like magic

Everyone warned me – these kids were going to go ballistic when they left their mom.

My heart melted a little bit when the little guy practically raced into my arms at daycare; it was like he knew where we were headed. We gathered up all the day’s things (and mercy! the day has so many papers and mittens and shoes and stray toys) and then we gathered sister and got into the car.

I had been told they didn’t do well in the car, especially little Mr. Man. But apparently the other folks didn’t know the secret. The little fusses almost immediately died down when we set out on the road and I cranked the tunes.

It was like magic.

I saw heads bopping and I think I heard a few notes floating around in the backseat, too. We got into a groove, those kiddos and me. I finger played my steering wheel like animal on the drum and that was a big hit. Sister shouted accounts of the day’s events while brother cooed and I multi-tasked my prayers for safety and peace and joy and the classic “help!” And we made it. We pulled up still friends with dry faces.

After the visit with mom, we gathered all the day’s things once again (how they can get multiplied and strewn about, I do not know) and I braced myself for the breakdown. I had been warned that it would get apocalyptic up in my car once they said goodbye. I got quiet and let the farewells fill all the space in the air. Mom loves these littles, of that I am sure.

They got belted in my backseat and there was a moment we just kind of teetered there on the cliff. Would we fall over that edge and spend the car ride in apocalypse freefall or would we fly instead?

The music accompanied our ascent and we sang all the way home.

It was like magic.

Why is this round trip car ride so significant? Does it deserve to be published into anonymity on the internet? I say yes and let me tell you why.

These little ones have had life ripped out from under them like a rug. Everything familiar and everything “home” is no longer true – it’s all turned upside down. Nothing is as it should be and no one makes sense when they try to explain it to their sweet little souls.

And then they get into my car and I get overwhelmed at the moments we share. What do I say? How do I pour out dump trucks of love when they are belted in the backseat and we only have 30 minutes? How do I become someone familiar?

I’ve never been so thankful for Christian radio in my life. We sing, I drum, they hum, and we all bop our heads to the sound of truth making melody.

The reality is I don’t know. I just don’t know how to make them believe they are precious and all this mix up isn’t their fault. I don’t know how to tell them that their little people world is turned upside down because some big people made bad choices. I don’t know how to make them understand there is a God who made them, loves them, and wants to be known by them.

And so we sing.
And I pray with broken heart that the truth sinks in: Jesus loves them and keeps every promise He makes.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy


Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout Your name in victory
When we love, when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around
These are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us, who will be like Jesus
To the least of these
If not us tell me who will be like Jesus
Like Jesus to the least of these

**As part of my job, I regularly supervise interactions between children and parents with the hope that they can be reunified after the issues have been resolved.

keeping the main thing the main thing

Does anyone else (you can admit it silently – I won’t tell) have a hard time keeping the main thing the main thing when it comes to the holidays? That’s a phrase my childhood pastor would use: “keep the main thing the main thing” – and it’s a phrase that reclaims what should be simple about our faith: Christ.

Christ is always central, always best, and always worthy of celebrationAlways. Our celebration is not confined to seasons, but there is a special place for greater focus and greater reflection. Christmas is such a season and one in danger of being overshadowed by family plans, casseroles, stressful travel arrangements, Aunt Georgia’s dinner table conversation, and last minute purchases. 

Friends, today I am going to issue a bit of a challenge: don’t give in.

When Satan tries to steal today by overwhelming you with earthly expectations and burnt pumpkin pies, respond by treasuring Christ. If your family gets caught up in tradition and the schedule gets as overstuffed as the turkey, respond by treasuring Christ.

Let’s treasure Christ in our traditions and hold everything else loosely

Whether you are the one cooking the turkey or the one in charge of setting up the Christmas tree, this message by Noel Piper reminds us that traditions are Scriptural and so are holidays. Remember how beautifully the Israelites carried out their festivals and feasts? The Lord blessed those gatherings as special times set apart to rejoice with community and remember His provision for them.

As you are washing dishes or picking up the house or setting out that wooden block nativity set your grandpa made, think about ways you might treasure tradition instead of Christ. If you are struggling to keep Christ in the center, consider doing this (free) Advent Devotional

And, just so you know – you are not exempt from this encouragement if you do not have children. God has uniquely designed and equipped the Body of Christ so that we can create traditions together that treasure Him. Together we establish routines of praise where everyone has a part – widows, young families, singles, grown families, couples – there is a seat at the abundant table of tradition for everyone in God’s family to celebrate His mercies!

I do not own a home that requires rearranging nor do I have children to scold if they upset the cookie sprinkles… but I do have a responsibility as a member of the Body of Christ to step into the Christmas celebration with Christ as my greatest treasure and greatest tradition.

It is my hope that as a guest, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend I will be ready to make the main thing my favorite thing to celebrate.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the opposite of mid-life crisis

Some couples graduate into their 50s and revert back to their adolescence. Isn’t that what a mid-life crisis is? You know, extravagant spending and adventures because it’s “all about me” and I’ve got to a have a cultural norm to explain it?

Vomit car exhibit two

I know, I know.
I can’t possibly empathize because I’m in my late 20s and I don’t understand how practical and mission-minded expensive motorcycles are. But, I have a reason to pick this middle life bone. My parents are having the opposite experience. They would never tell you that, so I’m going to.

My parents have hearts the size of Texas and they are constantly looking for ways to grow them even bigger. Recently, my mom sent me a text that said, “What would you think of us fostering two freshmen girls?”

She had to expect my response would be, “Yessssss! Of course!” I mean, as a sophomore in college I sent my parents pictures of children who were awaiting adoption in the state of Iowa. Clearly I would be in favor of the idea, but I’m always in favor of dramatic life changes if they are in the direction of ministering with the gifts you’ve been given.

Then I talked to my dad. He was counting the cost – thinking about how his house would change and family gatherings would be different. He was thinking about curfews and possibly inviting two people to be part of our family forever. He was considering his role as protector for my mom who has spent herself in giving to others. He was counting the cost and it made me consider the magnitude of the life-altering adjustment.

I heard my dad’s prayer requests for unselfishness. I heard my mom’s prayer requests for these girls to have a future. I heard both of them ask for hearts enlarged to fit God’s purpose for them at this stage in their lives and I’m humbled.

My parents will never tell you they’ve got it figured out, because they don’t. Their lives are evidence of their humble posture toward what God is calling them into next. I count it truly a privilege to learn how to love my Lord better alongside parents who are doing the same. This might be the best lesson they are teaching me.

The opposite of a mid-life crisis is getting intentional about serving others to the point where it hurts… it means adjusting your life in a way that’s painful so that others might benefit. There’s never a stage in life where you arrive and can say, “At last! Comfort and relaxation and vacation.” That is not a life stage in God’s development plan for your holiness. It just isn’t.

The beauty is that the pursuit of holiness – the forever life stage – is also the most rewarding and satisfying way you can choose to spend your days. That’s not my guarantee, either.

“In His presence is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

rooting for you

After three years in a place that still claims part of my heart, the move stateside from Honduras was more than culture shock last June. My friends were scattered across the country, each member of my family was plugged in to community where they lived, and the mounting pile of rejection letters made the job market look as grim as everyone said.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that.
Oh, I wasn’t upset or depressed, but the summer days turning into fall were, every one, a surprise. And every day I noticed someone rooting for me.

It happened when I would farm talk with my uncle as I rode in the tractor or when my mom would arrange a special outing or when my dad would come home with new ideas he’d been churning all day in the car. It happened when I visited my friends in Chicago or Michigan or California or Pennsylvania or New York and it happened when I reached for reception in my front yard to hear from far away kindred spirits.

It happened when I stepped in to the lives of others and they listened, encouraged, and prayed. And “rooting” still seems to be a great word for the way my family and friends support me. I’m living with my aunt and uncle and they have “rooting for you” down to an art form. I’ve watched them do it with so many people in their lives – listen, encourage, and then root like they’re going to get a kickback from others’ success.

So, I write a blog. I don’t make it a big deal, but I absolutely love doing it. I love thinking through the ideas while I run, being inspired while I’m driving, and sitting down to pound the keys into the shape of a blog post. I love it.

Though I do not hold it against people who aren’t avid blog readers (I get it, seriously), there is something very special about hearing your aunt or uncle say, “Well, you know Caroline blogs, right? You can get them sent straight to your email if you sign up!”

I’ve been kind of grafted in to my aunt and uncle’s family and they’ve become some of my loudest fans. They root with prayers, networking, career ideas, dinner parties, weekend plans, and late night life talks. They are rooting for me to run the race marked out for me with eyes fixed on the Author and Perfector of my faith.

I think that this is true community – rooting for others to win. And the rooting is not because we’re looking to benefit, but because we are so excited about what the Lord could do with someone’s life. I’ll tell you, being on the receiving end of the cheers is motivation enough to try and try again when success is slippery.

it was 1994

“… and then you put your legs up like this and be careful because my legs will swing around really fast. Now, put your knees up, balance, and jump.”

I was transported to my nine-year-old self in the middle of this manic Monday as Meredith swung upside down from the metal bar on the swing set. She took the tone of teacher as she swung with the seriousness of a backyard gold medalist.

I know that seriousness well. My grandpa knew it, too. My birthday gift was unlike any other 9-year-old I knew. It wouldn’t fit inside a gift bag and you can’t find one at a store. It was a custom-made, hand-crafted balance beam with a limited edition, special carpet cover.

It was beautiful and it sat in our backyard where I was Dominique Moceanu or Kerri Strug on summer afternoons. My performance always decided whether we got the gold or the silver medal. The air hung thick with pressure (and good Iowa summer heat) and the beam was more than inches off the grass. It felt like miles.

I positioned my socked toe in front and stretched my arms up high (everyone knew the judges gave points for style and I never wanted to lose any – that was the easy part). I twirled, jumped, steadied, and then positioned myself for the dismount. The dismount decided everything – everyone knew that, even my dad. The question would pound in my head through the whole backyard routine, “Can I stick the dismount?”

I would back up to the very edge of the beam and then start my swirling combination toward the other end, where I would flip end over end (in my mind) and always land with two feet nestled into the Iowa grass.

My arms would erupt from my sides and I would proudly stick out my chest, acknowledging the audience of trees and cattle and cats on all sides.

It was 1994 and I just clenched the victory with that landing in my stocking feet.
And it felt good.

you are not enough

What a funny word.
“Enough” means sufficient, even if it means barely squeaking by.

I wonder what happens when enough is a challenge. Are you man enough? Are you strong enough? Are you brave enough? Are you mom enough?

These questions issue a challenge to those places in us that can’t resist – those places in us that say, “I’ll show you…” in response. We might even get a little carried away in proving that we are, indeed, enough of whatever quality is in question. We might even, on the wild proving grounds of this challenge, reveal just how great is our need. Because when we start to think that our adequacy is found in what we do, we’re beat from the start.

We were never meant to rise to the challenge of enough. We were meant to see our not enough and recognize our need.
We were made to find our enough in Another who is always sufficient, always abundant, and always.

This little excerpt (thanks, Tim Challies) from John Piper’s book Pierced by God gives helpful perspective. I realize it’s a bit much for this morning, so if you don’t read the excerpt below, just know that you are not enough.

You will never be brave enough, strong enough, smart enough, or mom enough. You can’t reach down deep and muster up the willpower. It’s not in you. And it’s not failure to admit that – it’s just recognizing that you are not God. You are made to depend on God’s enough-ness (if you will) and bring Him glory.

We are not God. So by comparison to ultimate, absolute Reality, we are not much. Our existence is secondary and dependent on the absolute Reality of God. He is the only Given in the universe. We are derivative. …We were. He simply is. But we become, “I Am Who I Am” in His name (Exodus 3:14).

Nevertheless, because He made us with the highest creaturely purpose in mind—to enjoy and display the Creator’s glory—we may have a very substantial life that lasts forever. This is why we were made (“All things were created through Him and for Him”, Colossians 1:16). …This is why we eat and drink (“So whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”, 1 Cor. 10:31). …This is why we do good deeds, (“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”, Matthew 5:16).

That is why we exist—to display the glory of God. Human life is all about God. That is the meaning of being human. It is our created nature to make much of God. When we fulfill this reason for being, we have substance. There is weight and significance in our existence. Knowing, enjoying, and thus displaying the glory of God is a sharing in the glory of God. Not that we become God. But something of His greatness and beauty is on us as we realize this purpose for our being—to image-forth His excellence. This is our substance.

Not to fulfill this purpose for human existence is to be a mere shadow of the substance we were created to have. Not to display God’s worth by enjoying Him above all things is to be a mere echo of the music we were created to make.

This is a great tragedy. Humans are not meant to be mere shadows and echoes. We were to have God-like substance and make God-like music and have God-like impact. That is what it means to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But when humans forsake their Maker and love other things more, they become like the things they love—small, insignificant, weightless, inconsequential, and God-diminishing.

Human life is all about God, isn’t it? So, why do we love being enough more than the One who is enough? Piper continues,

Listen to the way the Psalmist put it: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes but they do not see; they have ears but they do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18: see also 115:4-8).

Think and tremble. You become like the man-made things that you trust: mute, blind, deaf. This is a shadow existence. It is an echo of what you were meant to be. It is an empty mime on the stage of history with much movement and no meaning.

Dear reader, be not shadows and echoes. Break free from the epidemic of the manward spirit of our age. Set your face like flint to see and know and enjoy and live in light of the Lord. “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5). In His light you will see Him and all things as they truly are. You will wake up from the slumbers of shadowland existence. You will crave and find substance. You will make God-like music with your life. Death will dispatch you to paradise. And what you leave behind will not be a mere shadow or echo, but a tribute on earth, written in heaven, to the triumphant grace of God.

In God, we find all our desire for enough so that our lives can be a tribute on earth to the triumphant grace of God. You are not enough, but in Him we have more than enough to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when faith is about living

I leaned up against the bed post and nestled in to reading position as I flipped the old, typed pages of a faded blue folder. These were weighty words – letters to my grandmother from friends and family shortly before she died. Some sent stories of college excursions and others talked about her hospitality. Nearly every entry spoke of her generosity and strong spirit. Many didn’t say it just like this, but when people looked at my grandma, they saw Jesus.

I didn’t mind getting weepy as I read about her nickname “Tillie the Toiler” in college and about her effortless way of putting others first. But it was toward the end of the simple, typed pages that my eye fell on an entry from my dad. At the top it read, “From Dick and Cindy Nichols, third child and his wife.” Though I’d been reading similar titles designating relationship to Grandma, this one shifted something inside and made her closer – more kindred.

I re-read the entry several times and my eyes fell on this sentence halfway through the last paragraph,

“I’m convinced that to live life to the fullest you must be able to face death confidently and with eternal assurance.”

Part of me felt my own convictions fall freshly into step with my dad’s, though I hadn’t ever heard him phrase it that way. I was seven when my grandma passed away, so my eyes were still inward and unable to see my dad’s pain and healing as he watched his mom wither and fade. But here, in these words, I found something beautiful like blooming Spring.

Though my flesh will fight it, my heart as a single woman is to serve the Lord and nothing else – but not as a regrettable sentence. I know with certainty both my supreme joy and greatest delight lie in this one passion. With eyes fixed on eternity, every moment of life has potential to be filled to abundance because Christ has overcome. This is all there is and somehow Grandma was able to keep it simple. With eternity figured out, she set about doing everything she could to bring the Kingdom to earth for those around her, knowing her reward was already stored up in forever communion with her Savior.

My dad shared a story about a pastor visiting Grandma in the hospital and saying, “It would be normal for you to ask God, ‘Why me?'” Grandma answered (predictably, according to my dad), “I have never asked God why – I never ask God why.”

When everyone expected her to cave… when everyone would readily excuse her for having little faith and a tired heart, Grandma kept her gaze steady on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of her faith. Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God. With this kind of vision, Grandma understood that joy was possible to the very end, even when others expected her to run out. Christ filled her to overflowing every day she endured the painful decay of a mortal body. She knew she would sit down with her Savior soon and it gave her great joy to use every earthly moment sharing this blessed hope.

I’m not sure if it’s true, but my dad wrote,

“I don’t think you ever thought about death much; because of your faith there was never a need.”

She may not have thought about death much – the physical act of it with all the human details and baggage – but I know Grandma thought a lot about eternity. Her faith was not about escaping death. Her faith was about living.

She believed every moment could be lived abundantly on this side of heaven, spilling over into the lives of every person you touch.
She believed death was not the end, but the beginning of a life where her faith would be made sight and she would sit joyfully with Jesus.

These old, typed words on yellowed pages introduced me again to this woman and again to her Savior.
Oh, that I would live with this kind of faith.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy