announcement. I got overwhelmed because there was a song on the other side of the dark clouds hanging from all of us sinner-strangers.

There is a song to sing when we step back and look at the sheet music and realize the Lord of all the Earth upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. He is Provider, satisfying the desires of every living thing. He is righteous and kind and near to those who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:14-18 paraphrase).

His response to a bunch of sinner-strangers singing His praise is delight. He delights in the praises of His people (Psalm 149:4). He delights. The Lord of all the Earth delights when sinner-strangers sing His praise.

Please, let's not forget to sing.

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145 ESV)

when the beat becomes the rhythm

I'm not sure what that means,

when the beat becomes the rhythm

but it seems like what's happening to my prayers. I think I was trying to tackle 4/4 time -  to wrestle my prayer life into a disciplined and acceptable metronome pace. I'm not sure, but I think something beautiful is happening.

My prayers are sounding desperate. My prayers are starting with, "Oh, I don't know..." and "Oh, help me trust You..." My prayers are getting frequent.

Have you ever found yourself bobbing your head to a song, without wanting to or meaning to bob your head at all?

Maybe there's no disciplining or wrestling ourselves into the right kind of prayer life.

What if we're drawn into the rhythm of prayer by the beat of our desperate hearts? What if, when we finally get good and helpless, prayer is the song we bob our hearts to in those moments of anxiety or months of indecision?

What if the beat becomes the rhythm?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

I'm reading A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller right now with a small group and loving the journey. I definitely encourage you to check it out.

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 human referral effect

Today, I put on my über hip (but less than hipster) tortoise shell glasses with the confidence of someone who needs corrective lenses and wears them with style. Just to be clear, I think glasses for fashion only is silly and a waste of money. If you do have to purchase glasses, then making it a fashion statement is a bonus. But why am I talking about fashion, which is so clearly out of my realm of expertise? Because I bought my glasses online at Zenni Optical - which was WAY cooler than Factory Eyeglass Outlet, where my parents would take us to get glasses when we were growing up. Here's the cold, hard fact: glasses are crazy expensive! You could pay up to $400 for glasses and that was $350 above my parents' price range. You might assume I've really moved up in the world and am able to buy a $400 status symbol, but I haven't. Actually, $400 glasses are about $375 above my price range and I'm now very thankful for those extra dollars my parents were able to spend on "any pair with the yellow sticker, sweetie."

I heard about Zenni Optical from my friend Tina who heard about it from my sister, who googled cheap eyeglasses and then told everyone about her experience. It seems fake at first - almost like a really horrible practical joke because the price for a pair of sweet, hip lenses from their website is as low as $6.95. I know, I didn't believe it either.

But then they arrived in the mail and you couldn't pay me to NOT advertise for them. People would say, "Oh, your glasses are so cool!" and I'd always touch the corner, real studious like, and say with a shrug, "Oh, these? $12.00."

No one believes me at first, but eventually I get them to write down the website and promise to look it up for themselves. At $12, you can afford to buy 2 or 3 pairs just in case one breaks. And, if you lose a pair, you just skip going to the theatre and you've evened things up for your wallet!

Zenni has since really snazzed up their website and have a feature where you can virtually try on glasses to see how they look on your face.

Wow.

I haven't ordered a pair in several years, but I still get excited at the idea of someone else getting a good product for a good price.

And why all this about my glasses?

Because I read this article about the human referral effect in Forbes magazine that highlights another eyeglass outfitter who is committed to giving quality for a fair price. The author of the article, Alexander Taub (Iowa native, btw) talks about his Warby Parker purchase and the chain reaction of referrals that followed.

Bottom line: we like to point people in the direction of something wonderful... and not just the possibility of something wonderful, but the guarantee of something wonderful.

I love this idea. I love that humanity is a fan of guaranteed wonderful things and that we want other people to have guaranteed wonderful things too. I love that the human referral effect happens and that it happens so often and that Forbes magazine is taking notice.

What I wonder is if eyeglasses are the only thing we should be sending down this highly effective human pipeline. I wonder if this human referral effect is being extremely under utilized.

I wonder what would be the best thing for humans to refer to one another?

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.

experience: the great necessitator

A brilliant sunset with purple and gold and rusty hues.A child swinging with legs pumping and face aglow. An orchestra woven into the sidewalk and a choir decorating the ordinary day with an overwhelming melody.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBaHPND2QJg&feature=youtu.be]

Experience is the great necessitator and what it requires is words. I know the whole premise of an amazing experience is that words are insufficient - that descriptions are incapable of the glory of whatever occurred.

But words are exactly what experiences require... because without them we will never understand why a crowd of strangers, wrapped up in their own little worlds, would be drawn together by musical notes to participate in a glorious performance that causes children to wave their arms and grown people to stand with gaping mouths.

Why can music do this? How does man's creativity wield such beautiful and magnetic power?

Where does this beauty come from and does it have a name?

Today, people all over these great United States are celebrating a day of independence with parades and flags and all sorts of star spangled accessories. But if experiences are simply ambiguous reasons to throw celebrations, we've denied experience what it really needs: words.

Explicit, meaningful, deep words that make sense of the beautiful and point to its origin.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

why words will never go out of style

In the beginning, God spoke; at Mount Sinai, God wrote. God's relationship with humanity has always been understood through words. God very intentionally used language to communicate who He was, what He required, and the consequences of disobedience.

He did not merely paint a striking sunset followed by an unsettling thunderstorm. He spoke.

Yes, His words carried the weight of canyons and oceans and galaxies far, far away. What came out of his mouth was not paintings, but real, vivid, breathtaking landscapes. God's words wove intricate molecules together and held them there.

And then God reached his finger down and wrote a book, etched on two tablets. He did not draw a picture or send an instagram photo to the people of Israel who had just been rescued out of slavery. He wrote words.

What gives?

Words, it seems, are going out of style. My generation is being romanced into image-only relationships where words are subliminal (if a picture is worth a thousand, why write at all?).

It is not that images or photographs or illustrations or cartoons are poor ways to reflect our Creator. Au contraire! This is exactly how we reflect God, because he's given us the desire and ability to create in a way that points to His perfect Creative hand.

But God did not leave us to figure out His plan for redemption by viewing only his perfect and miraculous creation. He spoke to the people. He wrote out the law.

The redemption story jumping out from Genesis to Revelation is not a mystery because God used language to explicitly communicate His plan for salvation. We are not left standing in front of an abstract piece to interpret its meaning. He gave us Creation - beauty beyond belief - and then He spoke to us and explained the significance of our existence, the despairing end of our freely chosen separation from Him, and the hope of restored relationship in Christ.

He wrote it out.

And that is why words will never go out of style. God speaks with words.

Are we listening?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

These thoughts come from my reflections on the book Lit! by Tony Reinke. Check it out for yourself if you want to understand why reading is so important.

o love that will not let me go

"How did Jesus have power to do miracles?" The question was like extracting one drop of water in a massive wave off the coast of El Salvador - marvelous and impossible.

I sat across from Anna and considered the fireworks in my heart. Oh, how I love my Jesus. I got flustered and stumbled over my words in excitement. My haphazard words fluttered out like they would if I was trying to explain that I'd found a key to a secret garden in the center of the city, where hydrangeas and peonies and lilies bloomed year-round. It's too good to be true and my heart knows it.

The more we study the life of Jesus, the more willing we are to stand in awe - to marvel at the mystery. Anna's question came from our summer Bible study, "Walking as Jesus Walked" by Dann Spader and my delight came from the response: digging deeper. My delight is not that I have answers, but that through the Spirit we have strength to comprehend the love that surpasses knowledge.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)

As the weeks go by, my encouragement to these girls is to go digging - to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) over and over and over again. Nothing bad can come of studying the Word and asking God to give us insight. The Word never returns void. When we've uncovered verses that we think don't make sense, it means digging deeper to uncover why they do.

The more we read God's Word, the more we want to read God's Word. As we study the life of Jesus, I am holding on to the love that will not let me go - the love that allows me to grow in wisdom and stature, in favor of God and man (Luke 2:52), just like Jesus.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS3o_160OhE]

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

on guilt in life

No guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me.

These lines from "In Christ Alone" make my bottom lip tremble. Now more than yesterday and tomorrow more than today. More and more I feel the power of Christ in me conquering the death in me.  Because, with awful dread in my bones, my guilt grows as my soul expresses all the ways it's prone to wander. And I hate it.

I hate feeling schmoozed and stunted by temptation, knowing I can look back and see my own willful footsteps led me to the place I despise.

Jared Wilson writes in his book, "Gospel Wakefulness,"

The gradual dawn of gospel wakefulness is occurring for you as the Spirit brings your sin to mind, pours more grace upon you, and bears more fruit of good character and good works in you. To this end, then, you should read the gospel, listen to the gospel, sing the gospel, write the gospel, share the gospel, and preach the gospel, all the while asking God to administer its power more and more to your life.

As my sin comes to mind (and there's never a shortage), I pray the gospel quickly follows to fill in all that's empty and mend all that's broken.

The gospel is news like the tsunami was news and the presidential race is news and the fall of the Berlin wall was big news. The gospel is news because it happened.

But, if the gospel is going to transform the way I wake up, the way I look at the night sky, and the way I grieve after a funeral, then the heavy joy of the gospel news must come from my heavy and agonizing awareness of what it accomplished.

"No guilt in life" is not so simply stated. The power of Christ in me reminds me of my guilt, of the weight of it. Christ overcame a world of guilt in my life - a world of growing, messy guilt that weighs more than I can bear.

Christ did not die for my sin. Christ died for me, a sinner.

And there is sweet, sweet joy for broken spirits. Sweet, deep, beautiful joy for those keenly aware of the power and depth of their rescue.

[bandcamp track=2173121373 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

*This reflection will be one of many as I read through Jared Wilson's "Gospel Wakefulness." 

don't tell the farmer or the owner of the mansion

A real runner would have a running buddy and wear a watch and map a route and follow a strict training schedule and beat a personal best. But, I'm not a real runner. Somewhere around 6:30 pm tonight (to top off a beautiful day of wonderful things), I laced up the Brooks my generous Pops gave me when I got back from Honduras last June. Somehow, it seemed fitting that these same shoes would accompany me today when I set my sights on 10.5 miles.

I had a plan, kind of. Not being completely familiar with Ames (and knowing my tendency to detour), I wrote out reminders on my hand of where to turn and street signs to remember.

I won't say I was excited, but I will say I was determined.

Right around mile 4.5 (give or take), I was wishing I had more written on my hand. I knew I meant to follow a river, but didn't remember on which side. I spotted a bridge over the river and a forest beyond. Based completely on the aesthetic (and not at all on the yellow signs surrounding the bridge that seemed a bit superfluous), I decided to cross over.

The trails were magic and I was mesmerized. I kept giggling to myself that I'd found such a gem - curving around, climbing up, and carrying me around loop-de-loops under the thick, green forest cover. I was in the movie Bambi and Lion King and Robin Hood all at once and running with the perfect amount of breeze at my back.

And, then the trail looped and curved and ... ended in a field. No bridge, no road - just field and field and field as far as I could see. This just sent me into a more delirious state of giggles because not an ounce in me wanted to turn around. I reasoned that all fields must border a road at some point - I farmed with my uncle, you see, so I know these things.

I carefully directed my path between the wee rows of soybeans and curved along the edge of the field, noting the distance between the rows. All I could think about was my Uncle Craig, so I took mental pictures to share what I project to be the above average yields in central Iowa.

Suddenly, I realized that (the way farmers use technology these days) there might be some sort of satellite camera monitoring the fields. I wondered if I looked like a crop scout or maybe a spy. I wanted to let the satellites know my good intentions, so I started removing the dead limbs from the soybean rows. Just so you know, Mr. Farmer, you have some dead limb problems and I did what I could but you might need to bring your burly son out to get the big ones. Also, Mr. Farmer, there were some large rocks that might cause you problems - just in case your satellite didn't pick that up. Also, Mr. Farmer, there is a family of deer that seem very comfortable on your property. I'm just saying.

Somewhere, in the middle of that field, I thought, "Maybe this was a bad idea."

But, I kept running. I decided the treeline would be a good place because there was either a river or a creek or (hopefully) a road somewhere beyond it. What there wasn't was a path.

I high-kneed it through what might have been poison ivy and happened upon what was once a creekbed. I ran along the creekbed over the deserted houses of beavers and the former hideouts of foxes. I realized two things at this point: I could get attacked by a wolf and/or shot by a suspicious farmer. Somehow, laughing still seemed the best response.

Running, running, running.

I finally spotted something very un-foresty just above the treeline and thought, "This will be awkward, but it might save my life." I planned to run up to the old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere (which is where I was SURE I was), knock on the front door of Farmer Joe and Wife Edith and say, "I know this sounds crazy, but I got lost running through the back of your property and I just wanted to let you know I'm not trespassing. And also, could you point me in the direction of Ames?"

I had practiced interrupting their nightly tea and the prime-time cable feature, but I was completely unprepared for what appeared when I finally topped the ravine: a mansion. That's right. I was smack dab in the backyard of Ken and Barbie's dream home. I ran, stuttered, and then decided knocking on a mansion's door to let them know I wasn't trespassing was not a good idea. I tried to put my best "young-girl-lost-in-the-wilderness-don't-hold-it-against-me" look on my face and made a beeline for what sounded like traffic.

Once I hit that highway, I knew I would live. No farmer would shoot me and no millionaire would sue me now. I meandered my way back to the little city I call home and every other racing step was accompanied with laughter.

This would never happen to a real runner. But, I am not a real runner.

As it turns out, I am someone who can run 13.36 miles unintentionally - trespassing through multiple properties and finding it the most amusing end to a most wonderful day.

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. 

the fear that brings wisdom

Okay, it's about to get awkward and honest. Well, more honest than awkward (I do enough of that in real life) but you might feel awkward reading my latest loop-de-loop that's got me feeling exposed. Did I ever tell you I'm stubborn? Well, I am. And I can blame it on Nichols nature or I can blame it on the human condition or I can take full credit for that thing in me that resists when people offer to help carry an obviously too-heavy load. Yep, I'm stubborn. And I'm pretty accustomed to the good and bad situations I get into because of it.

Recently, though, I've been surprised. I never thought my stubbornness would keep me fearful or help me avoid risk or support "playing it safe." All those things seem like what I use stubbornness to fight against nearly every day. I always thought stubbornness was something I could use to my advantage - to push through when things were hard or didn't make sense. My knowledge of the Lord led me straight into a very stubborn belief that, in any situation, I can "grin and bear it." I thought stubbornness was almost holy, I guess.

And here's where it gets honest. 

I'm afraid of the GRE. I'm nervous that I can't kick it in grad school. I'm worried I might choose a specialized field that doesn't translate practically to serving real people. I hate the thought of looking foolish in a classroom. I fear the pride of another degree.

And I guess a combination of the above is what led me to steer clear of institutionalized higher learning after I graduated in 2007. I actually researched graduate programs that didn't require the GRE and have since looked for "continuing education" programs that don't emphasize a degree. That's how stubborn I was about my fears.

And I was missing out.

When Christ promised to bring life in abundance, he did not call everyone to the same position or profession. He is big enough to be abundant in the life of a lawyer and big enough to be abundant in the life of a shepherd. I got so stubborn holding onto Him being "big enough to be abundant" while I fill my schedule with part-time work that I refused to think there were other ways I could use/grow my gifts. This was my excuse on the surface for all those other stubborn reasons I wasn't sharing.

"I know God will use me wherever I am, as long as I'm willing to be used."

That little bit of self-talk has been on replay since I came back to the States on a mad hunt for a job to pay off my school debt. It kicked up into high chipmunk-style gear when I started working for my uncle on the farm and then when I accepted two part-time jobs in Ames. I just kept saying, I've just got to be willing. I still believe it's true, but I also believe it allowed me to hide. It was Jim Elliott who said, "Wherever you are, be all there." And to that I say, amen! But, I would add that we must always have a heart ready to do something else - something that might throw our fears out into the light and challenge our stubborn resolve.

The flip side of my willingness has hit me like a bucket of cold water in the past couple days. Am I willing to release my stubbornness and face my fears about doing something else? Am I willing to say that all the closed doors for full-time employment mean an open door for more learning? Am I willing to say "God is big enough to be abundant" if I go back to school?

Some fear is not good. And this is that kind of fear for me.

I think I'll pray for the kind of fear that ends up being worth wisdom. And then I'll pray for the courage to do what that wisdom reveals.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," Proverbs 9:10

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

teach them to obey

"... and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you."

As I sat soaking up the the last minutes of lecture in Perspectives today, I almost didn't hear these words, "We don't teach to learn, we teach to obey." My mind rewound and replayed and something clicked.

I don't think obsessive is too strong a word to describe the fascination the West has with education. We are greedy about our learning. I'm smack dab in the thick of things, too. I want more in my brain, sometimes just so I can come up with something in conversation to trump the thing someone else said. It's ugly, really. If you've ever seen that clip from Portlandia, it's something like this and I'm not a bit proud of it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7VgNQbZdaw]

We want knowledge because there's something elite about it, something powerful.

and this was never how God intended knowledge

It was not a bad thing for Adam and Eve to know things about the Lord, about the garden, about their place in it. In fact, It delighted God for humans to grow in understanding because it produced praise - the lifestyle kind - where their knowledge resulted in actions full of love. The more they knew of God, the more they wanted to know of Him and please Him. We all know that came to a bad end, but it's important to remember that our pursuit of knowledge hasn't always been bittersweet. It was once only beautiful.

"... and teach them to obey all that I commanded you." These are Jesus' well-known words from Matthew 28. He is not asking the disciples to go out and form institutions where they teach people to learn. Learning for the sake of learning is a lame movement. The only thing contagious about it is our own greed for more. Learning to obey means letting knowledge sink down deep where it won't grow stale - where it turns into obedient actions full of love.

When we learn to obey, we know our Master in such a way that our greatest delight is to please Him. When we teach to obey we are teaching that following Christ means conforming to His image (not knowing about conforming to His image).

How dismal the Gospel would be if it was only about knowing. How glorious that, through our obedience, God sanctifies us. I don't want to just learn the Gospel and I don't want to teach others to just learn the Gospel.

I want to obey and teach others to obey, that God would be glorified and that our supreme delight would be in Him.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a rebuke past due

Last night, around the dinner table, we got into a pretty heated discussion (which is unfortunately my modus operandi). The topic is not as important to me as my conversation this morning with my cousin. I guess you could say it was one of those personal revelations - where the layers peeled back and the "real me" was exposed.

I've mentioned before my grappling with the meaning of a "gentle and quiet" spirit that Peter talks about in 1 Peter 3:3-4,

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

I wrestle these words.

I want to justify my crazy personality, want to know that "who I am" is okay - even if I'm not the quiet girl praying in the corner. I do believe God sanctifies our personalities, but I'm just not sure how to balance my uniqueness with the ways God desires to transform me to His image.

Enter my cousin Vince.

This morning, I asked him about last night's discussion. I knew the argument ruffled his feathers and I wanted to know what I could do better. I also, selfishly, wanted to know how to achieve that "quiet and gentle spirit" and still be, well, me.

In the course of our conversation, I realized a major character flaw that needs to be seriously refined by fire.

In a conversation/argument/debate, I often appear confident and decided in my view even if I'm not convinced of it myself.

Even writing it looks lame, but it's true. I'm not sure who to blame - my brothers for their ruthless monopoly bullying or my sister for all those squabbles over borrowing clothes. In the end, I know it's my own heart that is so stubborn. It's my own pride that prevents me from saying, "I'm not really sure. What do you think?" It's my selfishness that refuses to ask questions and instead offers, "Well, I think..." statements.

love to process through ideas, philosophies, and theological dilemmas. I welcome questions because every assumption/belief must be challenged to reveal its roots. But, I've often made my mind up to be defensive before I am convinced of my own position. I don't ask questions or consider another as better than myself (Philippians 2:3) on the debate floor. My main focus is to be heard and understood, not to hear and understand.

Oh, dear. This confession is getting ugly.

Over omelettes and coffee this morning, my heart looked sour and silly. Vince saw through my selfishness to ways it has blinded my own heart. He saw my veneer of pride and called me out.

This is a rebuke past due that makes me wonder how many relationships and conversations would have ended differently.

My own pride keeps me from conforming to my Creator, but I would probably argue to the death that it's not so.

Oh, that I would throw off all that entangles so that I can truly

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L4SNay-X0I]

tethered

I think sometimes my heart sings when my words are confused and silent. Sometimes those songs my heart sings are a welcome tether to a soul too-often floating on the breeze. I don't love the idea of tethers, but with a heart prone to wander, I'm well aware of my need. In the middle of Monday night, a wretched 24-hour flu monster attacked from underneath my bed. My body ached. My head pounded (partially due to caffeine withdrawal). My gut wrenched. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Tuesday was a blur.

Wednesday I prayed God would show strong in my weakness and He was my tether. I shared with some beautiful ladies about God's design for us as women - something He had planned from the very beginning to showcase His glory. God is so gracious to let me see Him in these faces - to let me watch Him move in my near-nauseous state. What a gift to be tethered.

And when my soul drifts away, He is my tether.

I hope these songs encourage you today, reminding you of your need for a tether. Don't fight it, friends.

Home by Ginny Owens [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaspLnq6fzU]
 
Pilgrim by Preson Philips
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_l-HcCrxzo]
 
Washed by the Water by NEEDTOBREATHE
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuOs3x94Wos]
 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

ampersands

"... & now I live in Ames, Iowa." Tonight it struck me, facing a beautiful piece of stained glass in the cozy, stone room that tucked itself in as an afterthought of the grand cathedral. I sat in the corner and scanned the room, drank in the faces, and then closed my eyes to let the lilting music of rolled r's and long o's seep behind my watery eyes.

Tonight I found myself (at 5:15 pm and on time to the 5 pm service) at the Spanish Mass and I started to feel the weight of my most recent ampersand.

"... & now I live in Ames, Iowa."

The weight is not wrong, only sometimes I forget what I joyfully carry around - three years of my life lived with kingdom eyes to hold the gaze of beauty in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. With every ampersand added to my life, I found the blessing of my daily rhythm beholding the beauty of God.

I sang & jumped & talked & listened & wrote & learned & prayed & crafted & played & taught & watched & loved...

because God showed me boundless grace & mercy.

God commissions me, with His blessing, to be a blessing... to stuff my life full of ampersands that PROCLAIM His glory.

Some ampersands are harder than others to etch into my life sentences. Some ampersands are carved painfully because I'd really rather not add anything else.

But, no matter how they find their way into my story, I love 'em... because what else can we do with the life God gives us? Every ampersand is a blessing, every day and each moment - an ampersand stamped on our existence this side of heaven.

I'm looking at my long list of ampersands tonight and counting my many blessings... counting them like currency that should be spent lavishly on gifts.

"... & now I live in Ames, Iowa."

Thank you, Lord, for stamping this ampersand on my 27-year-old life. Thank you for bringing me here and adding dump trucks of blessings on my already overflowing soul. Thank you for the hard days and the brilliant days and the days I wish I were somewhere other than here.

I pray I make every ampersand (every blessing added to my days, every moment) available to others in a way that brings them face to face with the Giver - no matter where my ampersands land me.

it's official

If you weren't convinced before, this oughta do it. Remember my boot sliding escapade last week? Well, apparently I didn't. Here's how I do the math:

snowstorm overnight + slightly warmer daytime temp + 5:00 pm = ice covered sidewalks

This is the equation that lands me smack dab in the middle of crazy (don't forget that I'm notoriously unstable in good sidewalk conditions). I had been office-d all day, plugging away in Excel (wishing my brother would have given me the tutorial he promised over Christmas break) and pushing some papers... so I was ready to run.

The snow made my whole body nervous this morning (when I realized I have no idea how to drive in it), so running was going to be my way of snatching back my winter joy. The first five minutes involved a simple, out loud conversation with myself, "This is stupid. You are stupid." But, I kept going... down the icy stairs, through the icy park, past a cautious walker, and looping around to follow the path toward the university.

I kept thinking, "Why am I doing this?" and then answering, "because this is how to live winter" ... and then catching myself from a near fall. I really had very little mental space to process while I ran because I needed to focus singularly on staying upright.

I let a giggle jump out and chase the sky.

Let the winter come! And, oh, let me run in it!

I loved every bit of my run - no matter how official it made my craziness (I'm not sure that was even in question to begin with).

I loved the way the man stared at me when I said, "Should have brought my ice skates" and the way I ran by the university campanile at exactly 5:30, approaching an ice patch (and the way I jolted when the bells chimed) and the way people stared at me like I was some luny freshman, trying to resolve off 15 pounds and the way the Cadillac slid to a halt to let me pass in front of it and the way I only slipped once and another time saved a fall with bowling-like form and the way the footsteps in the snow revealed other crazy people and the way the wind whipped at my back on Lincoln Way, encouraging me on in my ridiculous endeavor and the way the wind slapped my face on University, reminding me of my ridiculous endeavor and the way that my stride grew every time I hit iceless pavement and the way that winter is a muscle doctor - it's like running inside an ice pack and the way my lungs burned and my sweat froze

Let the winter come! And let me run in it.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy