words after four saltines

I have been doing nothing for almost five days. Really, nothing. The flu kind of decided that for me, but I still have four saltines and a glass of water in my belly and it’s been a few hours – so I’m calling that a victory.

Somewhere, in the haze of many steamy hot showers (one of few things I can do), I heard the words, “Isn’t this what you wanted? To escape.” I could have been mad, but the truth was too true. I wanted nothingness – long days of nothing – and here I squirmed and slept and sniffled and well, everything else for five days. And, of course, I don’t want nothingness.

All the same things are still essential, for living. All the same things are still true, about life and beauty and God. Because when you drop a rock or a giant boulder into a lake or an ocean, the mountains don’t move.

Maybe they do, I would make a bad geologist. But when I think about all the ways the surface of our lives has been disturbed and rippled and waved, it feels like there is nothing unaffected. It’s like we are in a science fiction movie and everything has gone wavy – no piece of matter is firm enough to really matter because everything ripples to the touch.

It’s been about five months since Will died in a car accident and I’m not the same person Patrick married six months ago. He gets the groceries and cooks the dinners and makes me laugh when I don’t want to leave the apartment… again. I am rippled and wavy and hormonal and pregnant and very, very sad. I sleep often and cry in his arms and sometimes pray with him because I know he is such a good man for making me do so. But, the other day, he said something that hurt very bad because it was very true. We were talking about regular things and future things and life things. He said something like…

“Care, I realized that your heart is not up to me. Maybe the Lord is working on your heart and I can just support you, but I can’t fix anything.”

He said something like that. And a couple days later with a few saltines in my belly, I know it’s true. Because when that boulder fell into our depths and rippled up our lives forever, the mountains didn’t move. It felt like they did and sometimes I have to double take to see if the skyscrapers are shifting, but the mountains didn’t move.

Anything that was essential six months ago, for living, is still essential now.

I talked to my dad on the phone today. He was headed home from work and was just calling to check in. I said “Hello!” and he (like always) sighed into, “Oh, hi – how we doin’ today?” I love that. Because we are thousands of miles apart, but his empathy reaches me just fine. He’s “doin'” how I’m “doin'” and vice versa.

Anyway, he’s been thinking about living too. We all have, I’m sure.

He was reminding me about ornery Will. You may not have met him, but it was about six years in elementary and middle school. He was getting into things and sometimes it wasn’t cute, it was bad. One of our punishments on the farm was to run around the house (genius on my mom’s part – to get us out of the house and tired) and I’m sure Will accumulated the most laps. He was ornery. Dad said there was a very short time that he was on medication for something (not orneriness), but that didn’t last long. When Mom and Dad saw him resigned and quiet, they agreed they would do their best and believe God for the rest. It sounds cliché, but my dad said, “Caroline, we really believed God could take our ornery boy and grow him into a godly man. And he did.”

I really admire my dad for saying that. And I love him for remembering Will’s years of serious orneriness. And I love God for being trustworthy like a mountain.

This week, I memorized from Daniel 2:20-21, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons. He removes kings and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

I’m not all the way there yet, but I believe God is the mountain that didn’t ripple when everything else did on August 2. I believe He is the same and all the same things are essential, about living. I guess that means I have a sturdy place to be sad. But, I want to believe it also means I have a steady footing where I can be useful as a wife and friend and sister and daughter and mother. I want to believe that, because He changes times and seasons, removes and sets up kings, gives wisdom and knowledge, and He guided my brother into godliness.

in the habit of naming good

“Our task in the present … is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.” N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope

Then came the morning, today. Somewhere far away from city clouds, the rhythm God set in motion so long ago woke up like it was waiting for the rest of the sentence.

…then came the morning.

I started thinking on the phrase when Lone Bellow released a single by that name from their upcoming album. It’s so weird that you can’t resist the morning.

Like a light, like a stone rolled away… the morning.

Jesus’s resurrection happened in the morning, after that third day. Seems like it was the most fitting way for him to conquer death, with the sunrise as a backdrop after night took over at noon the day before. And we are supposed to be resurrection people – baptized into the very resurrection of Jesus to live transformed lives – lives lit with the rhythm of the morning.

But that sounds way more glorious then sewing the seam of my shirt at work today, hunched in front of my computer monitor and trying to appear nonchalant about the rip that I can only blame on my hips. It sounds more triumphant than my sob session after church on Sunday with a dear friend who stood in front of me until I got all my sorrow out.

But I can’t resist the morning. It is God’s clock, the sunrise timepiece He throws over this little earth at the beginning of every day. Sometimes, I shut my eyes and shake my head and furrow my brow against it, like the valiant efforts of a stubborn child. And then sometimes, giggles get out and eyes open wide on a bike ride back from Williamsburg on Bedford Avenue – down the stretch of hills and green lights before Empire. I biked right into that little bit of resurrection sunrise at 11 pm and I said, “This is good.”

It is good to name good.

Maybe it is another way to be image bearers, to be fully human – to name good without any qualifiers or reservations or conditional statements. Because, in the beginning everything was good. God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the stars, the plants and creatures and oceans and lands, and then He said, “This is good.” Then He made humans and said, “This is very good.” There is power in his “good” declaration and we are invited into it as His image bearers. There are still good things here, on earth. All the “good” is not gone from God’s declaration and we (resurrection people) are invited to name all the “good” things about God’s design.

But, boy, is it hard.

I am praying to get more in the habit of naming “good,” believing that God has not forgotten what He so carefully designed. I know because… then came the morning.

teach me to know

The trees lit up in shades like candles on a cake in the quiet of Maine. Quiet had a sound on those winding backroads and hiking trails and it was the perfect escape. After work last Friday, Patrick scooped me up into a North-bound surprise in a rented VW Jetta with 21 miles on it. I thought about putting pen to paper a few times, but I didn’t. It was a weekend like a benediction, that deserved my palms face up and free of distraction.

And I relented. I gave in. I let sunshine joy freckle my cheeks through the windshield and forest joy crunch under my feet and marriage joy come at me from all sides. It has been pressing in for a while now, but I have been resisting. I still am, I guess – resisting joy.

And that’s strange because joy has never been this hard… joy is something I thought I really understood. And then I got married. And then my mom called to say my brother died. And now things are complicated. The reality is, things were complicated before, but it felt easier to regulate when I only had to explain things to myself. If I didn’t feel joy, I believed it was there anyway and I pushed through with gritted teeth. I sometimes got silent or reflective and I sometimes hid away until the clouds cleared, but I was almost proud that I knew my way around joy.

Now there is someone in my life whose joy is wrapped up in my joy. My sadness and silence and sour days can actually hurt him – that is how much my husband cares about my joy. There are, maybe, legitimate reasons to resist joy (or at least reasons for tension) – like grief. But then there are very selfish and very proud reasons to resist joy and I am ashamed to say I know all the reasons. To make things more complicated, I care about Patrick’s joy too. I want him to be full of the most possible joy.

And being married feels like the craziest experiment in the human condition – both the condition of being image bearers of God and the condition of being broken by sin. It’s like putting everything most precious to two people inside a clothes dryer and cranking to high heat. Maybe it’s not like that. Maybe it’s more like what Paul says in Romans, “I do not understand myself. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

I can’t tell you how badly I want to step into joy, because I know joy is strength and delight… but also because I know Patrick cares so much about my joy. And it doesn’t make any sense to resist it. Not a bit of sense.

We were making our way back to the city on Sunday and the air in that little rental car was getting crowded. As buildings stretched up into skylines instead of trees, I squirmed under the weight of city living. In the last miles of colorful highway driving, I rocked deep to this song – as deep as one can rock in the passenger seat of a traffic jam. My favorite dusk colors were getting painted across the sky and my favorite human was all delight behind the wheel.

The “carried away” part is like the beats of my soul when I resist joy – carried away by questions and doubts and fears and failures. And I can feel my fingernails pressing into my palms. Carried away. The weekend was like a benediction, one I received with open hands and one that made me aware of my everyday posture – the regular way I hold my hands and keep my heart. Ahem… nails in palms and carried away. I swayed extra because I wanted that lesson of open palms and numbering days to get stuck in my soul. Almost a week later and I have bad news to report. Looks like this is a daily declaration, friends. And some days my declaration sounds more like a question.

I am praying that the Lord would teach me to number my days – not to know how many, but to believe that He does. Praying, believing, trusting, living, believing, praying, hoping, waiting. All these things.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

 

joy, the rhythm of God’s metronome

It is raining today – a thick, damp autumn drizzle that will try to keep the city folks from the farmer’s markets. Rain is settling the dust in the city and calming the rush of a long work week. We are all underneath the weight of it, all the living of us.

I am still alive today and the smell of thyme is filling my senses in our favorite neighborhood coffeeshop. I’m writing in the corner while a cozy crowd brunches Saturday morning into the afternoon. This is the rhythm of the weekend. We work all week so that we can wake up late for lazy brunch on a rainy Saturday. It’s a rhythm we wrote for ourselves and a rhythm we are resigned to keep like a metronome. Morning, work, night, sleep, busy, work, busy, weekend, play, rest, weekend. Repeat.

Consciously or subconsciously Christians have accepted the whole ethos of our joyless and business-minded culture. They believe that the only way to be taken “seriously” by the “serious” – that is, by modern man – is to be serious, and, therefore, to reduce to a symbolic “minimum” what in the past was so tremendously central in the life of the Church – the joy of the feast. – Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (1963)

I really “get” what Alexander Schmemann is saying. Today is about the business-minded, serious, modern man with five and ten year plans. Weekends and scheduled holidays are available for joy and for feasting, unless you have stored up vacation time for something in between. Schmemann wrote “For the Life of the World,” in 1963 as a study guide for the National Student Christian Federation Conference in Athens, Ohio – several decades and states removed from my hipster life in Brooklyn in 2014. But, today is still about that same rhythm. I am resigned to the groove of that same calendar that tells us when to work, when to holiday, when to rest, and when to feast. I usually try to stand by the window…

In the weekday mornings, I join the coffee-perked rush on the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge.

In the weekday evenings, I join the long-faced rush on the Q train back over the same bridge in the opposite direction.

Schmemann’s book is about liturgy and the church calendar, but reading these chapters has felt a little like lighting a match. God keeps rhythm like a metronome. We hear it in the words at the close of the first day of Creation, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1). It keeps repeating, “There was evening and there was morning, the second day.” The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh follow with that same rhythm. There was evening and there was morning, like a metronome.

The Israelites were all about God’s metronome. They ordered their lives around celebrations that anticipated the coming of the promised Messiah. People traveled from all over – long, dusty, and dangerous travels – so that they could dip into the barrels of celebration wine and break the bread of provision around long tables of neighbors, strangers, and friends. They didn’t always do it right, sure. But it seems like everyone agreed that gathering was important. And not just gathering, but gathering to anticipate the promises of God – to remind one another of the ways He provided in the past and to point toward His provision in the future.

We gather to celebrate birthdays and holidays and those days that come standard, pre-typed on our calendars. But in these, often (maybe), we let our joy get contained inside the event. Thanksgiving is coming. We will anticipate the meal, the guests, the full bellies in the afternoon. We anticipate joy on that day of gathering, but it will pass. Work will find us again on Friday or Monday at 9 am and we will slide into the same rhythm.

Schmemann writes, “The modern world has relegated joy to the category of “fun” and “relaxation.” It is justified and permissible on our “time off”; it is a concession, a compromise. And Christians have come to believe all this, or rather they have ceased to believe that the feast, the joy have something to do precisely with the “serious problems” of life itself, may even be the Christian answer to them.”

Yes, Schmemann, I believe it is. Joy is the Christian answer to the “serious problems” of life itself. But it can’t be faked or smashed into a day that looks in on itself. Joy cannot get celebrated when it is about a birthday or about a national holiday or about vacation time. Joy is the answer to the serious problems of life because it is always looking to Christ – back to the work of the cross that looks forward to our hope of eternity. Joy is our anticipation of what we taste but cannot grasp on this side of heaven.

Joy is the rhythm of God’s metronome.

I am in the middle of these thoughts about joy and feasting. They are not finished but they begged to be written out when they still felt awkward and gangly. This past month, in the middle of a very “serious problem of life” God offered a unique grace that allowed me to step into the joy of two different weddings. Feasting is hard to do when you are mourning. Joy is hard to do when you are sad. Dancing is hard to do when you are weeping. Strong is hard to do when you are weak. It almost feels wrong to smile, to dance, to laugh, to sing, to joy. It almost feels dishonest and disrespectful to be anything but depressed. Death is a serious problem of life.

But, these two weddings were feasts of joy that looked back on God’s provision in Christ and forward to the promises of abundance here and in eternity. I didn’t know what to do as joy wrestled the sorrow and everything got tangled. I didn’t know how to do either one well.

But joy is the rhythm of God’s metronome.

Joy swallows up sorrow, in the end. Right now, they wrestle it out in my heart – fighting for thoughts and emotions and words. But, in the end joy swallows up sorrow and that is what feasting and gathering is all about, this rhythm with a different beat.

Thanks for your patience in reading these very unfinished thoughts, friends. Is it okay that they don’t make sense? That they mix metaphors and jump around like a scatterplot graph?

He will not stay hidden

I press my cheeks into the clouds covering the Nebraska sky, “Come out, come out wherever You are! You promised You could be found!”

He promised.

I keep coming back to Jeremiah 29. I memorized verse 11 in elementary and then rolled my eyes at the way it was thrown on calendars and desk organizers for high school graduation gifts, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Plans for prospering and for hope and a future. Plans the Lord declares over us, even as He knows the number of our days. Plans and true words and nothing to roll my eyes about.

The next verses seem to me an encouragement toward belief when those plans don’t make sense, “You will seek me and you will find me if you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.”

That means sometimes He will be hidden. And sometimes He will even be so hidden that we will only find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts, like finding Him is the most important thing.

And now I’m on my way to California, with my grief cheeks in the middle of Midwest clouds. And I need for that promise to be true. I need for Him to not stay hidden. I need for Him to be found and for me to be found in Him.

This is the flip side of “dying is gain,” I guess. It’s the “to live is Christ” part that is so hard to swallow. Heaven I can handle. I can look forward to eternity with the One who would stop at nothing to have me in His presence forever. I can picture days emptied of pain and full to overflowing with the Creator of everything good. Heaven I can handle. But I am not in heaven, I am here.

And God said there is abundant life, here.

When Jesus came to bring life and life abundant (John 10:10), it was with all the authority of heaven and it was not a hidden operation. Everyone who sought Him out was found by Him; everyone seeking abundance found more than they could carry.

Believing God made abundance available in these moments is the hardest game of hide and seek. But I have noticed that we are all seeking. We are all turning over rocks and looking in closets. We are looking for answers and knowing no answer will make sense.

So, I pray I would seek the right thing. I pray for belief that joy is here, that abundance is here, that life is here… because God has promised to not stay hidden from those who seek Him with all their hearts.

And He has promised to be the strength for me to seek when “all my heart” is a scattered mess that can’t be made to wholly seek anything.


I wrote this on the plane to California yesterday. Less than 24 hours later and these thoughts feel so far away. But they are thoughts and I am typing them down because they are my grief notes and it might be helping. Find all our grief notes at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

the gravity of grief weight

He picked around the cashews on the table and instead chose the peanuts, pecans, and almonds. Cashews are my favorite and he was leaving them for me.

We had biked to our pastor’s apartment in a rush and I was flustered about our handfuls of changed Saturday plans. He let us sit there, my new husband and me, and think of things to say or not say. So, the stillness sunk in with the late morning sun streaming through all the circle windows. With sweat still on the backs of our shirts, we heard Vito say, “What do you want to talk about?”

We didn’t know, exactly. We just knew we should talk, so we shrugged into conversation about marriage and transition and new things and… well, and grief.

I didn’t think I could put fingers to keys again, at least for awhile. I had to let her words sit with me first. I had to let my shoulders in Brooklyn feel all the weight on hers in Davis. I had to try, anyway. I had to notice, slowly, all her torn apart-ness. All the ways they were one. I had to try, anyway. I had to try because I want to hurt the right way, with the right amount of hope and the right amount of grief and the right amount of tears. 

Of course there is no such thing, just the salt water crystallizing my eyelashes and the runny slobber wetting my keyboard. There are just the traffic signals on busy streets and the emotionless subway schedules and the memories unpacked from boxes in our new apartment. There are just the pictures in piles and the voicemail snippets and all the hot white silence in the air when my mind asks questions without permission. There are just those things.

Those things and the cashews stranded on the cutting board Saturday morning in the middle of our pastor’s dining room table, next to the little bowl of sweet honey and a few green apple slices. It felt good to be exposed. It felt good to sit in air that wasn’t figured out – to search for words and find nothing. It felt good to get unraveled and not fight for tidy endings.

Those cashews. My eyes kept drifting over the table and landing on those cashews.

It is strange that I am whole. It is strange that for almost exactly two months, I am one with someone I love more than anything on earth and that he knows cashews are my favorite. It is strange to feel this new one-ness when my sister Grace is torn apart. Weight on top of weight on top of the new gravity of grief weight. 

I filled a $95 prescription for eye drops today. No more contacts for awhile, until these drops clear away the grief stripes. But, they will stay there, behind all the white and behind all the ways the world is still striving to make sense.

And grief is okay because death is not normal.

Truth is like sandpaper sometimes and ocean waves and steep ravines and caves and breaking dawn of a new day. Sometimes the natural arc in the true story is carried on the back of an ant inside a grand canyon. And sometimes our hearts don’t make sense.

No matter how hard we try, but we try anyway. We try and we believe and then we pray for more belief.


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

a guest post from Grace

“I am Grace. And I will do my best.”

That was how Grace introduced herself from the stage at Will’s memorial service. I can still hear her soft, strong voice; I can still see her firm stance and steady smile. She wore a dress with a flower print that day and I loved her for it. I love her for many things – for the way her decisions are full of purpose and her words are carefully chosen, for her patience with all of us who are grieving someone we loved while she is grieving her own self… because she is the only one who loved Will as her own body.

I am humbled to post her words here and honored that she shared them. She, like Christina, insists that she is not a writer. But if either wrote a book, I would be the first in line to buy. I am learning about truth and honesty from them both.


As I drove down the country road toward the town of Davis, CA and away from the home my husband and I had just moved into, I grew more anxious about my first counseling session. I felt ill-prepared. Having never gone to a counselor before I realized that maybe I should have prepared goals or thought more about what questions I might have or come up with a succinct way of describing what ‘my situation’ is.

When I parked, I flipped quickly through the few pages I had journaled since Will died (I don’t journal… I think maybe my last journal entry was from junior high) to see if I had put down any thoughts I should share during my hour session. I sat anxiously in the waiting room until the clock read 3 and a kind-faced woman came out and introduced herself to me. The moment I sat down on the couch a blend of tears and snot began its descent down my face.

I never quite know the source of these outbursts any more… this one I tried to explain to her was, yes, due in part to anguish, but also because the task of relating who I was, who Will was, and who we became together seemed an insurmountable task. I hate that interview question, “Please tell me a little about yourself.” What do you say, how can you convey all the nuances of yourself to someone in words? How do you know what is relevant? And how do you not come across as prideful? When she inevitably asked me that question, I gave her the bullet points of my life….

“To start with, I’m an introvert. I was born in California to Christ loving parents, I have one older brother, we moved to Iowa when I was in elementary school, my mom died in a car accident when I was 15, I was an incredibly shy and self-conscious teenager, I enjoyed sports and especially running, I met Will the summer after high school when I was a counselor at a Christian summer camp where he was the director, we dated long-distance for 4 years while I went to school at UC Davis, we got married after I graduated college, my grandma passed away from cancer just a month ago, and Will and I had been married almost 3 years when he died in a car accident driving home after a late night at work.”

But what I couldn’t convey…. what I couldn’t say because the thunder of sobs was closing in…. was who I became because of Will. I couldn’t express that it was because of Will that I, that we, became more fully the people God intended us to be. I couldn’t express that without him I don’t know who I am or what life is supposed to be…. and that I’m not ready for a life that is not the one Will and I had planned together. The life that now includes chickens and a big community garden on the property where we just recently decided to rent a tiny house, the life where we were going to build a home and have little curly-haired children with big Nichols-thighs, the life where we were going to continue to love and serve God and one another.

I’ve been trying to sort out the mess in my head. And let me just say, I don’t typically have the patience for this kind of introspective stuff. It’s like my head contains shelves that, in the earthquake of loss, memories and emotions got tipped off and are now intermingling on the dusty floor. Sorting and sifting through the wreckage and reconciling God’s truths to my heart is HARD. And through reading and praying and journaling and thinking aloud to my counselor God has faithfully shown me that He is present, even now as I’m working to sort through the pieces that don’t make sense.

One of the truths about God that I’m wrestling with is that God is sovereign. Tim Keller describes it well in his book called Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering when he says, “But the Bible depicts history as 100% under God’s purposeful direction, and yet filled with human beings who are 100% responsible for their behavior—at once.” So God offers comfort in the truth that He is in control.

To be honest, that is a truth I am on my knees praying for and at the same time can’t bear to accept. It is a truth that says ‘Will’s death was not an accident because I knew the number of his days.’ Guilt has consumed me the past weeks knowing that if I were less selfish I would have insisted to Will that he stay in Reno at a hotel to get some sleep before driving home or that I should have insisted to Will that he call me so I could help keep him awake while he drove. But knowing that God knew the number of Will’s days offers freedom from that guilt. The truth of God’s sovereignty also says ‘I intended you to experience the loss of your love and to live life as a widow.’ This is something I’m not quite ready to be ok with. I know that I’m not the same person. Though I’m not ready to know this new person, this widow, quite yet. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the person I was with Will, because he was the best part of me.

The last part of the truth about God’s sovereignty, the one that is most important, is that God had determined that Jesus would die on the cross to offer redemption for our sins. And because I know and believe this truth I know one day I will depart to be in Heaven where I will be face to face with Jesus and in perfect community with William and all the other Christ-believers who will have gone before me, experiencing ultimate joy and fulfillment. Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven has been so good to read and has brought so much peace. Up until now, I’ve always just considered Heaven to be preferable to Hell and left it at that. But wow…. I feel that finally I am understanding Paul when he tells the Philippians that he desires to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23).

Will, the morning after he proposed to me and before he had to hop back on a plane to Iowa, wrote me a note on my computer than I recently rediscovered. And the last line is one that I’m holding onto each moment. He said,

“Know that I love you, and although parting is always very painful, when we see each other once again it will be all the sweeter.”

This ‘parting’ has been very painful and the road ahead will be difficult, but I will choose to continue to ask God for the endurance to run the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1) with my eyes fixed on the goal, Heaven.


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