Burning Bright

One deep New England winter, while I was enjoying kindergarten, my friend, Erika, came to school smiling wide and waving her tin lunchbox at me.

I am having a movie birthday party, and you are invited!

Being the 1970’s, this was BIG news. There were no VCR’s or DVD players then, and we had exactly three black and white television stations. Somehow Erika’s parents had managed to obtain the brand new Star Wars movie to play via movie projector.

The party was still a few weeks away, and every day while practicing our letters, tying our shoes, or playing on the playground, Erika shared more details.

I shivered with excitement. Everyone knew that she lived in an expansive house, flush with a furnished basement that held walls of shelves, floor to ceiling, filled with toys of all kinds. Her mother was a woodworker, so some of those toys included wooden jigsaw puzzles that their family had created. Another bonus was that Erika’s mother had ordered an enormous Star Wars birthday cake plus prize bags for each guest. I did not know much about Star Wars, but that was okay. It was a thrill to be wanted, to be invited, to plan.

I shared my good news with my parents, who told me this was nice, but Kristin you have not received an invitation, and it would be impolite to call and ask Erika’s mom, in the event that I had not been on the guest list.

So every day leading up to the party, I bundled up in my snowsuit and mittens to cross the street and peek into the mail box. Empty. I was disappointed, but confidant that the letter would come. Erika was my friend.

The BIG day arrived, freezing cold with snow piled deep, but the roads were clear. I checked the mailbox again, and I asked one more time, but the answer remained no. I had not been invited.

In the early evening our phone rang. Erika’s mom spoke, wondering why I had not come to the party? We sent her an invitation weeks ago.

The next Saturday, I dressed up for the birthday party. Erika welcomed me inside, and her mother explained that everything was exactly as it was the first time, except that I was the only special guest this time around. We watched Star Wars, lying in the soft gold shag carpet, elbows propping our faces. Her mom had ordered another huge cake, and there were party favors and chips and root beer. My cheeks ached from smiling.

***

One of our sons was in a car accident this week. The other driver, who had poor vision, became further blinded by the sun, and hit our son’s car. His vehicle was totaled.

When I received the phone call, my heart thudded, and I waited.

Don’t worry. He is fine. He’s not hurt.

I felt limp; the adrenaline pumping. Moments like these are a tidal wave; rushing in with a roar and decimating the petty things that entangle.

So many people are driving the highway of life with faulty vision. We all get a bit lost every now and again and need help. Yet some people continually cause proverbial car accidents; unwilling to assess the pain they are inflicting. Unwilling to change. After a spell, it becomes easy to see those patterns, endlessly repeating.

***

It has been over forty years, and I remember the warmth of Erika’s mom. Her vision was clear and wide and different. She busied herself thinking of others, and it sparkled, burning bright for my young heart to see. I was a grateful recipient. It reminded me, even at that young age, of the heart of God: kind, tender, and tenacious in the pursuit of his children.

Weeks after the party was over, the sun heated the snow, gently melting it away. Under our mailbox, soggy but intact, was the invitation. My heart was full.

Heroes

I was eleven years old when I drafted him a simple letter for a school assignment. Write a letter to your hero, said my teacher.

A few months slipped by, and long after I had stopped sprinting to peek inside our mailbox, President Ronald Reagan responded with a letter of his own.

I have saved that letter from The White House, along with a signed photograph of him riding horseback. Most remarkable to me is that he signed the note simply: Ronald Reagan. No titles, no fanfare.

He was a splendid president, honest and trustworthy, but mainly humble. He preferred macaroni-and-cheese to filet mignon, and popped jelly beans with delight. Simple, steady, and comfortable with himself, he was by all accounts the same man at home on his ranch as he was in The White House or with leaders of the free world.

Dutch, a childhood nickname he preferred, had a strength and steady direction in his presidency that was coupled with kindness and understanding. The mix was certainly powerful; people that were supposed to hate him had difficulty doing so as his honest and measured words were laced with humility. Plus that magnificent smile always reaching to his eyes. He had a unique ability to honor the gravity of the presidency and any given situation appropriately, while remaining optimistic.

I grew up studying this President Reagan; admiring his dignity, love for people and animals, and the strength and courage to do what was good. He said: “I’ve prayed a lot throughout my life. Abraham Lincoln once said that he could never have fulfilled his duties as president for even fifteen minutes without God’s help. I feel the same way.” (p. 317 When Character was King by Peggy Noonan.)

He was also remarkable in his vast amount of handwritten letters to people all over the world. Ronald Reagan was actually considered the most prolific writer of all presidents since Thomas Jefferson. The Great Communicator was he.

By the end of his time in office, however, he began to gently slip, and was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

A friend once told me a heartbreaking story that I have held close. During his illness, and after his presidency, President Reagan was invited to the White House for a dinner. During that evening, a supporter approached him with a gift, placing a small replica of the White House into his open hands.

This is for you, Mr. President. Thank you for serving our country well. I admire you so much and wanted you to know.

As it goes, Reagan held the tiny likeness in his hands, and after an appropriate thank-you, continued to stare at the gift.

I know I am holding something that is supposed to be important to me. It seems like something I should remember, he said, confused.

***

Last week I was driving a busy road, thinking about what needed to be done, and pronto. The radio was humming, but I was focused on my to-do’s.

Driving along, I noticed a middle-aged woman walking briskly along the road and waving. Her lovely coffee-colored skin was set off with a bright smile. She looked directly at each passing car and waved. I waved back and surprised myself by honking the horn to which she clapped, her smile broadening. The whole moment lasted a few seconds, and I found myself cheered.

Since that time, I have passed her twice, as up and down the road she travels, waving to every person with delight and abandon.

***

We might forget the kind words we speak to another, or the hand-written notes we stamp and send. But small kindnesses, done only to lift others, will change the course of someone’s day. You just never know.

President Reagan lost all of his memory, but I remember. His written words watered a small seed in my eleven-year-old soul. I write to remember.

That woman, smiling big and waving, changed my day. Because of her, I slowed down and remembered how important kindness is. Sour grapes are a bitter and unattractive poison. Our world does not need more of that, thank you very much.

Kindness always wins.

“Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God.” ~Ronald Reagan

Steady Now

In fourth grade, our school nurse bustled into our classroom one spring morning during reading group, clipboard in hand. Nodding to our teacher, she cleared her throat.

Today I am here to weigh each one of you, and check for lice.

We groaned inwardly, as this was humiliating all around. The boys wanted to weigh the most, proving their strength. The girls, not so much. The only bright spot was that we received a free pocket comb.

My friend Jenna and I discovered we were the same height and weight which was perfect for recess, and explained why we had such a grand time on the seesaw. With other playmates, I either plunked to the ground, or remained high in the air. But Jenna and I had a perfect balance. We pushed with gusto flying upward and coming down with ease. It was fun and carefree.

One of our classmates was a show-off and a bully. He would occasionally fling girls off of the seesaw, clumsily taking their place. When he pushed Jenna off one day, I was left dangling in the air. My former feeling of weightlessness and stability disappeared. I was stuck and there was little I could do. The on-duty teacher was nowhere to be found, and the boy laughed.

Maybe I will keep you stuck up there. Or I might let you go.

He gloried in wielding his power. Either option was scary: I would be stuck in the air at an awkward angle, or I would end up with a bruised tailbone.

Jenna and I opted to retire our happy-go-lucky seesaw days. Our perfect balance just wasn’t worth it. It grew tiresome to be looking over our shoulders for the big bully; our fun was over. We joined some other friends on the swings and balance bars.

****

The sovereignty of God is beautiful. It is also hard. God does not leave us on a perfectly balanced seesaw for our earthly lives. Oftentimes I feel stuck in the air, floundering with no good options in sight.

Why is the sovereignty of God beautiful? Because it brings perfect order out of this tangled mess of life. I rest in knowing that every single facet of life is ruled by God. Nothing happens outside of his permission. And since I am his daughter, I trust him.

When our children were small, I remember a cluster of kidnappings within our state. With four little beauties of our own, I sat them down for an important talk.

It is very important to remember that when your Daddy or I call your name, no matter where you are, come to us right away.

They nodded, eyes round.

Whether we are outside, or at church, or in the store, or even at home. You stop what you are doing and obey. It might not make sense to you, but we know best. We love you.

So we practiced the drill on repeat, and discussed not accepting candy or toys from strangers.

We, as Christians, are God’s children. Satan has come to destroy. He lures us with beautifully wrapped, shiny candy and pretty little charms that are nothing more than a steel trap. Our obedience to God must be a swift yes. The stunning beauty lies in the fact that no believer in Christ can ever be snatched away from God. We are his forever (John 10:28).

Why do I say the sovereignty of God is hard?

Because of intense suffering. Allowed by God; sifted through his mighty hands. It is often crushing to acknowledge that this cup might not pass (Matthew 26:39).

My only true comfort in times of pain, is the truth that God designed and fashioned each and every moment of my life. He is supremely in charge, and uses the good things, and the achingly ugly things to form me into his image.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

It is simple to spout this during the happy times: when the sun is shining and the friends are smiling, and your family is cheerful. But when betrayal and gossip and sickness and dysfunction rule the day, this is a tough medicine to swallow over and over again.

We have a sign in our home that quotes Charles Spurgeon:

Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.

Amen.

***

Back to those seesaws. Some days we fly up and down…all balanced and airy; other moments are sad and even horrific. Stability does not come from finding a perfectly balanced seesaw, but from clinging to the One who holds us. All of his promises are true.

Abraham Kuyper said it best: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Steady now.

God sees it all, and he permits. If you are his, he keeps you. He will never abandon nor turn away (Deuteronomy 31:6). God is holding the entire playground and is working, working on your behalf.

Loose Change

My grandfather was a salesman. His office was filled with normal and eccentric promotional items: pens, mini flashlights, stress balls, and small rubber change holders that when squeezed, pushed out loose pennies. He had boxes of miniature tools and calendars and paper weights, boxed mints, and heavy glass mugs with fancy frosted inscriptions that read “Your Logo Here.”

Grandpa worked from home, shuffling papers in his basement, before it was trendy. He was usually cold, and being mostly bald, wore a wool beanie as he phoned his customers. Well hello Charlie! And how are you on this fine morning? You don’t say! How is Anne? And the children? My brother and I would sit on the top step of the stairs, elbows propped on our knees, quietly listening, watching the phone cord stretch as he swiveled in his chair. When the conversation ended, he pulled open a metal drawer stuffed with promotional items, and waved us over. How are my favorite kids today? Pick out a souvenir! We were welcomed with a flourish into his presence, which is precisely how he acted towards most everyone. When he received an order from a customer, he sealed the deal with a handshake followed by Charlie, You are a gentleman and a scholar. He made everyone feel valuable, from family to clients to neighbors. It was magical. My Grandpa had class.

He once told me that he always kept a folded one-hundred dollar bill hidden in his wallet. You never know when you might need a little spending money. He was never much of a saver, but more of a “go big or go home” type of man, lavishing his family with gifts in his later years. He had scraped by during The Great Depression when he shouldered the responsibility of keeping their family of seven dressed and fed, juggling three jobs to stay afloat during those lean times. It was probably a good thing that my Grandmother was a saver.

One average day, Grandpa told me that he had a gift for me. He knew I had a ceramic piggy bank, and enjoyed plunking loose change in it. This piggy bank was nearing full capacity, and he had just the solution. Reaching into the back of his Volvo, he pulled out an enormous five-foot plastic blue Crayola crayon shaped bank. A customer had ordered a batch, and this was an extra.

My eyes grew wide.

Now you can really save your change! He smiled broadly.

And I did. Every spare cent was pushed through the slot.

As the years slipped by, I stopped getting quite so excited about quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies. Yet I still faithfully deposited them into that gigantic crayon. One day, many years later, while redecorating my bedroom, I realized that crayon bank was nearly impossible to move. How had it grown so heavy?

One penny at a time.

Faithful deposits had led to more savings than I had realized. When an opportunity arose during my college days to travel to England for an English Lit class, I decided it was time to roll my loose change, and put it to use.

It paid for most of my trip.

I think about my faith in much the same way. Every time I choose to trust and obey God, no matter how small it seems, I am making a deposit which strengthens my relationship with Him. Becoming more like Christ is usually a slow process; so slow it takes a lifetime and will not be completed until I reach heaven. But as each deposit of prayer, faith, trust, obedience, and studying and applying God’s Word accumulates, my piggy bank grows heavy. When those mighty winds blow, and trials loom, I have withdrawals available. God is trustworthy and why should I fear? (Hebrews 13:6)

Recently, one of our sons was cleaning out his wallet. Hey Mom! Look what I found!

It was a folded twenty.

I remember you always told us to keep some money folded and hidden in our wallet. I forgot about it!

I smiled, and thought of my Grandpa. If only he could see his great-grandson today….

You are a gentleman and a scholar he would say with a handshake.

All That Sparkles is Not Gold

I was three years old when I awoke with a horrible sore throat and a deep, chesty cough. As my fever spiked, my mother whisked me to Dr. Schwartz, our local pediatrician. I have always preferred wide margins of personal space, and a stranger touching me only fueled my misery. Being a rule-following first born, and shy, I endured quietly, and my mother and I soon left the office, prescription in hand.

It was a horrible pink medicine, coupled with Robitussin cough syrup, which to this day is pretty much the worst taste in the world. I had a strong gag reflex, and as soon as the cocktail of these two liquids passed my lips, it was game-over. No amount of cajoling or bribing, pleading or spanking could make me take the medicine. This was not good; I was quite ill and needed the antibiotic.

In desperation, my mother called the pediatrician, who was shocked. What? That compliant little girl I saw this morning? He told her to put me on the phone. I was a couple of months shy of my fourth birthday, and can remember this event clearly. I wrapped myself up in the phone cord; salty tears of shame and embarrassment trickling silently down my cheeks. I was not being obstinate…..I truly could not swallow this flavored medicine. You have to take the medicine, Kristin. Be a big girl and obey.

After the phone call, my mother tried again. To no avail. Now I was ashamed for upsetting her. I typically complied, and this was painful.

She called Dr. Schwartz again, and he said that if only I was older, he would prescribe the antibiotic in pill form. She told him to call the pharmacy and we would go for it.

And that is how I became his youngest patient to swallow pills. After several days, I felt better.

Some time elapsed; probably a few years. In my memory, it was towards the end autumn, when the burnt orange and golden leaves had begun their cascade to the ground. Pumpkins decorated porches, and the slant afternoon sun glistened without warming. Crisp weather, as we called it in New England. Folks would stoke their fireplaces and pull out their quilts and space heaters. It was magnificent.

At our elementary school, firefighters would arrive like clockwork at this time each year. They taught us to: Stop, Drop, and Roll. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there was a national campaign regarding these measures. So we listened, and practiced, and hopped off the school bus at the end of a long day, armed with papers and diagrams to show our parents regarding the importance of having A PLAN of how to escape a fire. Shall we meet at the mailbox? The big stone in our front yard? What happens if the stairs are on fire? Do we have a ladder?

These thoughts consumed me for a few days; the fear of being stuck in a burning home was terrifying.

And then, one morning shortly thereafter, we found out that there had been a fire at Dr. Schwartz’s house. The inferno erupted in the middle of that cold and dark night, while everyone was in deep sleep. Dr. Schwartz was able to guide his wife and children and pets to safety. Everyone was terrorized, but alive.

Dr. Schwartz’ office, where he treated patients, was part of his expansive home. The family watched their home and his office burn. While anxiously waiting for the firemen to arrive, Dr. Schwartz ran back into the blaze. My files! he cried. His wife begged him to stay.

When I heard this as an elementary student, I could not believe it. Part of THE PLAN was to never return to a burning building. For anything. Never ever.

He had raced back to retrieve his patient files. There were no personal computers in those days, and all of his detailed notes were in filing cabinets. They represented his life’s work. He never returned to his family. Dr. Schwartz perished in those flames, trying to save a mere shadow of his patients.

Sometimes, I do the same thing, returning to things and for things that will not last and are of little importance. I grasp for the unnecessary yet urgent tuggings of my heart. We can be lured and enticed by our own desires (James 1:14). I remember, too late, that all that sparkles is not gold. Those files of Dr. Schwartz’s were important; they just were not that important.

Have you ever seen a raccoon trapped? My brother and I helped capture raccoons when we were young. They robbed the corn fields at night, eating their fill. We learned that with nothing more than a big, shiny ball of tinfoil, a raccoon could be baited.

In the glint of moonlight, a coon would dip into a container that was wider at the base than the top. The aluminum foil was sparkly, shiny and enticing. With a tiny paw, he grabbed the object of delight, but no! It was too large to pull through the opening. He was now stuck: a victim of his own desperate longings. By merely dropping the foil, he could be freed instantly. But the sparkle was too much to resist. When we checked the cages in the morning, the raccoon would snarl and hiss in a bold refusal to drop his priceless, yet worthless, treasure.

Our landlord, a grumpy yet softhearted man, would band the coons, and haul them miles and miles away, releasing them to the wild woods. Those very raccoons returned quickly for the corncobs and shiny trinkets; travelling great distances quickly to fulfill their insatiable appetites.

Sometimes I think about Dr. Schwartz, and wish that I had complied and taken my medicine. My little girl heart was marked by his death; one of those files he had gone to retrieve had my name stamped upon it.

Yet now, as an adult, I see how easily I can be ensnared by stuff: reputation, money, peace-at-all-cost, appearances. Godly sorrow over my own sin leads to repentance; worldly grief leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Am I repenting and returning to God? Or am I stuck in worldly sadness, feeling badly, but returning time and again to sparkly substitutes? Am I like that raccoon, fiercely guarding my worthless trinkets?

All that sparkles is not gold. God himself is our treasure.

Carrying a Knapsack

When our oldest two sons were small, I joined Mothers of Preschoolers at a nearby church. MOPS, as it was known, proved to be an excellent opportunity to learn from other stay-at-home moms. I had just turned twenty-four a couple of weeks before our oldest was born, and I had much to learn.

So the children were whisked off to their classes and playtime, and the entire morning was spent listening to more experienced women sharing their hardships and victories by way of encouragement. It was water to my thirsty soul. Plus, I made friends which led to play dates and trips to the park. It was a sweet time.

One day, the speaker was a former business woman. She had dabbled in the stock market and succeeded. She loved the bustling world of business and when she discovered she was expecting a baby, it dampened her plans and her spirit. This was not what she and her husband had chosen. The Lord then surprised them with a second baby eleven months after the first. They had accumulated so much wealth that money was an afterthought. She and her husband decided that for a few years she would stay home and raise their sons. She was not joyful in this decision, and a seed of bitterness began to flourish. She complained continually, which pushed others away, thus creating a miserable web of loneliness. Her own undoing.

As she was speaking, I had difficulty relating. We were constantly struggling to make ends meet on my husband’s salary, and my deepest wish was to stay home until my babies left for college. The business world? No thank you.

But then her tone softened. The business talk was a precursor for what she shared next.

Having our sons has been the best and hardest thing I have ever done. Laying down my life has been painful, but God is showing me that it is the most important thing I will ever do. Life is not about money. It is about people and pleasing God. I realized this when our oldest almost died.

She had our attention now. A few months earlier, her son, not yet two, came down with a horrible stomach virus that lasted for two days. Dehydrated, she took him to the pediatrician, who encouraged fluids and rest. After a couple of days, her younger child came down with the same, and then the virus appeared to be over. After several days of rest, the boys were back to normal.

A family trip had been planned to the west coast: a family vacation with relatives plus a business meeting with investors, as she still dabbled in stocks. She was looking forward to it all, and packed and planned with gusto. At the last minute, her husband was called away for his work, which meant she would travel across the country with two little boys, alone.

She was up for it! How hard could it be? They would probably sleep a bit. It was only five hours.

The plane took off, and the boys fussed a bit and held their ears. Rocking the little one in her arms, he fell asleep on her shoulder, while her older son held a toy in his lap. Things settled down, and she closed her eyes and tried to relax.

She was awakened by a cry. Her oldest son, wide-eyed with fright, began projectile vomiting. It was actually worse than it had been the week before. As she held her baby in one arm, she told us that she tried to comfort her oldest, but she did not know what to do. A mess was all over her clothes, both sons, in the aisle, and on the people in front of them.

As the stewardess attempted to clean up, another round of illness began. One stewardess took the baby, and another brought a large bag.

This scene continued for the duration of the flight. She told us that through her fear and tears and eyes boring into her back from disgusted passengers, she realized something.

She was the mom, and no one was going to rescue her from this nightmare. She was stuck on an airplane, 38,000 feet in the air, and forced to endure.

While comforting and cleaning up after her son as best as she could on a cramped plane, she prayed through her growing fear and helplessness for the next several hours. When the plane landed, her little boy was weak and feverish. Rather than going to her family’s home, she high-tailed it to the hospital where her son was diagnosed with a severe case of Rotavirus. The doctors expressed concern for his life.

Here she paused from speaking and her voice wavered. I knew then that my sons were a gift directly from God. No one could carry this load of motherhood for me, nor should they. She repented and her heart became softened to the Lord’s will. Her son eventually recovered.

*****

I have thought about this story time and again over the years. Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” However, Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry their own load.”

How do these two directives work together?

In the book Boundaries Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend explain.

“The Greek word for “burden” and “load” give us insight into the meaning of these texts. The Greek word for burden means “excess burdens”or burdens that are so heavy they weigh us down. The burdens are like boulders. They can crush us. We shouldn’t be expected to carry a boulder by ourselves! It would break our backs. We need help with the boulders–those times of crisis and tragedy in our lives.

In contrast, the Greek word for logo means “cargo,” or “the burden of daily toil.” This word describes everyday things we need to do. These loads are like knapsacks. Knapsacks are possible to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the responsibilities God has given to each one of us, even though it takes effort.

Problems arise when people act as if their “boulders” are daily loads and refuse help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.

Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend (p.33)

I believe each of us tend to fall in one of these two camps: a pride in refusing help in order to appear self-sufficient and strong, or a perpetually whiny attitude towards our lot in life: “no one can possibly understand what I am dealing with.” According to the Bible, both are wrong. Neither one displays a heart-posture of trust in God.

The Lord gives us daily grace as we submit to his plan for our days. We are not given grace in advance to store up for future challenges; it comes in fresh waves precisely in measure with our needs. But we may practice a daily surrender to him; and in this, our muscle of faith will gradually strengthen to aid us for the future. Faith builds upon consistent obedience regardless of ultimate outcomes.

And carrying our own knapsack with joy strengthens us for the journey of life.

What the Heart Can Hold

When our youngest was a tiny wisp, we moved across the country. While preparing for the move, I had an eight-year old, a six-year old, a 23-month old, and a newborn. I was hardly sleeping, attempting to finish our homeschooling studies, changing diapers, and packing. There were a few personal goals lingering within that simply were not happening. I mentioned this in passing to a friend.

She looked at me for a moment, then clasped both of my hands. Gently yet firmly.

Kristin, don’t you think those things can be shelved for a bit?

I looked at the kindness in her eyes, and suddenly I saw my situation for what it was. Had the roles been reversed, I would have recognized the necessity of letting go of certain things for a spell. Cutting myself slack has always been difficult. It is one of my life-long challenges: giving myself permission to be. I actually schedule time to relax, and it always must occur after earning it by working hard. It cuts to my core if anyone hints I am not working hard as a homeschooling mom and homemaker. It stings and settles and festers. These jobs have been my magnum opus.

But that friend touched something deep; it rocked me then and I remember it still after seventeen years have swept by.

The human heart can only hold so much.

Our third son has left for college, and my role as a mom has changed. I am more cheerleader than coach now.

One might think that saying goodbye to child number three would be easier, like slipping into a broken-in and comfortable old shoe. Not true. I have wept off and on for months, even as I am so happy for the new life he is beginning. It is just as it should be. Yet I still see his little two-year-old face, and the hours he spent playing in the sandbox with his tractors. What I wouldn’t give for a momentary return to those days.

But my heart can only hold so much. And to that end, I will be shelving some things. I know what those things are, and will hold myself accountable. I have conjured up the memory of my friend’s words from years ago, and will minister to myself during this fragile time. I am learning that the Lord holds my tears in his bottle; he knows how he has formed me, and how he is still forming me. He fashioned me with a sensitive spirit, and for that I must never apologize. He gave me a tender love for my family; and reminds me that he loves them even more than I do.

God is gentle; he is bearing my burdens. And when the winds of change blow hard, I rest in knowing that he holds and guards my heart.

Bar Harbor, Maine

When I was ten, my friend Jeannie invited me to spend a whole week at her vacation home in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Jeannie had been a lovely surprise to her family; her older brothers were fifteen and twenty years older. Her parents took the two of us throughout the harbor and beyond in their fishing boat, and we spotted speckled seals all along that frigid Maine coast. The water sprayed our freckled faces as our hair flew back in the wind. The air was clean and the views stunning. We later did cannonball jumps off the end of their pier, and I noticed the water was as black as night; nothing like the beaches I was accustomed to. It was many years later that I learned the water was fifty feet deep off that pier! No wonder it was pitch black.

One morning, Jeannie’s mother shooed us out the back door with a sturdy basket each. Fill them up, and I will make pies for dinner. We were true New England girls, and we imagined the pages of “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. I held my breath hoping to see a bear and her cub as we picked wild blueberries in the woods of Maine. Every snap of a branch made us jump.

We ate as many wild blueberries as we picked, and our fingers and cheeks were darkly stained. When we returned to the house, Jeannie’s mother looked at us and laughed, her blue eyes dancing. Go wash up, she said, as she swatted us gently with her dish towel. She evidently understood ten year old girls, and she never complained when we left blueberry stains on her white towels and in her porcelain sink. We helped her roll the dough, and fashion the pies. She placed them carefully in the hot oven and we played a board game together before setting the dinner table.

Pie was served that evening with a scoop of Brigham’s vanilla ice cream and a dollop of kindness. I was feeling a bit homesick, and Jeannie’s mom knew it. She tucked Jeannie and me into side-by-side twin beds in the blue room each night, crisp sheets starched and cool beneath our sunburned skin. I whispered my own prayers when the lights were dimmed and fell fast asleep. Outdoor play and fresh sea air tired us to perfection. Sleep was solid and earned; our bodies exhausted with the goodness of exercise.

As I gaze back in time, I see with adult eyes the kindness of Jeannie’s mother, who was nearing sixty with a ten-year-old daughter. She cared for us tirelessly and made sure we had fun. She watched over us gently without stifling our play. She swept and hung out towels and bathing suits on the clothesline, cooked simple and delicious fare, and prepared picnic baskets of bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread smoothed with mustard for our outdoor adventures. She smiled a lot.

We would not have been able to have such a time if we had access to a television or an iphone. We were accustomed to imaginative play, occasionally growing bored with each other and with make-believe. This was not such a bad thing. Boredom pushed us to creativity or to chores: both of which are essential to a well-lived life.

The decades have passed, but I remember Jeannie’s mother well. Kindness lives long and reaches far.

Trust Falls

At the tender age of twelve, I packed a suitcase and a traincase (who else grew up calling a tiny suitcase filled with makeup. shampoo, deodorant, and a hair dryer a traincase?) for a week of Christian Camp in Western New York. This girls’ camp had been in existence since forever, and although I was happy to be with a few friends from church, I was nervous rather than excited.

It was exceptionally hot that July, and with cabins that were primitively dark, damp, and musty, we looked forward to swimming. As soon as our parents left, our camp counselor informed us that due to a lifeguard shortage, sixth graders would not be swimming on this particular week. Instead, we could take sailing lessons as long as we wore life preservers. This was going to be a long seven days.

As it turned out, we had one sailing lesson, because rain fell in torrents most afternoons that week. The girls from our cabin stuck together, and visited the camp store where we ate too much candy. At lunch and dinner we were told to drink our milk, which I could not do without gagging. I was accustomed to drinking mainly water, and simply could not choke down milk. My sweet friend switched cups with me, thus drinking two milks, while I started feeling funny from lack of hydration. In desperation, each night I would sneak out of my cabin and head to the showers, drinking water from a spicket outside the building. Not a good plan, and I was sick each morning.

I finally asked my counselor if I could please have water at mealtime, and she told me that camp was a time to grow up and toughen up. I nodded and pretty much decided I was not going to ask her for anything else.

One afternoon mid-week, when the sun poked out from behind the heavy clouds, our counselor reminded us of the importance of trusting in God. We had been having campfire discussions about this, so nothing new there. It was the way she said it though. I had a funny feeling that we were going to embark on a surprise lesson. I had had enough surprises that week (no swimming, upset stomach, musty cabins, only one sailboat lesson) and did not relish the idea of any more.

Follow me girls, she said. So we marched single file behind her for a short hike through the woods. Eventually we stumbled into a clearing. In front of us sat a log cabin with an old pickup parked outside. Form two lines at the bed of the truck, and grab hands with the girl across from you.

There were ten of us, so five one side, five the other. Palms up as you hold hands. We rotated our hands as our camp counselor jumped up into the bed of the truck.

Today, we are going to do trust falls. Just as we need to to trust God, so we can learn to trust others.

Oh no. This I could not do.

As the counselor turned her back to us, she crossed her arms over her chest, and reminded us that we could not bend our knees. This is a picture of trusting the Lord, girls.

She fell lightly and our arms swayed, but we caught her.

She picked the next girl, who waffled for a minute, then fell back but bent her knees a bit, and although we broke her fall, she landed with a thump in the dirt. She laughed and so did we. Kind of.

The next girl went, and was far more solid. She did not bend her knees, but her weight caused our damp hands to lose their grip and she landed more loudly and hurt her tailbone.

In hindsight, this would have been an excellent time to call it quits. But no. She tapped my shoulder. You are next, Kristin.

I climbed up in the bed of the truck and looked at the large maple tree above me. It was beautiful and I wished that I could be as anchored to the earth. This trust fall was something I would not do. And in my twelve year old heart, I also realized deep down that this had nothing to do with trusting in God. I loved God, and I did not trust these girls to catch me. We had already dropped a few campers, and I had no intention of adding a bruised tailbone to my growing list of bad things at camp. I also did not trust my counselor who refused to allow me to drink a lousy cup of water at meals.

At the same time, I was not the girl to buck a system, or to talk back, or to be publicly embarrassed. So I had to quickly choose: embarrassment or getting injured. Embarrassment won.

I cannot do this.

Oh yes you can. You trust God, don’t you?

Yes. But I won’t do this.

She shook her head and I jumped down, ashamed of what my friends might think.

As it turned out, they were real friends, and really did not care that I bowed out.

******

If we place our trust in people, we will live in a constant state of fear. Look about you. Our world is wringing their proverbial hands during this time of global pandemic. If we take a trust fall into the arms of worldly opinions, or CNN or local news, we are going to land with a hard thump. This is not what God asks of us.

God beckons us with Fear not. My heart is grieved to see fellow believers panicking. Nothing in this world happens without God’s knowledge. He sees our tears and anxiety and calls us to abide in Him. He is our shelter and our shield of protection.

Christ died for his bride, the church. He knows the hairs upon our head, and he catches all of our tears in his bottle. We have been given a specific amount of days on this earth, and we are to live them fully, not in fear, but in joy, serving and loving others.

My hero of the faith is Elisabeth Elliot. She faced many hardships during her life, and often shared about battling fear. Her first husband was killed by a tribe of people whom he was serving, and her second husband died after a raging battle with cancer. Acceptance is the key to peace in suffering, she taught women. And she lived those words. For the Christ-follower, suffering sands away our heart’s rough and calloused edges. Without suffering, we would remain cold and heartless.

Fear not should become our mantra. Bad things are happening, and will happen as long as we live on planet Earth. The Bible teaches this. But it also teaches us that faith is not born out of fear, but out of trust. Not in people or government or worldly goods, but in Christ alone.

A Dumpster

It started with an odd hail storm a few months ago. One minute it was raining, then quite suddenly the sky darkened, and one of our dogs grew frantic. I heard the ice pelting the back deck, and ran to peek outside. Golf-ball sized hail was scattered over our lawn and driveway. One street away the heavy winds caused a massive tree to collapse upon the earth, roots exposed, while next door an equally large tree fell upon the neighbor’s roof, creating extensive damage.

This entire event lasted no more than five minutes.

Storms can be that way. Short and powerful and devastating.

Within a week, a vehicle thundered onto our dead-end street, unceremoniously depositing an old, ugly red dumpster at the foot of our neighbor’s driveway.

At first, this was a problem. Backing our truck out of our driveway is hard for me in the best of circumstances (ask my kids, I am the worst backer-upper ever.) But now, with a looming dumpster, backing out required extra time and patience. It was slow going.

Our mail-woman had to stop delivering mail unless I flew outside to meet her. The dumpster, so massive, did not allow her to fit in the culdesac and she was unhappy. She asked our neighbors when the monstrosity would be moved, and I was surprised to hear that it would be a month or more while roof repairs were underway.

Our front porch no longer held the same charm as we rocked. Who wants to look at a heap of trash?

But, after a few weeks of practice, I was able to slip out of the driveway quickly. The mail-woman and I had become friends, and she now zipped up our driveway in her truck to hand-deliver our bills. I rocked on our front porch keeping company with my thoughts despite the dumpster view. I simply looked away.

We grew accustomed to the inconvenience of the ugly dumpster. We worked around it and truly stopped seeing what was right in front of us.

******

Sin is ugly. It is a grotesque garbage dumpster, that if not slayed, becomes invisible to us and to others.

Have you ever stepped into a situation that is unhealthy and diseased? Your intuition is in overdrive, and you recognize the dysfunction? Yet other people around you seem unperturbed; oblivious?

I remember when Jon and I began dating, and spent time with each other’s families. We each brought up some funny and odd things about each other’s family of origin. Is it always like this? Has so and so always acted this way and everyone accepts it? The interesting part? Neither one of us had seen clearly the issues within our own families. We had been living with it for a lifetime, and particular patterns had become our normal. The obvious dumpster in the street had become invisible.

******

I am praying for clear eyes and a willingness to continually be killing sin and confronting it head-on. I most likely have fewer days on this earth ahead of me than behind me, and I want them to count. Belonging to Jesus means that the Holy Spirit is within me, and I am his image-bearer. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) is attractive and freeing: simply Christ in us. We yield to him. If any person is continually displaying the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20) Scripture warns that the kingdom of God will not be granted.

How do we “see” these proclivities in our own lives? I wondered recently. Here goes:

Ask yourself what it is you most fiercely protect. This will most likely lead you to your vulnerabilities. If my answer is money, then my sin-bent might be stinginess, overworking, spending sprees, or jealousy over “never enough.” If my answer is reputation, then my sin-bent will be keeping up false pretenses, or longing for adoration, or anger over lack of recognition. If my answer is addiction, my sins will most likely include lying and cheating and hiding and selfishness. If my answer is control, then I will sin by domineering others, bossing, and not trusting the Lord in outcomes. If my answer is family, then I will sin by enabling to keep peace at all costs, or sin by keeping a hyper-vigilance in guarding every nanosecond of my children’s life, or becoming defensive on my family’s behalf too quickly.

What do you most fiercely protect? Ask God to show you. He will.

******

That old dumpster in our street is finally gone. Good riddance.