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 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.