things I never ordered & things I never knew I needed

I fell asleep on the train home after work on Monday, but roused in time to jump out at the Winthrop stop and grab heavy whipping cream before climbing the stairs to our apartment. The sleeps shook off in the hustle of preparations - Tam posted signs on the neighbors' doors and arranged the toppings table, Patrick toasted coconut and fried bacon, I started mixing up a new pancake recipe, and we all sang snippets of the songs in our heads. It was kind of a normal Monday ruckus, but that ruckus was provision. It wasn't all the "trial runs" of the new jamcake batter that made me so content. It was the very special and very specific provision that sustained me enough to overflow on our Pancake Mondays guests. It didn't matter that I was tired or that I was procrastinating thank you notes or that I was dreading a full work week. As I stepped into each of these provisions, I knew I was cared for and loved by a God who has not forgotten us. God did not give sparse helpings and I am counting blessings.

deep clean // Things are a little crazy at our apartment. We are moving in a couple weeks, but Patrick also just barely moved all of his life in. Tam just got back, so now we are three almost-moving roommates, navigating sorrow and survival in this city. What I'm trying to say is: our apartment is cluttered and crazy. When I got home on Monday, Tam had cleaned the kitchen, emptied recycle bins, reorganized the common space, and tidied up all the corners. All I had to do was put my apron on. #provision

aprons // Speaking of aprons, all of mine have a story. And the one I wore on Monday was handmade by my sister as a wedding shower gift. She stitched out Iowa on the front with a heart where we grew up. It feels real good to host with it on, real good. #provision

pancake batter // There is something about getting out my most giant bowl, something about tripling a batch that thrills my heart. We never know how many are coming on Pancake Mondays, but I start with tripling. On Monday, I made two additional batches after we ran out of the tripled first! More batter means more bellies and it was quite a crowd. I think we had 21 in all and not a pancake left.

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taste testers // They both make fun of me for my nervous antics, but every Monday (also every time I make/bake anything), I inevitably forget to read the second half of the instructions that says "chill for 13 hours" or I do things out of order or I make some crazy substitution. And that is why I love our Monday taste tests. Around 7:15 pm, I flip a few samples and ask for their honest opinion. I love watching their faces and deciphering what needs changing. If I ever own a pancake restaurant, every batch would be different and pancakes would need to be "tested" every hour. #provision

neighbors // First, I missed them - my neighbors, I mean. We share geography in common, but Pancake Mondays is space for conversations that can't happen in hallways or elevators or sidewalks. And I missed them crowding the table and getting full on my pancake batter. This week the combination was prime: neighbors from Patrick's old apartment + strangers (friends of friends) who are new to the city + our neighbors down the hall + friends of neighbors down the hall + some of our besties + one guy who saw the signs on his way up to a different floor. Such a precious combination.  #provision

open door // I know it isn't for everyone, but for me an open door is therapy. I love leaving it cracked and saying, "Come on in!" from the kitchen when I hear someone hesitating. I love their faces when the pancake / bacon smell reaches them and I love that they love walking right in. #provision

the kitchen // It is a funny thing that Patrick has had to get used to, but I love hiding in the kitchen. I usually have good reason, like making more pancake batter, heating water for coffee/tea, or refilling toppings bowls. But, it's not that I don't love the noisy crowd huddled around pancakes in the other room. I just love so much that I get to feed that crowd. I have also found that people follow me. One or two at a time will wander in so I can ask questions about work or what books they are reading or what they miss about where they are from. We don't do pleasantries in the kitchen and I like that. #provision

things I heard // There are the normal things, like, "These are seriously so good!" But then there are the things like I heard this week, when our neighbors were telling us how they talk about Pancake Mondays to recruit their friends. "You won't believe what our neighbors do - no, seriously you have to rearrange your schedule to come here on Mondays. It's so cool!" It was like we were their "show and tell" and I never thought I could be that in this city. #provision

invitations // It's fun when our neighbors turn the tables. We got invitations to a board game night and to a viewing of American Ninja Warrior (which is, apparently, the greatest ninja show I never knew about). #provision

same neighborhood // Remember when I said we were moving? Well, it is one of the most stressful things you can do here in the city. Patrick and I were dreading the search (see this article for a sample of an apartment listing), but believing God would be faithful. In three days, we found an apartment on the exact corner where we had decided would be best to live - 377 feet from the train station, a view of the park from our window, walking distance to grocery stores, and (most importantly) the same neighborhood. I didn't realize how important this was to me until Pat told me the address. We can invite the same neighbors on Mondays, visit the same coffee shop friends, and escape to the same park. I needed some "same" in my life and God knew it. #provision

prayer // Text messages, phone calls, emails, facebook posts... people are praying and I am being held up as they meet with Jesus on our behalf. The Lord is good and part of my joy in being so much prayed for is that I know people are getting into God's presence and that is doing them good, too. #provision

husband // Sometimes, I can't squeak out my thanks because I'm afraid it will sound trite, but walking this journey with such a man is a gift. God knew I would need such a man for laughing fits and for skipping across the street and for asking, "Why is skipping so much fun?" God knew. #provision

Pancake Mondays was about opening all this provision - things I never ordered and things I didn't know I needed.

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

Will | a remembrance from James

This is a guest post from my brother, James. This is the remembrance he wrote to share at the Celebration of Life service last Friday. Please know that we are all still available to talk about anything you may have questions about. Also know that the memorial fund established in his name is still accepting donations that will go to three different ministries where his legacy as camp counselor, handyman, and mentor will live on and touch youth with the message of hope in Christ.


William and I had an interesting, different, and sometimes frustrating relationship. Growing up as Will’s little brother was no easy task because of his influence on others. I spent a good portion of my life being frustrated in Will’s shadow. He was a leader in sports without saying anything but working hard. He was a friend to all without leaving people out. He was cool without doing what others did or had done.

As we went through the years it was easier and easier to see why others were drawn to him in this way. For the counselors at Bethany Camp, he was a father, friend, counselor, and mentor. Two people come to mind when I think about Will’s lasting impact there. I did not hang out with Derick or Becca that much before they worked at Bethany Camp with Will. When he was gone for the year for school and I was still at home with them, I saw how he taught them to love others. They both demonstrated through action how Will lived. I could ask them for anything, tell them anything, and rely on them to down for anything. Becca has been talking about it recently about how she always said, “I miss Will.” I can remember countless times that this came up in conversation when we would be hanging out and she would remember a time when they did this or that. I never realized the significance of that or how impactful that was on her. For Derick I am reminded of love of helping people, a trait Will and he shared. Derick would do anything for anyone without a regard to himself or what he had planned. Will’s most important discovery at Bethany camp was, of course, Grace. I will never forget his giddiness after meeting her and starting to date her. Never had a woman had this effect on him. When I heard Will singing, “If this isn’t love, this is closest I’ve ever been!” from Anberlin, I knew that whatever this was, it was different. William loved Grace with all the love that God loves us with.

In the past few years, after learning about Will and myself, I started to get over my pride and actually be open to what Will had to say. He would never force this on me, he would just be in the background ready to offer helpful advice when it came to money, cars, mopeds, kayaks, and most importantly love. I remember a conversation I had with him about Carly as I was driving over to her parents’ house one weekend night. I can’t remember talking to Will at all about this subject in our entire lives, but when I needed him most he was there. He just listened and coached and counseled and listened some more. I know at the end of the conversation he told me that he trusted me, he believed in me, and he loved me. We have had many conversations since then, all ending with him trusting and believed in me. Never had it felt so good to hear those things from someone that I had looked up to for so long.

After saying all these things, I think it would be a miss to not talk about why Will was the way he was. Christ’s love and service flowed out of Will like water through a stream. Will had this love because Jesus died on the cross all our sins. He was saved by the grace of God through faith in the death and resurrection of His son. If you do not have this faith, you can talk to any of us so that you will know for sure where you will spend eternity.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

Will | a remembrance from Christina

This is a guest post from my sister, Christina. This is the remembrance she wrote to share at the Celebration of Life service last Friday. Please know that we are all still available to talk about anything you may have questions about. Also know that the memorial fund established in his name is still accepting donations that will go to three different ministries where his legacy as camp counselor, handyman, and mentor will touch youth with the message of hope in Christ.

Anyone who knows me knows I talk about my brother William like he is a superhero. I think maybe they thought I made him up or was a little overboard in how I spoke of him. The way he could fix any car (in fact, when he moved to CA I was SHOCKED at how much it costs to get your car fixed. Because I'd never paid) the way he'd leap on a sofa and sing and dance to Newsies at the drop of a hat, the way he knew how to do everything. Everything. The way was speaking with Grace a few days ago, and she was telling me how he would speak of me to any who would listen... in much the same way. That I was the real deal, that I really 'got it', that he was so proud of who I was and what I was doing. And that meant so much to me, but I wasn't necessarily surprised. Because as Grace said, "he loved you guys an insane amount." Anyone who knows any of us knows, that's true of all of us. We love each other an insane amount.
And so it seemed fitting for us all to share with you some thoughts.
There's a Phil Wickham song that says "if you're the sun, I want to be the moon, I want to reflect the light that comes from you."  And that's what was true of William. In William's love for Christ, he was made more like Christ every day, and reflected such wonderful things about Jesus to each of us. In this beautiful transaction of accepting Jesus Christ's payment for our sins and becoming part of his forever family, we also give him our whole selves. And William gave Jesus his whole self. And Jesus made something wonderful out of his beautiful life. William was a sinner. But through Christ, he lived his life as a forgiven, redeemed man. And every part of his being lived like he was absolutely determined to make the most of it.
Will was someone who loved incredibly well, who seemed almost overtaken with glee to talk to you or be with you after it had been some time. He showed me a picture of the immensity and immeasurability of God's love. For in his friendship and care, I never felt insecure to ask something of him. In fact, my last 100 or so text messages with him are from car dealerships and while reading craigslist ads, asking for his gracious advice.  That's what Jesus is like.  His love for us is immeasurable and immense, and we never need to be insecure about asking for or needing that.
Will was committed to and passionate about his marriage to his Grace. He picked an amazing, Godly woman to spend his life with, and they loved each other fiercely and did the hard work of marriage in order to make it great. That's what Jesus is like. It says in Scripture that Jesus is the groom, and the church is the bride. He loves us fiercely and will not let us go for anything. I have seen this in action in the body of Christ this week.
Once you were important to William, you didn't fall off this list. And he was your absolute biggest fan.  And that made people, including me, feel infinitely special. To have, to quote Patrick "the coolest guy anybody knows" think you were important, that felt so special. In that, you believed you could do that big thing, you could get that job, you could do better. That's what Jesus is like. He cleans us up from our sin-filled hearts, and then sees us as clean and lovely! Then he is on our side forever, not only rooting us on but giving us the power we need.
I hate so much having William gone from us. And while I have infinite Will stories, I'm heartbroken that I won't have more. And I don't understand God's plan. BUT. I believe that when William trusted Jesus Christ with his whole life, he gave over the reins of his life to Jesus to do with it, whatever he wanted. I, and we, have done the same. So his life, and mine, they are for God to use however he pleases. And I know that He is good. And that William is now so much more alive than he ever was on earth, finally sin-free and basking in the glory of God.  "We mourn, but not as those who have no hope." And if you feel like you have no hope in these moments, please talk to one of us on this stage. Something that we keep saying is "William loved his Jesus and his Grace." And I know without a shadow of a doubt that he would want you to know them both.
And Grace, we love YOU an insane amount. And we will forever.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

 

Will | a remembrance from Sam

This is a guest post from my brother, Sam. This is the remembrance he wrote to share at the Celebration of Life service last Friday. Please know that we are all still available to talk about anything you may have questions about. Also know that the memorial fund established in his name is still accepting donations that will go to three different ministries where his legacy as camp counselor, handyman, and mentor will live on and touch youth with the message of hope in Christ.


When I left for Michigan to go to college, William was my kid brother.  He was still very much a boy.  The boy that he was, in many ways, is everything I hope my children to be.  Energetic, trusting, hard working, problem solving, up for anything that was William as a boy.  Subconsciously, I think that is who he will always be to me.

The boy that jumped in the back of the car and wrongly trusted me to drive him down the road to feed the cattle.

The boy who took my love for building tree houses to a whole new level (figuratively and literally).

The boy with whom I spent hours of scaring cityfolk at the state fair with the famed spider.

Great stories of our youth aside, today I would much rather tell you about the moments that assured this protective older brother that William was heeding my mother’s daily petition to “remember who we are and who we represent.”  That is to say that he was acutely aware of his legacy as Nichols’ and more importantly our individual and collective identity in Christ.

One such moment was evident in the way he dealt with a bad situation and subsequent football suspension.  Instead of watching from the stands, William decided to practice his 9th grade season knowing that he would not play a down.  His character grew so greatly through that experience as did his willingness, or even desire to hit opposing players and even referees really really hard.  More importantly, his teammates would forever be altered by the strong, quiet leader that emerged from that adversity.

The following year, William visited me in Michigan to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes football camp.  While there, he found himself as the one white Iowa boy in a bible study of inner city football players.  On the ride home, we spent three hours discussing the opportunities William had throughout the camp to share his faith through the avenue of football.  This experience noticeably softened his heart to the needs of others while helping him put sports in proper perspective with life and faith.

Later in high school, William’s ability to lead on the field and on the wrestling mat converged with his faith as he built a cabin on our back 40.  I remember William excitedly calling to share how the cabin served as a place where his teammates and friends have clean fun.  William felt so blessed by God to be able to use his natural gifts of building, leading, and getting stuff for free as a means of living out his faith.

As William’s world widened so did his desire to “remember who he was and who he represented.”  During our bi-monthly road talks, I remember being humbled by his desire to know how my wife and I did everything from devotions to finances.  He desired with all of his heart to be Godly husband that Grace needed and deserved and I have always been in awe of his willingness to serve her so selflessly.

That said, what I treasure most about those conversations is the openness with which William was willing to share his struggles and his heart for the people around him.  William knew, better than anyone, that he was a sinner in need of a savior; an imperfect vessel that God was using to do his work.  He believed wholeheartedly in the truth of the gospel and that his hope was in Christ alone.  It is that same hope that enables me to stand here both missing my brother and rejoicing that he now present with and praising our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

William Mark Nichols | the dash between the dates

William Mark Nichols was born on September 30, 1986 to Dick and Cindy Nichols. He was the fourth of five in their original tribe of seven (that continues to expand) who grew up on the little dairy farm outside Lewis, Iowa. Mediocre did not exist in his vocabulary. From the time he could walk, William’s mischief was worthy of superlatives. His imagination led him to search through cupboards, toolboxes and engines to create things like a lawn mower go-cart, a telephone pole cabin, and a giant, floating dock called the Hornswaggler.

Many would say he was the best at being loyal, the best at giving advice, the best at shooting off fireworks, the best at problem solving, the best at power naps, the best at listening, the best at laughing out loud, the best at middle-of-the-night excursions, the best at building things, the best at encouraging others, the best at car talk, the best at sing-dance-screaming, the best at cheering people on, the best at sincerity, and the best at loving his wife with a servant heart.

He wouldn’t say he was the best at anything, because he didn’t like to talk about himself.

Irrepressible, that’s what his mom calls it. It was his ability to show up for family and friends when they were in need – his ability to produce hearty laughter or a bargain car part or a perfectly timed witty remark or the right type of old wisdom. He did not rush conversations with Grandpa in the shop, did not hesitate to go out of his way to celebrate someone else’s success, and rarely turned down an offer to dance, especially in a car. His strength made everyone believe he was invincible, including himself.

What William wanted to love most was also what made him most strong: Jesus. William’s faith in Jesus Christ fueled his efforts as an athlete on the sports field, as a counselor and mentor at Bethany Camp, and on every crazy, daring, fearless adventure. His faith looked like loving teammates and campers and friends with a steady fierceness that made people want to be in his circle. He wasn’t exclusive about his generosity. If he had something you needed, he would find a way to make it yours.

William attended Iowa State University and graduated with a degree in Agricultural Engineering, although most would say he never needed the degree. He worked as an engineer at Quality Manufacturing in Urbandale, Iowa and at Sierra Conveyor Company in Rocklin, California. He was determined to be a man of integrity in school, at home, and at his work. He was involved in intramural sports, Campus Crusade, family tailgates, garage sale-ing, snowboarding excursions, and many road trip escapades to California, Canada, New York and Europe with the friends he counted as brothers.

When William met Grace Kristy in 2007 at Bethany Camp, his love put a permanent dorky grin on his face and he spent the whole summer trying to impress her. After three weeks, he asked her to be his girlfriend on the roof of the cabin he built. For the next seven years, Grace was his joy. He loved serving her, adventuring with her, sharing her gifts with family and friends, and living everyday life with her. In their love for each other, they worked hard to serve and love well. They demonstrated Christ’s love to each other and to others, encouraged many to find hope in Jesus and they were determined to do the hard work of marriage to the glory of God. He was a better man because of her love.

William died in a car accident on August 2, 2014 near Sacramento, California. He was preceded in death by his grandmother, Avonell Nichols; his nephew, Isaac Nichols; his mother-in-law, Wendy Kristy; and his grandmother-in-law, Mary Ann Kristy. He is survived by his wife, Grace Nichols; his parents, Dick and Cindy Nichols; his grandparents, Joe and Phyllis Sponsler, Fletcher and Colleen Nichols; his five siblings, Sam (and wife Bethany), Christina, Caroline (and husband Patrick), James (and fiance Carly); and his niece and nephews, Natalie, Levi, and Joel; his father-in-law, Scott Kristy; his brother in law (and wife Erica) Ben Kristy and their son Grayson; Grace’s grandparents, Bill Kristy and Ken and Judie Whitham. William is also survived by a whole host of cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and honorary brothers and sisters.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 10:30 am on Friday, August 8, 2014, at the Evangelical Free Church in Atlantic. The family will be present at a Visitation from 6:00 to 8:00 pm (with a prayer service at 7 pm) on Thursday, August 7, 2014 at the Evangelical Free Church. A Celebration of Life will also be held in California on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 4:30 with a reception to follow at Covenant Community Church in Vacaville, California.

William’s family encourages a contribution to a memorial fund that will be established in his name. Memorials will be distributed to ministries that were important to Will, including Bethany Farm Christian Camp, Freedom for Youth, and In Faith Ministries, supporting Sean and Rebecca Trostrud.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

the day I met grief

Before my mom could finish her sentence, I felt my body crumble and heard my voice wail. I was prepared for bad news because of her urgent text, but I wasn't prepared for this. I didn't know grief until yesterday, not like this. "William was killed in a car accident..."

A new gravity crushed my limbs closer to the earth and a new sadness stretched my soul straight apart. And somewhere, I could hear Patrick still on the phone with my mom on speaker and I think she said, "We are praying for you both." In her wisdom, she refused to tell me the bad news until I was with Patrick. She insisted that Christina, James, and Carly drop all plans to meet our parents in person to hear the news. All sorts of scenarios played out in my head in those hours before I was with Patrick again. None of those scenarios was this.

The silence hurt as much as the sobs and both felt like poor efforts to make anything "better." That's the finality of death, I guess. It can't be made any different than what it is.

William's joy for building projects and free car repairs and being everyone's biggest fan was something that challenged the idea of a "man's man." He wasn't too strong to be sensitive or too confident to ask questions. He was the best bargain shopper I know (maybe only second to my dad), but he was also one of the most compassionate and generous. I always wondered if part of the motivation for a better bargain was because it made him better able to be a benefactor.

His love for his wife, Grace, was rich with whimsy and deep with sweet service. They loved each other so well and we were excited to learn about marriage from them and with them. They both made the other better reflect the Creator and I so desperately want the same for our marriage. There are too many lessons to remember, really. How could William cram so much goodness into 27 years and how can it feel like I am already forgetting?

"He was so useful for the kingdom... I don't understand... It doesn't make sense." "It probably never will, Care...."

Everything got truncated and the day gave way to a long prayer walk in the park. We prayed and walked and prayed and walked and we didn't try to figure anything out.

And still nothing is figured out in the thunderstorm underneath my ribcage, not really. Why don't more people get to meet him? Why don't more people get to know his generosity and compassion and heart of service? Why don't we have the chance to get lost in laughter or get lost on highways or get lost in thought with this man one more time?

Why did I get to know this incredible man for 27 years and why don't I get to know him on this earth anymore?

Yesterday was the worst day of my life, but God was not defeated.

Yesterday was mostly phone calls and sobs and silence and hugs and "I love yous." But, yesterday was also something we would never expect so soon. We felt, so close and so sure, the absolute importance of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because before time began Christ conquered yesterday completely. He chose William before the foundations of the world to be His child and that means that my brother is now in his forever home.

In William's death (even as I struggle to get these words out), we claim God's precious promise that Christ has made him alive forever. The beauty of it shatters my soul where the thunderstorm rages underneath my ribcage.

riding bulls

All we know is that Christ is not less victorious because of William's death. And William, one of the strongest men I will ever know, can now boast in a strength that defeated his grave. William is now in the presence of the Lord, where his strength is joy and pleasures forevermore.

It seems backwards and sideways and disrespectful to speak about joy when my brother/best friend from high school will never sit around another fire at family vacation or go on another backpacking adventure with his wife or offer to help whoever is standing in front of him in need.

But more devastating than even William's death is the kind of eternal separation that our sin warrants. This is what the Israelites realized in Nehemiah. They understood, in the same place where the thunderstorm rages under my ribcage, the impossible chasm they had created by their sin. God, in His grace, gave them these words in verse 10:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Yesterday, my mom left a message on my phone while she was on layover in the Houston airport. Her voice was clear and her tone was assured. She had met an angel, she said, a little girl who was singing about God's love never changing and about "tears coming in the night but joy coming in the morning." The Lord gave such a precious gift in this message (He even sent an angel with perfect pitch!). Then she told me that the verse I had texted her (Nehemiah 8:10) was the verse God gave her after my nephew Isaac died. She had wrestled that joy and finally understood that strength comes from being in the presence of God because that's where joy is found.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

If you do not know how to get into the presence of the Lord, this is the most important question in your life today as much as it is mine. We need His presence for joy because we need His joy for strength. There is nothing more pressing, no work more important, and no task with more priority. Concern yourself with joy and there you will find strength.

I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. I'm probably not supposed to be writing yet, either. I guess I'm supposed to be getting to know grief and that takes awhile. But I don't know who makes up the "supposes" and I could only sleep about four hours last night because of all these words rumbling around in my soul.

All the commotion that summer stirs up in the city gets silent on a Sunday at 6 am when it is raining. But then, the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the light came in through the stained glass at church with the sounds of the train. Why did the rain stop, I wanted to say, doesn't it know that William is gone? Why did the clouds part, I wanted to ask, don't they know that William's perfect witty remarks won't be the reply all in the family email chain? Why did the light play with colors on church windows, I wanted to whisper, doesn't it know the world feels less beautiful without him here?

We took communion through tears - the bread and the cup that symbolize that Christ conquered William's death and death altogether. We recited the Apostles' Creed together with our church and I choked out the last lines, "the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen."

Because it is good to remember the resurrection on days like today. It is good to remember that there is a place prepared for those who have been called in Christ, those who have responded to God's offer of ultimate love in His Son.

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

all this tomfoolery

"Gardiner and Theobald.""Yes, hello, may I speak to Mary Smith please?"

"Sure! May I tell her who is calling?" "Yes, it's John Doe. How are you doing today?"

"Oh, I'm doing fine. How are you? Let me see if I can reach her for you." "That would be so great. Thank you so much."

...

"John, I'm not able to reach her at her desk, would you like her voicemail?" "You know what? I'll just send her an email. I guess I really just miss talkin' to people, you know? Thank you so much. Have a great day!"

The conversation happened at 10:09 am and I thought about it until I left the office. I don't know who John Doe is (and that's obviously not his name) and I don't know why he needed to talk to Mary Smith (also not her name) at my office and I definitely don't know why he told me (the unnamed receptionist screening calls all day like a boss) about his desire for human connection.

I tried to answer calls a little differently the rest of the day, more like a human and less like a robot. Sure, I already have my favorites. There's the guy who calls from NBC who has the kindest voice and the absolute best lilt to his phone pleasantries. Then there's the guy on the 15th floor with the exaggerated English accent that rolls out into a musical melody. But, most of the calls I answer during the day make both of us sound like robots. We go through the call/response like office liturgy, an ode to the places we work in order to spend time in the places we don't.

But, it's kind of nice to be a robot. I mean, I can triple multi-task now - answer phones, redirect calls, create fedex shipments, all while carrying on a halting conversation with my coworker about the benefits of oregano oil. I'm not sure if I can do any of those multi-tasks super well if I do them all at once, but that's where the robot benefits come in: things get done.

Anyway, John Doe's phone call this morning really rattled me up. Just yesterday, I was talking to my coworker (in one of those halting conversation beneath the mounds of multi-tasks) about how incredible it is to have language - letters and words and symbols that smash together into phrases and sentences that explain the reality we walk inside everyday.

What is more incredible to me, today at least, is that we have an emotional attachment to that language. We want to speak and be understood, to listen and to comprehend. And all this tomfoolery with email and text messages and electronic robottery makes us feel like we're missing something pretty elemental. Sure, we might lose some efficiency, but I'm not sure what we gain is "worth it" in the long run.

Maybe it is and maybe this is just another rant against technology. But I get you, John Doe. I like to hide behind typed words for efficiency's sake and for anonymity and for the protection of it, but sometimes I just really miss talking to people.

I'm going to try to do that more, so thanks for the inspiration, caller-I-will-never-meet. I am literally off to (my friend's) Grandmother's house in the country tonight, where the old-fashioned kind of communication is going to make a lot of sense. Maybe I'll pick up a few pointers the city has forgotten.

squash for zucchini | another episode of pancake mondays

I still want to make this recipe from Girl Versus Dough for zucchini corn pancakes, but it didn't happen last night because Patrick couldn't find zucchini when he went on the Pancake Mondays grocery run. I was gone from 7:01 am to 6:20 pm yesterday and Pancake Mondays technically starts at 7:30. I received the "zucchini not found" SOS text before I left work, so I picked up what I could find (butternut squash - same gourd family, right?) with a gift card from the wedding. Every recipe seems to go that way on Mondays - a little bit prepared, a little bit improvisation, and a lot of Amelia Bedelia when measuring, substituting, and smooshing a small crowd of helpers into our Brooklyn hallway/kitchen. It's good to be in the new swing of things, hosting friends, neighbors and strangers as a full fledged duo.

Our good friend Joel arrived early and insisted on cutting peppers and doing dishes. Patrick handled the bacon (as per usual) and also all the apartment clean up (as per the new usual and my sanity). We met several new neighbors, who just graduated from FIT and who heard about Pancake Mondays from our other neighbor Elsa. She has been known to promote our little breakfast-for-dinner gathering to anyone who will listen. Elsa reminds me of my grandma, and not just because she brought over the most adorable wedding gift (a set of towels), but also because her kind smile makes me sure she loves well. Our friend Ben provided philosophical kitchen banter and our friends Aaron and Christina came over from Patrick's old apartment building to complete the crowd.

This is the stuff of Mondays.

Zucchini corn pancakes morphed into butternut squash griddle cakes with roasted peppers, southwestern black beans, sour cream and salsa. We dreamed up the bacon fried brussel sprouts for our gluten-free friend. And then when people kept hanging around, I sent out green grapes, watermelon and homemade orange julius for dessert. I love it when the kitchen feels like a restaurant. Anyone who insists on helping will hear me ask from the kitchen, "How does it look out there?" and "What do people need?"

My fondness for a full house and abundant table probably comes from my Grandma Avonell. Her eight children remember well her grace in adding places to the large oval table that now sits in my parents' dining room.

We don't have a large oval table (it would never fit if we did) and I'm sure I don't have her grace, but every place we live will definitely have an open front door for neighbors, strangers, and friends. The joy of hosting gatherings is really too much to keep it closed, anyway.

According to our marriage manifesto, item number 7: we will host Pancake Mondays at least once/month. According to marriage manifesto, item number 3: we will never get cable. I think the two are probably related - with such brilliant company, I don't know how anything could be better entertainment.

 

what to do with abundance

If you are not feeling like a long read, will you at least skip to the bottom and give me your honest vote? Thanks! I am such the typical Brooklynite today, riding a French vintage bike in a flowy denim dress in the July summer heat with an adventure backpack and no helmet. Wearing a denim dress and a helmet seemed like a decision I would regret in the heat (also I had managed to throw up the perfect little bun that a helmet would destroy). So, I chose danger.

It had to happen, really, because I did a bunch of homebody things this morning like laundry and cleaning and long distance phone calls (okay, fine... a little bunch) before getting out into the sunshine to meet up with some good friends. I like to string things together like twinkle lights... then this and this and this, until the whole day sparkles. Meeting my friends' baby Eloise Ruby was the first of many twinkles and I guess I'm trying to say that explains the adventure backpack. So many twinkle lights.

So, I am camped out in the hipster-est Fort Greene coffee shop while my bike Betty hangs out in the sunshine, proudly showing off her perfect wire basket and yellow fenders. Eye roll.

A little/a lot of me wants to be at something called the Cass County Fair. You've never heard of it, but I promise you wish you had. If I tried to explain the detailed fair schedule, as published in a little handbook by the Cass County Fair Board, it would sound like every stereotype of what makes rural ridiculous to city folks. It is tucked away in a regular county of a very regular flyover state.

But you've never been, so you can't possibly understand what it's like to walk through the long, white commercial barns to grab bags of free goodies or how it feels to know you have animals in the pig barn or the dairy barn or the beef barn that have your name hanging over their stall. You don't know the nervous frenzy of waiting to see if your 4-H projects deserved statewide recognition. You don't "get" the anticipation of the County Queen contest or the talks that happen around campfires or the solidarity of feeding animals at 6 am. This whole rant sounds like crazy, I realize.

You don't have to understand the irony of my being ultra hipster on a day like today, but that little slice of Midwestern American life is my kind of crazy. I wish (a little bit) that I was eating pancake breakfast at the 4-H food stand with my uncles and cousins or dipping my candy lollipops in my grandma's ultra creamy coffee like I did when I was seven years old. I know it doesn't make sense, but it was my kind of crazy for 18 years of life, so it feels appropriate to enjoy some nostalgia as my family lives inside that world this week. I'm living in a different crazy these days, making new memories and living the moments of future nostalgia.

It's been interesting to answer questions about marriage because it is hard to know where to put all the wonderful. It is surprisingly difficult to figure out how to manage all the abundance and I suppose that is the best way to explain this transition: I am learning to manage a new kind of abundance.

New normals, new abnormals, new routines, new breaks of routines, new escapes, and new dead ends. And really, I haven't been able to manage any of it. [Also, update on that July heat: full blown rainstorm outside this hipster cafe window.]

It's like that silly analogy about the way we see the world... the half-empty / half-full glass scenario. We always want it to be full, right? Regardless of our chosen perspective, the assumption is that the best way the glass can be is full. So what happens when a pitcher unleashes abundance over the top of that controversy - when the only perspective from which to see the glass is overflowing. Do we manage the abundance by sopping it up, even though the very thing we wanted has happened and more?

That's a tricky one. I would say this is a #firstworldproblem but I think it's everyone's dilemma if they have every felt abundance. What does the right kind of gratitude look like? How do you know when to jump in puddles and when to hold an umbrella? What is okay to stay a mystery and what should be known?

I know, I ask too many questions.

Maybe that's why the Cass County Fair feels like a good place to be today. I've carved out quite a few geographical escapes over the years (from my own questions) and the Cass County Fair is one of those places. I get to rally around someone else's success and ambition, chatting on those familiar silver bleachers under some shade (if we're lucky).

Abundance is worth pondering - worth the questions and the coffee shop afternoons and the confusing blog posts. I am learning, slowly.

Part of the beauty of an overflowing cup is the mystery of always being full but always being filled.

It is really never supposed to make sense or get figured out or be understood. Abundance is like sunshine, maybe. I could spend all day inside with thick books and light refractors and smart instruments and science stuff, but I would never get inside the beauty of sunshine abundance. I would never enjoy the mystery of being full of sunshine while still being filled with it. Sometimes the best explanation of mystery is swirling with outstretched hands and uplifted face under an abundant sunshine sky.

On a completely unrelated note, would you help me do a little research? If I was to write a, ahem, lengthier piece... what would you like to read from me?

1. Hospitality / Neighboring 2. Something heavy with philosophy / doctrine thoughts 3. Anecdotes / Blog Excerpts / Personal Stories 4. Some combination... 5. Something obvious I haven't thought to have as an option

Ask your mom, friends, pets what they would want to read from me and then let me know. The rain cleared outside, so I better get Betty home before another downpour results in a wet mess of this unfortunate Brooklyn hipster.

some kind of heaven provision

The sun's spotlight made the trees in Prospect Park two-tone. Bright, lush green where the last evening rays hit and deep, dark green where night had already set in. We stared up from our little picnic and commented on the pink shading of the clouds. Something about Iceland - the wonder and magic of pure creation - made me more persistent to find beauty here in the city. The sky is the same sky and the sun is the same sun, so there really must be a way to see the wonder and magic of creation here as well. Last night, we did. In the perfect cool of evening, as dusk settled on the typically eclectic Brooklyn crowd, the sounds of Nickel Creek's acoustic genius played with the pink hues in the clouds and the green hues in the trees.

The loose hanging bulb lights felt perfectly lazy, though I know they were intentionally placed. Kind of like Nickel Creek, I guess. The harmonies are so tight and the instrumentals are so on point, but it feels as if they are discovering it in the same moments we are, with an effortless sway.

I had a long week. Super long. And I had worked up some anxiety about some things. Silly things. Anyway, getting off the F train to meet my best friend (who had secured the picnic site, brought the picnic, and owns the best smile I've ever seen) was some kind of heaven provision.

Picnics and musics and talks and walks. These are important summer things and if you haven't had your doses, get 'em while they are hot because summer is not forever!

Seriously, go make this ridiculously simple blueberry-pomegranate frozen yogurt from my friend Lauren's adorable blog, sit out on your porch or stoop or fire escape (in my case) and just soak it in.

There is wonder and magic where you are, too. I promise the same painter painted it all.

stand still

My morning devotional was not about the 4 train, but I'm going to pretend that the "Express track" was also taking direction from the Lord in Exodus 14:13, "Stand still - and see the salvation of the Lord" because it makes me feel like we have a common goal. Spurgeon writes,

"Faith ... hears God say, 'Stand still' and immovable as a rock it stands. 'Stand still' - keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long before God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, "Go forward!"

I get impatient for those "go forward" words and I am bad at standing still. If I must not be advancing, I end up stationary wrestling (like a stationary bike, without the bike and without the exercise) and that always makes a mess of emotional knots.

Here's what I've learned in the past three days: only God can speak the "Go forward" words with authority and only God has, for a time, said to me, "Stand still." Only His words matter. My words, persistent though they may be, are light like feathers.

I will always be praying against unbelief, because being still and being patient will always be a struggle. I am learning that I sometimes fight repeat lessons with the same stationary wrestling. But God is so faithful. He gives grace upon grace so I can believe that what He says is true. It reminds me of the song my mom chose as a theme for all the three months of wedding planning.

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, And to take Him at His Word; Just to rest upon His promise, And to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!

He is not surprised or disappointed when I pray for more grace and more belief. He knows how much I need both and He is delighted to give without limit. When I am listening, I can hear him reminding me to stand still in faith so that I can go forward in faith when He is ready to give that direction.

some days I'm like Thomas

Not the Bible Thomas (I am like him a lot). No, I am like Thomas in Flannery O'Connor's "Comforts of Home."

"Thomas had inherited his father's reason without his ruthlessness and his mother's love of good without her tendency to pursue it. His plan for all practical action was to wait and see what developed."

Thomas excelled at mediocrity, like stale water in a garden hose excels at being lukewarm by evening. Though he had a whole host of good genes between his father and mother, he had somehow settled into a temperament decidedly in-between, where his practical action looked like paralysis.

Well, I have days where all my practical action looks like paralysis.

Days when I stand in line at the DMV to change my name but never get to the front, when I fill out my W-4 three different ways and then somehow it ends up in my backpack at home, when I follow the micro-phoned Subway voices across the platform to trains with open doors but nothing ever starts moving, when I forget to lock the bathroom door and a nice lady opens it in the middle of my business... days when I have all sorts of ambition after work to make chicken enchiladas for the freezer and to clean the bathroom and to get groceries and to channel writing prowess for some freelance work and to do some crazy summer workout in the park.

But I got home at 8:30 and now my practical action looks like a glass of cranberry juice I can't finish and this blog post. It's now almost 9:30 and the shots fired outside my window shook my ambition if my weariness hadn't already.

There is always a sermon for Thomas days.

Sometimes it is hard to locate, behind selfishness and vanity and a mad desire for dark chocolate... but, the sermon is there because there are no new words. God has already authored all the words we need for life and godliness. He has already penned the encouragement and understanding and hope that every Thomas day needs.

If the only practical action I take is to preach Truth to myself, mediocrity is defeated and the most important thing is accomplished on my list.

Communion.

It's okay if nothing else gets done, but that preaching has to happen.

Tonight, the sermon is from Jeremiah 1:12.

In His power and with His joy...

We wrote drafts of our vows in Atlantic, Iowa, a little town halfway between our parents' farmhouses. Our tired eyes hovered over cups of bad coffee that a very sweet, very blonde waitress brewed happily after she heard what we were doing. It was supposed to be our "date night" the week of the wedding, but the bowling alley wasn't open and we didn't feel like hanging out in the Hy-Vee parking lot or at the Tropical Sno stand. We were getting married in a few days, which also made "scooping the loop" seem a little silly. So, we slid into a booth at Oinker's and scribbled on scraps of paper while we imagined what covenant and promise and marriage was supposed to be about. We looked at other vows and wrote out our own words and I mostly remember saying, "We are really getting married!" over and over again.

There is nothing light about making a marriage covenant. The first covenant in the Bible involved God walking through halved animals with a vow that the same would be done to him if the promise of provision was broken. Covenant promises are heavy things and when something is really heavy, I seem to go in search of large rocks to have "writer's block" against.

writing vows

So, I mostly sat there while Patrick mostly wrote versions of our vows and then read them to me out loud. At some point, we both realized that making any statement of promise was completely ridiculous. We were weak, and not just because we had planned a wedding in three months. We were weak because we were (and are) human - fearfully and wonderfully made humans whose words and promises are limited just like our existence.

But the promise we were powerless to make to each other in front of God and witnesses was still possible. I will never forget the statement of introduction we wrote that seemed to both honor the weight of our commitment and resign our powerlessness to keep it on our own.

"I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise."

I still have the scribbled scraps of paper. I found them in the zipper pouch of my backpack this past week when I was fishing for a pen. I'm not sure how they got there or why I decided it was a good place to keep them. But, there I was, staring out at lunchtime commotion in Bryant Park and thinking about all the things God was holding together in that moment.

Somewhere in the mad middle of our three month engagement, our pastor challenged us to write a mission statement. Our excitement to make a declaration about how we wanted our love to honor God and bless others seemed more important than parking arrangements and party favors. So, we thought and wrote and prayed in the summer quiet of his living room. I don't think we realized at the time that our mission statement would have the same foundation as our vows.

We are disciples of Christ and believe that in Christ all things are held together. We will proclaim the Lord’s name to one another, family, friends, and neighbors through acts of service, words of encouragement, and invitations to break bread.

As it turns out, our belief that in Christ all things are held together (Colossians 1:17) has been one of the most beautiful truths to preach to ourselves in the first few weeks of marriage. Our excitement for this new adventure feels like holidays are happening every morning. In Iceland, we were almost embarrassed by our goofy grins enjoying lobster soup at little roadside cafes and standing at the bottom of glacier mountains and holding hands in coffee shops. We were that couple, on honeymoon.

And, as gratitude for this new life spilled out over the unbelievable horizons and breathtaking views, we were in awe of just how completely Christ holds things together. Our confidence in Him grew as we thought about our vows - confidence that the God who holds all things together is holding us together and empowering us to do the same.

It has been exactly two weeks and I am now more convinced than ever of my inability to keep such a crazy promise as I made on my wedding day.

But, God. He's such an abundant provider! He is making it possible in this moment for me to keep my promise. He is holding us together like He holds together the Icelandic moss fields and Iowa's rolling hills and the New York City skyline. He is making it possible for us to make these promises again today.

I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.

I, Patrick, take you, Caroline, to be my beloved wife. I will lead you, protect you and provide for you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.

I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.

I, Caroline, take you, Patrick, to be my beloved husband. I commit myself to you, striving to encourage, uphold, forgive and affirm you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads us. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.

tiny and giant, fast and slow

I watched the silhouette stride across the three mammoth windows of Grand Central Station - just a tiny stick of shadow making its way through giant panes of light. Nobody minds when someone stands still in the middle of Grand Central because everyone is either a commuter or a tourist. Commuters rarely pause and tourists rarely speed. The two kinds of Grand Central Stationers coexist easily and well, as long as they respect the plaid crossing pattern when they do decide to move. You know the pattern I mean, right? I remember it from marching band and 5th grade choir concerts. One line of people meets another line of people at a diagonal and when the lines intersect, the people alternate so both lines pass through toward different directions. Anyway, that's how movement happens in the Station and it is a wonder to observe. Diagonals on diagonals and motion on motion and it all buzzes like a beehive of ambition toward productivity of work or play.

And above all the commotion was this solitary figure last night, the tiniest silhouette framed by summer evening city light.

I straddled the world between tourist and commuter (because I am rarely fully either) and tilted my head toward my right shoulder to consider what tiny looks like against giant and what fast looks like inside slow. It was probably foolish, stopping like that for no reason.

But I can't shake the mystery of feeling both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

Living in the city is like that for me. It is why my body felt like a hundred dead weights by the time I reached my apartment door with groceries last night and it is also why I went on a bike ride with my husband to listen to jazz in a tea room an hour later. The perfect sunset breeze, an upright bass, and the best conversation over a decaf cappuccino is what summer date nights are made of.

And so we rush a little bit to slow down a lot. We subway scurry home from work and we bike to lazy trumpet sounds. It is like the calm, steady stride of a silhouette in giant train station windows above a frenzy of motion - both tiny and giant, both fast and slow.

when everything is magnificent

It's true what they say about being a newlywed.

It's like an contagion you would be glad to catch - it makes you want to stay in, to say endless cheesy lines, and to build forts in your tiny New York living room (let's be honest, I would do that regardless). I'm a week and a half old in newlywed years, and I'm obsessed with the idea that the two of us are a unit.

But let me pause a hot moment for some #realtalk.

I haven't got it all sorted, but I think I can boil my thoughts down to this reflection that bubbled up inside me while traveling around Iceland for six days:

A magnificent thing is never less magnificent next to other magnificent things.

God is a good Creator - the best there is, really. Everything He makes is good and He holds each magnificent thing together in Christ. The reality of God's magnificent handiwork sunk in while we viewed the alien landscapes with dropped jaws and wide eyes - landscapes that changed almost immediately as we rounded pristine snow-topped mountains and followed black sand coastlines and maneuvered bright green countrysides under dreamy fog.

So much magnificence.

The fields of yellow flowers were no less magnificent than the hodge-podge fields of bright green, moss-covered black rocks. And those moss fields were no less magnificent than the erupting geysers. And the geysers were no less magnificent than the Hobbit looking valleys.

All of it was magnificent and sometimes I had to close my eyes to give my soul a rest.

But, back to #realtalk. This side of marriage is a different kind of magnificent, but not different in a "finally made it" sort of way. Not like that at all. The beauty and joy of my solitary journey with the Lord has emerged in deeper hues these first weeks of being newlywed.

Because I was always first and most in love with the Maker of magnificence and that has not changed.

Last Sunday, we sat our newlywed selves in the familiar church pew (on the left side, in the middle and towards the back) and listened as our pastor talked about real hunger. Everyone everywhere will always be hungry because that is how our bodies are made. And this very real, very deep hunger is mirrored in our spiritual selves as our bodies groan for something that satisfies our souls.

Jesus offered Himself, the most magnificent thing at the most costly price, so that we could be the best kind of full.

He offered Himself so that we can experience all kinds of magnificence (Icelandic landscapes, weekends with friends, singlehood, pancake nights, married life) knowing that He is the Maker.

I still have my rosy newlywed shades on, sure. This is a grand life I'm living with my best friend in the world. I would not hesitate to call all the cheesy phrases and the midnight Icelandic adventures and the breakfasts in the morning "magnificent."

But I also would not hesitate to call magnificent the year I lived with my sister in Des Moines or the road trips with Alejandra from Colorado or the conversations on porches in Iowa and Michigan or the endless, ridiculous adventures in Honduras. They are all equally magnificent only because they have a Maker who never changes, a Maker who knows our hunger for good things and does not hesitate to provide perfectly.

he is one of the brave ones

After all the invisible confetti settled on the post-engagement ground in Brooklyn, I heard bits and pieces of the story that led up to the ultimate Easter proposal. Somewhere along the way, I heard about the conversation between Patrick and my Dad at the littlest steakhouse in Anita, Iowa. My Dad has never mentioned it, but Patrick shared a few things and I've stored them up in my heart. Before my dad could settle into midwestern pleasantries and pretend this meeting was about anything else, Patrick said, "Dick, I'd like to marry your daughter."

I suppose that set the tone for the conversation, but maybe more so when my dad said, "Patrick, I would be honored."

I wasn't there, but both men are great conversationalists so I kind of wish I could have been. In between the appetizer platter that I'm sure my dad ordered and the steak that is the best in the tri-county area, I guess they talked about life and marriage and love. I don't know exactly how it came out, but at some point my dad shared this encouragement with him (and he paraphrased it for me):

Patrick, not many men want to pursue a strong woman these days. They are afraid or intimidated or something, I don't know. Cindy is a strong woman and I am blessed every day that I chose her to love. And Caroline is like her mom - strong. 

It has taken months to let this conversation sink in - that Patrick flew to Iowa to ask my dad if he could marry me, that my two favorite men shared a meal, that my dad said I am a strong woman, and that Patrick loved me enough to pursue me.

I think my dad might be right - men are afraid to pursue strong women. I don't always feel strong, but I know the Lord provides it in abundance. I am confident in a strength apart from me and maybe that looks intimidating - that I can say yes to crazy things or hard things or dangerous things because I know God has already gone before me and will sustain me with His faithfulness. I was humbled to hear my dad say he sees strength in me; humbled because it is the grace of God and it has much to do with growing up in his home.

More than that, or at least equal, came the realization that Patrick is one of the brave ones. He, too believes God is faithful and strong and sovereign. He is not afraid to pursue a strong woman and that makes me love him ever so much more.

Tonight, we are going to take my parents out to dinner to celebrate 35 years of their marriage and to celebrate the beginning of ours. We are strong women, I guess (by the grace of God), and the Lord has blessed us with brave men.

We will always be learning about God's design - the way marriage reflects something beautiful about who He is and how He loves us. Today that lesson seems to be about God's grace to give strength and bravery in order that two can serve one another and give God glory for His provision.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/XJY4asP8lT4]

frivolous friday

In the spirit of lavishing love "just because," I set out to soak as much in as possible this morning before I leave for Iowa in about an hour. I woke up to run in the park, dropped off my laundry, biked over to chat with Lele in our other favorite neighborhood coffee shop, and wrote out some thoughts. Then, when the responsible and predictable part of Caroline said, "Go home and pack" the carefree and whimsical Caroline looked at my beautiful bike with a basket and said, "Adventure instead." So, I did. I biked up Bedford and through Fort Greene. I meandered away the minutes I didn't have walking the streets where no stores were yet open. I swayed under the shade and I smiled for no reason. I closed my eyes and walked with my head toward the cotton candy clouds, just because.

I jumped back on my bike, noting the ridiculousness of my summer dress and the goofiness of my grin, and biked over to Park Slope where I did more aimless walking. And all the time, it was okay that my joy didn't have direction. It was okay that I wasn't frantically checking and re-checking my bags I packed last night while watching Runaway Bride (it was free on Amazon Prime and who doesn't love Julia Roberts with Richard Gere?).

It was more than okay, it was perfect.

What is the dumbest thing a bride can do one week before her wedding? Ride down the big hill in Prospect Park with her hands outstretched and her knees/elbows/face exposed to possible catastrophic collision. And that's exactly what I did. I spread out my hands and embraced the breeze and it was exactly the best way to leave Brooklyn before coming back a Mrs.

I know it doesn't make sense and I promise it isn't just because I'm in love. I think I am finally realizing that adventures, a lot of times, are not planned. And receiving love brings joy to the giver as much as it does the receiver (if not more). So, when God gives good gifts like this absolutely beautiful day, it delights Him when I step completely into it.

Turns out, His delight is my delight. Let the adventures begin!

double surprise | double love

Two nights ago, Patrick and I were walking home from one of our favorite places in the neighborhood. He was gnawing on a 5 pound vegan chocolate spelt pound cake log and I was slurping the last bubbles out of a decaf iced coffee with almond milk under perfect summer clouds. Emily, the owner and our new friend, wouldn't let us leave without giving us that giant loaf and Patrick's sweet tooth couldn't wait to try it. He had just moved the last bit of his belongings into my little room in my little apartment and I had just picked up the most adorable plantable wedding favors. We were a sight at that café on the corner of Midwood and Rogers, clicking through lists and speaking assurances and sharing our fears that all the celebration will slip by too soon.

Anyway, the funny thing about all that emotional commotion in the coffeeshop, is that we parted an hour later - him to go to the gym and me to go for a run, with plans to meet up after he got his hair cut. Nothing extraordinary or special about the night before he was to leave for Iowa.

Meanwhile... I had been planning a surprise for him on the roof of his building with a bunch of our friends and neighbors. It was organized like a ragamuffin. As I sprinted back from the park and jumped in the shower, I kept up text conversation with everyone to make sure nothing was spoiled. I confirmed the plan with the neighbors, dropped off blankets and ran to the store to pick up summer snacks (watermelon and finger foods).

I showed up to his apartment in one of my new white dresses and I blushed when he said I looked nice. I have to find reasons to work all the white into my regular wardrobe in order to justify cost per wearing (thank you 4-H). Anyway, after our friend Rebecka made him look extra handsome in his new haircut, he suggested we go to the roof.

I thought he was playing right in to my surprise until HE surprised me with stargazing and proposing a second time with the perfect ring that finally came back from the custom jeweler. I said yes the first time, but I melted all the same when he started listing the reasons he wants to love me forever. And there we were - just the two of us looking at the big ole Brooklyn sky - still on this side of marriage and claiming every moment for joy.

Then I texted the neighbors (who I thought only knew about my surprise) and up they came. Patrick was so confused as they all filed out through the door. We had the most wonderful gathering of folks we love - huddled around candles and covered in the Brooklyn night sky.

roofparty

Aaron, our friend and neighbor and the most faithful pancake Mondays eater, said, "When I found out you were both surprising each other on the same night, I said 'Of course. You would do that.'" Of course we would double surprise each other, using the same friends to make it happen and confusing them all. 

And it's okay for love to be like that, just wild and ridiculous and ready to tackle naysayers.

It's good when love makes a double surprise that ends with friends glowing on a little roof in Brooklyn. I'm learning that not every love proclamation needs to get results or have a purpose. Sometimes, gifts of love are extravagant and just because.

This is how God lavishes His love on us - it's His kind of plan to double over surprises without condition or desired result. There is no reason to overflow a glass that is already full. A glass can only hold so much and a heart can only receive so much love. But, God loves us abundantly "just because." He overflows us where we are full and where we are empty. He sustains us where we think we need it and where we think we don't. He is unbelievably faithful and kind - too much so. He is good just because He is good and His love makes me melt.

This is the kind of love we want to double in our marriage - the ridiculous, 'just because' kind of love that brings glory to the only God who could author it.

 

those who return to Him

As the father looked upon him, and kissed him much, there probably came another kiss, which seemed to say "There is no soreness left: I have not only forgiven, but I have forgotten too. It is all gone, clean gone. I will never accuse you of it any more. I will never love you any less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person." Probably  at that there came another kiss; for do not forget that his father forgave him "and kissed him much," to show that the sin was all forgiven. There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father's goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, "I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine," I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, "My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me." This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. - Charles Spurgeon, "Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son"

This is sweet beauty. This is the "gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him," this is His delight over diamonds that never lose their value. The Spring season is bursting with its own diamond offerings, of bright colors and bold raindrops and the warmth the winter was craving. Spring wears beauty so well and I am obliged to "waste" New York minutes admiring it.

There are too many kisses for us to gloss over the story of the Prodigal Son in a synopsis.

Greedy child asked Dad for inheritance early and then wildly wasted every penny before coming home, where Dad received him with a party.

The father's undignified run was too brilliant to get smashed into the word "received" and the kisses were too many for this reunion to be an average greeting. He kissed the soreness out and the guilt and the shame and the worry - He kissed it all with the power of a Father who forgives.

I've been thinking about value and worth and (okay, fine) diamonds. There has never been a time in my life when I have thought more about what I don't have. I suppose NYC does that to everyone, to some degree, but it has never been part of my rhythm. Contentment has carried me through the sparse and plentiful times in miraculous ways, so this thinking is throwing me for a loop.

People (particularly women) everywhere are obsessed with knowing what might make them more lovable and that manifests itself in all sorts of colorful and crazy ways in this city. My sister's advice when I moved to New York was, "Care, you can wear anything and no one would bat an eye. That's the nice thing about New York. You'll sit next to someone in a suit and someone in fishnet stockings on the same subway ride."

Turns out, she was right.

What I wasn't prepared for was the way my eyesight has changed. I am more aware of myself, my style (and lack of), and all the categories I do not fit inside. People say, "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere." I'm still trying to find out what "make it" means to figure out if I passed. But I'm not trying too hard to understand that litmus test, because there are too many kisses in the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.

When my pastor preached on Luke 15 this past Sunday, I thought about the Father's eyesight instead. His love that covers a multitude of sins looked out on that haphazard hellion of a son and broke with compassion. The worth of the son was not about the words he prepared or the way he presented himself. The worth of the son was bound up in the love and compassion of the Father when the son returned home. He lavished love and kisses and let all the neighbors talk about his ridiculous sprint when the son was still "a long way off."

This is the beauty the spring shouts, because winter did not deserve to be reborn into Spring. Winter died because God blew in Spring with the power of His words.

We are worthy of the Father's love because He has said it is so and we hear those words spoken over us when we return to him, haphazard and tangled and unkept. This is the freedom of Spring - that the tree did nothing to earn its blooms and the sky did nothing to earn its shine. God, in His grace, is speaking His love over creation. And those who return to Him will hear the words spoken directly over their souls.

Hello, Spring! Hello, Easter!

we were made for campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens

Maybe, one of the sweetest successes in hosting is when you become the guest. That's what happened tonight when we brought our black bean cilantro salad over to the neighbors' apartment who have enjoyed pancakes on so many nights. Patrick's neighbors opened their door (with a clever invitation taped to the front) to a Cinco de Mayo feast they spread on their coffee table in their little NYC living room.

the cinco sign on the neighbors' door

I think we made community, this little pancake crew. Somehow, being a guest made it feel official. Our conversation was about things "we" do and games "we" should play together and other nights "we" should all host. Patrick's apartment building missed him tonight, but while he was in Spain we were celebrating Mexico's independence with the sweetest neighbors you could find.

We were made for this - for campfires and coffee tables and kitchens.

Two months from today I get to promise forever to the man who loves campfires, coffee tables, and kitchens in the very same, excessive amounts. That is a lot of handwritten notes on doors, a lot of pancakes, and a lot of side dishes sealed in tupperware containers. Not all of it is romance. Sometimes the recipes flop and sometimes the neighbors don't show up and sometimes there isn't enough bacon. But, thankfully enough, the requirement for community is persistence. Between the two of us, we have quite a bit of that (in between and in the midst of failures/successes). Still, the most precious necessity for community is persisting in knowing the One with the original idea.

We try to take our cues from the Lord, who was so persistent to send Jesus to show us what love and community look like when they are done perfectly.

Community is my favorite. I think I can say that and not mean it like ice cream or sunshine or the breeze in my face while biking the west side of Prospect Park (because those things are some kind of favorite, too). Community is for bruised hearts and for delighted souls and everyone is welcome to the table.

Did I mention that I really miss that Mr. Kolts? He gets back on Thursday and I am hoping we can squeeze in some non-wedding planning time to enjoy the magic of community.

I kind of promise I won't write every post about my engagement/wedding. But, I am hoping some of you readers cut me some slack because I only get to be in this stage for two months. You don't mind, right?