when you meet people like us | guest post from Christina

This is a guest post from my sister, Christina. She has good things to say and I’m glad to have her say them here. Read this if you don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting or read this because you want to understand our hurt a little better. 


Caroline, as I’ve said, is the wordsmith.  So much so, that while greeting people at the visitation, I accidentally received many compliments for her beautiful writing, by people who hugged me while saying some version of , “Oh Caroline, I’m so sorry!  And you’re such a beautiful writer!” and I hugged them back, “Oh, you are sweet! But I’m Christina!”

But grief is this weird thing, this weird thing that completely takes over your personality and your world, and you start thinking, “Hey, whatever works.”  Maybe this whole “writing out your thoughts thing and publishing them to the world” helps.  Too many quotes? That’s just the kind of classiness that you get with this brown haired sister.  My beloved sister-in-law and I were talking the other day and I mentioned that I was going to write a blog entitled ‘World’s Least Spiritual Griever.’  This is that blog.

A portion of you who read this blog don’t know us, or at least don’t know us well. And some of you we consider ‘our people’ and you are struggling to love us through this. This post is for both of those groups.  For those of you who don’t know us, read this and keep it in your back pocket for when you meet people like us, people drowning in a sea of sorrow and grief.  For those of you who know us well, the ones we consider ‘our people,’ this is for you too.

To our people: We’re sorry for being weird.  For not calling or texting you back.  For zoning out when we’re talking with you.  For probably waiting too long to send you a thank you for the home-cooked meal you brought over to our homes.  For ruining our conversation with you with our new-found perspective, trying in the softest of ways to let you know that your problem isn’t a real problem, because in your problem everyone is still alive.  We’re sorry that our emotions, the things that upset us, and our demeanor change a million miles a minute. We’re sorry that we won’t commit to plans. We’re sorry that there are only a few people that we can tell the whole story to (because re-living the worst minute/hour/day of your life is something you just can’t do very often). We’re sorry that it’s hard to engage with us, even though you clearly love us very much.

And the things that are probably just me… I’m sorry I almost passed out on my porch when you brought me a meal last night.  I’m sorry I can’t stop apologizing for this new personality that is so radically different than my old one.

We can’t explain why all these things are true, and it’s hard for us to not know when we’ll feel ‘better.’ But I’m afraid it’s going to be a long time.  And that terrifies me.

If you want to help:  Even making this list makes me feel like such a needy person, such a diva.  “Here are the things I need, please do them!” But I have to believe that there are a few people who truly are ‘in this’ with us, awful as it is here, in this place. Assuming I’m correct, this is a list for these people.

Friends, please let us talk about him, and what happened.  Please don’t avoid us because you aren’t sure what to do.  If you are not sure what to do or what to say, can I make a few (more) suggestions?
“How are you doing/ feeling today?”
“This is terrible. I’m so sorry.”
“Sometime I’d love to hear about William”
“What’s one thing I can do to help you/ love you today?”

Let us feel happy and joyful when we have those moments and act normal around us, but gentle.

Let us tell you stories about him and our life with him and make us feel safe doing this, like it’s not weirding you out to hear about this thing that happened, or about him. He was an incredible man (the best I’ve ever known, honestly,) and one of my favorite people in this whole world. I like talking about him.

Invite us to things but don’t be offended when we don’t come. Text us and don’t be offended when we don’t text back.  Call us but don’t be offended when we let it go to voicemail.

Have I mentioned that (if you are close to us) please please ask how we’re doing, and ask about Will? Of course, don’t ask these questions as you quickly pass by.  That’s the worst.

You know what else you could do?  If you really want to step inside this dark cave of terribleness with us? Read about grief a little.  C.S. Lewis’ book ‘A Grief Observed” is incredible.  Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff‎ is also a perfect depiction of grief.

Crazy, unhelpful things sometimes burst out of people’s mouths.  We have tons of grace for this… sometimes.  Flippant comments about different things making it ‘worth it’ or different reasons why we should be thankful, those are tough to hear, because we are living in a nightmare and nothing is a fair exchange. Some things you will try with good intent and those things will go very wrong.  But please still try them?

One thing you can assume…

We are not ‘doing well.’ We are not ‘handling it.’ We are not confident of anything right now.  We’re losing it and at least this grieving sister has spent multiple hours in the last week considering vintage motorcycle and/or treehouse tattoos and searching online for girl baby names that start with the letters ‘Will.’

So, that also happened.


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

come | he will not cast us out

In the pale darkness of our Brooklyn bedroom, we prayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come, He will not cast us out.”


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

 

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.

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.

Will | a remembrance from Sam

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

William Mark Nichols | the dash between the dates

William Mark Nichols was born on September 30, 1986 to Dick and Cindy Nichols. He was the fourth of five in their original tribe of seven (that continues to expand) who grew up on the little dairy farm outside Lewis, Iowa.

Mediocre did not exist in his vocabulary. From the time he could walk, William’s mischief was worthy of superlatives. His imagination led him to search through cupboards, toolboxes and engines to create things like a lawn mower go-cart, a telephone pole cabin, and a giant, floating dock called the Hornswaggler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.