Fanfaronades and Delighting in Others' Delight

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

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

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

fan-fer-uh-neyd

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

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

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

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

But we should know better.

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

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

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

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

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

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

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.

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let LOVE fly like cRaZy

destroyed for lack of knowledge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 ESV)

On the way to work my shift at the print shop last night, I was thinking about my morning meeting at the university that didn't go as planned and about the transportation for the youth summer trips and about the grades for the Bible Instruction Course that still need calculated and about preparing a meal for 70 at the soup kitchen downtown.

I was glad to be on my bike, pedaling against the wind that I wished would blow through the clutter in my mind.

When I got to work, Derek asked if I had just woken up and I desperately wished I could have said yes. I slid into the groove and Derek, Jeremiah, and I made good progress on the night's orders, though I kept noticing the weight of my feet.

And then Derek asked, "You read the Bible, right?"

Whatever was dead in me revived and I think my eyes got really big, "Uh-huh..."

"Well, you believe that it's all true, right? 'Cuz I have a question..."

I smelled trouble, "Derek, this sounds like I'm about to walk into a trap, but I'll hang with you. What's your question?"

He kind of smirked, acknowledging his underhanded set-up of this conversation, "Well, why does it tell me I can't mix threads in my clothing or that we can't eat, like, meat of hooved animals?"

I was quiet for a bit, measuring his interest.

"I mean, do you believe that - because you believe the Bible, right?" he pushed a little further.

"Derek... can you hear me out?" I thought I should get his permission before launching into a discussion of the old and new covenants and the significance of the Bible read as a whole.

He actually looked surprised, "Oh, of course! That's why I asked."

Derek is currently one of my favorite people and he wears genuine around like its high fashion. So, I took a deep breath and dove in. I can't really explain what happened next.

We talked about Adam and sin and how it put all people at odds with God. We talked about Moses and Abraham and the guidelines God gave in the Old Testament for a holy, healthy life. We talked about the covenant God made with the people and how that covenant set up a temporary system until the fully sufficient sacrifice - a Savior - would arrive. We talked about Jesus and how he was that sacrifice. We talked about Peter's vision in Acts 10 and about how salvation is not based on works or a family pedigree. We talked about how salvation is meant to bring freedom from the bondage of sin.

Not one customer came in during our conversation and the telephone stayed silent.

At the end of all this rambling, Derek asked, "So, does your church teach you that stuff - like do they present it like that? How do you know what you just said?"

I threw off all the strange weight of a full day, as I stood there and heard his questions. There was nothing else but his question and the Truth that answered him.

I shared the Gospel, plain and simple. I was a sinner, destined for destruction and deserving of death. But, I believe that Christ took my place on the cross and I'm now united in right relationship with Him and freed to live life abundantly with a knowledge of the Lord. The Spirit lives inside me and He shows me what is true. He gives me understanding as I read the Bible. The more I read the Bible, the better I know the Lord. And, yes, church is part of that process.

My knowledge of the Lord is my delight. Knowing Him means mystery, adventure, security, refuge, and cRaZy joy.

And so I want Derek to know Him, too! I want him to get lost in the wonder and get filled with the beauty that comes as we grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

God desires that we return to Him - that we seek Him and not vain pursuits.

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (Hosea 6:1-2 ESV)

Hosea's story parallels the hearts of the wayward Israelites - who pursued many lovers. Our story is similarly told - our hearts are inclined to love another. But, in Hosea, there is a future hope of reuniting with the Lord through Christ on the cross, "...after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up..."

We live with that hope.

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3 ESV)

Let us know. Let us press on to know the Lord. By the grace of God, may we not be destroyed for lack of knowledge. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

6 feet under blessings

Today my pen felt too heavy and my journal page felt too blank and the day stretched before me with weight it didn't deserve. I was sitting with my Bible and journal on my lap - my eyes glued open but my mind in spreadsheets and deadlines and packing in weekend plans. None of it bad. All of it good.

And this is how the enemy attacks - crawling up and under and through and on top of everything that is good.

The blessings have buried me six feet under and I feel stuck. And I'm mad at feeling stuck because every good thing comes from above and what the Lord gives is anything but stuck. His blessings are freedom. His blessings are joy.

His blessings release the weight and unite us with a lighter load.

So, feeling buried under blessings makes me angry at my affections. I must be dealing unwisely with what I've been given... and I hate being unwise. Proverbs is making me want wisdom as a constant companion. The more I linger on the Word, the more I understand Jeremiah's encouragement to take and eat the Word. This is every bit where joy and delight dance in my heart.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. Jeremiah 15:16

How does one explain stress from too many blessings? I only know that my salvation depends not on what I'm buried under, but on the power of the One who rescues me out from under the weight. Yep, I know that like I know the droop of my eyes. It's what will keep my eyes open when the burden of blessing seems to much.

Because this is how the enemy attacks - crawling up and under and through and on top of everything that is good.

When thou sleepest, think that thou art resting on the battlefield; when thou walkest, suspect an ambush in every hedge. —C.H. Spurgeon

breathing in, living out

Do you smell that?Mmmm, yes.

That's the smell of Monday waking up and I'm greeting him with a smile.

Because, today I'm breathing in Truth and living Truth out. Yesterday, in mid-ramble, I had a thought: what if the opposite of breathing in wasn't breathing out? What I really mean is: what if the Word is the input and living is the output. It's a different way to say that loving and knowing the Word translates into living the Word.

When you breathe in - one of those deep, belly-filling breaths - breathing out is what most naturally follows. The act of breathing in always precedes the act of breathing out - the alternate is not pretty. What if the act of breathing in the Word always preceded the act of living out the Word?

I think this is what the book of James makes so clear - faith without works is dead. There is no way to breathe in the Word without living out its Truth. Breathing in cannot be separated from breathing out - it's all breathing.

And this Monday morning the breathing in, living out sounds something like this.

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let LOVE fly like cRaZy

ransomed from futility

The Lord's faithfulness does not depend on me. What a mess I'd be in if that weren't true! Somehow, I eased out of my daily Word-drenched routine and into a more me-saturated schedule. I took my eyes off eternity and set my gaze much... lower. It wasn't noticeable in bold-lettered ways, but the pages I've written in life the past week are missing the main character - the voice of the Writer, Narrator, and Hero - you could say I'm missing the red letters. It's probably that weaselly Wormwood character doing his work in the trenches to make me think I'm "just fine" when I really need to deal with sin.

Today was the glorious antidote, though I shouldn't be surprised. Truth is a powerful serum. It gets inside the blood stream and awakens all the right sensors to alert the body of all the "false" that has taken over.

As I was reading Proverbs 1, Truth seemed to seep in and spread over all that sin that was crowding His story in my life. Specifically, the call of wisdom in verses 20-33. The call to turn from simple, foolish whims to deep, mysterious wisdom seems an easy sell (who wants to be simple and foolish?). But, as I read the words of the wayward, I realized that wisdom would mean the pages of my life would be filled to full with red letters - those would be the words I breathed in and lived out.

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul writes about how things will run amuck in the last days - about people who will be completely conformed to the world and calling others to join them. In his caution, "Avoid such people" (v. 5), he explains that they are "burdened with sins and have been led astray by passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (v. 6 -7).

What maddening futility! To always learn and never arrive at a knowledge of the truth - this sounds like what gives a scientist the "mad" prefix. And what joy that we've been rescued from futility!

...knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV)

Today, I am sad for my wandering. Today, I am amazed that God allows me to learn and arrive at a knowledge of the Truth through the work of Christ. Today, I am blessed by the call to wisdom and for ears to hear. Today, I know I can dwell secure, without dread of disaster.

but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:32-33 ESV)

Because when I am faithless, the Lord is faithful.

practice resurrection

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.

. .

Practice resurrection.

(snippets from Wendell Berry's 1973 poem, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front"from The Country of Marriage)

I've been meaning to read more of Wendell Berry and summer seems like a good time to "get around to it." The vibrant green leaves and the smell of blooming peonies seem a fitting backdrop to his poetry. I map my runs to intentionally include the rowdy peony bushes on S. 3rd Street. I always "stretch" long enough to fill my lungs with peony air before putting my race face on again.

The smell of peony makes me sad for people who don't lean over to breathe in their beauty.

And that's why Wendell Berry's advice to, "practice resurrection" is nestling nicely somewhere deep in my soul. We are so forgetful. We live like we don't know we're resurrected. We live like we're not sure how this day will end. We live like Christ's resurrection was too long ago to rearrange my daily toil. We live like all the wonder in the wind moving through the trees is something not everyone has the time to admire.

We live like we've forgotten how to practice resurrection.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead. Gone. Lost. Limp. Lifeless. Stuck. Trapped. Suffocated. Dead.

There's no way to make that sound nice or easy. But if that were the end, I would have a hard time getting you to stop and smell the peonies.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

(Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)

But, God...

What a beautiful interjection! What an altogether unexpected and undeserved display of mercy! What glorious gratitude is birthed when life displaces death!

This is our resurrection. We are made alive together with Christ. We are raised up from the grave to sit with Him, to search out the immeasurable riches of His grace, to seek all the beauty of His face reflected in the glory of creation. This is our resurrection.

Practice resurrection today, friends. Practice resurrection and do not forget. Practice resurrection because, in Christ, life has displaced death.

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let LOVE fly like cRaZy

to wait and to hope

It's like finding the door to secret garden or discovering a hidden cave or tapping on the right rock in an Indiana Jones movie. No matter how many times my pride tries to convince me otherwise, studying the Word never gets old. Sure, I have my seasons where the words look like black text on a white page and little more. But, go ahead and tell a child that there is no cave or secret garden or hidden passage while they are inside it and see what kind of response you get. Laughter seems most fitting. This is the joy of the Scripture - to be inside a mystery that never grows old.

As I was reading Psalm 130, I crawled inside this mystery and stared out in wonder. The urgency leaps from the misery and clings to the Lord's forgiveness as the only hope against His righteous standard. My thoughts drifted toward Spanish again and the word, "esperar." It means both "to wait" and "to hope" and, though I don't know the original text, the interchange in verses 5-8 makes all kinds of sense.

1,2 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3,4 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5,6 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7,8 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130 ESV)

Our waiting is hoping and our hoping is waiting. And it all rests on the Lord - the waiting and the hoping - not on our willpower to do it. The Psalmist makes certain we understand the intensity of his waiting. I'm sure watchmen assume the highest form of vigilance, filled with the gravest kind of hope. Twice the Psalmist says his soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. How closely a watchman must hope for the dawn to break the darkness, for the sun to shed its light on the sky. Even more than a person whose purpose it is to wait and hope - he waits even more than him. What great expectation!

What a rush of beauty, to wait and hope in the One who offers steadfast love and plentiful redemption! Redeemed, restored, renewed... and we find these things in abundance!

Fo what else could we hope, my friends? For what else should we wait?

go ahead, dive in to the mystery and

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

regular about the best things

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

1/2 bar of shredded wheat

a "shot" of All Bran nuts

a shot of Wheat Chex

some sweetened Puffed Wheat

a tablespoon of peach juice

peaches (optional)

milk poured over the whole masterpiece

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

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

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

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

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

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

and load up on fiber!

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

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

grapefruits and what we do with good gifts

Today I ate a grapefruit for lunch - with Saltines, just like my Grandpa Nichols. I used to try to eat a grapefruit like an orange and that never ended well. I've since learned a method that wastes little of the delicious fruit.Grapefruit (half) As I was cutting into the pink today, careful to not waste any of those sweet, pink pockets, I realized that enjoying a grapefruit is a commitment. You've got to be willing to work in order to enjoy membrane-less, tangy goodness.

I started thinking about all the reasons I don't choose good things - all the times I've passed up a grapefruit for a granola bar just because it's easier. I know what's better and sometimes I can even taste it because I've chosen it before, but something dreadful inside of me attacks my knowledge of "better." And I end up settling for less effort and less goodness.

God promises to not withhold any good thing from us. In Christ, God lavishes an inheritance I can't comprehend - gifts that won't run out even if I open one every moment of my life. God promises, in Christ to withhold no good thing from us, so the choice for less is on me.

Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

I wondered (cutting up that tasty giant took some tiempo) if we learn to recognize the good things, but are never held accountable to do/use them. In college I sat in study groups and wrote papers and made passionate presentations about all the good things we should be/could be doing, but the doing of those things is just too hard and everybody knows it. Now, I go to bible studies and post facebook links and wax philosophy at coffee shops about the best ways to change the world, but the doing of these things is just too hard and everybody knows it.

Everybody knows we'll end up ordering Little Caesar's instead of planning a homegrown spread from the garden. Everybody knows those ideas about loving others and living like Jesus are like climbing Mt. Everest - we can feel the rush as we raise our hands in victory on the summit, but we're never going to train for it. It's just the way we do life.

I sat down to enjoy my juicy prize at my desk and thought, "But it doesn't have to be that way."

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

breathing in moments

As I walked Ellie today, I was especially aware of our pace. Ellie was trying to tell me that "walking the dog" isn't meant to be rushed. So, we went through the alleyways and peeked in backyards. That's where real life happens, you know - in backyards. That's where people tuck things, store things, and create things. That's where experiments happen and "Marco Polo" is shouted from different hiding places.

Every once in awhile, Ellie pulled at the leash until I let her squirm in the shade while I soaked in the sun.

We breathed in the moments today, Ellie and me.

And I think these songs were playing in my heart.

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making plans

Call me crazy, but I had a vision.

I was sitting at my dining room table and city maps, plane tickets, and blank journals had spread themselves open on its worn, oak surface. I was cupping a strong mug of coffee in my hands and listening to my husband get animated about our plans. My feverish, excited voice would sometimes overlap his as we finished sentences (as lovers do) and confidently claimed the world could not handle the love we would unleash.

But my heart mostly swelled to match the passion I saw in him to reach the broken world and live in abundant joy in the process. It was about adventure, sure. But, my heart lept like mad at the thought of living alongside my love, being drawn into the things that he loves.

I was his and he was mine. And it was Christ, my bridegroom.

The more often I reflect on this vision (I know, crazy), the more giddy I feel. Christ desires nothing less than to sit down with me and make plans to love the Lord and love others. I wonder if it makes Him giddy that it makes me giddy. I hope so.

Lately, as I dive deeper into the Word, the Lord's jealousy is real. When I sit down at the dining room table with all my other loves - children, travel, ministry, writing, relationships - I can see his sadness. But, his sadness is not just for my distance and making plans with others. His sadness is for all the ways I could be living abundantly but choose to live half full. His sadness is that I am not living this life as He intended; as I could be living it if I was with my Love, loving what He loves.

The Lord's jealousy is like a coin I keep turning over in my fingers. He is jealous that I would love Him and Him alone, but in doing so my life explodes in great joy - the kind of joy that cannot be contained; the kind of joy that has to overflow; the kind of joy that rises above even in the most painful of circumstances because it's anchored below in the sturdiest Love.

When I left high school and then college and then my first job, I was supposed to grow out of the lopsided, willing, "I'll do anything for you, Lord." It's just not practical; not... advised. We see "happiness" and "God's will" as slippery, future somethings we meander towards while maintaining more "practical positions" in this life.

But, God desires we make the lopsided, grinning statement, "I'll do anything for you, Lord" every single day - whether butcher, blogger, or banker. Whatever our station, God desires that we would walk alongside Him - loving what He loves as we love Him.

I pray, as I meet my Bridegroom at the dining room table, my heart will rise to love Him more. I pray I will love what He loves and our life together will be one that overflows goodness wherever we go.

And I know the joy that follows will make sunshine look like a night light. He's just that good.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XoFUhCjnJk]

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Occupy Life: he bought a corvette

He nodded at the two young men "in charge" on Sunday nights at the soup kitchen and then pointed toward a crooked, framed certificate on the wall, "Those two boys got started here with him, Jeremy Benton, back in 2007... Yep, he was a real neat guy - consistent." Don paused and looked at me under sagging eyelids, letting the silence add weight to his next sentence, "He got himself a good job and went off and bought a corvette."

He was still looking at me, both of us standing there admiring the crooked certificate hanging just above the stainless steel industrial sink, "Guess he wanted to see how fast it could go... it, uh, it didn't end well."

Don washes the dishes every sunday for the program that feeds anywhere from 30-80 people in our community every night in the basement of a downtown church. When I first got there, Don was methodically preparing for the night - quietly setting out trays and arranging his washing area just so. When I was assigned the "reheat meat and make sandwiches task" at a counter not far from his work area, I knew we'd be friends before the night was over.

He's the kind of man whose face begs you to ask his story.

"I wear these nylon pants because they dry real fast," he told me just loud enough to make sense over the appalachian banjo playing on the stereo. Everything served a specific purpose for Don.

He hadn't always been a dishwasher for the soup kitchen on Sundays, but he wasn't the type to establish credibility or elevate his status on the scales so many use. He asked questions to the rhythm of his dishes and wondered how I got to Ames. As it turned out, he had a roommate from Honduras while he was in graduate school at Iowa State for civil engineering.

"Guess I didn't learn it the first time around... had to hear it again," he said with the surest twinkle in his sage eyes.
He would wash and dry and sort and then pause for conversation - all calculated.

So, when he wandered over to the crooked certificate hanging above the stainless steel industrial sink, I wondered why he chose that story for that moment. Why did he say "corvette" the way he did and why did his eyes say the story wasn't so simple and how did Don manage to honor a memory and mourn folly at the same time?

___

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

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

"everything's crooked but it all seems straight, cuz everyone's looking sideways..."

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhuZzQ7p3EI]

the sky yelled in bright yellow

The rain pounding my windshield drowned out all other sound. Like an obstinate child throwing pebbles on a playground, the drops fell angry and unforgiving. The sky yelled in bright yellow and the thunder grumbled in the dark night.

And this accompaniment seems to fit the mess of things in my heart tonight.

I just left the first day of training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate and I have not located the warm, fuzzy feelings normally associated with volunteering... and I don't know if I ever will in this position. I arrived weary - stumbling into the little meeting room across from the hotel lobby, but my heart started running from the moment the training began.

Before we even got into any material, we went around the room to share our personal history and family background. Out of the 19 present, I was one of four who shared about a stable, loving, 2-parent childhood. Before we'd even opened the "real" material, I was looking around the room at stories of alcohol/drug abuse, divorce, custody battles, and various other tragedies.

Heavy.

With every powerpoint slide, I seemed to sink deeper into that uncomfortable hotel chair. I fidgeted and squirmed and re-positioned my tired, little legs, but I wasn't rushing to get out of there. I just didn't know where to fit all the information I was taking in. Really? The court decides when a home is "fit" to live in and when parents are the ideal "custodians?" Yes, "custodians" does refer to people caring for children and yes, I was alarmed that we use the same language for trash removal.

There are just too many things... too many problems that yell bright yellow in the night sky as we drive home in our safe, metal boxes every night to our safe, cozy homes. The problems pound like pebbles thrown at my windshield and right now I'm inclined to face them and feel the sting.

Maybe, if I close my eyes, I'll know how I can stand without being washed away. Maybe, if I lean in, I'll hear how I might step into the brokenness.

Maybe, if I sigh deep, I'll believe that there is a message of Hope louder than the thunder's rumble and stronger than the rain's force.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when faith is about living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

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