lessons in love and emptiness

Few folks on the 19th floor of 42nd and Madison knew I was in California over the weekend. Few of them knew I was gone at all. I handed out hellos and good mornings with my best Monday face, because they all had weekends, too, and I didn't know what theirs were about either.

Mine was full of lessons in love and emptiness.

I always thought love was about giving away something I've got, something that came from the overflow of my abundance. You don't show up to a potluck without a casserole (am I right, Midwest?) and you don't show up to love someone without something to offer - even if it's a shoulder or a bit of laughter or a few tears.

I have often tried to love people that way. But, I think I am learning that love is about being empty. Love knocks on the door without a casserole or an explanation, because my confidence in knocking at all has nothing to do with what I can offer.

And it's hard to think that love can come out of that, out of nothing. But that is what I was learning this weekend. We can be confident love-givers when we are empty. When we realize our words and gifts and casseroles are not the love message, we are left to just be present.

We are present to not figure things out, to not make things better, to not share wise words. Present to question and doubt and consider and believe. Present to be present and not to give a casserole or eat a casserole or have an agenda.

And all of these lessons in love and emptiness remind me of Jesus. He knew how to be present. He knew how to forget about the commotion and the crowds and the distractions so that he could be present with that bleeding woman, reaching out in faith to touch his robe (Mark 5:25). He was always getting empty of all the things we try to offer others in love so that he could be love by being present.

So, I'm trying to learn to get empty more often. I'm trying to learn to offer myself like Jesus.

Last night, freshly back from California with my new lessons on love and emptiness, Patrick tried to share something with me in our new living room. But I already had my apron on and I was very focused on preparing the apartment to host guests.

My apology sounded like a less-than-empty offering, like a casserole I whipped up to cover the offenses. "Here, just eat this and we'll both feel better." But it isn't the same as being empty. He needed my empty moments, the quiet space of my presence.

So, I'm still learning about that.

He will not stay hidden

I press my cheeks into the clouds covering the Nebraska sky, “Come out, come out wherever You are! You promised You could be found!”

He promised.

I keep coming back to Jeremiah 29. I memorized verse 11 in elementary and then rolled my eyes at the way it was thrown on calendars and desk organizers for high school graduation gifts, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Plans for prospering and for hope and a future. Plans the Lord declares over us, even as He knows the number of our days. Plans and true words and nothing to roll my eyes about.

The next verses seem to me an encouragement toward belief when those plans don't make sense, “You will seek me and you will find me if you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.”

That means sometimes He will be hidden. And sometimes He will even be so hidden that we will only find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts, like finding Him is the most important thing.

And now I’m on my way to California, with my grief cheeks in the middle of Midwest clouds. And I need for that promise to be true. I need for Him to not stay hidden. I need for Him to be found and for me to be found in Him.

This is the flip side of "dying is gain," I guess. It's the "to live is Christ" part that is so hard to swallow. Heaven I can handle. I can look forward to eternity with the One who would stop at nothing to have me in His presence forever. I can picture days emptied of pain and full to overflowing with the Creator of everything good. Heaven I can handle. But I am not in heaven, I am here.

And God said there is abundant life, here.

When Jesus came to bring life and life abundant (John 10:10), it was with all the authority of heaven and it was not a hidden operation. Everyone who sought Him out was found by Him; everyone seeking abundance found more than they could carry.

Believing God made abundance available in these moments is the hardest game of hide and seek. But I have noticed that we are all seeking. We are all turning over rocks and looking in closets. We are looking for answers and knowing no answer will make sense.

So, I pray I would seek the right thing. I pray for belief that joy is here, that abundance is here, that life is here... because God has promised to not stay hidden from those who seek Him with all their hearts.

And He has promised to be the strength for me to seek when "all my heart" is a scattered mess that can't be made to wholly seek anything.


I wrote this on the plane to California yesterday. Less than 24 hours later and these thoughts feel so far away. But they are thoughts and I am typing them down because they are my grief notes and it might be helping. Find all our grief notes at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

observing grief

One of these days, someone will tell me I need to take better care of my eyes. And I will listen because that person will be right.

It is probably irresponsible to wear my brother's old contacts - the ones that arrived in the mail on Friday, hours before the accident. But I love that he sent them, because "our prescriptions are close enough" and he didn't need them after lasik surgery. The conversation went something like this...

WN: Care! What's your prescription?

CN: Uh, I don't know... why?

WN: You can have my contacts!!

When we found out both Christina and I had equally similar prescriptions (and equally hazy memories about what those prescriptions were), he intended to divide the spoils fairly between his two sisters who do not have vision insurance. We love him for this... this being so typically "Will."

I don't know why I tossed that brown mailer package out, with his efficient and upside down scrawl on the label. He used to start his letters from the bottom because he didn't like to waste pen strokes and now the last ones he wrote to me are on their way to a landfill in New Jersey. I don't know if he was still starting all his l's and i's from the bottom... I'll have to ask Grace, she would know.

I paid full price for a copy of "A Grief Observed" at a snobby bookstore in Grand Central Station after taking the train over my lunch hour to find out the largest used bookstore in the city didn't have it. But my eyeballs were burning from these free contacts and I am observing grief. It felt urgent; I knew C.S. Lewis's hazy combination of intellectual and emotional fog would make me more normal.

Pancake Mondays only gets better and the joy is almost painful. We moved around in that sliver of a kitchen, chef and sous chef-ing that packed out Monday night like the apartment restaurant owners we aren't. Our MacGyvered cold brew coffee sat in the freezer and six batches of batter rested in the fridge while our test pancakes were devoured with plenty of time to cook the (coconut) bacon to perfection. The neighbors came and the friends came and the strangers came and they all came through that open door and my face got confused.

This is still joy and it feels both welcome and wrong. I push against it and every emotion that distracts from this new, awful reality. But I am drawn to it, because joy is the only emotion with any strength in it anymore. There are a lot of emotions, but just joy has strength in it. It is made of the same stuff that allowed Jesus to endure the terrible tragedy of the cross, scorning the shame that would be our salvation.

"For the joy set before him..." There is something very "set before us" about joy. It is something far off as much as it is something near, like muscles making our bones dance toward a sunset.

One night last week, Tam moved the furniture around my glazed-over figure in the dusk light of our common space. Chairs got pushed to the walls, the rug got adjusted to make more space, and the clutter got cleared enough away for our legs and arms to be free. And we danced in that summer dusk light. Each separately working out whatever it was we needed to work out on the poorly refinished wood floor - separately stretching misery and mercy with untrained movements and with (for me) little grace.

The "joy set before me..." had settled in to all my knotted muscle groups, its presence pushing like thunder against my ribs but escaping like mist with my breath. Joy.

I am pushing against it. How is there still joy and why is it the thing that is strong and brings strength? It seems best and most appropriate to step into sadness and lock the door. But even then it seems joy pursues me and lives inside locked rooms, too.

I got a card from my grandparents, with one of my Gram's flowers printed on the front. A lily, I think. Will's fingerprints are all over their house - the shingles, the support beams on the addition, the wood shop, the storage shed. There's the smallest knick in their living room where he missed a beam with the nail gun. They are remembering.

For the joy set before us, camped around us, living in us... this, we endure. There is no sense-making of it. We are on this side and he is over there. And the joy set before us is the same.

All I know is, a small package arrived on Friday, August 2nd and now my eyes burn like the fireballs Dad used to hide under the seat of his Chevy pickup. And I'll let them burn until someone tells me I need to take better care of my eyes. Meanwhile, I'll be hitting the Visine good and hard.


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

come | he will not cast us out

In the pale darkness of our Brooklyn bedroom, we prayed. Honest prayers, out loud, are like a wrecking ball for the walls I build to protect my grief. He prayed first and I breathed out my soft echoes in mmhmms. A day's worth of silent wrestling caught up with me in his clear words, wrapped in our white wedding sheets. We are one now, but I wanted to roll toward the blank wall and blink away my sadness in solitude. Alone is painful and that feels more appropriate. But when he finished his honest prayers, I started my own with a sigh.

Keep me from jealousy. Forgive any bitterness that tries to take root in me, O God.  Help me to speak grief words openly. Teach me to walk with Patrick in this and not shut him out.

It went on like that, lit by streetlights, and I realized I had much to confess. I walked my words up to the altar and tossed them down, like flowers on the casket we never buried. A strange and honest offering. What I most wanted to pray for, selfishly, was more time on this side of heaven.

I am jealous of those Will loved well and of those who knew him best. I am bitter for the moments I didn't spend with him and for the moments I wasted in his presence. I am bitter at a world that suffers death every day, for the wars on top of wars of death and none of it weighing the weight of this one man.

It was just the scratch of our midnight voices that hit the silent ceiling, a strange and honest plea for some ground to catch our freefall.

"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Psalm 27:13-14

We believe and we are praying for more belief. We are confident in the goodness of the Lord, of the eternity He rules and the table He prepares. We are confident that He is our home. We are confident in His invitation to "Come," though His beckoning feels painfully far off.

Two soft voices melodied these words over the string arrangement while Patrick and I took communion at our wedding. We wanted everyone to know about the invitation that altered our lives forever, Jesus's invitation to "Come."

Today we sang this same invitation during communion, but the melody from almost two months ago felt a world away. I am now the child in the last verse, full of fret and grief - the child who is not cast out. Even that child has an invitation to sit at the celebration table and take part in the feast, maybe especially that child.

Come ev'ry child, with fret or grief; He will not cast us out He will meet our unbelief and drive away our doubt.

Come, cloaked in grief. Come, bring your sadness to the feast table. Come, bring your questions and doubts and weary tears to the day the Lord has made. Come.

Come, he will not cast us out. He will meet our every unbelief and hear our every doubt. He will comfort and keep us at the celebration table, when we grieve and sorrow and pray honest prayers in the pale darkness.

"Come, He will not cast us out."


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

 

this is our story

I sat at the front desk with a temp worker named Chelsea two days ago. We exchanged high pitched pleasantries and filler words about college and travels and restaurants in the city. Then the Senior Director waved me into his office and told me with kind eyes that our company is a family. He wanted to know "the story." I fumbled the details out and my vision blurred. Three sentences felt insufficient, so I added halting additions in an attempt to introduce my boss to Will, "He is...ahem was an engineer... He works, um.. worked for a conveyor company out there." And, when I couldn't keep my face tidy anymore, I just nodded as I walked out with pursed lips and squinty eyes. I dabbed my face back at the front desk while I told Chelsea (the temp worker) the "story" in one sentence. And I hate that story - that final story I keep telling about my brother Will. The final story I've smashed irreverently into one memorized, mechanical sentence that sounds more like a news report than anything else... the story I feel obligated to follow with the words, "It's okay," and "We are fine..." because no one is comfortable with death or grief or sorrow. Everybody shifts uneasily when absence happens like that.

And everyone wants to know the story.

Sometimes, my urban life plays make believe. New York City dresses up in everyday routine, and it almost almost feels like my life on earth isn't altered forever, like it is "just another day" where taxis have road rage and college students are hung over and teenagers buy too much at Forever 21.

But then I am walking toward Bryant Park on 42nd Street and there are too many people, all of them strangers and none of them Will. He has never been to Bryant Park, but his absence follows me around like a shadow hovering over all the spaces he is not.

We are a weathered lot. Dad calls often with a shaky voice and as many questions as answers. We talk about "how things are going" and "getting better" and "benchmarks," but there is no good news, only words to put in quotations because we don't know what else to do with this grief. We want to honor him with our efforts and to love the God who gave us 27 beautiful years. But we are all hiking fumbles in office buildings and front porch swings and backyards. We are all shrugging shoulders and breathing sighs and letting the pain sink to our depths, because it would be wrong not to.

This is our story, stretching out like a rope between mourning and hope. All the threads intertwine, connecting what feels like opposites on either end.

There is peace, yes. And there is pain.

But our faith is not simply pragmatic. Our minds, knowing Will's salvation, cannot tell our hearts, knowing Will's absence, to "move on." Nothing in quotations works in real life. We can't "make progress" or "get better" by some mental acrobatics. Our minds and hearts are meshed together in constant, internal marathons - chasing reason and running from emotion or the other way around.

I walked into the copy room today and found five guys hanging out where there is room for two. To their silence I said, "Is this a secret meeting?" They side-glanced with smirks that looked like they were hiding a freshly painted "boys only" sign behind their backs. "Yep, top secret meeting," one said. I chuckled at their mischief, "I know what's going on... I have three brothers." The words stung my eyes.

This is our story of peace and pain. And there is still much to be written.


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

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

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.

for the times I want to hide, a joy report

It seemed like a silly thing to organize from the passenger seat of a Ford Fusion en route to Brooklyn from Iowa. We had just spent the strangest week of our lives mourning loss and rejoicing victory with some of our favorite people on the planet. No one would have faulted us for wanting to hide. But the group text messages went out and a small tribe agreed to gather for prayer and a potluck dinner in our apartment. We had never hosted a grief party before (has anyone?), but our friends seemed to understand the necessity because they accepted the invitation to mourn/rejoice with us. They came, our patchwork Brooklyn family of transplants, one by one in the late summer rain. They dripped into the apartment with all the potluck fixings for barbecue tacos.

We opened leftover wine from our wedding and accepted rainy hugs. Everyone was sweet and none of us knew what to do because grief is terrible. So, we shared the details of the past week's events as we topped tacos with cilantro. The Christian camp culture in us formed a rough outline of a circle as we mechanically and emotionally shared our purpose in inviting them in. But they were not confused and they did not come to mourn with us in despair.

They came to mourn with us in hope.

So, we celebrated and laughed and prayed and cried and poured more wine. And I realized that joy is not a Heisman situation in times of sorrow. There are no bootstraps to pull up, not even if you grew up Midwestern. The joy is already claimed in Christ, apart from our strong-arming efforts.

Before Tuesday night had ended, our friends' 11-month-old, Reed, learned how to walk (and then run). I believe it is God's grace that laughter sounds so similar to tears and it was God's grace that Reed made us laugh so much that night, with his wobbly steps and with his face full of achievement.

There is joy to report, like the adult lunchable my friend made for my first day back at work and like finding out all the days I was gone from my job were paid. There is joy, like provision in apartment searching and seeing familiar faces in my neighborhood. There is joy, like wise words from friends and strangers who know grief well. There is joy, like bike rides and fresh flowers and salvation stories.

I'm the kind that wants to hide. I want everyone to think I'm with someone else when I'm really hidden, anonymous in a coffee shop or on a patch of lawn or in the corner of my bedroom. When I need to think, I like to disappear.

This would be one of those times I want to hide, but God is inviting me into His presence where there is joy. Fullness of joy, even. He will not forget us, for He has engraved us on the palms of His hands and invited us to find joy and pleasures forevermore in His presence. We are not alone in the dark with our demons.

Grief wants to push back - to reject that joy can live in the same space with sorrow. Grief wants to refuse me laughter and sunshine and a face curved with delight.

But it is okay to stretch with tension. It is okay to have joy to report. It is right and good to believe the promises of God will find me in the times I want to hide.


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

in the dark with our demons

It's a line from a song by The Oh Hellos called "I Have Made Mistakes." It made sense before I felt broken in two, before the day I met grief, but it makes more sense now that demons are trying to live in my dark. [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/112282421" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

Demons, like returning to a regular job and navigating crowded city streets and breathing in slow, evening minutes that seem painfully unaltered by Will's absence. Demons that stare at me in the lamplit dark of this little apartment and whisper things like, "What are you doing in this city?" and "Why Will?" and "Why don't you feel like being productive or looking presentable?" Demons.

But I keep hearing these words from the sermon at Will's service last Friday, "Death is not normal."

Nothing is normal now, except grief headaches pushing like bricks on my ears. Apartment hunting is different, marriage is different, sunshine is different, morning is different and friendship is different. I am different.

I am different and things won't get better because we were not created to die. We were created to live. Being alive is normal. Ten days ago, I could pretend that living was normal here on earth; I could pretend that everyone has time to dream and time to be lazy and time to have time. And then I answered an ominous phone call and drove across the country with my husband to hug a line of 450 people who loved my brother Will.

We are not forever young because we are not forever. It's a hard thing to reconcile, really. Will was not forever and I am not forever, but it feels like we should be - like we should have indefinite time to plan adventures and let laugh lines mark our faces.

We were made for life, so that is the "normal" we crave. But, in our sin we chose death, so that is the normal we face.

We severed that eternal thread when we decided to go our own way, but I have never yearned for life more than right now. I have never longed for eternity or ached for God's perfect "normal" than I do these days. I am holding tightly to the belief that Christ came to restore that order.

The normal we crave vs. the normal we face. The tension of the two is trying to break me in the dark with my demons - trying to make a defeated sluggard out of me.

I feel like I got painted into a watercolor and left out in the rain. I have made mistakes in my mourning and I'll continue to make them. I'll be impatient and silent and stubborn. I will refuse to look presentable and I will forget my manners. But I will not pretend to be strong. I will not pretend that we were created to die, that this "circle of life" is just "how it has to be." I want God's normal - the way He created Adam and Eve originally in the garden, before their decision to eat that rotten fruit and before my sin claimed the same rotten fate.

Sometimes the only thing keeping you from being defeated is believing you are not.

And I believe. Simple sermons are okay, I think, like this one my aunt sent me last night from Deuteronomy 33:27, "underneath are the everlasting arms." The everlasting arms holding me up also defeated the demons in my dark and made a place for me in heaven.


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.

Guest Post | Wedding Speech, Take Two

I have been signing things Caroline Kolts for the past week, not that there was a whole lot to sign on our honeymoon in Iceland (check out Patrick on instagram). I have to keep reminding myself that together we make a family, the two of us. These first days of family are like making fresh footprints in untouched winter snow - everything is sparkling with promise and waiting to be discovered, built, and dreamed. We went to church for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Kolts yesterday and I was overwhelmed to be sitting next to my newly covenanted love and worshipping my First Love. I will spare you all of my marital bliss-speak and offer instead the sweetest words that my sister insists appear as a guest post. I am more than glad to oblige, because her guest posts always attract more attention than my regular posts and (I'll admit) I like the traffic. ;) Actually, I have read and re-read these words since she sent them earlier today and I can't figure out why I hit the jackpot with such a sister and why she thinks so highly of me. God has blessed me abundantly with her crazy love.

sisters

--

Caroline is the wordsmith between us.  While she’s weaving words, making landscapes that you feel and experience, I’m working on writing a to-the-point-email that will inspire people to work for me for free, so there’s a difference clearly.

She’s also the cheesy one of us, the one who waxes poetic about our sisterhood.  Whereas I’m the problem-solver, the send-Caroline-random-gifts-giver, the two-words-on-a-card-writer.  Those two words? Love you!  So, a difference there, as well.

But Caroline and Patrick’s wedding made me feel all kinds of cheesy, like there weren’t enough words in a speech to convey the joy welling within, and there wasn’t enough speech time to squeeze in the love I have for them, the slow moving sadness that comes from missing them, and the gratefulness in loving them together and separate, so much.

So, here is my guest blog post.  The speech I wish I would have spoken.  The official unofficial wedding speech, only 2 weeks late.

Caroline.  Your soul is the most beautiful I know, you know me better than anyone and yet are my biggest cheerleader.   My friendship with you makes me think marriage must be ok, that ‘someone knowing everything-ness’ and all.  In a weird way, it is so not weird that you got married before me.  For you have always gone first.  In following Christ, in maturity, in radical hospitality.  At a soul level, I think in some ways we are both the older sister, just in different ways.  Someone told me the other day that they love the way I talk about you, a mixture of awe, respect, and love.  And how could I not? You are exceedingly lovely, and I’ve always been baffled at the male sex due to their failure to realize this and marry you quickly.  But now I realize why it took them so long.  It was always Patrick, who you were meant for.  And the Patrick novel needed more chapters of adventure before the marriage part.  So, male gender, I’ll give you a pass this one time!

I have always been more concerned with who Caroline would marry than she found necessary.   I always had this desire for her to end up with a person who would fit her, wouldn’t stifle her, wouldn’t try to get her to calm down, settle down, and stop dreaming crazy dreams. Someone who would bring out the hilarious side I see, and reassure her of its validity in the world, that her creating laughter is just as important as creating ponderous thoughts.  And, selfishly, I thought her marrying someone that was ‘ok’ would make our time odd or strained, or worst case scenario, that there would be less of it.

But Patrick. Patrick who’s always been around in the best of ways, always been Caroline’s best fit, the moment just waiting to be right so all those puzzle pieces would fall into place.  I told Caroline at William’s wedding, “He just needs to be in our family.  Why don’t you just marry him?” The funny thing is, that premonition was so right.  He fits perfectly into our family.  Patrick who I have loved as a dear friend for years, who insisted I sleep on his air mattress when I slept over at the apartment he shared with his cousin (he slept on the floor).  Patrick who rented a car when I visited over Thanksgiving because he knew I was getting stressed with the subway like a pansy.  Patrick who along with Caroline, somehow thinks that I am both a good dancer and the life of the party, two things I have trouble seeing in myself.  Patrick who is a relentless friend, visiting his tribe often and asking heart questions over skype without that hurriedness I find myself plagued with often.  Dear, dear Patrick.  Who, having somehow drank the Kool-aid that my family’s been drinking for years, is now fully on board with the relentless cheerleading that is the Nichols family.

I told Caroline the other day that, strange as it may be, now when I’m with her and he’s not around, I miss him. Which is strange, because I’ve been around her without him for her whole life! But there’s just something about this great pair, that’s kind of like a 2-for-1 special.  Two creative people, each uniquely helping and filling in the gaps for each other, but together stretching each other to be more, do more, love more.  What they both did so well separately, they are able to do increasingly well together.  Like a 1+1=3 situation.  Them together, they're a pretty unstoppable power couple.

Cheers to Caroline and Pat, my favorite 2-for-1.

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]