a deep and bellowing good

I am not prepared for this, for Advent. Last week we feasted and gave thanks and it was the starkest thanks I've ever offered, I think. It was rickety and raw, like the rusty farm gates on my childhood farm. It was a functional thankfulness that felt very different than singing "Count Your Many Blessings" with all my aunts and uncles and cousins in the basement of Grandpa's house. No less abundant (my head tells my heart) but very much different.

I think that's okay.

A special place had been prepared for each guest and our table boasted a capacity crowd. The whole day was arranging and baking and tasting, folding special printed napkins and finding/ironing the tablecloth we bought at Fat Albert's, the neighborhood "everything" store. Olive branches hung from string lights above us and the Feast of Thanks groove mix mingled between our shoulders.

I blinked it all in behind candlelight and treasured the rickety emotions for later sorting (ahem... still sorting). We represented a collection of states and histories and families and stories, memories and pains and wounds and griefs. But we were all present and belonging at this table set for us.

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There's a little snapshot of the crowd gathered. We were present, each of us breathing and eating under a canopy of twinkle lights in a Brooklyn apartment in the middle of New York.

And now it is Advent - that season where we prepare to remember that God sent His Son to be born into this world. God sent His Son to breathe and cry and joy and struggle and feast and gather and mourn here, on this very earth.

My heart is sluggish and resistant to the idea of anticipation, but just today I realized how I have been very desperately looking for signs of life for a while now... looking for proof that life is good. Not family portrait good or campfire songs good, but a deep and bellowing good - the kind that carves the grooves my grief runs through. And here, in Advent, is God's affirmation.

Earth was not just a good enough place for the Son of the Creator of the Universe. God sent His Son to get bruised knees and dusty feet and a full belly in a place that He still loves, for a people He still loves.

Advent has always been good news of great joy because I remember God's provision in Christ - that God invited us in our sin to meet our Savior. But, this year I needed to feel God's deep and bellowing affirmation that life on earth is not a consolation prize. We are not in a waiting pattern for something better, later, next, sometime, future.

In the middle of strife and sick and thorns and death and my rickety thanks, God is affirming that His redemption has already started. He is still knitting life together in wombs. Today, I heard a heartbeat in mine. That static-y "wooga wooga" sound is nothing like pleasantries and everything like bellowing affirmation.

I signed up for counseling today and my scattered heart needs it, but this was a special kind of therapy in a doctor's office on 46th Street. I was squeezing Patrick's hand and we were both watching life wiggle around inside my belly. "Oh, so active!" they said. We giggled and marveled and asked silly questions. And God affirmed, deeper than all my efforts to be okay or move forward or understand.

And it's all very complicated, but I am holding on to that affirmation that God is making new life, because that somehow affirms all the lives that He is sustaining.

I can't believe I am awake past midnight. Pregnancy is beautiful, but pregnancy is also super weird. At least I had some good Christmas tunes to keep this late night company.

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Psalm prayers + silent Saturdays

I am glad for Psalm prayers I don't write and for Saturdays where silence can really stretch out. I didn't realize I was whispering at the bagel shop until the sweet red-haired girl leaned in closer and raised her eyebrows over tortoise shell Warby Parkers, "Sorry, hon, what did you say?" "Um, ehm.. I'd like an egg and avocado..."

"Oh, you want number 4 on 7 grain? Anything else?"

I felt like a child whose mom sent her out for eggs and this redhead knew I was breaking the rules. But I just bought a Dirt Devil and I'm hosting Thanksgiving, so I read the [free copy of the] New York Times like I belonged in the adult world. I picked up a few groceries on my way home. And when I got home, I stayed. I baked and pureed pumpkin, hand wrote a few cards, made brown sugar+cinnamon+chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow, put away dishes and drank tea. (Okay, I also ate four Oreos but I did not feel good about that). At some point in the middle of the candlelit silence, I read this:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7 ESV)

And I breathed prayers without any new words. All these Psalm words are prayers enough and my words can't get that big. My words can't make heavens and my breath can't make host to fill them. The waters ignore my commands and the deeps don't respond. Only God can do this. And only God would want to cause this kind of creation commotion when He needs no one and no thing.

I feel very created today, very in my place.

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

Why is the One who gathers the waters in a heap also my help and shield? And how is He that?

The radiator is hissing in the corner, sputtering like antique apartment heaters do. It feels selfish to stay indoors, but I don't feel well and I can't remember the last day when I didn't have plans. I suppose that is an excuse. Scripture needs silent space and time. I came to no conclusions and wrote no prayers; I don't feel better or wiser. But I am remembering. I remember who the Lord says that He is. And I remember that I trust Him.

I trust that He is God and He has not given up on His redemption plan. He is very much in the middle of making all things new - old things and dead things and dry bones and this old, stubborn heart.

I've been a lot of inward lately. Last week, I was walking out of the subway after a frustrating stop-and-go "We are delayed because of train traffic ahead. We apologize for any inconvenience" situations. I was bundled and hunched and leaving sighs on the sidewalk when someone touched my arm and pulled me close. Patrick was leaving to go to work, but caught me just in time to say, "Hey, I love you." I hoped that he couldn't see all the self-pity in my face because the streetlight lit up his and it was full of the best husband love.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1 ESV)

Sometimes living is labor. I don't mean working the 9-5. I mean just living. I let Psalm 127:1 sing over some of the silence today until it felt like my deeps started to listen.

And I remember. Unless the Lord builds the house (read: plans, days, vocation, prayer, family, community), I will labor in vain. My building efforts end up being for my own glory or my own preservation or my own pride. But, the Lord - He is a great builder and none of His plans go to waste. None.

It is still Saturday and there is a bit of it left to savor.


To read more from my grief journey, you can find those posts here.

a simple, pressing whisper

I lost it in church yesterday. Classic, on-the-way-to-communion breakdown. It had something to do with Ephesians 2 and the sermon turning over soil I had let harden in my soul. It had something to do with Taryn singing "Although we are weeping, Lord help us keep sowing the seeds of Your kingdom..." It had something to do with remembering what it is to be human, I guess. Mostly that.

God has been pursuing me these weeks while I hide in crowded subway cars and underneath early winter layers. He has been pursuing me with a simple, pressing whisper, "I am still holding things together."

It is a hard whisper to hear with winter creeping in, painting everything in greys beyond the concrete that already colors this city. It is a hard whisper to hear in grief. But, God has been pursuing me in these weeks with this whisper to consider that He is still in the middle of making all things new.

Even if I close my eyes against it, God is still making beautiful things.

I keep coming back to Colossians 1, where it says of Christ,

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

All things were created through him and for him. Every new life and every mustard seed breaking the earth's surface and every wave crashing the coast, all these are confirmations that He is still creating and He still has good plans.

Sometimes, like now, I have to gulp that down with two word prayers for more belief. O, God. Are you? Is this? Please come. Be here. Show me. Still me. Show yourself.

But I can't blink it away.

He is actively holding all things together because His design is good. He persists in holding us together as we persist in breaking things apart or as we get broken apart. He persists and does not abandon His creation, but not for pity. He persists because He will always be about the work of restoring creation to its original dignity.

That's what our pastor talked about in church yesterday - that God persisted and pursued when we thought brokenness was the end of our story, the defining moment.  But He doesn't rescue us out of our brokenness. He does the opposite. He holds us together inside of it.

in the habit of naming good

"Our task in the present ... is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second." N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope

Then came the morning, today. Somewhere far away from city clouds, the rhythm God set in motion so long ago woke up like it was waiting for the rest of the sentence.

...then came the morning.

I started thinking on the phrase when Lone Bellow released a single by that name from their upcoming album. It's so weird that you can't resist the morning.

Like a light, like a stone rolled away... the morning.

Jesus's resurrection happened in the morning, after that third day. Seems like it was the most fitting way for him to conquer death, with the sunrise as a backdrop after night took over at noon the day before. And we are supposed to be resurrection people - baptized into the very resurrection of Jesus to live transformed lives - lives lit with the rhythm of the morning.

But that sounds way more glorious then sewing the seam of my shirt at work today, hunched in front of my computer monitor and trying to appear nonchalant about the rip that I can only blame on my hips. It sounds more triumphant than my sob session after church on Sunday with a dear friend who stood in front of me until I got all my sorrow out.

But I can't resist the morning. It is God's clock, the sunrise timepiece He throws over this little earth at the beginning of every day. Sometimes, I shut my eyes and shake my head and furrow my brow against it, like the valiant efforts of a stubborn child. And then sometimes, giggles get out and eyes open wide on a bike ride back from Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue - down the stretch of hills and green lights before Empire. I biked right into that little bit of resurrection sunrise at 11 pm and I said, "This is good."

It is good to name good.

Maybe it is another way to be image bearers, to be fully human - to name good without any qualifiers or reservations or conditional statements. Because, in the beginning everything was good. God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the stars, the plants and creatures and oceans and lands, and then He said, "This is good." Then He made humans and said, "This is very good." There is power in his "good" declaration and we are invited into it as His image bearers. There are still good things here, on earth. All the "good" is not gone from God's declaration and we (resurrection people) are invited to name all the "good" things about God's design.

But, boy, is it hard.

I am praying to get more in the habit of naming "good," believing that God has not forgotten what He so carefully designed. I know because... then came the morning.

teach me to know

The trees lit up in shades like candles on a cake in the quiet of Maine. Quiet had a sound on those winding backroads and hiking trails and it was the perfect escape. After work last Friday, Patrick scooped me up into a North-bound surprise in a rented VW Jetta with 21 miles on it. I thought about putting pen to paper a few times, but I didn't. It was a weekend like a benediction, that deserved my palms face up and free of distraction. And I relented. I gave in. I let sunshine joy freckle my cheeks through the windshield and forest joy crunch under my feet and marriage joy come at me from all sides. It has been pressing in for a while now, but I have been resisting. I still am, I guess - resisting joy.

And that's strange because joy has never been this hard... joy is something I thought I really understood. And then I got married. And then my mom called to say my brother died. And now things are complicated. The reality is, things were complicated before, but it felt easier to regulate when I only had to explain things to myself. If I didn't feel joy, I believed it was there anyway and I pushed through with gritted teeth. I sometimes got silent or reflective and I sometimes hid away until the clouds cleared, but I was almost proud that I knew my way around joy.

Now there is someone in my life whose joy is wrapped up in my joy. My sadness and silence and sour days can actually hurt him - that is how much my husband cares about my joy. There are, maybe, legitimate reasons to resist joy (or at least reasons for tension) - like grief. But then there are very selfish and very proud reasons to resist joy and I am ashamed to say I know all the reasons. To make things more complicated, I care about Patrick's joy too. I want him to be full of the most possible joy.

And being married feels like the craziest experiment in the human condition - both the condition of being image bearers of God and the condition of being broken by sin. It's like putting everything most precious to two people inside a clothes dryer and cranking to high heat. Maybe it's not like that. Maybe it's more like what Paul says in Romans, "I do not understand myself. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

I can't tell you how badly I want to step into joy, because I know joy is strength and delight... but also because I know Patrick cares so much about my joy. And it doesn't make any sense to resist it. Not a bit of sense.

We were making our way back to the city on Sunday and the air in that little rental car was getting crowded. As buildings stretched up into skylines instead of trees, I squirmed under the weight of city living. In the last miles of colorful highway driving, I rocked deep to this song - as deep as one can rock in the passenger seat of a traffic jam. My favorite dusk colors were getting painted across the sky and my favorite human was all delight behind the wheel.

The "carried away" part is like the beats of my soul when I resist joy - carried away by questions and doubts and fears and failures. And I can feel my fingernails pressing into my palms. Carried away. The weekend was like a benediction, one I received with open hands and one that made me aware of my everyday posture - the regular way I hold my hands and keep my heart. Ahem... nails in palms and carried away. I swayed extra because I wanted that lesson of open palms and numbering days to get stuck in my soul. Almost a week later and I have bad news to report. Looks like this is a daily declaration, friends. And some days my declaration sounds more like a question.

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I am praying that the Lord would teach me to number my days - not to know how many, but to believe that He does. Praying, believing, trusting, living, believing, praying, hoping, waiting. All these things.

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

 

there is a crack in the door filled with light

If God is on my side, who could be against me?

I'll tell you who - apathy and grief and sadness and confusion and depression and discontent, especially discontent. That's who. These are all "against me."

It's gonna get good and honest, friends. First, you should play this song by NEEDTOBREATHE that I danced to in my living room last week. I didn't even care that the curtains weren't all the way closed and our 5-feet-away neighbors could probably see me stretching out in homemade modern dance moves on slippery hardwood floors. It's okay, they clearly don't care that we can see them.

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Well, this is officially the weirdest part of my grief story (does it keep getting weirder?) - the part where I am still living, where I still have appointments and things coming up on the weekends and plans for this summer. This is the weirdest part of grief and it wrings at my insides usually when I am least prepared. Like when we watched a beautiful, northern New York sun sink behind mountains on Sunday or every time I walk in the door after a full day of work and see the excitement in my husband's eyes because I am home.

People will find me after this post - perfectly lovely and well meaning folks - and they will say, "Give yourself time, Caroline. Give yourself grace to feel whatever you need to feel." I get that, or at least I think I am starting to. But, I also feel the Spirit telling me to preach Romans to my fickle heart. Grief isn't a trump card to "do whatever you want until you feel like doing something else." I don't get to sin that grace might increase.

And it isn't all grief. That is the worst part.

I think am afraid of being content. I am afraid, I guess, that being "ok" where I am professionally, creatively, and intellectually means I have given up on everything I haven't accomplished. I think I was/am afraid that this is it. I guess I want what everyone else wants: purpose, joy, fulfillment, significance. And grief makes me want all those things more while sapping my strength to chase like I could when I was less weary. So, I am afraid to be fully where I am if that place is too humble or too confused or even just too regular.

But there is a crack in the door filled with light.

I am learning about joy. There have been sweet times in my life where I think I felt the full freedom of joy and then there are times when I would rather slum it in the wasteland then turn my head towards the light. I would rather proudly declare the things that are dark than step into the light of the open doorway. Marriage is teaching me these things about joy and it is painful. I didn't think I would be so resistant to my own benefit.

Pat is so patient and encouraging as I sort out my grumbles. He reminds me often that joy is a choice because God is not different in dark times. God is not less light or less provision. God is the same and He is all we need to get by, really.

There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament, one of my favorites. It's actually in that long and tedious book of Numbers (21). The Israelites, all grumbles, are out in the desert. The whole freshly exodus-ed group was telling Moses they thought it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to wander around in the wilderness (as free people with miracle food falling from heaven). Then they started to notice snakes at their ankles, snakes that bit people and bites that took their lives. The people came back to Moses and pleaded for him to do something - to speak on their behalf to God (who they knew they had offended). God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole and to tell the people that whoever would look up at the pole would live. And that's what happened - some looked up and some didn't, but the snakes still swerved at their ankles.

I really relate to this grumble-heavy waywardness. After being saved from a tyrant and preserved in the wilderness, the Israelites doubt that God can/will provide for them, for their joy. To experience God's provision, the people had to obey His Word. The snakes stayed, but He saved those who believed His word because God is a promise keeper.

I wonder... I wonder how they talked about that snake-saving event - if later they said, "I am looking at the bronze serpent and I am not dying, but boy are there so many snakes around my ankles." Because, that's where I feel I am.

My pride keeps me from stepping into the light of joy because I really like to remember how hard it is with all these snakes. It's hard to fully step into the provision of marriage joy and work joy and friendship joy and creation joy... because half my heart wants to talk about snakes at my ankles.

The point of "God is on my side" is not that there is no one against me. The point is that God is sovereign over everything that is against me. There is not a single snake or emotion or creative brick wall that is more powerful or able to steal the joy God provides. If God is on my side, which snake can prevail?

I'd like to stand in that crack of the door filled with light - to make statements about joy that aren't quickly qualified by snakes at my ankles. I'd like to bring the grief and grumpiness of me into that shaft of light and believe that His light is  enough to cast out all darkness forever.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

joy, the rhythm of God's metronome

Yes, Schmemann, I believe it is. Joy is the Christian answer to the "serious problems" of life itself. But it can't be faked or smashed into a day that looks in on itself. Joy cannot get celebrated when it is about a birthday or about a national holiday or about vacation time. Joy is the answer to the serious problems of life because it is always looking to Christ - back to the work of the cross that looks forward to our hope of eternity. Joy is our anticipation of what we taste but cannot grasp on this side of heaven.

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I want to live, but not like the short breaths of a bucket list

I'm staring at a square box at the end of a grid of square boxes that says today we celebrate William being born. I've been staring at that box all day, in my mind. During all the lame office emergencies and in between the tip-tap typing of emails... Yes, I'll write those meeting notes for you, Ed. Sure, I'll create a new job number for that client. Ok, I'll have that little envelope sent by messenger. Everything is dust because I'm staring at a square box in my mind, a blank square box because William is not alive inside of it to be celebrated. And it feels wrong.

It is Tuesday and then it will be Wednesday and then Saturday will come and then more days after that. The days are drunk, blurring slurs with excuses about all the ways my body refuses to be productive.

I can't seem to make any progress on the list - that growing list of normal, important, useful things - because my body is all the meaning of the word "weight." And it is effort to pull it up, make it walk and talk and dance and think and smile. It is effort I don't have in me.

I am called to live.

It was the phrase repeating in my head to the question printed on the guide in my lap last week. We were meditating on Acts 3, on the way Peter and John fixed their gaze on the lame man and offered him something other than what he was begging for. The guide was asking us what we are to do with our eyes and hands and hearts in this city. I could only speak in my head, but it was just that phrase, "I am called to live."

I am not convinced I know what that means, but it feels important. And it mostly feels important by default. I still have breath. I'm here on the day my brother was born and I am breathing while he is not. So, it must be a calling. God formed me 29 years ago and has since not stopped breathing life into my bones. He is actively preserving me from death today, at least for right now. Maybe calling that a "calling" is wrong, but it is that phrase that keeps repeating.

Being back in Brooklyn reminds me how much breath there is here. So many humans and all with breath in their bones - so many folks with life happening to them because God is declaring it so. I don't know who is really living - it's hard to tell. I work with the moneymakers. They are happy sometimes and very unhappy other times, but they are always at the office. I live with my neighbors and my friends and all the subway riders. They have their good days and their bad days, but they (we, most of us) are always in a hurry. I wonder who is really living and who is confident to define "really living" anyway?

I want to be alive.

I don't mean I want to skydive and eat tarantulas. This calling that is happening to me and not happening to my brother feels bigger than extreme sport clichés. I don't want to feel alive with breath catching in my lungs like a bucket list.

I want the most core, purest essence, the singlest bottom line of all of it. I want to sidle up to the very breath of life - the slows and fasts and quiets and louds of it. I want every moment I am present to be as heavy as every moment he is absent. I want the same heaviness without any marketing or mottos or catchy repeating choruses.

We must be a wayward mess of our calling. I am, anyway. Because I can't catch the slows and fasts on the right beat. I can't seem to run to the right finish line. I can't pick up the right groceries for this calling. I've Amelia Bedelia-ed the whole thing - always flopping wild toward what I think is life in my apron with half-baked cookies. And we are a whole city of flopping, frenzied messes chasing life and breathing in just enough of it to flop and frenzy some more.

Life must be about getting close, like a nail under a hammer inside a board, to the One giving us all this breath. The steps are messier than chronology because days are like years and my brother is not here for his birthday. And if I was a beggar today by the entrance to the temple when Peter and John walked by, I would be asking for Will. I would have hands outstretched, asking for someone to bring him back to his wife and his family and his friends. And if Peter and John fixed their gaze on me, they'd probably say something like, "William I do not have, but what I do have I give to you..."

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:6-10 ESV)

I don't know what that means for my "calling," except that William will never come back. I'm not called to search for him. I know where he is, because he believed in eternity and he believed that Jesus prepared a place for him there by going to the cross. He is having the best birthday with the One who made him - all the mechanical brilliance and adventurous spunk of him. But, here, I am still breathing. I have a hole in my left, black sock and I haven't changed out of my Manhattan work clothes yet, but I am still breathing.

The closest I can think - the nail under the hammer in the board - is knowing that same Lord, the one who is deciding to give me breath. The rest of it is still suffering to make sense - the minutes in every day and the celebrations and the guilt when I get paralyzed. The rest, outside of knowing the God who gives me breath, still feels like a thousand faces staring at me on the subway.

I am called to live. And I'll start by trying to know the Life-Giver.

I have a place to start and that's something. As far as I know, I have a box inside a grid of boxes called October and I would like each one to prove that I am alive.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

this is my father's world

We are in a class called the Brooklyn Fellows and it meets on Mondays. Last winter, when we were applying to be a part of it, the whole "Mondays" thing was a big deal. It meant we could only host Pancake Mondays once/month. Cutting back on the "thing" that is making me love New York felt like a weird step forward, but we thought meeting with a group of folks who also voluntarily applied to something with a required reading list and syllabus was a good enough idea. This past weekend, we gathered with this group around a long table and before we started our discussion on a very thick Church History book (that neither Patrick nor I finished) we sang this song.

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This group of strangers and friends, this city, this body, this mountain, this sea, this grief, this joy, this song, this day, this sorrow, this job, this sunshine, and this. 

This. All of this.

I know the sound of His sweet song of praise - the melody of rocks and trees and skies and seas. I can recognize the joyful tune that creation sings and I have often sung along. These are words believers sing - strong words that proclaim a funny paradox. None of this is mine. There is not a particle I can claim, of the beauty I see. Even my own body is not my own because it was bought with a price.

Still, I rush all my particles up against the gravity pushing me down to say, "Not my this. Please let this alone so I can hold it close!" That is when I feel the funny paradox the most. None of this is mine, not even the thoughts I hoard like jewels. But all of this He shares with me. That's a lot of this. And it just expanded more than the weight of the world in the last two and a half months.

... That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. 

This is my Father’s world, why should my heart be sad?  The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad. 

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.  In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known. 

This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam  Whate’er my lot, it matters not,  My heart is still at home. 

This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:  Jesus who died shall be satisfied,  And earth and Heav’n be one.

When this includes deserts and wrongs and sadness and battles on battles, the last lines of "My Father's World" become especially important. Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav'n be one. The depth of this is infinitely deeper now because He includes us in His inheritance. Everything I can grasp and hold and hoard in this world pales to that union of earth and heaven becoming one.

But, what I am grappling with today is much more tangible, much more temporary and tactile. There is joy here, in all of this. God did not stop keeping promises when my world got full of grief. He did not stop being abundant life. God did not stop authoring laughter or dancing or sunshine or autumn breezes. He still authors all those things.

This world - all the beauty and all the ugly - is His and He will hear our groans until earth and Heav'n are one. Until then, I will sing, "God is the ruler yet."


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

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.

the gravity of grief weight

He picked around the cashews on the table and instead chose the peanuts, pecans, and almonds. Cashews are my favorite and he was leaving them for me.

We had biked to our pastor's apartment in a rush and I was flustered about our handfuls of changed Saturday plans. He let us sit there, my new husband and me, and think of things to say or not say. So, the stillness sunk in with the late morning sun streaming through all the circle windows. With sweat still on the backs of our shirts, we heard Vito say, "What do you want to talk about?"

We didn't know, exactly. We just knew we should talk, so we shrugged into conversation about marriage and transition and new things and... well, and grief.

I didn't think I could put fingers to keys again, at least for awhile. I had to let her words sit with me first. I had to let my shoulders in Brooklyn feel all the weight on hers in Davis. I had to try, anyway. I had to notice, slowly, all her torn apart-ness. All the ways they were one. I had to try, anyway. I had to try because I want to hurt the right way, with the right amount of hope and the right amount of grief and the right amount of tears. 

Of course there is no such thing, just the salt water crystallizing my eyelashes and the runny slobber wetting my keyboard. There are just the traffic signals on busy streets and the emotionless subway schedules and the memories unpacked from boxes in our new apartment. There are just the pictures in piles and the voicemail snippets and all the hot white silence in the air when my mind asks questions without permission. There are just those things.

Those things and the cashews stranded on the cutting board Saturday morning in the middle of our pastor's dining room table, next to the little bowl of sweet honey and a few green apple slices. It felt good to be exposed. It felt good to sit in air that wasn't figured out - to search for words and find nothing. It felt good to get unraveled and not fight for tidy endings.

Those cashews. My eyes kept drifting over the table and landing on those cashews.

It is strange that I am whole. It is strange that for almost exactly two months, I am one with someone I love more than anything on earth and that he knows cashews are my favorite. It is strange to feel this new one-ness when my sister Grace is torn apart. Weight on top of weight on top of the new gravity of grief weight. 

I filled a $95 prescription for eye drops today. No more contacts for awhile, until these drops clear away the grief stripes. But, they will stay there, behind all the white and behind all the ways the world is still striving to make sense.

And grief is okay because death is not normal.

Truth is like sandpaper sometimes and ocean waves and steep ravines and caves and breaking dawn of a new day. Sometimes the natural arc in the true story is carried on the back of an ant inside a grand canyon. And sometimes our hearts don't make sense.

No matter how hard we try, but we try anyway. We try and we believe and then we pray for more belief.


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

a guest post from Grace

"I am Grace. And I will do my best."

That was how Grace introduced herself from the stage at Will's memorial service. I can still hear her soft, strong voice; I can still see her firm stance and steady smile. She wore a dress with a flower print that day and I loved her for it. I love her for many things - for the way her decisions are full of purpose and her words are carefully chosen, for her patience with all of us who are grieving someone we loved while she is grieving her own self... because she is the only one who loved Will as her own body.

I am humbled to post her words here and honored that she shared them. She, like Christina, insists that she is not a writer. But if either wrote a book, I would be the first in line to buy. I am learning about truth and honesty from them both.


As I drove down the country road toward the town of Davis, CA and away from the home my husband and I had just moved into, I grew more anxious about my first counseling session. I felt ill-prepared. Having never gone to a counselor before I realized that maybe I should have prepared goals or thought more about what questions I might have or come up with a succinct way of describing what ‘my situation’ is.

When I parked, I flipped quickly through the few pages I had journaled since Will died (I don’t journal… I think maybe my last journal entry was from junior high) to see if I had put down any thoughts I should share during my hour session. I sat anxiously in the waiting room until the clock read 3 and a kind-faced woman came out and introduced herself to me. The moment I sat down on the couch a blend of tears and snot began its descent down my face.

I never quite know the source of these outbursts any more… this one I tried to explain to her was, yes, due in part to anguish, but also because the task of relating who I was, who Will was, and who we became together seemed an insurmountable task. I hate that interview question, “Please tell me a little about yourself.” What do you say, how can you convey all the nuances of yourself to someone in words? How do you know what is relevant? And how do you not come across as prideful? When she inevitably asked me that question, I gave her the bullet points of my life….

“To start with, I’m an introvert. I was born in California to Christ loving parents, I have one older brother, we moved to Iowa when I was in elementary school, my mom died in a car accident when I was 15, I was an incredibly shy and self-conscious teenager, I enjoyed sports and especially running, I met Will the summer after high school when I was a counselor at a Christian summer camp where he was the director, we dated long-distance for 4 years while I went to school at UC Davis, we got married after I graduated college, my grandma passed away from cancer just a month ago, and Will and I had been married almost 3 years when he died in a car accident driving home after a late night at work.”

But what I couldn’t convey…. what I couldn’t say because the thunder of sobs was closing in…. was who I became because of Will. I couldn’t express that it was because of Will that I, that we, became more fully the people God intended us to be. I couldn’t express that without him I don’t know who I am or what life is supposed to be…. and that I’m not ready for a life that is not the one Will and I had planned together. The life that now includes chickens and a big community garden on the property where we just recently decided to rent a tiny house, the life where we were going to build a home and have little curly-haired children with big Nichols-thighs, the life where we were going to continue to love and serve God and one another.

I’ve been trying to sort out the mess in my head. And let me just say, I don’t typically have the patience for this kind of introspective stuff. It’s like my head contains shelves that, in the earthquake of loss, memories and emotions got tipped off and are now intermingling on the dusty floor. Sorting and sifting through the wreckage and reconciling God’s truths to my heart is HARD. And through reading and praying and journaling and thinking aloud to my counselor God has faithfully shown me that He is present, even now as I’m working to sort through the pieces that don’t make sense.

One of the truths about God that I’m wrestling with is that God is sovereign. Tim Keller describes it well in his book called Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering when he says, “But the Bible depicts history as 100% under God’s purposeful direction, and yet filled with human beings who are 100% responsible for their behavior—at once.” So God offers comfort in the truth that He is in control.

To be honest, that is a truth I am on my knees praying for and at the same time can’t bear to accept. It is a truth that says ‘Will’s death was not an accident because I knew the number of his days.’ Guilt has consumed me the past weeks knowing that if I were less selfish I would have insisted to Will that he stay in Reno at a hotel to get some sleep before driving home or that I should have insisted to Will that he call me so I could help keep him awake while he drove. But knowing that God knew the number of Will’s days offers freedom from that guilt. The truth of God’s sovereignty also says ‘I intended you to experience the loss of your love and to live life as a widow.’ This is something I’m not quite ready to be ok with. I know that I’m not the same person. Though I’m not ready to know this new person, this widow, quite yet. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the person I was with Will, because he was the best part of me.

The last part of the truth about God’s sovereignty, the one that is most important, is that God had determined that Jesus would die on the cross to offer redemption for our sins. And because I know and believe this truth I know one day I will depart to be in Heaven where I will be face to face with Jesus and in perfect community with William and all the other Christ-believers who will have gone before me, experiencing ultimate joy and fulfillment. Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven has been so good to read and has brought so much peace. Up until now, I’ve always just considered Heaven to be preferable to Hell and left it at that. But wow…. I feel that finally I am understanding Paul when he tells the Philippians that he desires to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23).

Will, the morning after he proposed to me and before he had to hop back on a plane to Iowa, wrote me a note on my computer than I recently rediscovered. And the last line is one that I’m holding onto each moment. He said,

“Know that I love you, and although parting is always very painful, when we see each other once again it will be all the sweeter.”

This ‘parting’ has been very painful and the road ahead will be difficult, but I will choose to continue to ask God for the endurance to run the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1) with my eyes fixed on the goal, Heaven.


Find all the writings on grief 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.

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.

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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.

praying for more belief

I've been sleeping a lot. They tell me, "Sorrow is exhausting," so I guess a twelve hour stretch of slumber is allowed. The days are perfection, hovering at 70 with dreamy cloud cover and begging to be biked. We stuffed my purple, craigslisted road bike into the trunk on our return trip from Iowa, so now I get a better wind return for my energy investment. But I get tired even on perfect days.

I've been reading through old posts lately, like this post I wrote on Black Friday, the day Will and Grace came to visit. I felt like I had really climbed inside Lent, like sadness was a weight I wore for clothes. It was heavy and I couldn't wait to trade it for white lilies on Resurrection Sunday. But it is strange looking back now at these words...

This is the darkest day, but there is hope on the horizon. There are rays hiding behind the dark sky, lit by the glory of the Creator – our God who knew all along that there would be a resurrection. And the resurrection lights the way for our love of one another.

All those days in Lent when I felt weighed down by solidarity with Christ feel like feathers now. It's like Black Friday happened again, or is happening, or is some sort of constant, awful undercurrent.

It can get mechanical, navigating grief. The deepest feelings I had before now feel like dramatics. But I know this is not the case. I know in my head that it was the blackest day when Christ died. I know we are not mourning without hope, because I know Christ did not stay dead.

But we are mourning.

And it is hard to be selfless. It is hard to take a genuine interest in the welfare of others, to think eternal thoughts and love without condition. Those were hard things before grief.

I feel it the worst with Patrick and our less-than-two-months marriage. I want to blame my bad communication and silent treatment on mourning. I want to crawl inside my sadness and away from the tension of hope, even for a little bit. I want for him to know what I need, magically, without me saying a word and I want for him to know when that changes. Grief is tempting as a great excuse for sin, maybe, and it is stretching us to the maximum.

We never got tickets to that "honeymoon phase" people talk about. But I do remember, on the worst day of my life, what it felt like to be held by someone I trusted completely. We had been married less than one month when we got the news that my brother (and my husband's best friend) had died. Neither of us decided to let the other inside the pain, it just happened. I let my grief press up against his chest and I let his consolation cover me while I rambled incomplete sentences and tried to keep afternoon appointments. I never once wondered if I could trust him with all this, I just did.

I found this post recently from the same week leading up to Easter.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. This God, who loved the world so much that He threw His seed to the earth to be sown in death. The evidence is in the palms of His hands and the scars on His sides.

The resurrection is waiting on the other side like the buds breaking through dead branches and the sprouts peeking out from dry ground. Resurrection is hiding, buried safe in God’s plan for redemption.

This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. I am learning that life, sometimes, is still frightening... while you are believing. So, we pray for more belief. In our marriage, we pray for more belief that God is keeping His promise to us so we can keep our promises to one another. In our family, we are praying for more belief so we can be support and love when we feel weak. In our friends and neighbor circles, we are praying for more belief to talk about the weird tension of mourning and hope and all the in-between that makes no sense.

That last line is heavy, "This week is about death, but it was always about life to God." It's about Christ on the cross, but it is also about Will because he became new when he trusted Jesus. The death in him was gone when he believed Christ stood in death's place on his behalf.

This is what I know and what I believe, but I am praying for belief that brings peace when this trade doesn't make sense.

Note: I'm not sure how much this grief needs written out, but maybe you'll be patient with me as I do some sorting. 


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.