watch over us

In the past couple days, I have:

  • eaten a bag of popcorn for lunch
  • stood out on my fire escape in a snowstorm (a very underwhelming one)
  • used the mom voice to co-workers who are twice my age and raised my mom’s teacher eyebrows at them
  • gone to sleep early
  • had weird dream/nightmares about a giant pizza
  • eaten a personal, Brooklyn organic pizza for dinner (with a side of mint chip ice cream)
  • squatted in the middle of a crowded train after shedding a few winter layers – whatever it takes to prevent the unthinkable, folks
  • sang in every room of the apartment
  • talked for 1.5 hours with my uber wise grandparents
  • wrote and performed a rap over skype to my mom’s 6th grade class (who are in the middle of a hip-hop unit)
  • spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to coax Baby K into acrobatics with folk music
  • read a bedtime story to my favorite Michigan family, who were all snuggled into my nephew’s bed
  • sent a million urgent emails that my office won’t read, about what they are supposed to have done by Friday at 3 pm when the plug is pulled on our current office and we move into our new space

And that’s just the past couple days and that’s not even all of it. I just want to let you in, friend. I wanted you to know it’s not all saltines and sadness over here in the big city. Even though it’s been awhile since I’ve successfully buttoned my pants (let’s be honest, I haven’t done that for a LONG while), we’ve been able to fit a good amount of laughter into these winter days.

I can actually remember when the first laughter happened, after the very dark night of early pregnancy and the flu. I felt okay when I woke up that Saturday and we woke up slowly, smiling. We ate a bit and I still felt okay. (And all the while inside I was saying, “So far, winning!”). I remember, several times, hearing myself giggle and being surprised. What an unfamiliar sound – that laughter – and oh where has it been?

We ran a few errands and I still felt okay, so we got really ambitious. We went to Long Island City with our heads down against an unforgiving wind to get to my coworker’s birthday party. After mingling with the Irish, English, Polish and Spanish accents, we hit up a little cafe in the West Village where our friends were playing. By this time, it was getting respectably late and we were both impressed. On the way to the subway with our silly friends, we stopped to buy what I was craving (Cooler Ranch Doritos) and then took up the whole sidewalk like the younger version of ourselves – up to clean mischief.

I remember thinking how strange it was to be so surprised by my joy – surprised by the sound of laughter and surprised by the feel of a smile stretched across my face. It felt good and illusive all at once, like the longing the C.S. Lewis always talks about.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller recently, at the suggestion of my therapist. It was called, “Praying our Tears” and I should probably listen to it again. “Expect tears, invest tears, and pray your tears,” he said, after reading Psalm 39:12-13 and Psalm 126:1-6.

If we’re talking Psalms, there are more lamentations than any other kind. That makes sense to me – the weight of sorrow needs a place to land. The world is brimming full of it, with the words of even one story. And I have a hard time believing there will be a harvest from my sorrow (Psalm 126:5), if I plant my tears. I am okay to let my sorrow be an end in itself – that thing I crawl up inside when nothing makes sense. And I have been struggling to let sorrow and joy live together.

But God says I have to plant my sorrow. As Keller says, “to see my tears as an opportunity for fruit and growth.” That’s a far cry from where I am now, but I can hear it and that feels like progress. Joy will be the harvest when I plant my tears in compassion for others, in prayer, in love, in patience. Tears actually produce joy, he says. Again, I’m a critic. I believe tears can produce joy (2 Corinthians 4:17), but I am a critic in my weak flesh.

“There’s a kind of joy that comes through avoiding tears – that doesn’t really change you. Then there’s a kind of joy that comes through the tears that does.” – Keller

I’m learning.

His last point answers the question, How do we plant our tears? Prayer. Pray everything – all the biggest and worst and most confusing emotions. Pray them with shaking fists and pray them in the hot shower and pray them in confession kneeling in church on Sunday. Pray. Pray for opportunities and direction and fields and the right soil. Pray for strength to throw out the sloppy, wet messes and pray for belief in what is planted. Pray.

Praying has been hard for me. I’m a steadfast, headstrong believer … but praying is hard sometimes.

This song has been helping. It feels to me like a prayer – one without answers or a lot of boldness, but a prayer that is honest and believing. A prayer that lets me laugh and cry in the same day without having to sort it out.


Find all the 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.

heaping cups of consolation

Today, I woke up on an air mattress in the middle of my bedroom, sorting out strange dreams and back stiffness. It’s a long story and one I’m currently stuck in the middle of, so I’ll give you the full version when I can say “this too shall pass” with the kind of tone that believes it will.

For now, the morning light is stretching out across the living room while I enjoy a slow cup of french press coffee. For now, I am stretching into this blue sky Saturday while I listen to Keller preach on anxiety and emotions and the psychology of happiness. I am not usually an emotional roller coaster, so I am a little ashamed to admit I have been one the past couple days.

Last night, I had a shot of whiskey before going to bed.

It felt more like an old-fashioned remedy to nervousness than it felt like self-medication, but it was probably both. So, when I opened an email from my dear friend Whitney this morning, my heart was primed. I needed an encouraging word – the kind that speaks Truth softly but firmly and without reservation. The sermon she sent was called, “The Wounded Spirit” and I instantly felt guilty for thinking my spirit qualified. I recently watched Scott Hamilton’s story in his I AM SECOND video – what kind of candle can my troubles hold to that struggle?

Theodore Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy,” and in this case its thievery also included consolation. Our problems are always small in comparison to the problems of others, at least mine are. I can always find someone who has it worse, always, and I end up disqualifying myself for consolation as a result. But, I listened to the sermon anyway – even if I felt guilty for thinking my heart qualified.

And I found heaping cups of consolation, buried like treasure inside Scripture.

An anxious heart weighs a man down but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12, ESV)

The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy. (Proverbs 14:10, ESV)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:13-14, ESV)

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)

In each of these passages and a few more, Keller points to the good news of the Gospel – Christ is the ultimate good word, the best hope, the supremest joy, the most sincere gladness, and the boldest righteousness. But this good news does not live inside a vacuum. This good news lives inside this real world, in real and unforgiving circumstances.

“Happiness is determined by how you deal with your circumstances on the inside – how you process, how you address, how you view them.” – Tim Keller

God’s sweet consolation does not mind how trivial or monumental our anxiety. He does not measure our worries against one another and dole out consolation accordingly. The good news of the Gospel is that it will never run out.

My heart always qualifies for consolation and the consolation of the Good News will never run out.

At the end of the sermon, Keller stresses,

“Come on! He took the tree of death so you can have the tree of life. Use that on your conscience, use that on your emotions, use that on your existential angst. That’ll get rid of your fear of death. But most of all use it on the hope of your heart…”

This too shall pass. Yes, I believe it will.

The hope in my heart is not something I’ve conquered or created. The hope in my heart is heaping cups of consolation from the Giver of Good News.

get wisdom

When I read it in Proverbs 4, it sounds like something I should add to the grocery list – like it’s one of those things I can just pick up on the way home from work and in between stops on my hour-long commute.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” (Proverbs 4:7-9, ESV)

The beginning of wisdom is to get wisdom. Hm.

It’s a rough and tumble struggle when it comes to ironing out the practicalities of Proverbs. But this past Sunday and in recent conversations, the Lord has been so good to remind my heart why practicalities are as much a good gift as wooey-wooey, spiritual moments.

Practical is not a word I would use to describe myself. Two days ago there was a Blueberry Crisp cooling on my kitchen counter while various “extra” and “oops” leftover ingredients cooled in the fridge. I have taken a different train route to work every day and have a different very impractical story about each journey. While still in the process of moving in, baking ingredients are among the highest on my priority list and (though I stop often at the corner store) I rarely come home with more than a few items.

I am not naturally very practical, but I made peace with that a long time ago.

So, when Tim Keller said the new sermon series was on wisdom from the book of Proverbs, my ears perked up. Though a very impractical person about many ordinary things, I desperately want to be practically wise about the most important things. And God’s directive is very clear: get wisdom. God says to go get wisdom – actively and certainly. Get wisdom.

Okay, Lord. You have commanded this and I will obey, but how? Part of believing God for His promises is believing that He will never ask anything of me that is impossible. I do believe I can grow in wisdom. I believe that He will show me how and that He will make me able.

The possibility of His promises depends on His faithfulness because I cannot do anything He asks without His help.

Now, back to last Sunday in those plush, uncomfortable theatre seats at the Salvation Army downtown. As we read through Proverbs 1 and Keller started to outline the importance of wisdom and what it means to acquire it, this little gem rolled out:

You get wisdom through paradoxical fear and the foolishness of grace.

The paradoxical fear is reference to Proverbs 9:10 (fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom) and the foolishness of grace references 1 Corinthians 1:18 (the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing). How do you get wisdom? By a righteous and reverent fear of the Lord and through the unbelievable work of Christ on the cross. Keller gave an analogy that is helpful here. He described the fear one might have if he were holding a very valuable, very rare and very breakable vase. He does not fear the vase – that it will harm him – but, instead he fears that he will drop the vase because he values it so much.

This is where we start when we determine to “get wisdom” – the fear of the Lord. And how do we have a right fear of the Lord? The foolishness of the cross. This, more than anything else, speaks a spiritual language of value. The beauty of this language is that it translates into the practicalities of everyday questions and doubts.

I better get to “getting” … maybe along the way I’ll gain some knowledge that will make my life less like Amelia Bedelia.

Well, maybe not. But there is grace for Amelia too.
 

all the million other reasons

My friend Nicole and I often recount the impossibility of our becoming friends. We love the silly madness of it – Nicole was looking to transfer schools during our first semester at Hope College and I was reveling in independent bliss with my new best friend Meghan.

Meghan and I were next door neighbors in the dorm and fast friends. It just so happened that we were assigned to the same Bible study group, where we learned that someone named Nicole wanted to transfer.

Meghan and I decided Nicole would be our friend, even though we knew very little about her. One day, we were biking from a football game and we spotted Nicole on the sidewalk. In our excitement, we fell over in front of her while trying to explain that we would all soon be friends. There are many surprising things – like that it was actually Nicole we saw (there weren’t many Asian students) and that she didn’t run in the other direction when we made a scene.

But we love that story because here we are in the present, remembering that first year of Bible study and the following years of friendship. Here we are, right now, playing phone tag because our friendship is the kindred kind.

And from such an unlikely beginning.

I have always recounted stories like these (it seems I collect them like kids collect seashells at the beach) and praised God for His sovereignty. How amazing that He cared about all the little details – all the punctuation in the writing of our beautiful story of friendship.

Recently, I rediscovered a friendship from childhood and I was praising God in the same way – expressing wonder that He would bless us in such an unlikely and surprising way. My new/old friend lost no time in being the iron that sharpens iron. She mentioned a Tim Keller sermon that had changed how she thought about unlikely circumstances in her life. Instead of thinking about all the reasons things happened for her benefit as God was writing her story, Keller challenged my friend to think about all the million little things He was doing in the stories of the people around her and in the greater and bigger story of Creation.

Think about that for a second.

God is, indeed, working out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But, I can only look back on my life and see the tiniest number of reasons why God might have worked the way He did. Naturally, we rush to explain that what we didn’t know then and do know now gives us a glimpse of His perfect plan. What about all the other hundreds of people who have stepped in and out of my little story… couldn’t some of the unlikely details and detours of my life play a part in their stories?

Most importantly, when we marvel at the way God is sovereignly writing the narrative of creation and holding it together in Christ, we must never be at the center.

Every unlikely detail of our lives followed by every unlikely consequence are sentences in a story about God’s grace and God’s love toward us.

His name and renown are always at the center of the story, even though we are the recipients. My unlikely friendship with Nicole might have started because our bikes tipped over by Holland Municipal Stadium, but there might be a million other reasons God started our story the way He did – for His name’s sake. I will never know all the reasons God blessed my life the way He has, but the little I do know has produced joy in overwhelming abundance. Maybe that’s why we don’t know all the million other reasons – the joy at His goodness would be too much.

Here are some reminders from Josh Etter at Desiring God that we are created, saved, and sanctified for God’s name’s sake.

We are created for God’s name’s sake:

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory (Isaiah 43:6-7).

We are saved for God’s name’s sake:

I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).

We are sanctified for God’s name’s sake:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:10-11).

battling for dancing feet

Normally, we speak about battling in combative terms.

I guess that makes sense. But sometimes I wonder if we forget why we are engaged in battle. Why do we wield the sword of the Spirit? Is it to conquer enemies, to show mastery, to be victorious, to make a name for ourselves, or to be king of the mountain?

Why do we put on the armor of God and train ourselves for the trenches? Why? Is the main objective in doing battle with the evil forces of the world to do battle with the evil forces of the world?

The glory of the Gospel story is not that we do battle for battle’s sake.

We do battle because God has asked us to dance.

Yes, God is asking us to step out with him on the cosmic dance floor where Satan is crushed underneath His feet. After describing the eternal dance of the Trinity, Tim Keller closes out chapter one of Jesus the King,

“[Christ] has gone before you into the heart of a very real battle, to draw you into the ultimate reality of the dance. What he has enjoyed from all eternity, he has come to offer to you. And sometimes when you’re in the deepest part of the battle, when you’re tempted and hurt and weak, you’ll hear in the depths of your being the same words Jesus heard: ‘This is my beloved child-you are my beloved child, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.'”

If our excitement in training and armor wearing and sword wielding is about the battle, then we must ask the Lord to examine our hearts. Because the daily battling is not eternal. The temptations are not eternal. The struggle is not eternal.

The dance of our God is eternal – it existed before Adam’s lungs held air – and this perfect dance is what we are invited to, what we are rescued into, and what we are made for.

Now, let’s do Tuesday battle for dancing feet.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

I highly recommend picking up a copy of Jesus the King (previously published as King’s Cross) by Tim Keller. It is a great book to go through with new believers or old believers who want to dive into the Gospel of Mark with new believing eyes.

torn apart, You paid my price

I didn’t get to go to a Good Friday service last night.

I worked until 8:30 pm and then chased the last rays of Spring sunshine back to my neighborhood. I had my belly full of joy, satisfied with the abundance of His grace that carried me from Monday to Friday dusk.

The death didn’t set in until this morning and now I cannot dry my eyes. Jesus died. He was torn apart to satisfy God’s wrath and to secure my place of forever joy with Him. Jesus died and the next day He was still dead.

I don’t understand it.

John Piper tweeted this morning: “Still sovereign while dead. ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ (John 2:19)” What does that mean – that He was sovereign even while He was dead? How could my Savior die?

I don’t pretend to understand it – the mystery of it all – but I do understand this: my belly fills with joy because I am redeemed. I am set free by the grace of God as He looks on the perfect sacrifice of His Son that satisfies His wrath.

I am set free because my Savior was torn apart and humiliated in death to pay the price of my ugly heart. Today, I’ll let the tears roll because my belly full of joy came at great cost.

My complete and abundant joy was secured when God’s complete and perfect wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I don’t understand this Holy Saturday, but I do understand this: the dead weight of Friday looks to Sunday for relief in the resurrection.

Torn apart you paid my price,
The wrath of God was satisfied
I traded sin, you gave me life
My hope is found on Jesus Christ

“The happy ending of the Resurrection is so enormous that it swallows up even the sorrow of the Cross.” – Tim Keller