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.

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.

do you feel salvation in your fingertips?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live and I will make for you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Isaiah 55:2-3

Oh, the thousands of times I have not listened. And the thousands on top of those thousands that I have lacked diligence.

And, oh, the rotten food I have eaten as a result.

Listen. Listen diligently.

These words dripped like the sweet sunshine that rushed to meet me in mid-afternoon - God's reminder that delight always waits on the other side of diligent listening. His invitation hovers patient, woven through my schedule and rests the right kind of heavy on my heart.

"Child, if you just incline your ear and come to me... delight is on the other side and inside my words."

Listen. And I will eat what is good, I will delight in rich food, my soul will live and I will enjoy an everlasting covenant.

On this side of the life/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ, these sweet words mean salvation. It means joyful abundance in the depraved, daily trenches of our days. It means being satisfied (Psalm 63) in a way the best home-cooked meal will always fail to do. It means tasting and seeing that He is good (Psalm 34:8). It means feeling life leap in our souls and it means experiencing a love with the certainty of an everlasting, covenant promise.

It means pushing myself back from the table of my rotten concoctions and trusting that delight will be on the other side of diligent listening. It means stretching out my arms and feeling salvation in my fingertips.

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let LOVE fly like cRaZy

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. 

I was never brilliant

It's true. I was always that girl who grew up on a farm and knew how to work hard, but I was never brilliant. In high school, I campaigned enough to be President of all the right groups and practiced enough to make first chair trumpet. I played enough to letter in sports and performed enough to be cast as lead roles in musicals. I studied enough to make the Honor Roll and tested high enough to opt out of finals.

I was smart enough, but I was never brilliant.

In college, I earned enough good grades to be invited into the Pew Society and find my name on the Dean's List. I was active enough in the community to annoy my friends with my schedule and passionate enough about missions to let it consume much of my time.

I was smart enough, but I was never brilliant.

I don't mention these things to puff myself up, actually I'm about to do the opposite. As I consider the reasons why I haven't pursued further study, I discovered a very twisted kind of pride. See, because I was not a child prodigy, I tried not to measure myself against brilliance. I read and thought and wrote and digested as much knowledge as I could get my hands on, but I didn't want anyone to test me on it. I wanted to be an expert in areas I could handpick (and self-declare my expert status).

Ugh. This is ugly.

It didn't matter that the topics I raised for discussion weren't as interesting or as important to the people at the table (or that I rarely raised questions about their area of expertise), what mattered was finding that sweet spot where my "smart enough" looked pretty good.

I remember thinking, "Now, that's brilliance," as I listened to visting speakers and read various authors. I've always said that a dream of mine is to sit with C.S. Lewis, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and G.K. Chesterton in a musty, old library. That's a room full of brilliance, right there. But, I wonder if I would have chosen to hang out with those folks, had they been on my campus. I wonder how I would respond to their rebuke or their questions.

I was never brilliant, but I was comfortable thinking I could be the best of mediocre.

I wonder what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say to that.

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

way more than sometimes

I'm so glad Paul admitted he never "made it." I mean, what a guy, right? He learned to be content in any circumstance - and he didn't live a quiet life in the Midwest either. I mean, jail, shipwrecks, and undercover operations were just another day in the office for this man. Transformed from Christian killer to Christian by the power of Christ, Paul's theological understanding came straight from the Lord. Forget commentaries, the man was God's chosen tool to give us the bulk of the New Testament that we read today. An encouragement to churches spread across the known world at that time, Paul was very clear in a letter to the Philippians,

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

And I'm so glad he "never made it." If he had, all my failures in all my petty circumstances would feel much more pitiful. As I try to match his efforts to "take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold" of me, I struggle with the pressing on.

His admonishment to the church that precipitated this assurance was,

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)

Really, Paul? You think you can know God and the power of his resurrection? You're willing to share in his sufferings and even die? You are clearly better at this "Christian life" thing than I am.

And just when he knew they'd put that letter down in defeat - certain they'd never be able to attain that kind of faith -  Paul let them know he didn't have it all together.

And, oh! Thank goodness for that.

I've been sorting through some things lately - pretty weighty things - and I'm aware that sometimes I'm driven by fear and that sometimes I promote myself and that sometimes I hide behind pride and that sometimes I am selfish.

Let's be honest, it's way more than sometimes. My failure doesn't mean I'm not in the same race, pressing on with Paul toward the One who calls me, redeems me, and strengthens me to run for what will bring most joy.

 I can still let LOVE fly like CrAzY even when it seem like I'm not qualified

satisfied

I am satisfied in you. It's a hopeful statement, yes, but it very much ends with a powerful period. This morning, I am forgetting not His benefits and I am satisfied.

Psalm 103:2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits

When there are ripples of discontent or rumblings of doubt, God reminds me that He responds to my questions with an answer always as full and lush as Spring.

He satisfies. He satisfies. He satisfies.

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So, today I'm hoping that I will...

"Let my sighs give way to songs that sing about your faithfulness Let my pain reveal your glory as my only real rest Let my losses show me all I truly have is you"

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

more Jesus, less caroline

Today blusters. The wind rushes the trees and picks up crunchy leaves from ground that should be covered in snow. Wednesday is my morning for study and I'm glad I'm sitting by a window. When the books press my brain and my journal scrawls make no sense, I just look out the window and breathe in the gray of this day. I have rough days every once in awhile - days where it's hard to smile and a labor to laugh.  Last week, I had one of those days. A friend sent a text to see if I wanted to hang out and my response was, "Rough day. Sad. Need more Jesus." She was sweet, even if I wasn't making perfect sense.

Today is looking way less rough and way more beautiful, but I still need more Jesus. It's so funny how I work hard to cheat myself out of joy. I fill up my day and scrunch all sorts of non-sense into spare minutes so that there is nothing left. I read and think and write and dance and laugh and sing and sound my barbaric yawp in the quiet community parks. ...And I work hard to make more space for me and little space for Jesus.

By 9 am, I've sealed my fate: life abundant is aiming a little too high. There is just too much caroline going on to be distracted by Jesus.

Oh, man. Jesus had something else in mind for my days. Something magnificent and unexplainable and bigger than minutes and bigger than the wind outside this window.

Jesus said he came to bring life and life abundant (John 10:10). The only way abundance is going to fit in my day is if I become less. The silly madness of it all is that my searching, loving, and longing for Jesus will mean the best and most JOY - not less. Though I pack my days (good and bad) with other things, only more Jesus can make my life overflow with a joy that seeps into the corners of my sadness and twirls in the spontaneity of surprises. Only more Jesus will make sense of my brokenness and the world's failures. Only more Jesus will lift my spirit above catty gossip and exchange it for words of blessing. Only more Jesus.

I'm praying this will be a Romans 15:13 kind of day.

Romans 15:13 says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy."

A day FILLED with ALL joy and peace, trusting in the Lord, OVERFLOWING with hope by the power of the Holy.

God LOVES so completely, so PERFECTLY, so winsomely. The wind blows and shakes the trees and I think... How could I not want more in response?

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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

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the greatest story that ever was

I wrote this entire post yesterday and then cyberspace stole it. It took me awhile to cool off and find time to try it again (because I had a 15 minute window between work and work), but if Vince is right - this should be better anyway. This morning I woke up remembering. My mind was heavy with it and I didn't want to shake free. A deep sadness chased after rose-petaled joy in the wide expanse of slight slumber and I soaked it all in with my head smooshed to the pillow. Remembering.

I know the words to a beautiful tale of trial and tragedy and triumph. I know the beginning and ending of the greatest story that ever was. I carry around the chapters in thought bubbles above my head and feel them in the work of my hands. It's a living kind of story that is both finished and in process. It's the kind of story that everyone wants to believe is true, but only some have eyes to see.

It's a story where we are the characters and we live the plot.

This story is the Gospel. God's plan for humankind to live as we were designed - for worship.

The Gospel is the greatest story that ever was, penned by the Creator with great care - from the moment the first light broke into the furthest reaches of black void.

In the beginning, God. Forever before and forever after this little blip called human existence, God lives - Perfect, Holy, and Blameless. Our failure to reflect Him (in His perfection) required a hero - a Perfect Savior who would stand in our place to take on everything imperfect, unholy, and blame-filled. Christ is that Savior. 

And today my heart is heavy with the weight of this story - to receive it with joy and to tell it with abandon; to preach it with my feet and to sing it with laughter. This is the story of deliverance from death to life, from lost to found.

This is the story that changes everything. And so deep sadness plays with great joy in my soul as I turn over this blessing in my sleepy mind. This is the story that changes everything.

What have I imagined to be more important than this story? What have I elevated to get more fame than this true tale? What has taken my gaze from the One who redeemed me from the pit and restored my soul?

Today, the act opens on the greatest story that ever was and sets the stage for the greatest party that ever was

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

what scene are you making tonight? we are bound to make a scene - like fools in love.

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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

handwriting

Whatever happened to all that penmanship our elementary teachers hounded us about with dotted lines? All those rewrites and all that time spent with my tongue hanging out to get the curve just right. Whatever happened to handwriting?

A few days ago, I got a letter in the mail. Well, not technically in the mailbox, but in my email inbox. I glanced at the message from a dear Honduran friend, but didn't stop to click on the attachment. I knew it needed more time, so I postponed until today.

I found this letter after clicking on the "document.pdf" file and I've probably read it a zillion times since.

There's something about pen to paper that can't be imitated in typed script. No number of fonts can capture the haphazard curve of the "s" or the way the "i" doesn't have a dot hovering over it's rigid line.

There's something very special about handwriting and about the kindred spirits who use it to communicate a stronger emotion than can get lost on the keyboard.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

come awake in 2012

Waking up was hard to do this morning, but smiling at this golden beginning to a new year was pretty easy. Yesterday was an exhibition in overflow. Yesterday splashed like crazy with "my cup runnin' over." God keeps pouring more of Himself (Romans 5) out through His Spirit and I can’t help but burst with joy. The more the Spirit pours out into my life, the more overflows everywhere else. .gelato and coffee and conversations with cousins, with the right overdose of laughter .folding up into a perfect sized hide-and-seek closet, awaiting the spirited search and discovery .the other side of sunset - the expanse of sky gathering up all the reflections and hiding them in clouds .hay bales piled on top of hay bales and warming in the unseasonable sun .car rides riddled with conversation with my sister, where our friendship is given deeper, livelier roots .a NYE celebration with new friends who live spur-of-the-moment and believe that laughter can be holy .neighbors with open doors and friendly greetings and stories to share .sweet sleep in a warm cocoon and a dawn that brings a fresh start

overflow

The burnt, lifeless leaves sweep up into a circling wind outside the kitchen window and shake away some of the Sunday afternoon reverie. The chorus from this morning's service seems stuck in my soul,

Christ is risen from the grave trampling over death by death Come awake, come awake Come and rise up from the grave

The bold dawn has cast out the shadows of this day, this year, this sickness, this fear, this life. We are living the already, not yet life where dawn claims victory over the darkness of night in prelude to the Forever song. Today is a post-Easter, pre-Eternity day where we can rise up from the grave of death because in Christ it has no sting!

Today, I'm praying my heart would come awake to God's heart. I'm praying my mind would come awake to the Word. I'm praying my actions would come awake in obedience and my life would come awake in Truth.

I'm praying I will live 2012 awake, eyes wide open in search of blessings to name and receive and count and respond with a life of gratitude.

May you all be blessed in 2012 with awakened hearts and minds, that you would pursue the Lord with everything in you, knowing that He will be found by you.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy in 2012!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_NrB2iBqh8]

what if life was a program

So, I woke up groggy today - the kind of groggy that takes a few groans and stretches to successfully escape morning's clinging clutches. Walking around in this new slightly-less-nomadic skin has it's beautiful charms and strange discomforts. My clothes are folded frumpy in a sweet smelling wooden dresser, my suitcases sit empty in the closet, and my car eddie is almost a local on these streets.

Settling in feels like crawling out of an old skin - one that knew many houses and couches and faces in this in-between phase of transition. I might have become a little addicted to "never a dull moment" and "expect the unexpected," even if it meant never having a routine.

Now, I arrive at that place where my days are more predictable and I find myself distinctly aware of the temptation to be comfortable.

For a brief moment in time, I've got a blank slate of Sunday - Saturday.

The white space stares up at me with all sorts of exciting and intimidating possibilities. I realize this can be one of those pregnant moments where I choose something brilliant. I can be someone new in this place - become "that person" I've been wandering around searching for in the past few months. I can lead groups and join clubs and serve food every third Saturday and bake for the elderly on the second Monday.

I've always bristled a bit at the idea of "programs." Though I've certainly participated in my share (and led several as well), somewhere in my groggy beginning to this day I decided that I want to start this less-than-nomadic page of my life by making life my program.

I don't want to join groups of Christian folks trying to mirror similar secular groups. I don't want to arrange my life to appear effective and busy and spiritually productive. I don't want to jump on a moving train with "Christianity" emblazoned on the side rushing toward an ambiguous destination.

I want to join life.

I want to know my neighbors. I want to be in a writers' group. I want to be friends with Spanish speakers. I want to make bread. I want to break bread with new friends. I want to find out where the loners hang out. I want to be a good citizen - an excellent one. I want to meet the children.

I want to live.

Can I join this program? Does it have to happen through expected Christian communities? I'm not sure yet.

Dorothy Sayers said, "The only Christian work is good work, well done."

This is the work of my new non-nomadic life. Lord help me find good work and set about to do it excellently.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

now is the season of our content

Now is the season of our content, made glorious by this Son of Man. If you're not up on 14th century Shakespearean references, let me put it this way: I'm overwhelmed by this season called content, made glorious by God who made Himself humble so we could be made whole.

Not "content" like the subject of an essay or the the topic of a seminar, but "content" like a peaceful state.

Facing winter is not necessarily a peaceful idea, after living in Honduras for three years. I have resigned to the fact that, for the amount of layers I must wear, winter will simply not be an attractive season. My bones feel brittle and only thaw out under multiple thick blankets about the time I have to climb out from under them in the morning. I will always, always drink a scorching hot cup of coffee at the expense of a burnt mouth if it means circulating a little warmth.

No, the cold winter months do not naturally bring contentment.

Thankfully, this season of content began with a joy safely hidden away in a deep place that made things like driving a tractor an adventure and a blessing.

Today is the second day at my job - the answer to many, many prayers and the conclusion to a humbling, cross-country, beautiful, and tiresome search.

The funny/wonderful thing is that I don't have that "I didn't realize I was holding my breath this whole time" sensation where if I hadn't gasped for air I might not have made it. I'm pumped to work in ministry and live with open eyes for the ways God has called me to live intentionally, but not because I've been waiting with bated breath for an assignment.

The Lord provided, in His grace, so many reassurances of His sovereignty along the way  (jobs, community, fellowship, friends, laughter) that I couldn't question His method (or timing).

My own broken record of advice to students (stolen from several places) was always, "Enjoy life. Pursue the Lord and you will pursue the greatest Treasure. Love God so much that you are ruined for anything else. The greatest joy you will ever find is hidden in the mystery of grace - the Son of Man."

It is this advice that played over and over in my head in those solitary days farming the corn fields in a tractor and the hours spent staring at job listings on a computer screen.

It is this Truth that the Lord is gracious and sovereign that buoyed the deep joy of my soul above the rough waters of transition.

It is with Paul I strive to say that contentment is always possible - in every season and circumstance because there is not a day when He is not victorious.

let LOVE fly like cRazY, my friends!

Occupy Life (things one might do while unemployed)

I thought it would be fun to write a post about unemployed life, because unemployment has been getting a lot of press lately (see Occupy Wall Street and my take on it). Feel free to pass this along to unemployed friends you might know or employed friends who might be interested in how the 9% unemployed could be living right now. I call this list: Occupy Life

  1. Go a-visiting. Make frequent trips to visit neighbors, friends, and your siblings where they provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner and delightful conversation. I've found that people are not opposed to this one bit. They enjoy the interruption in routine and a reason to break out the cookies (or special recipe) they've been saving for an occasion of any sort. If you have got a knack for baking, maybe you could whip up something before you set out, that's sure to make someone's day!
  2. Get your give on. It's a great time to go through everything that has piled up with the promise of "getting to it someday" and then give it away! If you haven't used it in the past 6 months, do you REALLY need it? Could someone else need it more than you? I will admit my packrat tendencies and, even though I love giving things away, sometimes it's hard for me to part with things (see below).
  3. Go through collections of junior high love letters. I read one that said, "Hi, I like you and you probably know that by now. The problem is, I like 2 other girls and I have a girlfriend. But my girlfriend is going to break up with me (for good reasons) and you know I've liked _____ all my life! And the other girl won't talk to me but when we do hang out we just hold hands." and then the next note from the same boy said, "I don't know why you showed ________ the note. She was mad. Well, I guess me and _______ are mad at each other and we were supposed to fight. But, I guess we're friends again." Oh, junior high!
  4. Read. read. read. There is so much going on in the world and it is overwhelming even if you're reading the news non-stop. I like to mix things up a bit - news, commentary, theology, philosophy, comedy, fiction, autobiography and biography. Right now, I'm reading an 18th century theologian, the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and using my internet sleuthing abilities to stalk all kinds of blogs. The most important book you could ever pick up: the Bible. That's where the wisdom is at, without fail my friends!
  5. Start making Christmas gifts! I've been in my grandpa's woodshop - sawing, sanding, drawing and designing and I LOVE what it does for my heart! Spending TIME with people I love making GIFTS for people I love - priceless (and literally doesn't cost anything because I just scour my parents' farm for supplies! My brother just happened to get married recently and we used barnboards for decorations.... everyone on my list just might be getting a re-purposed barnboard for Christmas). I smell like sawdust after a couple hours and it makes me feel like I'm working hard to accomplish actions of love. Smells good.
  6. Do what you love doing... all day long. If it was me, I would write and/or hang out with kids and/or read. Guess what - being unemployed is technically a dream come true! I already have a computer, internet is free almost everywhere, I have a library of books I haven't read yet, and there are oodles of ways to make sure I've got kiddos in my life!
  7. Deliver pizzas or drive a tractor. If "unemployed" means you "can't find employment suitable to your expectations," then you most definitely need to make yourself useful in the meantime. Can you drive? Deliver pizzas (as Dave Ramsey would say). Or do what I did - drive a tractor. That's right. And if you live in a city, I'm sure there are some small businesses that might need extra hands around the holidays! There is absolutely no reason to ask the government to pay you a salary to sit on your couch. Sorry, there are just too many jobs posted for that to make sense. Get humble. It might hurt, but it's good for you (and me).
  8. Figure out the science of milk foam. The key is the milk has to go both up-and-down AND side-to-side. Those fancy machines are so expensive and boring and loud, but the alternative happens to be simple and interesting and very quiet. Just take a beater (one you would use in a hand mixer), heat a small juice glass of milk, and then roll the beater between your hands! Woila! Latté!
  9. People watch. Currently, there are some ladies playing a competitive rummy game to my left and a book club to my right (which also appears to be a strategic team to save a local library). I just love imagining what people are thinking or what they are headed home to after coffee. One lady who just left made all her personal/business calls sitting one table away from me. I feel like we're pretty close now. She has two kids and her oldest just recently joined a sports team, which she is really excited about. She is juggling night college classes with her work schedule and Black Friday might be a hard day.
  10. Cherish the slow moments. If there is one thing people like to tell you when you are unemployed, it's some version of, "Enjoy this time, because you'll wish you had when you are working full-time." I get it and I am trying. Complaining doesn't make me any more qualified, so I'm trying to keep that in mind. The sun shines just as bright on the employed as it does the unemployed (and we have a lot more time to think about it).
  11. Be oh-so-grateful for community. This is a serious one. I am part of that 9 percent, but I'm not part of the unemployment movement (can I say that?). I am not waiting and hoping and praying the government will feel responsible for my situation. I am depending on the Body of Christ and they haven't yet let me down. My friends and family have been so gracious to welcome me into their homes and their lives, showing me love I didn't ask for or deserve.

    I just got back from Honduras in June and I still haven't allowed myself to fully process what it means to live here now, but I know that there are people around me ready to support me in the process. My church family has been so encouraging, giving me job leads and networking contacts as well as odd jobs here and there. My parents have been amazing. Never, ever in my life did I think I would say, "Well, I'm 27 and living with my parents." The sound of it makes me grimace a little. But, can I say this is a uniquely United States discomfort? In other countries this is normal and doing anything else would be foolish.

  12. Apply. Did you think I would forget? Ha! I've applied for somewhere between 75-100 jobs from California to New York. I spend a little bit of each day either searching or applying or emailing. I talk to people who talk to people who know people who might have something and then I track them down. I've applied for jobs in advertising, agriculture, publishing, social work, higher education, and as an administrative assistant. I have had interviews and almost-interviews and people who tell me, "You are exactly what we are looking for, but we don't think this job would fulfill you." Really? Let's wait for paycheck one and let me decide. But, with every rejection (there've been many) and every cold call and every dead end, I know that God is not confused or frustrated. He is sovereign and He is good - all the time. I trust in His perfect plan and my place in it.

    If you want to make even this interesting, then you'll apply for some jobs with a bit of whimsy. I once sent this Cover Letter to an advertising agency with an ... interesting angle.

Okay, folks. What additions do you have? I know there are oh-so-many things unemployed peeps can be doing with their time that might be more productive than camping out to make a statement that someone should give them more money.
Well, even the unemployed can
let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

I will sail my vessel

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't know how they did it.

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

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

Maybe someday I can ...

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