The Maastricht Family

During one of my last weekends in Europe, I went to London with my buddy Caleb to meet up with our friend Collin who was doing a London study abroad program. We ate pies and pasties, saw Wicked on West End, watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and ambled through the Kensington gardens at sunset. After the perfect London weekend, we settled down in an authentic British pub. The conversation quickly turned to our different study-abroad programs. Collin asked Caleb and I what the group dynamics had been like in Maastricht. We paused for a long while, searching our brains for a less cliché version of what we knew we were going to have to say.

“We’re a family.”

When I signed up for this study abroad trip, I knew practically no one who would be in Maastricht with me this summer. Two and a half months later, I came back with a family. I know, I know, save the sappy stuff for Jon Green novels and Hallmark cards, but I can’t help it.

We were a family. 

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The highlight of these college study abroad trips is supposed to be a destination or an excursion, paragliding in Switzerland or touring the Vatican in Rome. The highlight is supposed to be something unique to the place you went to, something you paid for, a brief opportunity in your life to do something unique or daring or adventurous. But as I look back on a summer in Europe, I realize that the highlight of this trip was so much more than a picture on a postcard. The highlight of this trip was family—the absurd, entertaining, and loving community that happened here amongst a bunch of strangers during eleven short weeks.

If my last post about Europe was about a destination, I’d be doing a disservice to this trip and what it’s really been about. This trip was about a new family, so this post is going to tell you about mine. I could assign a familial role to everybody on this trip and tell you what I love about them, but class starts tomorrow and I don’t have time. Here’s just a sampler of a few members of my Maastricht family— people who mean the world to me.

The Family

Patrickthe angsty younger brother

I don’t know what this trip would have been like without my best buddy Patty Ice on it, but I know it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or enlightening. Patrick is one of the most fun, genuine and hilarious people I’ve ever met, and rooming with him over here has been unreal. He’s pretty mediocre at doing the dishes, his hipster music hurts my eardrums, and his hip street-wear makes me feel self-conscious, but I love this dude and I wouldn’t trade traveling Europe with him for anything.

Calebthe responsible older brother

Caleb was my closest friend coming into the trip, so I knew we’d have fun together. I didn’t, however, realize that we’d jump into canals and hike up mountains and float down rivers together. Caleb was more clutch than Michael Jordan on this trip. His responsible self kept me from getting on approximately 27 wrong trains. He also was always there with a verse or word of encouragement whenever I was feeling down.

Joythe loud younger sister

Never, ever, in all my life, have I met anyone with a name that so perfectly describes their personality. Joy radiates joy, all the time and everywhere. It bounces off the Teikyo walls and echoes around wherever she is. But that’s not the only thing that echoed. Joy skipped the grade where everybody else learned what an inside voice was, so whether she’s on a table making an impromptu speech or winning a dance-off in a nightclub, you’re gonna hear this girl coming.

Laineythat mom that nobody messes with

Lainey has this story she likes to tell about this neighborhood gang that she told off with a pocket knife at age 6. That story goes a long way in describing Lainey—she’s incredibly caring, she won’t stand for injustice, she’s the most loyal person you’ll ever meet, and she’s a teeny bit crazy. She’s also a double black belt, so don’t mess with her.

Carolinethe older sister you always want to be around 

The routine became pretty scheduled near the end of our time in Maastricht. Ask Caroline if I can do homework in her room, and then sit at the center table together with our laptops accomplishing nothing school-related. Homework was code for excellent conversation, travel plans, and a few cups of mint tea. Caroline never wants the spotlight, but I’m gonna shine it on her for a second just because she deserves it—She radiates Jesus, joy, and compassion really, really well.

Alliethe crazy cousin

Allie is that cousin who you’re always excited to see during the holidays because their life is much more cool than yours is. At any given moment, Allie is doing one of five things—laughing, climbing trees, falling off her bike, or asking deep and really cool questions. She’s also a pioneer. Not only did she start our Maastricht Bible study, but she became, to my knowledge, the first Baylor in Maastricht student to get shocked by an electric fence while over here in Europe(note: if it’s making a buzzing sound, don’t touch it.)

Timcrazy uncle #1

Tim is not your ordinary Baylor student—he’s about 45 years old and he has a gray beard. He fits the crazy uncle label to a T. Every component of the person is there: the rock ‘n roll obsession, the bizarre hobby(he’s studying the history of medieval monasteries), and the occasional comment that makes your parents blush. Tim showed me a lot on this trip about growing up, rock ‘n roll history, and how old churches and old people have a lot they can teach us about the way things are and the way things ought to be.

Connorcrazy uncle #2

Connor Hook is a living legend. Whether he is getting concussed in the Paris subway, offering literary critiques in class using his colorful, questionable vocabulary, or frequenting his favorite Maastricht café nightly, Connor goes for it. He’s a younger, slightly more turnt-up version of crazy uncle #1. Connor made Maastricht more enjoyable and a whole lot more ridiculous.

Hayley—the “chill” cousin 

You know the chaos of the Thanksgiving meal at noon that makes you want to duck under the table like there’s a bombing raid going on above your heads? Hayley is that chill cousin you gravitate towards during those moments because she’s just. so. chill. But what does chill even mean? It means people are at home around you, feel heard by you, and want to be more like you. And that describes Hayley to a T. Except for that time at the nightclub in Prague when ABBA came on. That Hayley was less chill.

Dr. RustDad

We couldn’t have asked for a better program director. Dr. Rust was there for us whenever we needed anything. He gave us a long leash but was firm when he needed to be. More than anything, Dr. Rust wanted us to have an incredible summer in Europe and did whatever it took to make that happen. His midterms might have been cruel, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a more caring, loving person who would literally do anything for any of us.

If there’s been one overarching narrative to this summer abroad, it’s been that who you’re with is way more important than where you are. My Maastricht family made my Maastricht trip incredible, and I can’t thank everybody on this trip enough for being so fun, welcoming, and loving during this summer abroad.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.      1 John 3:16

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Losing a Hero

My friend Patrick and I were out for dinner in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. We were enjoying the Pilgrim’s special, a ridiculously cheap and delicious three-course meal, inside a lively tapas bar. Pat and I were celebrating the completion of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage hike of 160 miles.

Then I checked my phone. My breathing went short and quick all the sudden. I had urgent texts from my dad to call him immediately. That never happens. I called him. His voice was raspy and weak. “Your cousin Will was killed in a car accident.”

Everything went cold, blank, and numb. I couldn’t do any talking so my dad filled the void. “Do you remember how Will used to wakeboard?” He reminisced. “He would just go for it. All the way. Like crazy.” My tears started dripping on the wooden table.

My cousin was gone.

Will, the cousin who, while in high school, built a cabin—a legit, full-sized wooden cabin complete with a balcony to drink Mountain Dew in with his friends and cousins.

Will, the cousin who went to ISU and lived in Ames for four years during my hopelessly awkward pre-teen years. While most college kids were attending keg parties, Will was taking me to Chinese restaurants, ordering sesame chicken, and asking me about my walk with Jesus.

Will, the cousin who made our annual guys cousin Christmas sleepover not only one of the best nights of the entire year but also significantly better than the girls’ separate but unequal (in terms of quantity of fun and frozen pizzas consumed) sleepover.

Will, the one who, despite having no idea how to properly wakeboard, attacked the wake with so much bravado that he jumped higher than anybody.

Will, the one who taught me to jump on a snowboard by saying something like “I don’t know, man, you just kind of, you know, jump. Just go for it.”

The tears streamed down as the memory film continued to roll. I thought about how huge Will’s role in my life was while we overlapped in Ames. I was an awkward, gangly 13-year-old boy who didn’t know who he was. Will was a man’s man who made go-karts from scraps, had enough intramural champion shirts for every day of the week, went out of his way to love on me, and most importantly showed me that life in Jesus wasn’t a dull, lifeless routine but a vibrant and adventurous lifestyle that was exciting, challenging, and abundant. Will was one of my heroes. And now he was gone.

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WIll and I in Colorado after a day of snowboarding

Later that night, I pulled out my journal, put pen to paper, and tried to get some things out of me.

“I miss Will. I hate that I can’t tell him that I love him right now. Death feels so real and permanent and hard. But death, death for those in Christ is only a veil. It’s a passage we walk towards eternity with our Savior. Will is secure in Jesus right now. Because of that, I will choose joy. I will choose joy because JOY called Will home and now Will is experiencing unspeakable joy in the presence of our God.

This sorrow is real, and this is a time for mourning—a life ended so early, a beautiful life that was doing things and going places and bearing fruit. Yes, this sorrow is so real. But joy, yes, joy, overwhelms it. The truth is that Will’s death does not touch God’s unfailing promises, unending faithfulness, or ridiculous love.

One thing I remember about Will was that he had this aura about him, this contagious spirit made up his goofy grin and magnetic personality in equal measure. Will had Joy, that fruit of the Spirit we pick up from contact with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. And now, now that Will is rubbing shoulders with the King in His forever home, that Joy must be more real than ever.”

My dad is a really wise man, somebody who speaks clarity and love and truth into situations. The day after I heard the news, I called him from a restaurant in Barcelona hoping to hear some comforting wisdom. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his words.

“Vince, here’s what I’m finding comfort in right now.” His voice was strained but clear. “Paul writes that ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain.’ And here’s the thing: we either believe those words or we don’t. And if we believe them, then this is going to be OK.”

My cousin Will believed those Divine words, that living was Christ, and that death was gain because it meant going home. His trust in the saving grace of Jesus Christ set him free to spend his days here on Earth doing the things that matter once our days run out—serving relentlessly, living boldly, and loving deeply—all in an attempt to imitate his Savior. Just like my dad said about Will on a wakeboard, “He went for it. Like crazy.” He built stuff like crazy. He helped the people around him like crazy. He loved his wife, his family, and his friends like crazy.

Patrick Kolts, Will’s brother-in-law and best friend, posted an instagram with a caption that says everything that I want to close this post with.

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God is too good. We find strength in his joy and we are so humbled to have known William…This man was a shining example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He loved without discrimination and served as though he was lesser than everyone. His humility was covered by his joy which was found in knowing Jesus. I am so honored to have had him as a close friend and as a brother (in-law), even though it was for a short time. Death is a real thing and we will all have to face it. I pray that you would know the infinite love and forgiveness found in Jesus. “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV) Jesus conquered death, and we have no need to fear it if you know Christ as your savior. #nohashtags

 

P.S. To my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.— I’ve never been more proud to be a Nichols. The faith, hope, and joy displayed by all of you as we mourn has been nothing short of miraculous. Our joy is not the shallow kind. It has nothing to do with plastic smiles or surface-level small-talk. It is a weighty joy, a joy with roots that go deep into our Jesus, roots that hold strong and go down even deeper during storms like this one. 

P.P.S. To the rest of you — if you’re interested in reading more about my incredible cousin Will, please read these beautiful posts by my beautiful cousins that make me dab my eyes and wonder how I got so blessed with these people.

The Day I Met Grief 

For My Cousins (And Anyone That Has Ever Loved At All) 

William Mark Nichols — The Dash Between The Dates