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.

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 James

This is a guest post from my brother, James. 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.


William and I had an interesting, different, and sometimes frustrating relationship. Growing up as Will’s little brother was no easy task because of his influence on others. I spent a good portion of my life being frustrated in Will’s shadow. He was a leader in sports without saying anything but working hard. He was a friend to all without leaving people out. He was cool without doing what others did or had done.

As we went through the years it was easier and easier to see why others were drawn to him in this way. For the counselors at Bethany Camp, he was a father, friend, counselor, and mentor. Two people come to mind when I think about Will’s lasting impact there. I did not hang out with Derick or Becca that much before they worked at Bethany Camp with Will. When he was gone for the year for school and I was still at home with them, I saw how he taught them to love others. They both demonstrated through action how Will lived. I could ask them for anything, tell them anything, and rely on them to down for anything. Becca has been talking about it recently about how she always said, “I miss Will.” I can remember countless times that this came up in conversation when we would be hanging out and she would remember a time when they did this or that. I never realized the significance of that or how impactful that was on her. For Derick I am reminded of love of helping people, a trait Will and he shared. Derick would do anything for anyone without a regard to himself or what he had planned. Will’s most important discovery at Bethany camp was, of course, Grace. I will never forget his giddiness after meeting her and starting to date her. Never had a woman had this effect on him. When I heard Will singing, “If this isn’t love, this is closest I’ve ever been!” from Anberlin, I knew that whatever this was, it was different. William loved Grace with all the love that God loves us with.

In the past few years, after learning about Will and myself, I started to get over my pride and actually be open to what Will had to say. He would never force this on me, he would just be in the background ready to offer helpful advice when it came to money, cars, mopeds, kayaks, and most importantly love. I remember a conversation I had with him about Carly as I was driving over to her parents’ house one weekend night. I can’t remember talking to Will at all about this subject in our entire lives, but when I needed him most he was there. He just listened and coached and counseled and listened some more. I know at the end of the conversation he told me that he trusted me, he believed in me, and he loved me. We have had many conversations since then, all ending with him trusting and believed in me. Never had it felt so good to hear those things from someone that I had looked up to for so long.

After saying all these things, I think it would be a miss to not talk about why Will was the way he was. Christ’s love and service flowed out of Will like water through a stream. Will had this love because Jesus died on the cross all our sins. He was saved by the grace of God through faith in the death and resurrection of His son. If you do not have this faith, you can talk to any of us so that you will know for sure where you will spend eternity.


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.