amid the cold of winter

The weather outside is legitimately frightful.

I stuck my frozen toes inside the warmed oven several times because there is a north wind creeping through all the farmhouse cracks around kitchen windows. And, obviously, the kitchen can’t be avoided with Christmas baking and coffee making and cookie decorating to be done. The winter struggle is real and it’s about to get more frozen when we go Christmas caroling in a few hours.

There are perks to living in an apartment in Brooklyn – and one of those perks is that the heat is regulated for the whole building and always cranked high. But we find other ways to keep warm here – like chasing caped superheroes, putting out pretend fires, and running from sock hand monsters. There is a lot of commotion, but it’s all the good kind covered in giggles and belly laughs.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and we’ve switched up all our traditions this year because of sibling schedules. We are foregoing the three ingredient potato soup that we’ve had every Christmas Eve since I can remember and we already opened gifts yesterday while one of the little ones took a nap.

And, well, some traditions are not as important as Tevye’s deep, throaty voice belting out rolled Rs in Fiddler on the Roof. Some traditions are like frosting or gravy or jam – not the main dish. Today’s deep breaths are about holding on to the main thing – God’s great tradition of peace.

“We are invited to know the peace God extends to his favored ones, those established in a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. This is the soul-satisfying peace of God.” Joann Jung, from The Advent Project

This soul satisfying peace doesn’t look like a certain Christmas schedule or a table spread a particular way. This peace is way, way bigger than that. This peace is about identity – our identity that gets wrapped up into the splendor of a baby King who would later invite us into adoption, as co-heirs of his inheritance.

Identity has been more of a fight lately, which maybe surprises me more than anyone else. I am not timid or insecure or self-conscious, at least that has never before been the case. I’m not too concerned about thrifted fashions and keeping up appearances, but NYC is a sneaky devil about these things.

I have noticed a crack in my armor – a little voice that makes me doubt old shoes and my non-profit destiny. The subway stares and coffee shop conversations are a slow fade and Iowa is different enough to make all the colors clear. I would like to give more gifts to more people. And I would like to look more put together and I would like to have more established things to say about my career.

I guess I would like to have a better identity and maybe that’s the root of it all. That’s the sneaky devil and the crack in my armor, because there is not a better identity to be had.

This Savior I am anticipating and celebrating is my identity. God speaks worth and life into my fumbling limbs the same way He spoke life into His Son’s. Not only that, but my future is tied up in the glory of the Son of God, who lived and died and rose again to secure my redemption.

Pardon me, I’ve got to go warm up my vocalizer so I can match the alto pitches on these Christmas carols. The cold really does bite into a good harmony and I’ve got to be prepared.

Midwestern nod meets East Coast furrowed brow

Somewhere in a less concrete castle, there were crowds of football fans gathering for tailgates yesterday in the early hours of the morning. In between the rivalries, at least in my midwestern state, there is a commonplace camaraderie that seems to make less sense in the East.

The explanation of this camaraderie looks like a few examples of common gestures you’ll see if you ever take a tour of the state where Field of Dreams was filmed. My dad is a genius when it comes to this cultural dance. He’s got creases all over his face to prove it. Name the location – gas station, mechanic shop, football game – it doesn’t matter, if you let your gaze wander to meet his eye, you’ll probably hear him say, “Hi, there” or “How we doing tonight?”

It’s not necessarily an invitation to a conversation as much as it is a declaration to neighborhood. Because in Iowa, everyone is your neighbor – I guess that can be figurative and literal. The state stretches out across corn fields (true to stereotype) and everyone kind of bands together in the ‘middle of nowhere.’ I grew up watching my dad extend this simple kindness to everyone he met and it never seemed strange. If he needed to call someone on the phone after he came in from chores at night, it would go something like this: “Hi, there. This is Dick Nichols, how we doing tonight? …… Oh, okay well good. Is Randy around at all?”

I don’t know who taught him this dance, but I think a lot of people in Iowa know it and dance it well. On the highway or the gravel road, it looks like the two finger wave – whether you know the person driving the other car or not. Everyone is going somewhere and the two finger wave is a kind way to support them on their journey. On the streets or the grocery store or at the library, it might just be a friendly smile and a nod of the head – a simple affirmation that meets a person exactly where they are.

Of course, no one from Iowa thinks about these things. They probably don’t even know there is a dance of camaraderie that outsiders might think strange. It’s just the way life is. Quite honestly, if Iowans knew I was philosophizing their mannerisms and speaking meaning into their customs, they would say, “You think too much.”

And I probably do.

But, when you move from the ‘middle of nowhere’ to a city like New York or Denver or Austin or any city, really… you realize the customs and traditions and nuances of your childhood are not universal. I don’t know what Iowans mean when they say, “Hello” or when they give a friendly nod, but I do know that people here don’t do that.

I know that when I make eye contact, people sometimes seem startled. I know that when I smile or nod or say, “Hi, there” people appear confused. I know that the city has a different dance.

Iowa doesn’t have it all figured out. They have their own set of issues, to be fair. But, as I shrug into Brooklyn like a sweater (it’s already becoming one of my favorites), there are some things about being an Iowan that I don’t want to lose and the midwestern nod is one of them.

the rain will strengthen your soul

So, so much rain here in Iowa and it’s lovely.

We’re all kind of swimming in it but if you feel a bit like you are drowning, this might be a little light for you. Sometimes rain pulls out the sadness in us like the worms on the sidewalks in the morning – all wiggly and out of place.

If the rain is doing this kind of operation – pulling out old demons and pushing fears in your face – remember that no mistake or circumstance or vice can overcome the One who overcomes.

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

the blessing of misadventure

We had big plans.

The Fleur Cinema in Des Moines is about as big as plans can get on a hot Thursday night in central Iowa. Wes Anderson‘s new film Moonrise Kingdom would have been a treat in any theatre, but The Fleur kicks up the classy and adds the right amount of hip.

But, we never made it there. Eddie (my 2002 Honda Civic) had other plans that involved us not being stranded on Interstate 35. On the way out of town, in the middle of our build-up-this-weeknight-like-it’s-the-weekend excitement, Eddie became averse to third gear. No matter how hard I punched my foot to the floorboard, he wouldn’t budge past 27 mph.

I instantly imagine two things: this Thursday will not be spent at the Fleur and an Ames mechanic will quickly become my new best friend.

As you know by now, these things don’t surprise me, but I felt terrible for my friends who may not experience series’ of unfortunate events on a regular basis. They were like a pair of peaches, though, as we coaxed little Eddie along the backroads, up a gentle slope and over to the dead end on Oak Street where I counted at least four repair shops within two blocks.

I was breathing thanks to God for all the little things – all those almost disasters that we avoided.

We walked in the direction of our houses and then parted ways on 9th street, where I promptly called my brother who began diagnosing my car by the sounds I described (like a regular episode on Car Talk). He had it pegged as electrical or alternator-related in about 10 minutes, right as I saw my two girl friends pull up alongside me. They waved me into their car for some car trouble therapy and we filled the night with laughter.

Oh, how I love this strange series of events.
Life doesn’t skip a beat.
I just jump out of one current and into another. I might flail a bit at the change of course, but nothing is ever as disagreeable as it could have been, if things had worked out differently.

doing what we ought = freedom

More than a little ink spilled recently in Iowa over an administrator’s questionable email etiquette. That’s a nice way of saying she used her work email to do some pretty dirty things. In fact, her behavior motivated the powers that be in Des Moines public schools to implement a morality clause.

Morality clause? Aren’t we living in a relativistic culture? Who has the right to implement a moral standard?

Seems like our culture’s digging her own grave, though we hate to admit it. If we all make our own moral standard, how can we say someone else’s is inferior?

C.S. Lewis differentiates moral law from the law of nature in that it is what we “ought” to do, not what we simply do. Trees fall when cut and grass grows in response to rain and sunshine. Nature does those things, but there is not another layer of “ought.” Trees aren’t looked down on if they don’t fall at the feller’s ax. Grass isn’t more supremely regarded if it grows than if it wilts. Nature simply does things and we observe these characteristics.

People, on the other hand, get angry when someone steps in front of the shopping line or if someone steals the family car. We get angry because they “ought” not do such a thing. It’s wrong.

Everyone has their own version of “ought” – the place they draw the line in the sand where relativity fades and objectivity says, “you can’t do that to me.”

I struggle with the controversy in Des Moines because we are clamoring to say this woman “ought not” do what she did, yet we told her all along (as she gained experience and degrees in our system) that she needn’t bother with someone else’s morality. We told her that hers would do just fine.

How many people implementing the city’s new ‘morality clause’ could stand under its inspection? Are some positions more ‘moral’ than others because they are more public?

I race around these questions in my head and wish that C.S. Lewis was giving a lecture next week on a public campus. Jesus would obviously be the first choice, but C.S. Lewis seems more within reach (is that bad?). Honestly, I imagine the same response following a lecture by Lewis and a sermon by Jesus – a bunch of people filing out of a sterile auditorium mumbling their disagreement or support as they walk to their next engagement.

It hurts to hear the high-browed arguments about what should or shouldn’t be done in the public eye. Moral rules outside of divine wisdom are like walking on railroad tracks to an unknown destination.

The excitement and joy of doing what we “ought” is in knowing that in doing so we are free. It is not a morality clause that keeps us behaving as we ought, but a love that can’t imagine behaving any other way.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

does God giggle?

Apparently, Iowa has a high tolerance for awkward as well.
My state made caucus a verb (it was a strange enough noun).

Yesterday, after my very gauche post, my best friend from college sent me an email with this little inspired nugget to capture the lengthier explanation. I love it.

Oh, goodness. I love how a friend can still know you so well, but live so far.

Today I laughed with gumption and it felt spectacular. I’m not sure what to hold responsible, but if I figure it out I’m going back to say thank you. In fact, I wouldn’t mind doing some gratitude back-tracking right now before hitting the books and my sweet pillow.

here’s some blessings as I counted them today:

the early morning moments when I sit with my coffee and my 3650 Challenge, soaking deep in Truth.
the acoustic guitar in the office singing bon iver, adele, and hanson.
dreaming about an office space where inspiration happens and stories unfold.
the office printer, when it does and doesn’t work, is a magical machine.
check marks – oh heavens! I am ever-so-thankful for checkmarks in even slightly important places to make me feel legitimate and productive.
finding a remote control car in a co-worker’s office; laughing like a child.
forgetting my lunch and then getting invited to hang with the cool kids.
wearing my thrifted boots (thanks, Dad) that make my feet feel like snuggly eskimos.
chasing around my cousins and hearing their laughter unleashed.
the balance of cousin cate, who loves make believe and cousin charlie, who loves to cuddle.

mischief.

I know it sounds weird, but I can get riled up (in a good way) about some good-old fashioned mischief, the same way I get excited about mystery. I kind of think they are related. And, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I think both are, um… holy.

If you’ve read Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, then you’ve at least thought about how God must have a perfect sense of humor and maybe you’ve wondered (with me) a little bit about what that humor looks like.

I mean, have you ever wondered why we have armpits or why every blade of grass is distinct or why things like treehouses are places where children play, but where insects probably reign?

Do you wonder what His laughter sounds like? I often do.

What did God think of the caucuses in Iowa tonight? Does He giggle at that funny word?

I don’t know, but I’m sure excited to find out one day.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy