Stand & Deliver

I have tried my hand at sales a few times, in seasons of desperation.

It was not pretty.

There was a month-long stint of peddling lotion and makeup products, back when our first son was an infant, after I had lost my job as a nanny.

Jon and I were young and brightly hopeful, pushing the stroller through our apartment complex, knocking on doors, and dropping off catalogs to women of all ages. I began apologizing before I had even extended my arm with the brochure. I am so sorry to bother you, and I apologize for interrupting your day. It was abysmal. I simply did not care one whit about the products I was offering, which was problem number one. But on the upside these lotions and perfumes were affordable, and as I studied my chunky, blue-eyed sweetness perched in his stroller, I knew in the depths of my thudding heart that I would do almost anything to stay home with him.

Honestly? No job could cut across the grain of my natural disposition more than sales. Except perhaps auto racing. Fast cars and curvy curves make me queasy–such wretched motion sickness. I am also opposed to risk.

So naturally I married a salesman turned pastor who adores Corvettes. It all works out splendidly, until he is taking a sharp corner as I white-knuckle it from the passenger seat.

Next up was my brief season of basket selling. Those were back in the olden days when friends held parties to sell dishes, candles, jewelry, you name it. I joined the throngs, showcasing baskets, tossing out practical ideas: stuffing tissues into this one or serving hot, crusty bread in that one, or perhaps hanging this slender beauty on a dark, wrought iron hook for decoration. Those baskets were pricey and lovely, but it was all too much. I preferred to display one, maybe two, not twenty-two.

Also? The sales part of the equation.

Another round of apologies, plus finding myself talking people out of buying more. My speeches were poor, uncomfortable, and rushed. Let’s get this over with type affairs.

Clearly, earning an income from sales was not to be.

I guess you have to enjoy mingling with throngs of people, and fully believe in the something you are peddling.

Which is exactly why, after giving birth to four children, I told my husband that I felt it my high calling to sell epidurals. I was quite serious. We had taken a few childbirth classes prior to our first baby, and we also skipped a few more. I did not want to discuss the intricacies of labor with perfect strangers (is anything discreet?) and was as happy as a clam to read the finer details in the book What to Expect When You are Expecting. I knew myself well enough to know that I would not require a natural, drug-free birth. I was missile-locked on the end result of labor and delivery: a sweet and precious little bundle wrapped up in bits of soft blanket. I favored whatever birth experience that would permit me to endure to the end without shameless screaming.

When the contractions began in earnest and I assumed that I was perhaps dying, I begged my husband to order the epidural. Now. The hospital was bustling that sunny April day, and it took far longer than expected for the anesthesiologist to show up. By the time he eventually sauntered into our room, hours later, I took one look at the size of that lengthy needle and simply closed my eyes while exhorting him to hurry up.

The relief was so fast, so delightful, that I was now able to focus on clutching the living daylights out of my husband’s hand as I delivered our baby boy.

Two years later, on another April morning, our second little beauty entered the world, and again, the epidural worked its magic. Ditto for precious babies three and four.

And that is why I felt called to sell epidurals, which of course never happened.

***

Several months ago I received a call from a friendly woman at the SBC of Virginia, asking me to speak at a small breakout session during their annual gathering this fall.

I wasn’t sure what to say, since I would be more inclined to draft a 1000-page paper. But then she spoke the magic words, enticing me by way of choice: I could speak to women in general, or to pastor’s wives.

Bingo. Epidural take two.

Yes! Pastor’s wives! I accidentally hollered, scaring her, I am quite sure.

It stirs a passion. I might not be a salesperson, but I have a fire in my bones, a longing to offer tired pastor’s wives real encouragement. In fact, I am so excited to offer them hope and truth based on God’s good purposes and promises from Scripture, that it feels much like waiting for a dear baby to arrive. There is preparation and work, but oh! The joy of sharing truth and love with these dear women deep in the trenches of ministry. I will share true stories of my lack, and of God’s faithfulness pushing me to persevere through adversity while burning to know Christ and love him most.

So that is what I am preparing for this fall. Through Hot Fires and Deep Waters is the title of my efforts.

My dear husband doesn’t quite understand that I cannot stand and deliver with ease, speaking with scant notes, as he does from the pulpit. He is gifted in this way, passionately pleading with people to be reconciled to God.

Clearly, I remind him, not everyone is a gifted orator. I am living proof.

One of our sons hatched a perfect plan, encouraging me to fully write my message and simply read it, which is exactly what I will do.

My spiritual mother, Elisabeth Elliot, often shared of the most common way God prepared her for any public speaking. Whatever topic she prepared; God permitted her to be tested repeatedly in that very thing. I have heard her say this time and again on podcasts, and I have thought to myself How wise of God to have refined her in this way.

Which is a sweet thought until you are the one being primed.

Most recently, God has dipped my husband and me into suffering, singeing us in the hot fires, and drenching us in the deepest of waters. (I type that sentence and sigh, realizing how anemic it sounds. In fact, this current suffering has been so awful that I am pretty sure a future book will be born from such adversity. A book to encourage pastors and their families, a book to open the eyes and strengthen the spiritual backbones of Christians seated in the pews.)

But more importantly? God alone, through his Word, has seen me through.

He is my lifeline, and the Bible is my compass. My map leading me to obey God.

So yes, God is preparing me to speak in November, teaching me, showing me endurance by way of sharp pains that feel as painful as childbirth.

This baby is not a helpless little wisp wrapped in a soft blanket, however. What has been born is a stronger, more resilient faith. A heap of perseverance, character, and hope birthed from suffering. God is chiseling me to become more holy, and it is both incredibly painful and deeply good.

My life motto holds true: God is always working and he is always good. This truth blazes throughout Scripture, and this, this, is what I will share with pastor’s wives. I might have scars, battle wounds, but God is unchanging and working all things for his good purposes.

I will say this: being married to your pastor is a little like being strapped into a flying race car while dodging bullets, curves, motion sickness, and on the worst of days, criminals. Not always, mind you. But often.

Be kind and gentle and supportive of your pastor and his family. They are shouldering a weight you cannot always see, and the spiritual warfare is dark, oppressive as they stand for God, fighting for the welfare of your souls.

***

Most of you are probably not in full time ministry, but the same truths apply for all true believers. Life is painful, difficult, filled with trials aplenty.

2 Timothy 3:12 tells us: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. In other words, if your heart is swelling to love and obey God, buckle up.

I write not as a salesperson trying to peddle anything. But I do long to point people to Jesus, our only Hope. I believe so deeply in walking in complete submission and faith to God, that I am willing to stand and deliver. I will offer my deepest fears up to God, allowing him to birth whatever he desires.

Be encouraged today, Christian. Whatever adversities befall you, know that God has ordained every single one for your good. Trust him. Repent of your sins. Strive to be well with God. He is forming you into the very image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

***

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

~Romans 5:2-5

***

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Twenty-Eight

It has only happened a handful of times in our nearly twenty-eight years of marriage. Those wild, swooping ideas that I have proposed.

Again, this is not the norm.

The norm for me is little change. In fact, I find it the highest of compliments when our grown children come to visit, smiling and hugging me with Awww, I love how nothing changes here, Mom, as they pluck their favorite coffee mug from the same cabinet, and find the same half-and-half and creamer on the same shelf in the ordered fridge. The diffusers are running, soft piano music is swirling, the birds are flitting to the feeder, and I am making another pot of coffee.

Place is important to me. A calm, orderly, peaceful atmosphere for my loves.

I eat the same breakfast every morning. I deep clean the same day every week. I write during specified times and read my kindle every single night before going to sleep. Come fall, other than Sundays, I live in hoodies, which I consider the finest clothing invention ever.  I take long looping walks five days per week. This is me.

I hold fast to this notion, penned by Gustave Flaubert: Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

Occasionally, however, I get an idea. An original idea, my husband might add.

***

Early on in our marriage it hit me one day –and I begged my husband to consider buying and running a bed-and-breakfast. I had it all mapped out: We could live in a house next door, and after I served breakfast to our guests, I could walk home and teach our children. They could certainly help with small tasks, and it would be fantastic extra income.

I pictured bagels and plum jelly, soft, fluffy, scrambled eggs, juice, and hot coffee in white bone china cups and saucers. George Winston’s music playing softly in the background –not too loud, not too faint. Each bedroom could be a different color—the blue room with fresh hydrangeas, the pink room with rosebud comforter, the yellow room with fresh daffodils—

Kristin.

I paused, slipping back to reality.

Kristin, think about what you are saying.

Jon is a kind man: non-bossy, empathetic, encouraging, and typically more of a dreamer than I. He is a big-vision man, while I consider the details, (its all in the details I continually chirp) moving things forward with precision.

Sometimes, only sometimes, the roles flip-flop.

This was one of those times.

I looked at him, pleading eyes.

Think about what you are saying. Where, exactly would we get the money to buy this Bed and Breakfast. And even if there was a money tree in our backyard, how would we have time for this? I am at work all day, and your hours are already long with homeschooling and the kids activities, and—

We could make it work! I countered, headed for a slippery slope. My heart started beating hard. I knew he was right.

Listen, you have a full plate. It is hard enough schooling and performing all household chores and paying the bills and running around for sports and lessons. Don’t you think?

I sighed. Yes.

We laugh about it now. I might have been able to whip up clean sheets and bagels and fluffy eggs, but it would have been the death of me.

My next idea was to breed Golden Retrievers. I love Golden Retrievers, and if we could only buy a female and a stud, just think of the delightful pups with papers? What fantastic income, and this could be a family business….

Jon looked at me, quite exhausted.

Where would we keep the litters?

We were living in a narrow parsonage at the time, with four growing children and two dogs, precious little space, plus a marginal checkbook. It was inconceivable.

I clung to my dream.

Maybe the shed?

The shed is full of tools and bikes and rakes and folding chairs and the lawnmower.

Of course it was.

And you like to keep things clean. Do you realize what an ongoing mess eight puppies would mean? For two entire months before they were adopted?

My resolve was burning up in smoke.

The final blow came as our daughter looked up at me.

Mommy, you would never be able to say good-bye to the puppies. We would want to keep them all, wouldn’t we?

And that was the end of that. Out of the mouth of babes.

Years passed.

And then there was a short stint where I wanted to open a spare room to rent out through Air B&B.

That conversation was the briefest of all.

Absolutely not.

Naturally, he was right. Our home is a haven, a retreat, and a pleasure to open to guests. For a meal and conversation. Not as a hotel.

So I guess three propositions in almost twenty-eight years isn’t too terrible, right? And something else I have realized: every one of my daydreams surfaces as fall erupts. Fall is my favorite, and even when we lived in off-the-charts-hot-and-humid-Florida where autumn bliss is nothing more than a pipe dream, I felt hopeful.

I waited for it, pined for it, dredging up memories of the glowing leaves, crisp air, apple picking, fat pumpkins, the change in the wind—

You see how it is.

So yes, fall is my spark. My anything-is-possible-and-let’s-live with-gusto-and-throw-caution-and-reason-to-the-wind!

I have refrained from burdening Jon with the most recent idea that unexpectedly came to mind. I was minding my own business when I read of a man who purchased a laundromat, and within months earned back what he put into it. Although I only schlep large items there once a year, it remains one of my favorite spots. Who needs a vacation when you may gather up your dirty linens and jars of quarters and hotfoot it to the laundromat?

The fresh smells, the swirling, sudsy water, clothes dancing, smooth counters providing space to fold. To finish. To complete. So clean. Not to mention that I find the folks in laundromats to be interesting, kind, humble. Simple folks, down-to-earth, true-blue and settled. My absolutely favorite kind of people. Salt of the earth.

Yes, laundromats are the best.

I can conjure up my husband’s face now, eyebrows raised, his voice mumbling things about sweeping generalizations, money trees in the backyard, the stresses of paying to repair washing machines.

But all I can imagine is that divine scent of clean, warm, sun-kissed detergent and fluffy fabric-softener.

Indeed.

***

Don’t worry, Jon. I will not ask you for a laundromat.

In fact, I finally see that my whims are centered around the same concept: home.

You and I have had our own bed and breakfast with our four children, a bed and breakfast now opened year-round for any that want to drop by. Our family is growing, and we will serve them, won’t we? The Golden Retrievers are snoring at our feet and the washing machine is humming. You have mowed a path in our back woods for grandchildren to drive those small battery-powered vehicles you have told me we will buy. I find this plan of yours to be quite romantic and delightfully fun.

So let’s pick up some bagels and juice, and toast to these twenty-eight years together.

Marriage is holy, hard, and good. It has formed us, hasn’t it?

I love you for staying the course through our ups and downs, in want and in plenty, for better and for worse. You and I are as different as peanut butter and jelly, but what a fine combination we make. God knows precisely what he is doing, and I am thankful.

I love you a bunch and look forward to the next twenty-eight.

Happy Anniversary to us.

P.S. Think about the laundromat idea, okay? Just imagine…

***

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Gifted

He is generous, thoughtful, and direct. A lover of his family. A humble pastor. A servant. Contemplative. Highly competitive on the field. A loud introvert. Coffee-lover. Sports enthusiast. Whip-smart. Comfortable alone, his thoughts faithful companions. A keeper of time and schedule. A logical, yet creative mind.

His love shines hard through texts rather than conversation. His biblical passions arise in his sermons.

This is Caleb. Our firstborn. A deeply kind and slightly mysterious man–in the very best of ways.

This, this is what Natalia has been gifted.

***

Years ago, when we lived over 700 miles apart, Caleb phoned me. At that time, he was in grad school, working on his MDiv. We chatted for a spell and then:

Mom? I am not sure what will happen, but I have met someone. You will love her.

Few details, as is his nature.

And would you believe me if I told you that I knew? Only because I read his tone. Relaxed, confident, happy.

My brother and his family were able to meet this Natalia first, and my sister-in-law texted me that day:

A gem, Kristin. She is a perfect gem.

***

Not so long ago, I was crushed. The reasons were layered and complex, but I was holding up. Few knew my situation, which was for the best.

Natalia approached me, huge eyes sorrowful, and took my hand.

I am so sorry, she said simply and gently, her dark eyes suddenly filling in compassion.

I didn’t have to explain, but I tried, and then just couldn’t. Her soft hand squeezed mine, and she was quiet.

Natalia does this thing when someone is hurting. She looks down and away, granting privacy in grief. Yet she stays– fully present and unmoving. It is a gift as she willingly pauses work, deadlines, chores, everything. To be fully engaged with the hurting.

It is rare and restorative.

Natalia could not fix this particular problem, but she entered a deeply uncomfortable place and set up camp, rallying.

This, this is what my son has been gifted.

***

I was helping with their baby boy, our beautiful grandson, one Friday many months ago. Times were tense, as the baby wasn’t sleeping or feeding well, plus there were pressures mounting at work.

She told me that she and Caleb were struggling, more than she preferred.

I was flung far back to those new-mother days of fragmented sleep, interrupted conversations, bills piling up, jobs to tend.

I also remember discussing these hardships with absolutely no one.

She openly asked my opinion on a specific issue, her words threadbare and honest, admissions that cast her in a less than charming light.

And I thought then of Caleb, who was at work, laboring diligently. I felt the weight he was now shouldering.

So I answered my daughter-in-law directly, honestly. It was not easy, but she asked, and Caleb is my son.

She nodded after I spoke my opinion. You are right, Kristin. And thank you for telling me the truth. I must apologize to Caleb.

Zero whispered excuses, no building a case with But…but….but he!

No hardness in her eyes. Just peaceful ownership and humility.

The fullness of her heart glistened, and she became my teacher that day. I won’t soon forget.

This, this is what my son has been gifted.

***

She calls Caleb: My sweetie, and her voice is soft and pretty.

That was the first thing I noticed when we met her.

Her smooth, gentle voice.

***

As she confessed later, she was nervous that day.

We first met each other up high on those intramural fields, where Caleb was playing football. It was bitterly cold for April– the wind whipping over the mountain that night, stars twinkling. I was shivering.

She waved and hugged each one of us openly, her smile bright, her happiness impossible to contain. Effusive, contagious.

My first thought? Of course he loves her. She lights up the field. Such natural beauty wrapped in joy.

Our conversation was easy. I have since come to discover that Natalia never pretends anything. If she is stressed, she says so. Tired? She goes to sleep. Sad? She cries. Sick? She rests. Happy? She glows.

Everything remains open, genuine, authentic. Unmasked.

This, this is what my son has been gifted.

***

Natalia has twin brothers, eleven years her senior, each married with four daughters between them.

At Natalia’s baby-gender reveal, Caleb fired a rocket into the air. As blue powder flooded the sky, we jumped and screamed and hugged each other with sweet, wild abandon. Her brothers grabbed Caleb, slapping his back in congratulations. Their eyes danced, warm and bright, so like Natalia’s, and their happiness flooded the entire yard.

This is the first grandson for both sides, and with so many little girls perched on the branches of Natalia’s family tree, it is easy to see why some older brothers might have felt envious of those puffy clouds of blue.

Not the case here.

Everything in this family is celebrated in fine fashion, joy filling life’s hard crevices. My husband and Natalia’s father met in the middle, hugging and high-fiving and shouting the beautiful news with all of their might. Two grandfathers, together. Natalia’s mother and I hugged, each of us more reserved than our husbands, understanding one another and celebrating with broad smiles. Two grandmothers, happily sharing our first grandson, together. Even now we pass him back and forth, loving our treasure, this baby boy who holds the features of his father, with his mother’s dark hair and warm brown eyes.

We are all for each other in a way that feels heavenly. The way it should be.

This, this is what Caleb and Natalia have been gifted.

***

I listen when Caleb tells me, months after their wedding day, how slowly Natalia grocery shops.

She picks up every piece of fruit, every can, every package of meat, examining. She takes her time traveling the aisles, looking.

He smiles.

The other week Natalia moved gently about the kitchen, taking time to make us a delicious heated sandwich. She buttered the crusty bread, heating it in the stainless steel pan, and sliced thin tomatoes to slip between the ham and melted cheese. A few sprigs of Arugula and a careful cutting down the middle, and the finished sandwich was divine.

I see clearly how their differences complement each other. Sometimes pausing to slow, to savor, to linger, other moments eyeing the clock in order to fulfill obligations.

And I understand now what I couldn’t always see in the early years of my own marriage: God gifts us with a spouse quite different from ourselves. On purpose. He alone knows how to soften and smooth our edges, nudging us toward patience. And in time, we learn to grow, and flourish, as our roots deepen.

This, this, is what my son has been gifted.

***

I think she was surprised, at first, by how little fanfare I truly prefer.

I like clean, simple lines and spaces. Less is more, less is beautiful to me. I do not want to fill shelves and countertops. I am always tossing, donating, simplifying.

Birthday wishes for me are few: family all together, an ice-cream cake, a gift card, a pot of coffee, a fine walk, time in nature, a favorite movie.

Birthdays for Natalia are balloons and streamers and fancy cakes and games and restaurants and bunches of friends and surprise! surprise! I understand this now.

This, this, is what my son has been gifted.

***

He serves his wife and his son in ways that cause me to catch my breath. His patience has skyrocketed and I know so clearly that God sees, bears witness to the honor he shows his wife. The fruit of the Spirit is lush, ripe, lovely. He labors for his family, makes the baby breakfast, and works amidst broken sleep. He is a fine man.

I told her recently that Caleb has some mystery in his personality.

I love a little mystery she says with an easy laugh.

This, this is what Natalia has been gifted.

***

She told me she thought he was the one on their first date.

Kristin, he made me laugh so hard that my cheeks hurt from smiling!

She looks out the window, and her eyes are dancing, remembering. Her beautiful baby boy, a clone of his Daddy, reaches for her, and she holds him close.

I love you, she tells him with a tender smile and he laughs and claps.

This, this, is what my son has been gifted.

***

She is fun, genuine, open, authentic. She stretches her husband as she knocks and enters that inner soul-space that he inhabits, drawing him out of himself. She cooks delicious meals and welcomes help while cleaning up. He sacrifices his own preferences daily, loving his bride as Christ loves the church.

Together, they have built a family, and a home.

***

Happy Birthday, Natalia.

May your day be full of love, laughter, raucous conversation, loud singing, slow dancing, flowers, balloons, streamers, confetti, baby kisses, fancy cake, and ice cream.

***

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Death is not Dying

This life is a vapor, the shadowlands of beauty and sin and grief. A splashing, shallow kiddie pool compared to the swirling depths of magnificent ocean-treasures awaiting us one day, if we bow in humble submission before God.

I write about these things. I read my Bible. I pray. Yet in the trenches of suffering, I am still prone to forgetting that this life is a speck in comparison to eternity.

So once again, I wake up and preach the Gospel to myself.

Jesus died for sinners. He rose again. He is coming back for his people. (Romans 11:5-6)

As Charles Spurgeon once said: The same sun that melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons into repentance hardens others in their sins.

When trials come, and they will, a true Christian’s faith will grow deeper, stronger roots. There will be no departing from rich soil. (Matthew 13)

***

Many moons ago I listened online to a woman named Rachel, as she delivered the following message.

Death is Not Dying

It is nearly an hour, and worth every single moment of your attention. At the time, she had but a few weeks left to live.

Her heart was melted wax.

Oh, the power of a heart submissive to God through fiery trials and persecution. God is always working on behalf of his people. Cancer pushed her further into a love for God, because she chose to trust in him alone even as her body wasted away.

Rachel shared her aching sadness and grief at the prospect of leaving behind her husband and two young children, but her heart had settled upon an unwavering faith in God.

The calm, bold strength of her faith permanently marked me. I have come back to her words time and again as I go through hot fires and deep waters. Not cancer, but other sorts of anguish.

I think it is crucial to spend much time pondering the truth of death, which is simply the gateway into eternity with God or apart from him.

Our eternal perspective–what we actually believe— will determine our daily steps and decisions. Not what we say we believe, (talk is cheap), but what is actually hidden in the depths of our hearts as we are squeezed through affliction.

Oh, how the stunning fruit of the Holy Spirit shines lush and ripe and heavy in our lives as we trust God, persevering under the weight of persecution and trials, trusting God’s perfect ways, which often hurt.

Melted wax.

***

Rachel Barkey was fully surrendered. Reconciled to God. She was about to meet Jesus and she was ready.

Are you ready?

Death is not dying.

We are all exactly like Rachel–perishing. May we neither grieve nor quench the Holy Spirit as he scrubs and softens our hearts. Let us open our palms heavenward, handing God the blank paper of our one, precious life.

The Great and Perfect Author is penning our story.

And he will hold us fast.

***

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One Stormy Night

Way back in high school I babysat often. I stuffed my backpack with crayons and markers and games and books. Most of the hours spent caring for children were a busy sort of calm. Of course every now and then I would have to correct sibling squabbles or rude behavior, but more often than not it was a matter of playing outdoors, providing snacks, enjoying board games, and reading aloud.

That is, until one stormy night.

To give context, I did not want to go to this particular babysitting job. This family’s reputation preceded them, and their two children were known to be terrors. If memory serves, I was the third string quarterback that night. Their normal sitter was unavailable, and my good friend had taken the job. At the last minute she was asked out by some dreamy boy and begged me to spot her. So I did.

The father of these two was a prominent surgeon, while his wife attended charity luncheons and cocktail parties for a living. She was cool and remote, with dark, polished lipstick and unhappy eyes. They sometimes attended a church across town, and we had a few mutual acquaintances.

I had heard many a tale about these children, and the problems sitters regularly encountered in this vast house. On the upside, they paid handsomely, so that was positive. But goodness, their babysitting victims certainly earned every last dime.

On this rainy night, the doctor picked me up in his shiny black BMW, and for the entire twenty-minute journey uttered a draining soliloquy about his amazing career in medicine. He wore driving gloves, slipping them on with a sigh and naming their mighty price tag. They help me to handle this sleek beauty, he crooned, patting the steering wheel affectionately, a crazed look in his eyes.

Such words meant to impress had the opposite effect and I cringed. What a creep! I thought. I could hear my grandfather’s words echoing in my head: Big Feeling! A legend in his own mind. Does this guy want a medal or a chest to pin it on?

As the doctor waxed on I stared out the window at the cold drizzle pattering on the Beemer’s windows and wondered why on earth I had ever agreed to this misery. The only question I managed to voice in between paragraphs of his lengthy speech was in regard to his children.

What are their names and how old are they? He was fuzzy on the details which spoke volumes.

Their house was enormous, and when I entered through the heavy front door and into the Great Hall his wife stood fastening her diamond studs, head gently tilted, the other earring dangling between her pouty lips as she slipped into beige heels.

Kristin, right?

Yes, it is nice–

Necessary phone numbers are on the counter, she interrupted as she waved toward the kitchen. We are late. The kids’ dinner is in the fridge waiting to be heated. I am not sure where Andrew is, probably playing in the basement. Callie is in her room.

The doctor helped his wife into her coat as her heels clicked toward the front door.

We should be home by 11.

And with that they were gone.

***

I think of it now, how different those days actually were. In this present age I might have texted a friend, asking questions about the parents’ bizarre behavior. But back then? I was armed with nothing other than a spirally corded rotary phone coupled with a marginal list of emergency numbers.

Time to push along and figure things out for myself.

So I stepped into the kitchen and Callie appeared. An awkward, buck-toothed, nine-year-old who seemed unfazed to have an unfamiliar sitter. I introduced myself and made small talk which turned into Where is your brother?

I dunno. She shrugged her shoulders. He doesn’t like sitters.

Oh boy. This child was four, and I chastised myself for not asking the mother to make proper introductions before leaving.

Let’s go find him so we can eat dinner, okay?

She shrugged again, pushing her glasses to the bridge of her nose.

I called down to the dimly lit basement, but no response. I then searched the main floor, checking closets and peering under furniture. No response. Callie was combing the upstairs.

Andrew? Andrew! I called.

Silence.

I eyed the emergency phone number sheet on the counter as Callie returned.

Has this happened before, Callie?

Again, the shrug. Sometimes. He doesn’t like dinner.

For the love. Did this boy like anything? I began to panic. Where was he?

Andrew! Dinner is ready. Macaroni and cheese!

Darkness was settling in and as I turned on more lights, I heard a noise from the basement. I quickly descended the steep, narrow staircase which gave way to an expansive carpeted room, filled with toys and boxes.

Andrew?

A little boy flew out from behind a box, glaring and clutching what appeared to be clothing. He was wearing absolutely nothing.

He doesn’t like getting dressed so he doesn’t, Callie explained.

I was catching on to how things rolled around here. Andrew did what Andrew pleased and no one stopped him.

I crouched down directly in front of him.

My name is Kristin, and I am your babysitter tonight. It is my job to take care of you and your sister until your parents get home.

He stuck out his tongue.

You may choose to be rude, but that is disrespectful and very sad.

He stuck out his tongue. Again.

You will have to get dressed before eating dinner. Callie and I will be upstairs.

I glanced about, making certain he could not escape outside from this space.

And then?

I walked upstairs.

***

Rifling through cupboards and drawers, I found pretty placemats and heavy stainless-steel silverware. I folded napkins and poured iced water into goblets. Scooping the steaming macaroni and vegetables onto our plates, I then sprinkled a touch of salt and pepper over our food before inviting Callie to be seated. I closed my eyes and said grace which startled Callie into dropping her fork.

We ate dinner amidst broken bits of conversation. She seemed terribly unhappy for a young girl, and every bit as unreachable as her mother.

Andrew whined then yelled then raged from downstairs, hollering that he hated getting dressed, and hated dinner, and hated babysitters, and hated rules.

That poor undisciplined creature craved every decent boundary that his parents obviously refused to provide.

Everything about this family was horribly disordered, from top to bottom.

Callie studied me over her glasses.

Most babysitters just do what he wants, like my parents do. It’s easier.

Followed by a shrug.

***

We had just finished our meal when Andrew appeared, still undressed. I stood and cleared our plates.

I’m hungry, he pouted, arms crossed.

There is good food here for you, once you get dressed.

He dropped to the floor once more, kicking and screaming. I stepped calmly over him and taking a damp dishcloth, wiped the table clean.

He covered his eyes and shrieked. From my peripheral vision I noticed him peeking through his fingers.

I handed Callie a drying towel.

I’ll wash and you dry, I said.

I never ever do dishes, she moaned.

You will tonight! It’s fun, I said.

She sighed heavily and began to dry. I told her a funny story from when I was her age. She dried and listened, and I saw a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. The first of the evening.

And then, a tug on my shirt.

I’m hungry.

I turned to see Andrew fully dressed, his shirt backwards.

The wind picked up and howled against the windowpanes.

I wiped off his small hands with a warmed paper towel and asked him to sit down at the table. He complied, eyeing me carefully.

Folding his napkin in a triangle, I placed a fork neatly on top. Gentlemen use napkins I said, borrowing a line from my grandmother. I placed dinner before him with a tiny glass of water, and asked Callie to join us.

I prayed grace again and felt their eyes upon me. The dining room lights flickered as the storm picked up.

We say grace only sometimes, offered Callie.

I nodded.

***

After dinner we played a few games of Go Fish and then the clock chimed bedtime. I told them to run along and put on their pajamas and brush their teeth.

Andrew wailed and said that he hated pajamas.

He stomped his feet and turned red in his fit of rage.

Callie soon returned in her nightgown and combed hair and sat close to me on the couch. I fished in my bag for the fine story of Ping, by Marjorie Flack. A little yellow duck who needs a spanking, avoids a spanking, and is then happy to receive his swift punishment.

I want a book! screamed Andrew.

You may join us once you brush your teeth and get your pajamas on, I said.

But it’s raining and I hate rain.

It’s a shame that you hate so many good things, I said evenly, putting the book down. I will walk you upstairs and wait in the hall while you get ready for bed.

So up we went and he was speedy.

As the lightening flashed, he grasped my hand and we returned to the living room.

So we began the book all over again, and they loved Ping. So much so, in fact, that we read it five or six more times.

They soon fell asleep on the plush sofa and I covered them with soft blankets and turned to the pages of my own good book.

The parents slipped into the Great Hall at eleven, and the mother removed her heels and limped toward the sofa.

Her empty eyes widened.

How in the world did you manage to get him dressed? she whispered. I cannot remember the last time he was dressed in this house.

I did not know what to say.

These were Andrew’s parents, and I was only the third-string sitter. Sixteen years old.

***

On the winding drive home I started to tell the doctor of our evening: the dinner, games, and story, hoping to pique his interest in his own offspring, but it was late and he was mentally elsewhere. He interrupted me yet again with more talk of the important connections he made at their fancy schmancy dinner.

I glanced at him just as lightning danced across the sky, illuminating the ugly image that seared itself in my memory: driving gloves, the palpable worship of his expensive car, the receding hairline and receding children, asleep within a lonely mansion. Children fading into the basement of their parents’ prominent, important life.

I knew for certain after that haunting night that I would love my future children with my whole heart. The truth? A gently folded napkin placed neatly against the left of the shiny plate, with a fork on top means something. Offering thanks to God through a simple prayer of grace means something. Drying dishes and preparing for bed and savoring read-alouds means something. Requiring obedience and providing structure and being fully present to hear your family means something.

These are the ways to sing a lifelong song: You are precious and you are important. You are a gift from God and worth my attention and my time. Bundled together they create perfect kindling for trust to burn brightly in a world that rages.

What am I seeing everywhere I turn today? Wandering, weak-kneed parents conceding to the notion that babysitters or grandparents or teachers or churches are responsible for raising and nurturing their children. Parents who themselves have never grown up. Undisciplined adults with their own children serving as their mirror image.

Borrowing the perfect words of Marilla Cuthbert? Stuff and nonsense.

***

Within fifteen years of that stormy night one of the members of this doctor’s family ended their life, wilting under the crushing madness of a perpetually disordered existence. A life where riches and cars and jobs and exquisite things ruled and reigned, charming two parents out of a holy fear and reverence for God. They neglected first their Maker and then their most precious earthly gifts: Callie and Andrew.

***

The lessons are legion.

Do you see?

***

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a signpost on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

***

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Housekeeping

Whatcha doing, Grandpa? I once asked as he swept the garage, changed a lightbulb, and tidied the glove compartment of his Volvo.

My grandfather relished Saturdays. And he never minded my company.

Oh, just putzing around, he smiled broadly. Saturday mornings are good for putzing.

As a child, I could not yet fully appreciate his sentiments. But as an adult? Oh, yes. I schedule these types of days. Time for random tasks, that once completed, free my mind to work on the larger, daily jobs.

I think everyone should have putzing around days. Don’t you?

Even here at The Palest Ink.

***

Every now and again noteworthy books, blogposts, videos, podcasts, or quotes land on my desk or in my inbox. While I prefer to keep The Palest Ink story-driven rather than link-driven, I want to share these treasures with you. I have been inspired by a few others to offer a newsletter. The first will be delivered on August 1.

I promise to keep it short and sweet, sharing my favorite links to what I consider the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Would you consider signing up?

In other putzing around information, I encourage you to keep up with my blog’s sidebar. (If you read by phone, this information is found at the bottom of the site.) Here I link not only to my newsletter signup, but also to my additional writings found in other spaces, adding as I go. You will also notice a search bar if you are interested in finding an old piece. (By the way, if you are new here, you might enjoy typing Grandpa in the search bar which will pull up past writings on the memories of this magnificent man who still serves as inspiration for much of my writing.)

Thank you, as always gentle reader, for taking the time to read my words.

I appreciate you.

Valor Without Renown

A time may come soon, said he, when none will return. Then there will be need of valor without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defense of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised. ~Aragorn, Lord of the Rings

***

Over a year and a half ago, I deleted my Facebook account, which I had created for a writing mentorship. I kept Instagram and followed along, sharing quotes and Scriptures and links to my weekly writings.

It was a slow fade, but soon I had a check in my spirit about the increasing minutes I spent scrolling. One quick glance always seemed to morph into another. Harmless fluff and fairytales. More often than not it led to random paths, not soul food. I would glance at the clock and wonder: where did that thirty minutes go?

So this prompting to quit Instagram simmered, an urge I squelched for a time.  (Quenching the Holy Spirit is the proper terminology, I do believe. )

But I am not nearly as active as most people, I whispered as I patted my own back.

A pathetic excuse and certainly a poor gauge, if ever there was one.

And then one bright morning I paused, lingering over the words found in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, a Scripture which I have now considered for months.

Here are two translations:

…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you. (ESV)

…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.(NASB)

***

I pieced together a lengthy post, gathering a page full of alarming statistics and data regarding social media and its stunning impact upon the human mind. I researched this and studied that but have chosen to scrap it. Those are serious facts that you may research for yourself.

I think we are perfectly capable of understanding 1 Thessalonians 4:11. We each have work to do in these post-Eden-pre-New Earth times. A string of days until we are perfected. Let us aspire to do so quietly, while minding our own business.

That word aspire insinuates effort and intentionality, doesn’t it? Merriam-Webster defines it as such:

  1. to seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal.
  2. ascend, soar

In this context, both definitions seem appropriate. We must seek to live quietly, minding our own affairs, working with our hands. This very act, aimed at pleasing God is to ascend beyond the world’s ideals. We are to be heavenly-minded, obedient to God through his Word.

As Christ-followers, we are also instructed to pursue holiness. (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 11:45) Flesh and blood set apart. This is a command, not a sweet suggestion to whimsically pick up, toy around with, and toss away if we find it uncomfortable.

The path of sanctification is never passive. We will never stumble and trip into holiness. If we do not aspire to quiet lives, we will fall headlong into the wrong mold, devoured by worldly pursuits.

***

A few weeks ago, our family stayed in the mountains, celebrating our son’s wedding. As we rocked peacefully in outdoor chairs, we bore witness to a handsome sunset as it dropped over the peaks. As night fell, sparkling stars filled the wide sky. We sat, hushed in the tranquil, chilly, pitch of night.

And then, someone suggested turning off the lights inside of the house. They are polluting the skies.

So we flicked the switches and returned to the outdoor rockers. I thought: This will make zero difference.

Goodness, I was wrong.

That negligible amount of light had dimmed our eyes to the true splendor before us.

Suddenly, suddenly, the stars were crisp, alive, and bright. They twinkled against the inky backdrop.

The difference was remarkable.

I grasped that the stars had not changed one bit. Our choice to turn off other, lesser lights simply cleared our vision, removed all distractions, and ushered in reality.

We could now see, in full grandeur, God’s handiwork.

This is a consummate picture of what turning off social media has done for me. My downward gaze has shifted upward. Studying the skies without the artificial lamplight of social media has jolted my soul to deeper things of God, inviting a sharper, crisper, view.

I believe a robust doctrine of who God is and what he requires of us must be studied, turned over, contemplated for long periods of time, and most importantly obeyed. His sovereignty is mysteriously interwoven with our personal choices to go deeper into fellowship with him (or not) by guarding what we permit into our minds, hearts, souls, and homes.

You will not be high fived for these actions, but you will certainly be questioned, and perhaps even criticized. Never mind. The deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.

I have been delighted to discover that the closer I draw to God, the less I want of the world.

My soul’s deepest cry?

To be well with God.

***

So my questions for you are simple. Ones that I have asked of myself. (And yes, your answers might differ from mine.)

Is your participation in social media growing you in personal holiness?

Is social media helping you to diligently mind your own business? Or are your minutes, hours, days, and weeks, filled with busybody pursuits? (1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Thessalonians 3:11)

Does social media invite gossip into your life?

Does your social media consumption prompt you to lead a quieter life while using your hands to serve your family well?

Does social media aid you in being fully present with real people?

Does social media push you further into the magnificent depths of Scripture?

Does social media awaken your mind and stir your affections for the things of God?

I cannot speak for anyone else, but my honest answers were clear.

I deleted my account.

***

Aragorn (or J.R.R. Tolkien, as it goes) nailed it. We are in dark days, and must be willing to stand in the gap as the last defense of our homes. Satan is alive and crafty and against you. He will use all kinds of things to distract you from examining your own soul. One way is to encourage nosiness and gossip by way of social media.

There is nothing new under the sun, (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and busybody activities were a problem even in Bible times. In fact, Peter lumps meddlesome people in with murderers and thieves. (1 Peter 4:15) Serious, serious admonitions.

Those with idle hands are more apt to warble a destructive song called gossip, which rips and tears and maims, causing division and tumult and utter destruction amongst friends, families, and churches. (Psalm 101:5, James 1:26, Proverbs 21:23) It is the exact opposite of living a quiet life before God.

Perhaps you are not a busybody but find yourself more captivated with, well, you. It has never been easier or more permissible to build a platform of self. Yet Proverbs 27:2 is clear: Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

I guess the hard question is this: Are you willing to extinguish anything that threatens intimacy with and obedience to God? Do you long to slay those pursuits that might lead you into a state of wandering complacency, utterly dulled to the realities of the riches of Christ?

***

I invite you, fellow pilgrim. On a journey to aspire to live quiet, contented lives, working with our hands, as we are being made holy.

Social media is only one element in this life that can become a disruptor, a thief of time, of Bible Study, of deep thinking, of serious reading, of contentment, of conversation, of genuine connectedness, and of minding one’s own beeswax, as they say. But it is a gigantic element.

I know that I am expected to say that social media can be very, very, good, and quite useful if used properly. And perhaps that is true. But personally, I have yet to see such golden threads in myself or anyone else.

I am observing a whole lot more of My kingdom come, rather than Thy kingdom come.

***

This world is a noisy and distracted place, isn’t it?

I might be stepping on toes here, but that is fine–mine have already been crunched. The world won’t understand (nor will it care one whit after about twenty-four hours have passed) if you choose to exit social media. But does that in itself even matter?

Consider giving it a try, deleting the apps and replacing those scrolling moments with nobler pursuits.

Your deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.

Forget to bring your phone and step outside. Look up, and revel in the swirling beauties of nature without having to post about it. Walk your dog. Wave to a neighbor. Pray for softened hearts in your home, neighborhood, and church. Grab a coffee with your spouse or children or grandchildren. Tell a joke. Laugh until you cry. Read a short story. Write a note of encouragement. Sink deep into Scripture and happily wonder just where the time has gone.

This, this is living.

***

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The Enchantment of Perennials

I never once imagined that I would plant and care for a flower garden. My entire adult existence has been spent loving and nurturing my family. Life was blossoming with four children–not flowerbeds. A vase of freshly cut flowers? You bet. Pretty, fragrant, and effortless. Quite different from designing and tending a garden.

As it goes, that nurturing instinct runs strong, and with children now grown, I have rolled up my sleeves, sinking my hands deep into the dark, rich soil of flower beds. Hydrangeas, lilacs, and tulips are my favorite triumvirate. Fortunately for me they are perennials, which regrow every spring, unlike annuals which flourish for one season, and then die off.

So I have worked a garden. As I weed and water and prune, I am reminded in new ways that whatever I faithfully tend will grow. I cannot toss pretty things into the ground, brush off my hands, walk away, and hope for the best. I must water and weed the plantings in order for the garden to thrive.

Such labors are never in vain. Hard work, patience, plus a little sweat will brightly bless others. A garden for everyone to enjoy. Likewise, a mother who loves, cherishes, corrects, teaches, and disciplines her children is showing consideration not only for the little soul but for others. Such obedience in training is a labor of love that will one day produce a priceless gift for her children’s future spouse, children, and friends. Her diligent work will not return void. Generations reap the rewards of such devotion. It is a labor to raise children in the fear of the Lord–a long obedience aimed heavenward.

A mother who disregards such consistent training of her children, crossing her fingers (which are ever busy scrolling social media rather than tending to the little people in front of her) in hopes that things will somehow work themselves out is deceiving herself. She is behaving selfishly. It might initially be easier to ignore rebellion, bad behavior, or temper tantrums. However, willful, rebellious children grow into willful, rebellious adults. A mother who teaches her children that the world revolves around their every wish and whim is, in fact, planting ugly, relentless weeds. Self-centered children grow into selfish adults. Their future spouse and children and neighbors and friends have been gifted nothing more than an undisciplined and egocentric mess. A cycle that is terribly destructive and difficult to shatter.

***

And now I must broaden the scope beyond flowerbeds and mothering. I am now considering all Christians who faithfully labor in love, becoming perennial plantings that captivate and form others for generations to come.

I am speaking of people who pay attention to and honor their God-given gifts, abilities, situations, and passions, with a heart aimed upon serving. I am speaking of those who steadfastly flesh out the good works that God has planned. (Ephesians 2:10) Obedience to God, not man, will sweep and grow and extend further than the human mind could ever fathom. It is stunning to consider how fidelity to God above all else blesses everyone. A lush, perennial garden.

I personally know this to be true, by the lives of five men. These Christians were (and in some cases are) faithful to God in ways that effectively reordered my life. And just imagine! I only personally knew one of them.

I am speaking of Dr. Ockenga, Billy Graham, Moe Bergeron, John Piper, and my Grandpa. The faithfulness of these five means everything to me. I am one beneficiary of their perennial faith.

Never, ever underestimate how superb obedience to God actually is. (Nor underestimate how destructive selfish ambition is.) To love others well is impossible unless we love God most. And when we love God most, we obey him. And as we obey him, we reverently embrace the good works he has planned for us. As we fulfill those good works from a faith-filled heart, others will be impacted. It is stunning how God works all things for good, for those who love him. His ways are intricate, mysterious, and perfect.

***

In 1992, I was a college student at Taylor University, situated in the vast cornfields of Indiana. The only church I had ever known was far away, some nine hundred miles east in a quaint New England town. Our pastor had left suddenly, one year prior, under sad and confusing circumstances. The church was reeling.

While that disturbance was unfolding, a conference was held at our church. A fairly unknown pastor was invited to speak, and thus traveled from Minnesota to New England. During this conference, a New Englander named Moe Bergeron (who was a member of another area church) approached this pastor, asking if he kept his sermons stored on the computer, and if so, would he be interested in sharing them on the internet?

That pastor was John Piper.

In a nutshell, through the encouragement of Moe Bergeron, who desired to see the Gospel spread free of charge through the new World Wide Web, the Desiring God website was born, making John Piper’s sermons available for all.

I knew none of this at the time, nor did I then know who this John Piper was. These events would change my world in time, some twelve years later.

I think now: What would have happened if John Piper had declined the speaking invitation? What would have happened if Moe had not approached John Piper? I understand that there is no Plan B in God’s economy, but it is helpful to consider what might have been if these men had resisted God. Faithfulness and obedience always yield treasure. Even if we never personally see the results, which may remain veiled.

God sees it all.

***

My beloved Grandpa become a Christian during the Billy Graham Crusades held in Boston in 1950. Christ changed my grandfather, who at the time was a thirty-something husband and father, living for pleasure and for self. By all accounts, the changes in him were swift and distinct. He made it his business to find a Bible teaching church, and after a few bumpy starts, landed in Boston’s Park Street Church under the expository preaching of Dr. John Ockenga. My Grandpa served faithfully at Park Street for forty years, until his death.

This Dr. Ockenga was also a dear friend to Billy Graham, and encouraged him to hold those Boston Crusades, which first began in Park Street Church.

As a little girl, I quickly ascertained that not everyone who claimed to be a Christian actually was one. (Matthew 7:21) Healthy fruit, over time, is easy to see. Rotten, fleshly, fruit festers and rots. My Grandpa was the former, and my goodness how he glowed.

While under the teaching and preaching of Dr. Ockenga, my grandparents raised their children. Dr. Ockenga counseled and shepherded my grandfather, encouraging him to take whatever means necessary to see to it that his children attended a Christian college. How about Taylor University? Dr. Ockenga suggested, which was his own alma mater.

Heeding such wisdom, my grandfather greatly sacrificed, working several jobs in order to send several of his brood to Taylor, the place where my parents met. Less than twenty years later, I chose this same university where I met my future husband.

What would have happened if Dr. Ockenga had kept silent about potential crusades? What would have happened if Billy Graham had brushed off the suggestion? What if Dr. Ockenga had left well enough alone, not discipling my grandfather to pursue Christian education for his children? We will never know, but I do know this: One faithful act always leads to another, and without the steadfast obedience of these men, I would not be who I am.

***

The ripple effect widens.

John Piper was a Wheaton College student in the 1960’s when he fell sick and was quarantined in the infirmary. Dr. Ockenga’s sermons were played on the local radio stations for Wheaton’s Spiritual emphasis week. As John Piper was resting in bed, recovering from mononucleosis, those sermon messages altered the entire trajectory of his life, as he sensed an urging to preach, longing to handle the Word of God every bit as faithfully as Dr. Ockenga.

Which is precisely what he has done.

***

I offer thanksgiving for one ho-hum day long ago, when I wandered the library with my four young children. I was soul-hungry for something more than shallow, easy-breezy fluff. I needed direct, biblical answers to tough questions. It was time to stop playing around.

I discovered John Piper’s Pleasures of God. That book sent me turning the pages of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. I was undone. Completely unraveled by such meaty truth. God sewed me back together, one Bible verse at a time. And the internet made it possible for me to listen to Desiring God messages, free of charge.

The aim of the Desiring God ministry?

Spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

Indeed.

***

I am astounded as I consider the stretching consequences of one man’s faithfulness. Dr. Ockenga’s life yielded a flourishing perennial garden, deeply alive today, despite his death in 1985.

Consider the blossoms:

1. Dr. Ockenga was a faithful expositor of God’s Word, preaching verse by verse. A commitment which shaped not only the faith of his congregation, but far beyond through his radio ministry.

2. Dr. Ockenga encouraged Billy Graham to preach, and even shared his own pulpit, showing himself to be kingdom minded. Many bowed to Christ, and my Grandpa was one.

3. Dr. Ockenga’s fidelity to Scripture inspired young college student, John Piper, to preach in the same manner.

4. Dr. Ockenga’s willingness to disciple my grandfather led to my parent’s union, and to my birth.

5. Dr. Ockenga’s weekly sermons at Park Street Church fueled my grandfather’s faith, which in turn shaped mine.

6. John Piper was called to became an expository pastor through the influence of Dr. Ockenga’s expository preaching. He was then invited to preach at my childhood church, where a man named Moe asked him to consider offering his sermons free of charge on the internet.

7. Desiring God was born, and those sermon messages became my food, fueling my faith and desire to be in God’s Word daily.

Do you see the ripple effects? Everything about this perennial splendor is centered around the fidelity to Scripture. Teaching verse-by-verse ensures that no inspired words are eclipsed. Dr. Ockenga’s expository preaching shaped who I am today. It is never the wrong time to walk in obedience, despite naysayers who think it foolish. Such actions are beautiful in the eyes of God, and that is all that matters. God will grow the garden in his time as we obey.

Something else to ponder–painful circumstances are always used by God for our good. If my childhood pastor had not left our church under sad circumstances, John Piper would not have been asked to preach at the conference. Moe (who attended the conference specifically to hear John Piper preach) would not have been present to ask him to consider offering free online sermons. Desiring God might not exist. And who knows if John Piper would have become a faithful expositor if he had not first been confined to his sick bed, listening to Dr. Ockenga?

***

A few days ago, my precious ten-month old grandson feel fast asleep on my shoulder. Is there anything as sweet as feeling the full weight of a trusting grandbaby in one’s arms? I think not.

I take this role seriously. My tender grandson is impressionable, and I know well the power of a grandparent to either tear down or build up. I have experienced both, which has proved a Providential blessing. A valid reminder of the importance of my commitment to follow in my grandfather’s faithful footsteps. We cannot pass on a strong heritage of faith until we ourselves are walking the narrow path. I cannot pass along that which I do not first possess.

So I cradled him and swayed as he slept, kissing his head as his chunky arms hung heavy in sleep. While humming a lullaby, I prayed that he will never, ever question my unconditional love. The baton has been passed, and it is now my turn to water and tend this perennial garden, as I stand on the shoulders of those Christian saints who have gone before me.

A privilege, an honor, a gift, a weight.

I refuse to toss such precious plantings into the ground and selfishly do my own thing, while hoping it turns out well.

No.

There is work to be done, as I faithfully sow seeds for future souls, who I pray for even now. A stunning perennial garden for generations to come.

***

And one generation shall commend your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts.

Psalm 145:4

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1

Sing Me Home

When our children were small, they would, from time to time, pick flowering weeds on our daily walks, tilting their faces upward with Here Mommy. This is for you.

They smiled shyly as I exclaimed over each and every bouquet. It became my custom to place the tiny petaled beauties in a Dixie cup brimming with cold tap water, and set them on a window shelf or sunny kitchen counter.

I adored those little treasures, because of the love. There is a time in a child’s heart when Mommy is the beginning and the end. The first face pouring cereal and juice come morning, the last to kiss their forehead and smooth bedsheets at night. I am wondering, precisely when did the last of those days unfold?

Yes, Dixie-cup flower days are over.

It is as it should be, but still…

***

It is wedding time and our Marcus is soon to be a married man.

As a little boy he was our quietest child, with a keen eye for beauty in nature. Marcus paid attention to the freshly cut flowers at the grocery store with: Mommy, aren’t those pretty? and was quick to point out a glowing sunset or cluster of stars. He was generous with his sticks and leaves and plucked flower giftings. As a fourteen-month-old he presented me with decorative rocks from our side yard, bringing them to me one by one as I thanked him, cupping the mound and pronouncing them beautiful.

Somehow decades have whirled by. What I wouldn’t give for one more weedy flower or rock.

***

Several months ago I received an exquisite gift from Marcus.

I listened and wept and listened and wept and listened and smiled.

Marcus and his friend, Mason, (also a newlywed) collaborated to write and sing this song. Dedicated to us, their mothers.

A slow, gentle farewell.

Mason’s voice begins, followed by Marcus with:

We read through books

You’ve Been There (produced by Marcus)

I will treasure this gift for a lifetime.

***

Summer is for driving. Roads trips, beach trips, ice-cream runs at dusk.

Summer is also for driving home.

This week marks my second blog anniversary, and by way of celebration I have decided to share two more splendid songs to sing you home.

Our son, Jacob, released Driving Home Tonight, a song he penned of boyhood memories. This is my favorite one of his (they are all fantastic though) and I know you will love it too.

Lauren, our daughter, recently released her first lovely single, With You, which was produced by Marcus. You won’t be disappointed, my friends.

I realized this week that our family (the original six as I now say) is a group of storytellers. Some through pen, others through song, while our son, Caleb, and my husband, Jon, faithfully preach the story of the Good News of the Gospel, week by week.

These are my dearest people, and God’s greatest earthly gifts to me.

I remind them from time to time, You cannot choose family, but I would choose you any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

And I mean it from the depths.

***

So this weekend marks a glorious beginning as our family continues to grow through marriage and grandchildren. It is also the end of a sweet, sweet, era. Being the mother of the groom is far different from being the mother of the bride (or so they tell me). Instead of ironing out details, I am smoothing out memories, preparing my heart for another farewell. Goodness, how I love our children.

As we gather to celebrate our son’s marriage, the guests will see these beauties:

Lauren, Marcus, Caleb, Jacob

But I will glimpse something more…precious memories from days gone by.

Lauren, Jacob, Caleb, Marcus

The LORD bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. ~ Numbers 6:24-26

This Treasure

Our Caleb was not quite two years old when our second love, Jacob, was born.

We had spoken in simple terms to Caleb about the gift of becoming a big brother. Jacob is our little treasure, I said daily as I rocked our newborn, patting his back, whispering such a little lamb. Caleb kissed his brother’s downy head and asked to hold him, mimicking me by likewise patting his back.

Soon Caleb was announcing to anyone and everyone: This is my brother Yammy-Jacob, my tweasure. (Yammy meant Lamby.)

Many people repeatedly warned us that our oldest would be jealous of his new brother. The terrible twos, they whispered knowingly; eyebrows all raised. You just wait.

We are still waiting, some twenty-four years later. Caleb remained protective and gentle and kind. For that whole first year of Jacob’s life, he continued to call him My treasure. We had reminded him so often of this truth that his heart followed merrily along.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

***

I was shocked by the recent video of a Jamaican Zoo employee.

There he stood, strutting proudly in front of a lion’s cage. Playing the show-off, and eager to entertain the zoo’s visitors who were filming him, this man began to taunt the massive beast. He sought to rouse the lion, clapping loudly, aggressively shouting in his face, poking at his regal mane, inciting as he jabbed. The creature roared a warning, revealing razor sharp teeth. The worker kept at it, fanning the flames of irritation, when suddenly: SNAP! The lion clamped down hard, refusing to let go of the human hand. The man howled and swore, attempting to pull away, but it was too late.

The man’s severed finger was the lion’s reward.

And there you have it. A nearly perfect analogy.

Toy with sin, playing and prodding and poking the beast, and you will eventually be devoured.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

A particularly disturbing aspect to this cautionary tale is that this man was a zoo employee. He knew the protocol well, aware of the potential dangers better than most. While treasuring his pride he became seduced by the notion that he could somehow manage the lion.

These things never end well.

The missing ingredient?

Humility.

Sin cannot be managed. It must be slain.

***

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father who is in Heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 6:21-23

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3: 1-5)

It is time for the church to awaken to the holiness of God.

In Christ, we have this magnificent treasure that we store in our jars of clay. We are cracked, broken, and fragile beings, but God is not. He is our strength, our hope.

Do we savor Christ? Do we treasure the gift of salvation? The word treasure ignites such tender meaning as it encompasses loving, cherishing, protecting, guarding, caring for, respecting, and delighting in.

Do we take time to repeatedly ponder the power and holiness of God? Are we burning to know and obey God through humble submission to his Word? If so, we will be like the lightning bugs that adorned our yard last night. They glowed in the dark, carrying tiny bright lanterns of treasure as they traveled.

I have read and meditated and considered and marked and prayed these verses in Ephesians 2. Even this morning, as I walked, I reminded myself: I was dead.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

As Christians, we were dead people walking and God made us alive. Hearts of stone turned to softened flesh. We did nothing to deserve or earn this regeneration. The result? Faith. A true and vibrant and treasured belief in Christ. It is the proper response, the only response, of a genuine Christ-follower.

How can we not speak boldly of these truths? Let us remind one another of our treasure! May we stir each other up to the good works that God has planned, striving to outdo one another in showing honor, while seeking unity under Christ.

I am openly pleading–do not stay gridlocked in pride. Turn to God, bow low, and apologize for your sins. Then turn around and walk in freedom, treasuring Christ above all.

If your heart now whispers: What is she talking about? What do I have to repent from? you are in mortal danger. This is the echo of pride, and God is warring against you.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

Remember the zookeeper.

Paul, arguably one of the most faithful Christians, was swept away by the mercy and grace of God, who had forgiven Paul’s sins, and favored him to preach Christ. His heart posture?

This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. (1 Timothy 1:15)

God searches the posture of the heart. Always.

For those who stubbornly resist humility and choose to treasure their sin instead of repenting?

I never knew you; depart from me. (Matthew 7:23)

***

Don’t follow your heart. Lead it. Away from sin and to the riches of Christ, who is our treasure.

***

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)