Doxology

One autumn, during my early high school days, our church youth group piled into a van and headed north to scale Mount Monadnock, a New Hampshire beauty which stands an impressive 3165 feet tall, much of it rock. While I was accustomed to outdoor ambles, nature walks, and occasionally skiing down mountains, I had never before climbed up anything larger than a hill.

Our youth leader warned, at great length, about the need to mentally and physically prepare for this daunting excursion. I half listened. How hard could this really be?

Unsurprisingly, I was appallingly unprepared. After twenty minutes of climbing, my attempts to appear relaxed and casual were proving difficult, at best. Fifteen-year-old pride kept me in the middle of the group, and sheer determination not to fall behind led to an adrenaline rush. My lungs were exhausted, and instead of pacing myself, I basically ran up the rocky mountainside, shocked at the sharp slope and level of difficulty. My legs were screaming in despair.

A friend’s shoelace eventually came untied, and I was relieved for an excuse to pause. I chugged my water, parched, and now wished that I had taken this whole trip more seriously. Climbing a mountain, especially a rocky one like this, was no small endeavor.

The biggest surprise for me, however, was the false summit. I had not previously even known such a thing existed, but when I breathlessly told my experienced, mountain-climbing friend: Finally…I can see the top! she only grinned and shook her head.

Almost a third of the way, though! she cheered. I was crushed. It appeared that we were on the cusp of reaching the peak, but she was right. The journey had only begun.

Bleak reality set it, and I decided that if I was to survive, something needed to change. So rather than focusing on the monster of a mountain before me, I turned my gaze to the narrow path at my feet, and to the beauty of the surrounding trees and wildlife. As I continued to climb, I was now free to delight in simple pleasures: pudgy chipmunks nibbling nuts, squirrels scampering, the slant of sunlight sparkling through the swaying trees, and songbirds trilling. Nothing around me had actually changed, but everything about my journey had. I was paying attention.

I then recalled my happy school days back in second grade, and our weekly nature walks. Our teacher had told us to take our time, and to enjoy the beauty of being outside. We hunted for rare lady-slipper flowers, which we were not allowed to touch, but were encouraged to admire. Our teacher modeled how to carefully flip wet stones in order to catch tiny newts as they scrambled to escape. We studied their shape and texture before freeing them to their natural habitat. Butterflies fluttered along our path, and we sketched their bright and varied colors and patterns. We delighted in gathering autumn leave samples, burnt crimson and orange, placing them in small paper bags to study later. It was an invigorating weekly event. Inhaling fresh air while exploring the beauty of God’s creation was deeply satisfying.

This Mount Monadnock climb was obviously more strenuous than a simple nature hike, but when I slowed down and noticed my surroundings, my perspective changed. I could do this hard thing with a happy heart.

But there was a gaping hole in my approach, a missing component I had neglected. At first I had been focused on the arduous climb, and mere survival. Then I became consumed by the beauty near the path. I had quite forgotten the entire purpose of this exhausting, dangerous, and beautiful journey: the destination itself.

***

As we finally neared the peak the air turned frigid. I plucked a sweatshirt from my backpack, and quickly slipped it over my head. Ten more paces, and I had arrived.

Stepping upward through the clearing, I halted, gasping and speechless.

The view.

So this was why people willingly scaled mountains across the world.

It was utterly majestic.

I sat down on a rock, and promptly forgot about that difficult trek up: the hazardous climb, the stumbling, the thirst, the discouragement, the ache in my legs, the burning in my lungs. I also forgot the pleasurable moments of my ascent.

The glory of this peak superseded everything.

The foliage burned brightly, the sun warmed our upturned faces despite the chilly breeze, and I became miniscule in the scope of God’s world. Our group gazed at the miles that spread before us. This view felt eternal; and flung everything into proper perspective: God is the ruler, and we are his creation.

I was perched on a boulder near the heavens, and the magnificence of God was beautifully undeniable: his power and perfection engulfed me. As exposed as we were to the elements, the cliffs, and the danger, I instinctively knew, as a Christian, that I was both created and cradled by the Creator.

Our youth leader began to sing the Doxology, and I saw a tear slip down his face. God’s glory was spread before us; our hearts were pierced.

In that moment, my longing for God grew. I had tasted his holiness on Mount Monadnock.

***

We are warned about mountain top experiences, and the dangers they present.

And I get it.

In this life, we must eventually descend the mountain.

We are also admonished to enjoy the journey. See the beauty. Squeeze the goodness out of life.

I have discovered, that I am actually traveling two simultaneous roads: First is the narrow, daily path: family, church, work, chores, responsibilities. These are good and holy and sanctifying. Yet there is often a weightiness as we walk through our numbered days. These moments are certainly to be savored, and often enjoyed, yet such attitudes are hard-won. Crushing pain is always interwoven with our pleasures.

The second road is invisible: our mental, upward, soul-longing for God as we anticipate our heavenly home. The unspeakable joy that awaits us forever. As we stumble along the narrow path, let us look higher, bringing to mind the imperishable treasure, now hidden, while continually pursuing the heart of God though our earthly obedience. Eternity spent with Christ must steer our daily pursuits.

Enjoy the journey as it is a gift from God, but remember: we were created for more.

This is the way to suffer well, Christians: reminding ourselves that God has a grand purpose in our sorrows of sickness, tragedy, financial ruin, relational aches, and loneliness. Things we would never choose, as we are not God. He knit us together in secret and designed us for eternity, and no earthly terror may ever separate us from his love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Unspoken

I was recently in line at the grocery store, and two older women were chatting in front of me, bemoaning the fact that their children and grandchildren never call.

I wait and wait, but the phone never rings, harped one.

I know. And after all we’ve done for them…

I looked away, thinking of Grandpa, and knew precisely what he would have said: The phone works two ways, ladies. Pick it up and call them.

I smiled, thinking of his voice.

And quite suddenly, I recalled a specific day…

But before I tell you the story, I first must paint the backdrop.

***

My father’s German parents dwelt in a pretty, tree-lined suburb of Chicago. My Grandma Flo both entered and departed this life within the same four walls, and never lived a moment elsewhere. She and my grandfather married, and raised their four sons in that very house. The yard and flowers and shrubs were tended and lovely, as Grandma possessed a green thumb. She preferred her plantings and gardening to people. Other than gardening, her interests centered around creating beautiful pulled rugs while watching the Chicago Bears, and heaven help anyone who blocked the television on Sunday afternoons. A complicated and difficult woman, she married her extreme opposite. My Grandpa Herbie was every bit as sweet and mild-mannered as Flo was stubborn. Yet when she laughed, tossing back her head, I knew exactly why Grandpa had fallen for her. Her wedding photos are stunning.

Grandpa was quite handsome himself, hair slicked back with olive skin, set off by clear blue eyes. He quietly watched the Bears with his wife, pot roast and German potato salad perched upon the plate balancing atop his knees. He chewed slowly, mild-mannered even in eating, washing down bites of pot roast with hot coffee, every now and again murmuring: Oh Golly, as the Bears fumbled. Herbie smiled passively and smoked cigarettes liberally, humbly watching life pass by like a slow parade. He was a hard and steady worker, a housepainter by trade, timely and neat in his work and appearance, yet never rushed.

After a spell, when the pot roast was gone, he softly slipped to the garage. His hobby was woodworking, and he labored carefully cutting and sanding and blowing away sawdust in the garage. I have a toy bench with my name burned in the bottom, plus a doll cradle he built, my heritage from this grandfather. That and his blue eyes, same shade.

When my grandparents passed away, their four sons found decades worth of Christmas gifts we had purchased for them: belts, gloves, shirts, sweaters, vases, cologne, and picture frames, neatly stacked in the guest closet, unused. They also discovered thousands of dollars hidden throughout the house, in coffee cans and unmarked tins. My grandparents had been excessively frugal, plus mistrustful of all banks, unforgiving even decades after the Great Depression.

I grew up one thousand miles away from these grandparents of mine. Whether or not they sent birthday gifts, I do not recall. Christmas gifts arrived, painful evidence of their ignorance of us, their own grandchildren. But it was their lack of relational pursuit that stung. In my entire life, they visited us one time, Out East, as they said, and that was before I was even in kindergarten.

We traveled many summers to visit them, driving nearly twenty hours. I remember finally arriving at their home, which smelled of coffee and aftershave and cigarettes. I was quite young and beyond excited, combing my hair repeatedly minutes before we pulled into their driveway. Yet after shyly saying our hellos, there was nothing for my brother and me to do. No games, no outings, nothing special planned. They did not ask us about our friends or pets or hobbies or school. We were perfect little strangers; our heritage invisible regardless of both shared blood and last name.

After a time, we ran outdoors, screen door banging, ready to play with neighborhood children and our younger cousins.

It was always thus.

***

I grew up in New England, where the magnificent seasons spun in brilliance. My maternal grandparents also dwelt in New England, on Washington Street, the only childhood home my mother and her four siblings ever knew. Their home remains at the center of my childhood memories: a fenced yard, woods in back, a wide front porch with French doors, bunches of loud holiday gatherings and meals, and most importantly, Grandpa.

Grandma was certainly there too, but as moody and difficult as my other grandmother. She excelled in bookkeeping and running numbers, plus her secretarial work. Grandma kept a clean, tidy home and was an exceptional cook. But people were simply not her thing. She could knit circles around everyone, and she adored her Boston Red Sox. Grandma and Grandpa spent evenings in their television room, ball game blaring. Grandpa was more interested in reading by lamplight each evening, donning a noise-blocking headset, while amicably seated next to his wife. He rocked in his chair, turning pages, lost in story, while Grandma rocked, knitting needles clicking while she clucked at those Red Sox players: correcting, criticizing, and cheering them to victory.

Grandpa was the best people person. It did not matter where you came from from, what you wore, or what you believed. He found a friendly commonality, and in a snap put even the most reticent person at ease. He was a salesman by trade, and a delightfully honest one. People simply adored him.

God was kind to gift my brother and me with such a grandparent, who made up for all of the withholding from my other grandparents. He was a Go Big or Go Home Grandpa, lavishing us with laughter and gifts and complete presence. Grandpa took the mundane, and wrapped it up in adventure. Errands to the hardware store and town dump and the gas station were fun. He shared stories and sang songs, and treated us to ice cream cones at the funniest times of day without batting an eye. We felt like royalty in his presence, cruising around town in his Volvo. We were cherished and honored, deeply known and forever loved.

Grandpa remained trustworthy: he protected his family, drove safely, was consistent in working hard, and although he spoiled his grandchildren, he was fun without being embarrassingly silly. There was a steadiness at his core that allowed my stomach to relax. I was a quiet child, and preferred a bit of personal space, while my brother was far more social, interacting and talking constantly. Grandpa seamlessly honored both personalities, understanding our depths like no other. His favor over us had no strings attached and never increased after our achievements. It anchored us, and remained as steady as the rising sun. He was proud of us simply because we were his grandchildren.

His love dazzled through his actions, and I do not recall him telling us that he loved us. He did not need to. His love was strong and unspoken. The very best kind, because it was proven; a steady stream flowing through our childhood. Likewise his devotion to God. He never announced that he was having his quiet time. Instead, he simply prayed and read and marked his Bible. Who Grandpa was was evidenced in his daily living. It was beautifully uncomplicated.

As it goes, bees are drawn to nectar, not vinegar. I loved my Grandpa.

***

The other day, while cleaning out my dresser, I found Wormy.

Wormy was my beloved childhood bookmark. He is a very thin leather shoelace, with an orange head and two googly eyes. He kept my place in more library books than I could ever count. Wherever I meandered, I brought a book, and that book contained Wormy.

The year I began first grade, I had one wish for Christmas: my very own dictionary.

Word spread through the family, and my uncle could not let this go. A first grader who wants a dictionary? He grabbed my mother’s elbow. Should you take her to the pediatrician? What first grader wants a dictionary?

Grandpa did not make fun. Of course she needs a dictionary! His voiced was clear; certain. Every true reader needs a dictionary!

That Christmas morning, on Washington Street, I ripped open my gift. I was now the proud owner of a Macmillan Dictionary for Children. I had been given the world. Wormy did his job and marked pages as I expanded my vocabulary.

Grandpa softly elbowed me with a twinkle in his eyes. We bookworms must stick together.

***

One spring, we packed our bags for a long weekend trip to Maine: Grandma and Grandpa, my parents, my brother, and me. I must have been seven or eight at the time. There was to be plenty of fishing and outdoor fun, eating out and after-dinner ice cream cones. My brother and I couldn’t wait.

The rain began to fall as we headed north in Grandpa’s Volvo.

We arrived hours later at the cabin door, soaked, suitcases in hand.

The cabin was not quite as advertised, and there was scarcely enough space for two, let alone six people. Grandpa promptly announced that everyone was to get back into the car, as we would be dining out.

It took an hour to find a suitable restaurant. When we had finished dinner, Grandpa asked to see their dessert menu. No ice cream.

We left, and Grandpa said that no vacation was complete without ice cream for his grandchildren.

Oh really, Bob. We are tired, said Grandma. We’ll get a cone tomorrow.

Grandpa was not as mild-mannered as my other Grandpa. If he said we were getting ice cream, then so be it we were getting ice cream. And we did, over an hour later, as we drove through the winding woods in rain.

***

It was still drizzling the next morning, when we scurried to the Volvo, to take a drive to an outlet, something to do since fishing was out.

The rain was torrential. We eventually picked up sandwiches at a local deli, and ate silently, scrunched in the car. I pulled out my book and read, passing time as we waited for the rain to lighten. It finally did, and the sun peeked out. We emerged from the car to stretch, and to throw away our lunch wrappings.

Things were definitely improving. Without rain we could finally go fishing and perhaps even play mini golf.

Thirty minutes later, while Grandpa was driving, I picked up my book that had fallen at my feet earlier when we had exited the car to stretch. Wormy was gone.

I frantically flipped through the pages, felt near my seatbelt, and looked on the floor. Nothing.

My eyes filled.

Wormy’s gone, I told my mother.

She helped me look, but to no avail. We stopped at a gas station and everyone got out. We searched the Volvo, but Wormy had vanished.

There’s nothing we can do, my parents said. Your bookmark is gone.

I began to cry.

Why is she crying? my grandmother asked. It is just a bookmark, for Pete’s sake.

Grandpa grew serious.

He is not gone, he said matter-of-factly. In fact, he is probably waiting for us back at the spot where we ate our lunch.

I felt a spark of hope.

The three adults began murmuring at once: It is too far and This is our chance to fish and It is just a bookmark and These things happen and She will get over it and…

Who died and made you boss? Grandpa’s eyes were wide. My brother and I giggled.

So we headed back, and it was a long drive. The rain picked up again, just as we sailed into the parking lot. Grandpa hopped cheerfully out of the car, and walked around, opening my backseat door. I felt like the luckiest girl in the entire world, with a Grandpa who understood and cared enough to go back for Wormy.

We looked around for a minute, before I spied his orange head in the dirt.

I knew he was waiting, Grandpa offered with a smile.

He opened the door for me with a low bow, and I am quite sure that I felt more cherished in that moment than I ever have.

***

Real love is costly and unselfish. A gigantic mural, painted with sweeping strokes of unmistakable goodness in action: colors vibrant, alive, and utterly impossible to hide.

Grandpa died nearly thirty years ago, but I remember.

Thank you, Grandpa for loving well, for not leaving me mere crumbs, wondering if I belonged or if I mattered. Thank you for giving me an entire banquet feast, a surety of belonging and love through presence and pursuit: the likeness of the heart of God.

Sorrows of Gold

We had recently left Texas, waving goodbye to the dusty, high heat of one state while inching mile-by-mile to the sweltering humidity and palm trees of another. Our children were no longer babies, but still young. After a gazillion hours spent driving, followed by days of unpacking and quartering endless peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches while trying to find the boxed paper plates, I hit pause.

Perched alone amongst stacked boxes in our bedroom, I closed the door and wept. By nature, I am not a frequent crier, but when I do, it comes in a whooshing, quiet rush.

But on that particular day, some thirteen years ago, the crying felt more like a torrential downpour of honest introspection of my lack. I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. You are a wife and a mother and a sister and a daughter, Kristin. People need you. Pull it together.

Pulling it together is my default. I prefer to do hard things alone, and to not be a bother.

But here’s the thing that has taken me forever and a day to acknowledge: it is okay to be broken and fragile, and to ask for help. Self-sufficiency is the noblest of lies, rooted in pride. Our hardships are not meant to sanctify only us: the sharing of burdens is God’s means to also grow others. While we all have our own responsibilities to carry, self-sufficiency can stealthily morph into selfishness.

Plus, there eventually comes a day when our old bootstraps break as we attempt to pull ourselves up, and what then?

While my Pull it together, people need you sounded good, and was true, there was pain swelling in my heart. My husband’s job uncertainty, his new ministry, the financial needs of our family, and the chaos of moving and beginning again invaded and crushed my spirit. I was tired and scared and worn down from being brave under pressure. I was drowning in an invisible puddle of insufficiency, quite unable to handle the large tasks looming, and even worse the lesser things, like cooking a dinner sans pots and pans (which were stuffed in a box somewhere). A dinner consisting of something other than cereal and toast.

My tears eventually stopped, but my heart remained flat and dull and weary. From a reasonable perspective, how would all of these loose ends come together?

I wish that I could twirl back time, and be that person to comfort my younger self, while speaking truth:

Hold on. There is purpose in your suffering. There is goodness in your lack. Be honest with others in the sharing of your struggles. Keep your Bible open, and pray. God loves you, and he is going to lead you directly through situations far worse than this moment. Trust him. There will be years of fiery furnace living, and God is THERE. You will also experience tremendous joys, and God is THERE. Remember: His ways are not ours, and your faith will be tested. Press into him, because you are his. Study Job. Read Jonah. Immerse yourself in the Psalms. Comfort your spirit in the Gospel. Heaven is coming. Obey God and you will grow, as the dross of life melts away in the pain of refinement. God is working. Formation in affliction will cost dearly, but it will also make you.

I had so much to learn but was too busy fumbling with my tired bootstraps.

***

A few weeks after my crying jag, a friend called and invited me to a women’s Monday night Bible study at her church. It is small but we have a godly teacher, she offered.

I accepted.

The crowd was indeed slim, and we began by singing an old hymn. Our teacher, an older woman, stood and prayed. She spoke reverently to God, sincerely thanking him for another day of life, for his gift of faith, and for blessing us with the Bible. Her words were simple; unadorned and humble. She asked God to soften our hearts, and to guide her teaching of Scripture, that she would be found faithful.

Amen.

And then she began teaching us from the book of Ephesians. Chapter two. And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy…

I still have notes from that time, jotted in the margins of my Bible. She walked us through each phrase, step-by-step, teaching us God’s Word patiently and thoroughly. During the following weeks, I learned that she had suffered severe illness, poverty, early widowhood, the death of her son, and betrayal. Every single time she shared of her trials, she gently highlighted two components: her responses to the particular trial and the overarching faithfulness of God. Her words were neither fancy nor pity-laced. She was transparently tutoring us in what she had gleaned through what seemed a life filled with losses, stacked terribly high. We leaned in.

We must never think we are self-sufficient, she warned. God is in charge, and he is always enough, she added, eyes filling. Trust him through it all. He knows what he is doing. We all face pain, but it is our personal response that matters. It reveals our true allegiance.

Her sorrows had become our gold.

Her words were treasures that held sway because of her intense sufferings. There she stood before us, in a simple dress, clean and starched and faded. Her face was wrinkled, surrendered, and content. She radiated peace.

God is our rock. He is the only thing in life that may never be taken. He is solid and unchanging. Anchor yourself to him.

I had been in Bible studies before: power points and videos and expensive clothing and bright lipstick and polished filming. This was not that.

Before me stood an elderly woman with her Bible and her testimony. She treasured God, and it framed her countenance, adorning her words and her life. I hungered for what she had.

***

Not too long ago, I was introduced to an older woman who had once been a pastor’s wife.

I hated every single minute of it, she spoke bluntly, eyes narrowed, hands on hips. And my former husband did, too. It was a miserable existence. She told me that they had divorced long ago and she was remarried. I had known this woman under two minutes, yet her bitterness was draped like a neon cloak upon her slim shoulders, evident to anyone with a pulse. She went on to share a few more difficulties in her life, her words caustic and cutting and drenched in anger. There was no disputing that her life had been peppered with difficulty. I am not going to pretend that I truly know of her pain, and the stories behind her life. That would be unfair. But it was clear that her bitterness had grown impenetrable. It was a weighty and unattractive beast.

I returned home from this encounter and opened my Bible, which placed me in Ephesians 2. As I studied those worn pages, marked from Bible Study some thirteen years ago, I remembered our teacher.

It is what we do next, after our heartache comes, that matters, she said.

I always have a choice: I can allow my personal hardships and tragedies and pain to become my identity. A stubborn, spoiled pet; chained to excuses and self-pity. Or I can glorify God, gratefully surrendering to his path, which often includes pain. This is my daily choice, an act of the will. Easy to type, and hard to flesh out. This is deeply personal. No one can accomplish it for another.

I am grateful my Bible Study teacher chose the latter. She scattered seeds of gold, treasures born of affliction, now flourishing far and wide. God gave the increase. An imperishable inheritance awaits her.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:3-7

Tethered to Christ

I studied and researched paint colors for days: Partly Cloudy, Courtland Blue, Borrowed Light, Little Pond, Saphire Berry. Observing the swatches at different moments of the day, while stepping back and noticing shadows caused changes in the feel and true color. Some I liked, a little bit, but not wholeheartedly. Paint colors hold weight, and one thing remains true: if I don’t love it at first blush, I never will.

So I finally took a picture on my phone, and held it up to the tired man behind the counter. This is the one, I told him. Can you help me?

He shook his head. We can only match a color from paper or an object or a paint chip. The pixels do not work from a phone. They trick you.

This blue I was hunting is relaxing and steady, both calming and invigorating. An open-sky space inviting me to string words.

As it turned out, the long line of color samples I played with were forgettable. Every swatch missed the mark. And then, one evening, I stumbled upon a review of Honest Blue from paint company Sherwin Williams.

When I gazed at the color online, I was not enthused. It seemed too dark, too flat, and too gray. But then I remembered the tricky computer pixels and paid attention instead to the description from Sherwin Williams, along with a plethora of reviews: This color brightens up a room with little natural light. It appears far softer and prettier than shown. It is magnificent. According to its description, Honest Blue is infused with light reflective tones that permeate the darkest of crevices, much to the delight of consumers.

So I went for it in a slim act of faith, trusting the description, and returned home with two gallons in eggshell finish. I flung drop cloths over everything and went to work. Within a few hours, the room was lovely. Transformed. It looked nothing like the swatch, but resembled stretches of sky and ocean. I could have wept at its beauty. It was perfect, just as its makers had noted.

By trusting the words of the designers, my office was made new.

***

With each passing year, I embrace with growing clarity the truth that there are no shortcuts to personal holiness. Clinging to Christ is the solution for making every moment a holy offering. This passion stirs deep before bubbling to the surface: I am responsible for my own love and obedience to Jesus, whose yoke is easy and burden light.

Like my freshly painted office, God has provided a perfect means of rescue for the sin pulsing through all human veins, covering our ugly walls with fresh, light-infused paint as we repent and turn to him in faith. This is the Good News. A Redeemer to gently touch our pitch dark, hidden spaces, imprinting and softening us into the image of Christ. Our Rescuer is our Lifeblood, our Healer, our Vine, and we are the small branches. Our slave-chains to this world have been severed.

God’s affection upon his own is Honest Blue. Our Creator knows with precision what brings growth and health and beauty to our poverty-stricken souls. Our freedom is found in our chains. Bound to Christ forever. It seems unlikely to be free while remaining tethered, doesn’t it?

The paint might first appear flat or gray or dull, but the reflective light tones of Jesus radiate to the darkest of corners, infusing beauty and brightness to the uttermost, wiping away the grime and cobwebs of our ugly sin. We are new creatures, transformed.

***

I will be a grandmother soon. I shiver with excitement at the thought of holding that tiny bundle of sweetness. My husband and I pray for our children and grandchild each day. We pray that all of our grandchildren will love God at an early age. Waiting and praying for this baby has caused me to consider the means of personal holiness in a child’s life. I am grieved at the thought of so many children within the universal church, being entertained on Sunday mornings with merry-go-round games and shallow teaching.

No individual, regardless of age, may ever be fettered to Christ without a reckoning of personal sin. A grieving of its grip. How harmful, how confusing to wave a Jesus flag, while skipping over the dark stain of sin? Jesus Saves we warble, which is absolutely true. But saves from what? children wonder. The teaching of our human wickedness and hopelessness without a perfect Rescuer to take our blame is paramount. It is only as we recognize our death sentence that we may fling our souls upon Jesus Christ, tethered to him, cradled in sweet relief.

Remember, that as Christ-followers, we have a God who sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

Our Maker sings over us.

Contemplate that for a moment.

Do our children and grandchildren realize the incredible beauty and power and tenderness of our God?

As parents, we may never own our children’s faith. But if we treasure Sunday mornings, holding them sacred and dear, our children are prone to follow. This is the delightful joy of discipleship that is often overlooked: parents to children. Teach them the truth of sin’s horror, followed by the sweetness of God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace and complete rescue.

Sunday mornings at church must never be optional or casual. We are worshipping the highest of Kings, the Creator of all. Our God is set apart and holy. Enter your church in a state of humility, hungry to worship and learn and encourage others in their faith. Spear to death all casual indifference. Display awe and reverence not out of ritual, but from a tender place of highest respect. Your children and grandchildren will then see the goodness of God, and long for the things of Jesus Christ, rather than the poor substitutes of this world.

***

A few days ago, I stood at the edge of our backyard woods, enjoying the many different types of trees. Little crab apples are forming upon one. As I took in their green plumpness, I had that uncomfortable sense that I was being watched. Peering into the woods, I scanned the area, and saw nothing unusual. Yet I could not shake the feeling. Slowing my gaze, I perused the woods again. Six eyes, camouflaged and still. Three young deer were watching me. Gentle and wide-eyed and still.

If I had not intentionally stepped outside, observant and eager to seek the great outdoors, I would have missed those deer. They still would have been there, but I would have remained pitifully unaware.

God desires for us to seek him (Proverbs 8:17, Deuteronomy 4:29, Psalm 9:10, Psalm 14:2, Psalm 119:2, Lamentations 3:25, Amos 5:4, Psalm 27:8). Do not forsake the spiritual disciplines, which move us toward Christ. Staying tethered to God for a lifetime takes an act of the will. Fortitude. It is arduous to swim against the tide of culture, but I have discovered that personal faith is immeasurably strengthened by obedience, step by step. Our reward will be heavenly. Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

It is a choice to practice gathering to worship, reading our Bible, meditating on Scripture, praying, and receiving the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of his stunning sacrifice. These are pursuits that rightly follow a heart bent on serving our Father. God is in our midst, patient and gentle and watching.

Tether yourself joyfully to him and live.

Margin and Wonder

My sister-in-law is a professional organizer. She tidies with precision, and every space she touches transforms into fresh, clean, and beautiful. The other day she posted a kitchen pantry photo in which chaos had been magically put to rights, with the caption: It’s okay not to fill up every space on the shelf. In between neatly stacked cans and linear spices was space. Glorious space.

This margin has a soporific effect. I gazed at these pictures and grew calm.

Margin is not only for shelves and drawers and homes. Embracing margin is a chosen way of living that often paves a path to wonder.

***

When our children were young, I built a couple of hours of margin into our days. Rest time followed lunch, and for thirty minutes everyone had a book to read…a non-negotiable habit. After this, they played quietly in the solitude of their bedrooms for an additional hour. It was soothing. One son memorized football statistics, another played games with his toy rescue heroes, and another built endless Lego creations and puzzles. Our daughter lined up her many stuffed animals, and decorated her dollhouse and created delightful feasts in her toy kitchen. Sometimes I peeked into their rooms, and often our children would be staring out the window, just thinking. I wanted them to know that their worth was never tied up in their doings or accomplishments: they were designed by God, created in his image, and beloved. This set aside time of margin allowed their wonder to sprout wings and soar.

***

Over a year ago, I took part in a writing mentorship, and signed up for a Facebook account to interact with the other women in the group. This was my first go-around with Facebook, and I had been warned of its powerful sway. It proved to be a mighty pull, and as much as I enjoyed the writing information shared within our group, I quickly discovered the underbelly that lures with curling, baiting finger: Look at this and Come, see what you don’t have, or Spy on her and judge. Go ahead, waste five, ten, or forty minutes here. Within days I felt all slivers of contemplation dwindling, creative juices growing sluggish, and time in prayer shortened. An overall diminished sense of margin. I had allowed white space to vanish, eaten up in snippets of gluttonous waste. My heart and mind felt slow and dull.

One morning during this time, I sat down at my desk, and spotted a dazzling bluebird flitting upon the branches outside of our office window. It cocked its vibrant head, and its eye was so perfectly round that I could not help but stare. As it hopped from branch to branch, chirping, I felt a rush of wonder at the precision of God’s creation. Moments passed before a male cardinal landed upon a nearby branch, and suddenly I had the privilege of marveling over the beauty of these two bright creatures decorating our tree. I felt quickened, alive by five minutes of pure, uninterrupted thinking.

I tapped the delete account button on Facebook within the hour, and was filled with relief, exhaling as though I had personally bypassed something dark and uncontrollable: a thief to margin and wonder. With one click I had crushed a boulder blocking my path towards calm contentedness. Perhaps others may partake and thrive and even minister in such social media spaces, but I was definitely not one of them.

***

These small thoughts bring to mind one summer afternoon at my grandparent’s home on Washington Street. Their front door opened into a small, rectangular front hall which held a classic New England desk stained dark. An old-fashioned wooden mortar and pestle sat nestled against the leg of the desk, and within that container stood a pair of ancient bellows.

One afternoon, as a child, I ran my hands over the smooth bellows, curious. Grandpa happened through the front hall, and scooted down next to me. Those are antique, Kristin. Would you like to see how they work?

I nodded, and he compressed the leather apparatus which produced a fast and forceful rush of air. They are used to make a small spark or flame grow larger. These hold the power to create a roaring fire. I have remembered my grandfather’s words often.

Whatever I choose to fan in my personal life will grow. How much wonder and awe will I invite into each day by pumping the bellows of stillness and margin?

It is okay not to fill up every nook on life’s shelf.

Unclutter your life. Slow down for a spell. Pitch and delete and turn the things off. Look out the window, take a walk, or rock in a chair on the front porch and feel the simple goodness of a gentle breeze. Chisel pockets of margin into your day, a space to hear that still, small voice (I Kings 19:12 NKJV).

Experience the richness of the wonder of God. It is a gift.

Do Not Delay

It was a lush summery day, some forty years ago. The sun sparkled and a gentle breeze blew, causing the tall grass to bend and sway in a field close to Washington Street, near the home of my grandparents. My uncle had coaxed my father, brother, and me to observe his dog in action.

She’s an attack dog, he boasted. I glanced up at my father and could tell by his narrowed squint that he detected exaggeration.

My uncle was never known for follow-through, and in fact, quit things with alarming regularity. One time, while in high school, he secured a lengthy newspaper delivery route for summer employment. After a few days of hard work, and a route far longer than he preferred, he quit delivering without telling a soul. One evening that week, during dinner, my grandfather received a phone call: a manager reporting that a string of customers were beyond livid, wondering where on earth were their daily papers? As it happened, my uncle had dutifully picked up his delivery stack each morning, bicycled down to the local bridge, and dumped the papers into the rush of river, before pedaling home to munch on cereal and watch television.

He held many jobs, for short periods of time, before either quitting or being fired, which must have been a difficult pill for my respectable grandfather to swallow.

Another high school catastrophe occurred when my salesman-grandfather noticed that a score of his finest sample pens had gone missing. He emptied filing cabinets and drawers, before discovering the cold truth: his son, my uncle, had been peddling the pens at school, selling them for quick cash, which obviously suited him far better than holding any job that required actual labor.

So, by the time we stood in the field that day, I had heard all of the stories, and was inclined to believe not a word that my uncle said. Attack dog? Whatever.

***

My uncle had purchased this expensive purebred puppy two years prior: a female German Shephard named Rontu. She had grown from a frolicking and chunky bundle of energy into a sleek, dark, and still creature. By nature, I was comfortable around all dogs, never one to scare. This lack of fear bothered my parents who regularly warned me: Not every dog is safe or friendly, Kristin.

Rontu was the very first dog that I did not wholeheartedly embrace; there was something different about her. An intensity, a silence. I chose to keep some distance.

They made an odd pair: my uncle, swaggering, unfocused, with little forethought to any venture, and his dog: alert, highly focused, yet aloof; detached from anything other than her master.

Are you guys ready? My uncle grinned. Stand back and watch what she can do.

He began with the basics, which were actually impressive, considering the source. Sit. Stay. Down. Heel. Come. Rontu’s obedience was as swift as his commands. There was no cajoling, no second reminders. He was basking in this showing off, feeling the power of his words coming to fruition in front of this slim audience of three. Even at the age of nine I sort of felt sorry for him; embarrassed by his need to be king, if only for an afternoon.

We enjoyed watching the show, though. I was shocked that this particular uncle had taken the time to consistently attend so many classes with his dog. (Later on, I found out that he lived in a terrible section of the city, and he owed people money. Cash that he did not have. He had been beaten within an inch of his life, wailed my grandmother, and in order to preserve his existence, trained Rontu as a form of protection. It worked.)

After twenty minutes or so, my father thanked him, and suggested we head back to my grandparents’ house. But my uncle, reveling in such glory, had one more trick.

It’s the best one, he added. He mumbled something to my father, who shook his head.

But my uncle was on a roll and issued the command anyway.

Rontu, he said. Her brown eyes gazed directly at his face. He pointed to a man on the far side of the field, walking, minding his own business on this lustrous summer’s day.

Rontu, hit!

And she took off, without sound, but with a blazing speed and surety. A dangerous blur flying in a direct line to this perfect stranger. She was gaining on him.

Call her off! my father hollered.

My uncle only laughed. Isn’t this cool? She will do whatever I say!

At this point, my heart was thudding in my throat, my feet glued to the earth. Rontu was catching up to this helpless victim who was now high-tailing it, bracing for an imminent attack.

And then, within yards, my uncle called only two words: Rontu, out!

She slowed immediately, curving and beautifully turning back to her master, loping in relaxed fashion; completely ignoring her former prey. She arrived at my uncle’s feet, panting.

Good girl. He patted her head and her eyes closed as she plopped down submissively at his feet.

I learned later that if he had not summoned her, she would have bitten the man first on his forearm, dragging him down before fastening her razor sharp grip upon his throat, puncturing the jugular.

***

Is there anything as disturbing as a child who is encouraged to disobey? Children trained for disobedience?

Stewart, come here. Little Stewart crosses his arms and locks his legs. Stewart, I am going to count to three. One…Two…Thr-

And Stewart ambles half-heartedly to his parents, who then praise him for disobeying the first time.

To delay is to disobey.

God’s word is simple to understand, and in our sinful bent towards defiance and stubbornness, often difficult to obey.

The biblical structure of the home and the church is now being called into question by professing believers: Did God really call men to lovingly shepherd their families and their churches? Is marriage really between one man and one woman? Do parents really have authority over their young children? I hear people questioning these clarities of Scripture, and I tremble, reminded of Eve, heeding the voice of Satan, rather than the voice of God. Did God really mean to abstain from this one luscious tree? Why that makes no sense! Partake, and you will be like God, full of knowledge.

She believed herself to be wiser than her Creator.

Her choice of blatant disobedience, coupled with Adam’s floundering silence and lack of backbone led to death. The consequences resulted in ruin for the ages.

A swift glance at biblical disobedience beyond the Garden of Eden is also alarming: Cain’s rage and eventual murder of his own brother, Noah’s neighbors swept to eternal damnation by flood, Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt, and the Jewish nation wandering for four decades as punishment for their rebellion. There are always steep consequences for disobedience.

The commonality of origin is clear: an ongoing rebellious reliance upon human wisdom rather than God’s instruction.

There is strength in obedience; in swift godly submission. Think of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God’s instruction, Mary’s response of Yes, Lord, May it be to me as you have said, and Jesus’ humble submission to God the Father, as he hung on the cross. Each one of these acts of prompt, sacrificial obedience produced blessings for the ages.

It is time, Christ-followers, to become like Rontu: singular in focus, with our aim to hear and obey only the voice of our God, our Master. Leave all consequences for such obedience in his hands. Hands that created the universe out of nothing; hands that are holding the world even now. Eternity is coming, and eternity is forever. Do not delay.

Isaiah 5:20-21: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

Remembering Finn

(I put this story to paper over a decade ago, and chose to dust it off this week as a way to celebrate this one year anniversary of The Palest Ink. The events themselves took place nearly fifteen years ago. I remember Finn and pray. The Lord softens our hearts towards certain people, doesn’t he?)

***

We had lived in our Texas home for three years when Finn arrived. Several families had come and gone during those dry, hot summers. So when another moving truck rattled onto our street, I thought little of it.

Our brick home was situated on a dead-end street, which was perfect for the children to ride bikes, play baseball, pull wagons, and chase each other. One summer morning our children and several neighbors were doing these things while I weeded the flower beds. I thought I heard a new voice and as I looked up, there stood a young boy, perhaps ten years of age. I remember thinking, My goodness, he looks like something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.

The boy was much too thin with large hazel eyes and dirty blond hair that was tangled. A slight overbite became obvious when he quietly spoke, and dark circles lay under his eyes. His shoes were completely worn out and far too tight….I made a mental note of the fact that it was over 100 degrees yet he wore a long-sleeved shirt.

I had a sudden urge to take him inside, scrub his hands and face with a warm washcloth, and feed him a triple decker sandwich washed down by cold lemonade.

Would anyone like some water? I asked instead.

A resounding yes was the answer, but I noticed the new boy hung back while looking down the street.

So I stepped inside, and upon returning with the pitcher and cups, he was gone.

His name is Finn, my son Caleb informed me. And he’s frightened.

***

Over the course of that summer we got to know more about Finn, albeit by piecemeal. He gathered with the boys and other neighborhood kids after dinner (the only time the temperature seemed to fall below 95 degrees) for games of kickball, football, and baseball. I watched carefully…discreetly. Soon I discovered that he would have small conversations with me as long as I was preoccupied with other activities such as walking the dog, picking weeds, or helping Lauren Olivia on her tricycle.

Finn’s father remained mostly in the house that summer with the blinds closed tight. I saw Finn’s mother only when she pulled in from work each evening and collected her mail. Occasionally she would wave. Finn usually greeted her, but without much enthusiasm. And she called him Dalton….not Finn.

Your name is Dalton? I inquired one evening as I brushed our dog in our driveway.  He shrugged.  I’d rather be called Finn.  

He kicked a few stones and kept his gaze low. 

Finn suits you…I like that name. He smiled briefly. 

The Texas heat was brutal that summer, and I wondered why Finn rarely sought the coolness of his air-conditioned home. The boys asked him why he was always outside and he shrugged, glancing back at his house.

I have more fun out here, was the reply.

While the neighborhood children played with abandon and freedom and joy, Finn remained anxious, having spurts of fun followed by quiet. Finn’s twin sister occasionally emerged from their home as well. She and Finn were a study in opposites. She was pudgy with short chestnut hair, thick coke-bottle glasses, and fair skin.  For all of his quietness and reluctance to speak, she was a chatter-bug with a lisp.

Dalton doethn’t like to be at home, she spoke freely to me, as was her custom.

He doesn’t? I answered, noting the use of Dalton again. 

No……me neither. I nodded, waiting for her to continue.

At that moment, Velma, our next door neighbor, hollered my name in order to discuss an upcoming garage sale. I watched as Finn’s sister waved a cheerful goodbye to me, absentmindedly pushing her thick glasses up towards the bridge of her nose before skipping home. She was pleasant, simple, and unremarkable for as long as I knew her.

Her twin brother, Finn, remained elusive. He did engage our sons in whatever they played outdoors. Occasionally, the boys would come home with tall tales woven by Finn. I was pretty sure that he escaped reality by devising a fictional life that he needed to believe. Once the summer began to wane and school started, we didn’t see him as often. 

As with any shared story, details are never complete. The story must be pulled from ongoing lives that have their own twists and turns, beginnings and endings. I do not recall every event from that fall. Our family life was full with school, sports, ministry, extended family visits and the like.

I do, however, recall snapshots: 

Finn outdoors, on school nights, until ten pm. The evenings gradually growing colder and Finn without a sweatshirt or jacket, riding a skateboard. 

His older, teen aged brother, adorned in black, with dyed hair hanging over his eyes shouting for Dalton to get his rear end home.

Finn’s father, an imposing and intimidating man, always in a trench coat, never acknowledging his son, but walking straight inside the house after work. 

Finn’s mother, waving over the mailbox, friendly yet detached. As elusive as Finn, and as forgettable as her daughter.

Finn’s grandmother, babysitting most afternoons. A chain-smoking woman, snapping at her grandchildren, and ignoring everyone else. I was told that she shooed her grandchildren outdoors while she caught up on her soaps and cigarettes.

Other neighborhood kids rang the doorbell most afternoons, beckoning our children to please come out and play. Not Finn. He would simply wait in our driveway, kicking pebbles in the street, head hung low.

One day I stood by our dining room window and watched as my Caleb and Jacob ambled outdoors with a football in hand. Caleb called out a hello to Finn. Finn’s shoulders relaxed and he smiled wide. The moment was so unrehearsed and so unusual and so very real that it took my breath away. Such happiness on his small face. I knew at that moment he felt safe. I wondered right then if his mother ever gave him a tight hug just because.

It would be a few months later that Finn rang our doorbell and stepped into our home. An unforgettable day.

***

Spring was especially beautiful that year in Texas, and I spent many afternoons outdoors, snapping pictures of the wide blue sky and fragrant flowers beginning to bloom. Neighborhood children loved our large dead-end street, and emerged many afternoons to play pickup games of football, baseball, and soccer. Bikes were scattered everywhere, and I recall mixing lots of lemonade to share. Finn guzzled it down and always thanked me, eyes cast downward.

He loved Caleb and Jacob, that was clear. Perhaps love is the wrong word….I believe he felt safe with them. They didn’t tease, but listened and encouraged him. We discovered that Finn was an avid reader and I wasn’t surprised. His vocabulary was as strong as his imagination.

One afternoon I overheard Finn talking with the boys. Do you fellows have chores?

They nodded. Yes, we have lots of stuff we do to help Mom, said Jacob.

Like what? Finn seemed interested.

Let’s see…walking the dog, emptying the trash, clearing the table, setting the table, cleaning our rooms, making our beds–

Finn, uncharacteristically, interrupted. You make your beds?

Sure do. Every day. Caleb answered.

And then when Mom washes our sheets, we have to make the whole bed from scratch. Jacob’s brown eyes became round, just thinking of all that extra work he didn’t particularly enjoy.

Wow. Finn looked surprised. He glanced my way and I suddenly became very busy fiddling with my camera. His voice grew quiet. 

And then: No one’s ever washed my sheets. And they don’t smell good either. 

He paused, waiting for some reaction. My boys looked at each other, uncertain.  

And finally, Caleb: It’s okay Finn. He patted his back. Let’s go play frisbee.

***

Towards the end of March, I planned a neighborhood birthday party for Caleb and Jacob, who are slightly less than two years apart in age. I chose a Saturday in April, and the boys distributed the invitations to friends on our street. Several of them told us they would be there, but I only received one official phone RSVP, and that was from Finn’s mother. 

Dalton will be there. Her voice wasn’t unfriendly. Thank you for inviting him. 

She was reserved and articulate and distant.  I was left wondering how the day would unfold.

Precisely 15 minutes before Caleb’s and Jacob’s birthday party was supposed to begin, our doorbell rang. We had decorated simply, and as my eyes scanned the room, I decided everything looked fresh and clean, festive, yet simple. 

Perfect.  

I opened the front door.  There stood Finn. My heart caught in my throat and I again suppressed the desire to pull him through the front door and adopt him as one of our own. My goodness, the lengths he had obviously gone to for this party.

Hello, Ma’am. All formal, perfectly rehearsed. I am a bit early. 

Finn’s hair had been parted and combed down with scented hair gel. He wore a clean, new collared shirt, and a new pair of sneakers that I had seen on big-time sale at Walmart earlier in the week. I found my voice. 

Finn, honey, come right on in. 

I closed the door behind him and called upstairs to the boys, who tumbled down the stairs. They welcomed Finn as his gaze wandered around our house. He turned to me and whispered.

It is so nice and bright here. It smells good too.

I thought about the drawn blinds about his house, the smoke and soap operas.

Thank you, Finn. And then: Would you like me to take those from you? 

It was only then that I noticed four gift bags in his hands. He smiled. 

I saved my money and actually bought something for all of your children.

He sounded so grown up and so proud and it was beautiful and sad all mixed up together.  My husband walked into the room. 

Finney! he called out and shook Finn’s hand. Jon has a way with nicknames, and Finn was glowing like a Christmas tree.

Hello, Sir. 

His smile was wide. I noticed several large bruises on his arm. Well, then. Not the time to ask about that. By this time the doorbell was ringing again, and several other boys entered our home, two of whom informed me immediately that no, they didn’t like ice cream cake, and by the way, did we have party favors to pass out? 

Then I turned back to Finn, who was on one knee telling our little Lauren Olivia and Marcus that he picked out something special just for them, too.

Dear Lord, make him yours, I prayed.

After everyone had arrived, Caleb and Jacob opened their gifts and expressed their thanks. I cannot even remember what Finn gave them, but when Caleb and Jacob high-fived him and repeated their thank you’s I knew that the giver was more blessed than the receivers.

He was careful all party-long to say: please and thank you, and that was delicious, Miss Kristin.

I was in my element waiting on him, and making sure he had as much to eat as he wanted. The dark under his eyes was pronounced, and as he sat next to Jacob, I realized that my boy was the picture of health next to this poor little guy.

Okay, boys! Jon rubbed his hands together. Who is ready for the outdoor competition?

The boys hollered, and for a moment Finn paled. I needn’t have worried. Jon tousled his hair. 

Come on buddy. We’ll have a great time. Finn’s shoulders relaxed and they all raced out the front door.

Isn’t this party great? Jacob smiled and brushed by me out the front door. 

***

Simplicity and the great outdoors. That was the ticket. If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s intricate and expensive birthday parties. My birthday boys were having the time of their lives. I scooped up Lauren Olivia, and we followed the party out into the front yard, where Jon was explaining the contests, all of which involved football.  

Finn stood quietly, earnestly listening to the instructions, his small face upturned towards the sunlight. He chewed his lower lip, a habit I had grown accustomed to over the past eight or nine months. In contrast, twin brothers who were also our guests at the party, largely ignored Jon and began arguing over who was going to compete first. Jon glanced at me and I rolled my eyes. He shushed them and finished his explanations.

The competitions began and I remember cheering for all of the boys. Finn held his own, but didn’t win anything at first. Caleb and Jacob won a few, as did one of the twins, while the other sulked miserably on the sidewalk. Caleb and Jacob were having a blast, as was Finn.

As best as I can recall, the last competition involved catching a long pass. I couldn’t have written a better script if I had tried. Everyone had had a turn, and there were many drops. Jon lobbed the ball high and deep, and Finn ran. His small body in those new Walmart shoes seemed to fly. He looked over his shoulder and placed his arms out to catch the ball. And he did. Our family cheered and the boys ran and high-fived their friend. The twins sulked off to the side, claiming something was unfair. Jon chose to ignore them.

Finney….that was the catch of the day, man! Jon patted his shoulder and Finn’s smile stretched to his eyes.  I walked over to him.

You are something else, Mr. Finn!

He glanced shyly at me and whispered a thanks. Jon passed out medals, and Finn was awarded the gold, for the catch of the day.  We passed out gift bags and the party was over.  

Late that night, long after our children were asleep, I stood silently at the window, watching as Finn played in the street, gold medal around his neck, football in his small hands.

Chasing Rest

Sometimes, my friend, the most faithful thing you can do is crawl into bed at the end of the day, close your eyes, and sleep.

This is my mantra for today, this week, this month, and this summer.

Softly placing my head on my pillow each night, especially during busy or chaotic times, requires an abandonment of control. Intentionally ceasing to still my hands and quiet my mind at day’s end, when work still beckons, is an acknowledgment of my human frailty before our Creator who flung the stars to shine by pitch of night and designed the sun to warm by day. Resting reminds me that I am not God. Created in his image, I rest out of obedience (Deuteronomy 5:12). God values a pause in work, as he himself rested after his six days of Creation.

But there is an even deeper rest than sleep. It is a rest of the spirit: an abiding tranquility of the soul. A gentle ocean, with quiet, steady, lapping waves. Clear water, unperturbed and obedient to the moderate tide. A safe and beautiful place to boat and swim.

How different from the anxious, bothered soul! A roaring ocean, beating the shoreline, its undertow yanking swimmers, tugging them away from land, flailing and choking and even drowning. The anger of the white crested waves is powerful and dangerous and often deadly.

The soul of gentle waters trusts God moment-by-moment in contentment, and remains calm through absolute submission to God, who is wisdom and authority and perfect power. Nothing startles the Lord, and unflappable tranquility is the result of a heart set upon him.

The anxious, swirling ocean rears up at each bothersome wind of trial. There is no peace, because there is no authority or anchor. This soul is like a doubting, unstable wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6).

I remember so many years ago, rocking our babies in the middle of night. A street lamp threw a narrow gleam upon the dark canvas of that three a.m. window. The gentle creak of the rocker leant noise to the otherwise silent room. My babies must have felt the steady thumping of my heartbeat. In a short time, as we swayed, I sensed their small bodies relax, limp and heavy with sleep. I held them tenderly against my shoulder, kissing their downy heads and marveling at the wonder of them. They rested in my arms in utter trust.

How much more our Heavenly Father holds his own. We are so beloved by him that he cares for us moment by moment, held fast even beyond our lifetime, cradling us into forever. How often I forget the sturdiness of God’s love. We discover true rest only in Him.

***

This week I had plans to work on specific projects. Those plans crumbled due to unanticipated events, and I instantly felt a growing tightness in my shoulders, and a clenching of my jaw as I reviewed my unfinished To-Do list.

I love my To-Do list. It is how I navigate through each day. God pried the list from my hot hands and turned this week into something quite different.

I confessed yet again, apologizing for curling into selfishness: something I thought I had crucified. Tricky, because my planned projects themselves were for others, and while that in itself appears generous, I neglected to rest in God and to keep a tranquil spirit: Nevertheless not my will but yours, be done (Luke 22:42). I somehow forgot that he orchestrates all events with purpose.

I was a turbulent ocean.

I will not slip into a state of godly tranquility by happenstance. These bones require the meat and skin of repentance, prayer, and Bible reading. I am asking God to refine my To-Do list, praying for him to infuse me with a desire to obey and please only Him. Everything else is quite secondary.

I have also decided on the front end of what is shaping up to be an exceptionally busy summer, full of deep projects and extra work, to cheerfully tend to the duties which he has placed in my lap.

And then, when the evening beckons, and the sun lowers its heated rays, I will faithfully slip between cool sheets, read a good book, and go to sleep. God is awake and working, that I may rest.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

I Do and I Will

Summertime is for flip-flops and barbeques, sandy beach towels and magnificent sunsets. Evening fire-pits and spontaneous car rides ending in ice cream. Sun pulses against evening shadows, turning to morning rays tapping through the blinds early; awakening the birds who trill the beginning of another dawn.

Summertime is also for weddings.

I remember one pretty summer morning, twenty-seven years ago this August. My maid-of-honor and I had whispered late into the night, dreaming of our long anticipated futures: grown-up lives and handsome husbands and future children, with nary a clue of the complexities of real-time marriage: the newness, followed by the permanency of our vows, followed by shadows of our own sins pressed up against a fellow heir of Christ with his own shortcomings. All of it intricate and beautiful and crushing…this becoming one. A slow dance requiring a lifetime of learning, loving, forsaking self, forgiving, and growing. It is never what one imagines; but far more weighty; made richer through sacrifice.

Any two may properly answer the questions posed during the finest of premarital counseling, in addition to reading all of the books, but still. It is like researching and daydreaming of swimming: proper techniques and strokes and breathing; the rhythmic arm motion and kicking. At some point you can only learn to swim by letting go and jumping into the water.

But on that breezy, blue-skied August morning decades ago, I knew none of these things, and my first order of business was to join my bridesmaids, each of us fresh-faced and tan in our umbros, soft t-shirts, and wedding shoes. We danced the driveway and laughed, performing the twist as we intentionally scuffed the bottoms of our slightly heeled shoes so as not to slip while later walking the aisle to Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (them) and Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntaire (me).

That scuffing did the trick; it gave the shoes solid traction for wedding day festivities. It altered the shoes for the better, and although no one could see the ugly pavement marks, hidden beneath our feet, they remained. We each survived the long, lilting walk down that brilliant aisle to the front of the sanctuary.

***

I recently heard of a couple who has been married a handful of years, claiming to have never once argued. Pardon me? I nearly choked. This seems so impossible, that I am left wondering if one of them is void of opinions? Have they both reached an impossible perfection?

I am not suggesting to go home, cantankerous and spoiling for a fight, but in any real and honest marriage some scuffing up will happen, and if weathered for better or worse, will produce a gradual change in this merging of two distinct people: one man, one woman. It is the staying, the dogged determination to see this promise through, without optional exit ramps, but frequent: I am sorry and will you forgive me pleadings that result in something beautiful and lasting and God-honoring.

There is a glorious triumvirate in a Christian marriage: God…husband…wife. Through the scuffing and scars and suffering, your footing will become more sure, only if you first bow in obedience to God. Ephesians 5:21-33 has taken Jon and I years to practice and learn. It is the simplest and most difficult formula to flesh out. But it works. Dying to selfishness and sin, plus continually striving to outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10) is no cheap trick. It is costly, as is loving your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). A spouse, as it turns out, is our closest neighbor.

***

This is what I do know: as pretty as cut flowers gifted by my husband and perched tabletop appear, they pale in comparison to the truly costly. Who knew that Jon’s filling up the truck with fuel, or taking out the bulging trash bag, working so hard to pay unexpected bills, bringing me ginger ale and saltines when I was down for the count, or patiently rubbing the back of our sick children in the middle of the night would have stitched my heart to his? The grit of life. These are the selfless acts that make a velveteen rabbit marriage: soft and worn and a bit threadbare, yet beautifully blended and cherished and deeply good. Love is kind.

***

Many years ago we took the children and our dog to romp at the park, where we played for hours: football, swing sets, slides, timed races. It was lively and it was fun.

As we drove away, I looked down and gasped: my diamond setting in my engagement ring was gone.

We returned and combed the park, which was of course futile: acres upon acres of field and sand, and we had played upon it all. As we drove home, it was quiet in the car until Marcus, age six, whispered: Mommy, you and Daddy are still married though?

I laughed, and the sadness fled. We pulled into our driveway and I scooped him up and reassured him, and myself, that a diamond is just a thing, not nearly as important as the husband and wife in covenant.

Oddly enough, within a year, I was slicing apart frozen chicken, when the knife in my right hand slipped, cutting a fast and angry gash above my wedding band. My finger swelled faster than I could remove the ring, which left a helpless choking sensation in my left hand.

Jon rushed home and we raced to a walk-in clinic, where a doctor sawed the band off. The relief was immediate, followed by tears. Hadn’t it been enough to lose my diamond? Now I was holding a crudely broken wedding band. But then I remembered: it was an object. We had each other.

Ultimately, we paid a jeweler to repair it, and I wear it now. We persevere: a circle of gold, without end.

***

This August, soon after celebrating our twenty-seventh year of marriage, we will embrace our first grandbaby. This circle of life looks much like our worn wedding bands. As our children begin their marriages, promising their own vows, Jon and I will cheer them along. God treasures marriage.

I sometimes study the familiar silhouette of my husband, and remember all of the love and fun, sacrifice and hardships, disagreements and differences, and then marvel at the kindness of God. Those scuff marks have formed us, sometimes in the furnace of affliction, while enabling us to step down the aisle of life together. Not in perfection, but with strength and love, inching forward still, holding our covenant high before God. The journey of a lifetime.

My Hiding Place

For many years, my childhood church was held in a finished barn, attached by narrow hallway to the parsonage. One warm summer’s evening, when I was four years old, our congregation gathered there to watch a film of Corrie ten Boom, who spoke of her book, The Hiding Place. We scrunched uncomfortably close, sans air conditioning, to make room for all members and visitors who had come to hear this woman share her survival story. As soon as the movie began, I was captivated.

***

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch woman, who along with her sister and father, was caught sheltering Jews in a hidden compartment within the walls of their home in Holland during the Nazi terror of World War II. Because of their steep involvement in the Dutch underground resistance, Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their aging father were separated and herded off to a concentration camp. Their father died within days, but Betsy and Corrie survived to suffer starvation, humiliation, and torture under the Nazi prison guards. Betsy guided and encouraged Corrie to stand strong in faith, and together they shared Jesus with fellow inmates during nightly Bible studies. The guards remained providentially oblivious, due to a bedbug infestation in those very rooms. Betsy perished only days before Corrie was freed. It was later discovered that her freedom was due to a clerical error.

God had wonderful plans for sparing Corrie from death: one of which was to herald her testimony of the freedom found only in Christ. Once released from the concentration camp, she acknowledged a hardened place growing in her heart, a wide cavern filled with hatred and bitterness toward those monstrous guards.

Corrie dumbfounded the world by fully forgiving her tormentors, repeatedly sharing her testimony in her world-wide missionary travels. This was staggering in a time where nearly everyone was hand-feeding rage and bitterness due to the gut-wrenching atrocities inflicted by the Nazis.

One day, in her travels, a former German guard approached her and offered his hand, seeking her forgiveness. She immediately recoiled, recognizing him as the most debased guard of all, a man who had personally humiliated both Betsy and Corrie. As he stood directly before her, apologizing and speaking of his new faith, she yielded to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, choosing to radically forgive him.

***

Of course I knew none of these things that warm summer’s night in our barn-church, but I do remember, even now, the black and white film, and Corrie’s face: kind, peaceful, lovely. Her words were spoken clearly in her Dutch-laced accent, unmistakable in their pulsing love of God, and others; even her tormentors.

My little-girl heart stood transfixed: never had I seen the Lord so vivid in the being of another. So genuine. Corrie was not a dynamic speaker: she was direct, full of authority, both soft-spoken, and happy. Her face radiated calm. I was too young to know of her suffering, (those blanks would be filled in later), but her joy of Jesus was undeniable. Corrie was simply at rest in Him, and I could feel it in my bones: this was exactly what I wanted.

After the film, there were platters of finger foods and punch, and the children gathered outside to play tag, waiting for the fireflies to begin their flickering lantern-dance by dark. I romped and played, delighting in a summer’s night with an abandon that often eclipses adults. As we chased each other, my imagination soared with fantastic plans to build secret compartments and rescue people. I longed to be brave just like Corrie ten Boom, and I wanted to know the same Jesus that she did.

***

Suffering has a way of parting the heart, chiseling a highway straight down the middle, before offering grave detours; choices. I have yet to meet a Christian who radiates the image of the Creator, that has not suffered well, choosing to accept in peace the precise will of God.

It is easier, by nature, to suffer poorly: plunging into self-pity and complaining, nursing and rehearsing grievances to anyone who will lend an ear, growing bitter and sullen, storing up a record of seemingly justified wrongs. I have been guilty of these very things.

Years ago, God took me through a season of paramount suffering. Multiple heartaches within a two-year span, which at the time, felt like 200 years. I will not say that the details are unimportant, because details are always important. But more importantly, within a short time of this suffering, I reached the end of my workhorse self.

I awoke one morning, looked into the mirror, and bumped up against the ugly truth: I was a thoroughly exhausted people-pleaser, who could no longer patch things up for myself or others, while bowing to the whims of whomever, and hanging on to simmering grudges, festering yet silent, buried deep inside. I had gods before me, and the God, my jealous Heavenly Father, had had enough. He chose to unravel the entire mess.

I can see now, in hindsight, that God designs sufferings, created uniquely for his children. He does not toss hardships at random, like dreadful Christmas gifts from some Great Aunt who bestows the same matching, ill-fitting sweaters to each family member carelessly, with little care. Instead, God gives us our sufferings to fit his good and holy purpose: to grow and form and shape us in likeness to his Son. Our part is to trust and obey and follow our Father, knowing that there is nothing reckless or random in his plan. He is our perfect hiding place; the safest spot to dwell.

During those two years, suffering had blazed a deep highway down my heart, and I held two choices in either hand: obey God and forgive, or hug bitterness, and thus quench the Holy Spirit.

And then I remembered Corrie ten Boom. After searching, I discovered an old video clip, and I was suddenly four years old again, seated in a packed New England church. Her face was precisely as I had remembered: confident, soft, and joyful. Regardless of the consequences, we must forgive, she said.

And there it was: my next act of the will. A choice: obey God, or follow my own heart?

I could not change my suffering, I could not erase the sins of others inflicting harm, and I could not strong-arm anyone’s heart into biblical repentance.

But I could forgive, and leave all consequences in God’s care. (Forgiveness does not necessarily result in reconciliation. The Bible teaches us to guard our hearts and walk in wisdom. There are dangerous situations and dangerous people, who may be forgiven, but kept at a distance until time reveals a true heart change.)

So I forgave. Wildly, I might add. My list was embarrassingly long: silly little grievances and monumental ones, long-standing grudges and recent, ongoing hurts.

There was nothing gradual about the moment following: my newfound freedom was swift and delightful, and like Corrie ten Boom, I was flooded with warmth and peace. Absolutely nothing around me had changed; but I was now unchained, and free to live.

Corrie, godly and wise, was changed through her furnace of affliction. She understood that forgiveness is the heartbeat of Christ. Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:24).

***

Corrie ten Boom and her family saved some 800 Jewish lives in that tiny hiding place in the heart of their Holland home, but her bold forgiveness of one guilty prison guard resulted in the rescue of so many more. I am one.

Psalm 32:7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.