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)

Bulletproof

In one of my earliest and most vivid memories, I stand counting and recounting hospital floor tiles as Brita is removed from life support.

We were five years old.

I had been playing at Melinda’s house that humid summer’s day. We were looping our bright plastic gingerbread men around the Candyland board when the telephone rang.

There is nothing more doctors can do, Melinda’s mother spoke quickly, flushed as she hustled both Melinda and me into their car. Melinda’s friend, Brita, whom I had never met, had been pronounced brain-dead, following a horrific car accident some weeks earlier.

Melinda’s mother thought it necessary to say goodbye to this little girl who would die within the hour. We had to hurry.

My heart thudded.

Can I go home? I asked.

No, dear. Your mother isn’t home just yet.

Melinda’s wailing increased and the fear inside of me swelled.

I buckled my hot seatbelt and felt the back of my legs burn as they stuck to the vinyl seats.

We sped to the hospital and peeled into the parking lot, running to the reception desk. After retrieving the room number, we fairly flew down the hallway.

Left. Right. Left.

I glimpsed Brita’s bed as Melinda and her mother stepped breathlessly inside and closed the door. Tubes and beeping machines were snaked ceiling to floor. I viewed a still, translucent hand draped limply along the bedsheets.

It was terrifying.

I was left alone in the unfamiliar hallway as doctors and nurses hustled by, studying charts and scribbling notes. I pressed myself against the wall, as the noxious odor of sickness and death permeated the air, swirling with the pungent scent of ammonia. I grew queasy and willed myself not to get sick, counting tiles beneath my flip-flops by way of distraction.

Fear coursed through my being. A roaring, relentless stream.

***

Another memory surfaces, this time in our narrow farmhouse apartment kitchen, shortly following Brita’s death. The telephone jingles, and my mother answers before sobbing.

A family friend had been flying his small plane, which silently began to leak carbon monoxide, causing him to grow sleepy. The plane crashed, and although he and his wife survived, their young daughter, Nancy, died upon impact.

The fear gripped and pressed down upon my chest, causing me to grow still. I crept off to my room, and carefully lined up my stuffed animals along the length of my bed, counting them over and over.

Airplanes were scary.

As time passed, I gathered up frightening moments, storing them like scalding stones in a knapsack, hefting them with me moment-by-moment through life, and right into my early days of motherhood. As long as I remembered what could happen, and kept on the lookout for any potential dangers, maybe I could keep my little family safe.

An exhausting way to live, I tell you. But after so many years it felt normal.

***

In grade school, I knew of a family who had bunches of children–something like a baker’s dozen. When their second son was two years old, their family had taken a trip into the city: husband and wife, two little boys, and a newborn baby girl. They rambled about in an old, restored part of town, traveling up an old-fashioned elevator to enjoy lunch at an exquisite restaurant. Afterward, as they wrangled the boys into the elevator, the two-year-old pulled his fidgety hand from his mother’s grasp and toddled forward, falling straight down the elevator shaft to his death.

I turned the story over and over in my head. Another stone to carry.

***

The summer of my thirteenth year ended in devastation. Cathy, a girl in our youth group went missing.

She was sixteen and bicycling to work, eager to return home for a family celebration. She never arrived at her job. Her bicycle was discovered two years later in a leaf-filled ditch, but no trace of her body was ever found. Her family waited seven years before holding a funeral service.

Two months following Cathy’s disappearance, a nine-year-old girl was abducted in a nearby town while going for a walk. Her case gained national attention, and when bits of her bones were eventually unearthed, investigators surmised that the same man, recently paroled, had been responsible for both disappearances.

These things could happen to people I knew–it was heartbreaking and terrifying. Wicked, evil people roamed the planet, and what could be done?

***

You can google ways to overcome fear, reading about specific protocols to relax and calm your mind. You may thumb through self-help books or ask for tips from well-meaning friends.

You may push fears down, growing still and cautious, or choose to play the cool cat, with a breezy Everything’s fine! while your scant fingernails or jiggling leg speak another story.

You can attempt to numb your fears in bunches of ways, turning to drink or drugs or social media or food or shopping or micromanaging or anger or sleep.

But have you considered the truth?

These measures do not work.

***

Some eighteen years ago, God, in his kindness drew me closer to himself, untangling the mess I had created in my own strength.

I began to saturate myself in Scripture, learning what pleases God, as though my life depended upon it, which of course it did.

Something absolutely delightful and stunning happened. The fears melted away.

Or perhaps the better way to explain things is this: my fear was transformed into a complete trust of God.

I discovered that it is impossible for faith and fear to coexist. They are quite incompatible.

I had been a baby Christian for a long time but had missed a crucial element of God’s nature: his perfect Sovereignty. As I drew near to God through each and every page of Scripture, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. God is always working and he is always good. His promises are to be trusted. He is in charge of every single moment of life. The Bible teaches this in beautiful, absolute ways. (Job 12:10) It is beyond clear: everything is sifted through his Almighty hands. (Colossians 1:17)

Every birth, sunrise, sunset, tide, star, friendship, celebration, laughter, breeze, raindrop, firefly, bird, animal, and family is ordered by God.

Here’s the harder truth: every death, heartache, cruelty, illness, abandonment, and accident are also permitted for a purpose that belongs solely to him. He is in charge of it all.

This, beloved, is the safest news I have heard. (Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 41:10) I am his child, led by the Holy Spirit, no longer enslaved to fleshly fears. (Romans 8:9)

The Lord is shaping me through many hot fires and deep waters that hurt. But I am kept by God, hidden in Christ, and need not fear people or events or anything other than him. A holy fear and reverence, an adoration, and affection.

There is more good news:

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me. (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)

Romans 8:34 reveals this very truth. Christ is interceding, even now.

There is no panic in heaven! God has no problems, only plans, said Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. She and her family hid 800 Jewish people within the walls of their home before they were found out and arrested. Corrie’s family died in the camps, but she lived to share her unshakable trust in God with the entire world.

Her book, The Hiding Place, is based upon Psalm 119:114. You are my hiding place and shield; I hope in your word. Corrie clung to the promises of God and glowed with joy. She was full of trust rather than fear.

Corrie understood that we were not meant to shoulder a weighty knapsack of worries.

You will find it necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are too heavy, she once said.

***

When people suffer and grow paralyzed by fear, it is important to come alongside them in love. Allow them the space to share or to be silent. Give them the gift of presence, an arm on their shoulder, rather than immediate words. The truths of God’s Sovereignty need not be verbally sprinkled over them just now.

But you may live out the steadfastness of God. Your own lack of fear will usher in winds of true comfort.

The knowledge of God’s perfect ways, in the midst of hardship, is meat to chew: nourishment to sustain as we are tempted to quake with anxiety. The only way to dismiss all fear is to trust God in wholehearted faith. Bury yourself in the pages of his Word, cry out to him in prayer, and treasure him most through unwavering obedience and affection.

That’s it. It remains an unusual way of living–but it is God’s way.

A soaring freedom for your soul.

Bulletproof.

***

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:4-5)

It Rots the Bones

Many months ago, I received an email from a dear, faithful reader, asking for help. Her life was quickly unraveling, and in the midst of persistent heartache, she had fallen headlong into envy. Jealousy towards a woman in her church, whose life seemed quite perfect.

This jealousy was destroying her, from the inside out.

Envy is the thief of contentment, isn’t it?

It reveals an idol tucked in the heart.

***

John Calvin wrote: The human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, an expert in inventing idols.

I invite you to consider this as perfect proof that we are made to worship. In the depths of our hearts, we recognize that there is something greater than ourselves. We are created to adore God. Sin is adoring something other than our Maker.

And isn’t the true meaning of life a magnificent reconciling of the fact that God is God, and we are not? True worship is to revere God alone. To adore him. To make much of him, as we decrease.

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God… (Isaiah 45:5)

Envy is a heart disruptor, an idol, revealing our lack of love for God’s plans and purposes.

It poisons as it rages.

***

Years ago I knew a woman who was a kind friend to me for a long time. This was during a season in which our family did not own a home, but lived in an old, narrow parsonage behind our city church. She attended a different church, and her family dwelt in the countryside. I greatly enjoyed visiting her each month, a gentle reprieve from our city existence. She prepared lunch, and we would catch up all afternoon.

Years passed, with greater seasons of hardship. She encouraged me well along the way, with Scripture and prayer and many kindnesses.

And then two things happened, quite unexpectedly: her family downsized to a smaller home in the suburbs, and a few months later, God provided a new home for our family in a pretty, tree-lined neighborhood. No more city living.

As I excitedly unpacked a gazillion boxes, my friend graciously arrived with a dinner for our family. As I welcomed her through our new front door, her lips seemed to tighten. The tension was palpable.

I showed her through our home, but she excused herself abruptly, saying that she had places to be.

The air felt notably different the next week when she returned for our customary visit.

Are you okay? I finally asked.

You should know that I have house envy, was her sullen response.

I did not even know what to say. It was not a contrite confession on her part, but an indignant sense of entitlement that she clung to, tightly. It was her perceived right to be jealous.

Things slowly deteriorated after that. Our get-togethers grew further apart and remained cordial, rather than warm and friendly.

I was her friend only when I did not have the something that she wanted.

***

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. (Proverbs 14:30)

Perhaps the quickest way to discern envy within is to pay careful attention to our own heart posture when we do not receive those things that we desperately crave or believe we deserve. Something that someone else possesses. Pay attention as you are told no, or as you are overlooked, or when your heart sings a mournful, moody song as someone else receives praise, admiration, attention, or a material good.

If God is truly King of my soul, my response will be a swift and generous, Yes, Lord. I am happy for them and at peace in my soul. Your will is always for my good. You know best.

This is the heartbeat of true and vibrant faith.

The opposite of Yes, Lord results in James 3:16:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

Remember this: Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He thrives and hovers greedily over envy, jealousy, and selfishness, licking his greedy chops at such discord.

Envy grabs a chokehold around our throat, killing a serene heart, instead creating fathomless depths of angry discontent.

Spear envy, the moment it rises up. Kill it quickly, with Yes, Lord. I love and trust you. I will consider others more important than myself.

The reward for returning our gaze and affections to God?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

And isn’t peace and contentment through God the healing medicine for our soul?

***

When Jon and I were young and as poor as church mice, I accepted a job as a nanny to a four-year-old little girl and her twin sisters, who were nine months old. When I accepted the position, I had only been married for one year and had just discovered that I was expecting our first baby.

The family I worked for was kind and financially comfortable. They informed me early on that once my baby was born, I could bring our little one to work with me. It seemed Providential.

Over the course of the next many months, I spent long weekday hours at their home, arriving at 7:30am and leaving no earlier than 5:00. I was exhausted by day’s end, but the paycheck was helpful and I loved those little girls. I changed diapers and played Candy Land and Old Maid, prepared their lunches, and tucked them into bed for their naps. We read books and colored, went for walks and swam in their pool, played in the yard and baked cookies. The entire time I was being trained and prepared for motherhood.

After months of employment, the mother pulled me aside one sunny day and told me that she was thrilled to be expecting baby number four. I congratulated her, wondering how on earth I would be able to manage her four plus my baby soon to be born? Time would tell.

I know that this one is a boy, she said, patting her belly, eyes bright.

Jon and I had decided not to find out the gender of our baby, wanting to be surprised.

So time breezed by, and the days were busy and good.

That April I delivered our beautiful baby boy. During that same week my employer had a sonogram indicating that they would be welcoming another daughter.

I remained at home for a month, growing accustomed to life with our newborn, and trying to figure out how I would handle returning to work.

When our little Caleb was one month old, I did return to nannying, carrying my most precious bundle.

The girls’ father made a huge fuss, grinning at Caleb and holding his tiny hand, remarking time and again how beautiful he was with such enormous blue eyes.

But the girls’ mother? She would not so much as look at Caleb.

I am late for work, she said on my first day back, pecking her husband on the cheek, smile fake as she breezed out the door, which abruptly reopened, with: Kristin, heat chicken tenders and soup for the girls’ lunch, and be sure to clean up.

Of course I would clean up. I always did. Her tone was cold and my heart sank. Soon her husband left for work, and then Caleb began to cry.

It was a difficult time. The twins were into mischief, the four-year-old wanted my undivided attention, and I had a fussy newborn. At the end of two weeks, the girls’ mother approached me. She had still not looked directly at my baby.

We are prepared to give you a raise, she said, eyes narrowed. But I will need you to start deep cleaning, preparing dinners for us, and taking care of our laundry.

I was twenty-four-years old, terribly naive, and beyond overwhelmed by my current responsibilities. Never mind her soon-to-be-born baby, plus laundry, deep cleaning, and dinner preparations.

I looked at her, perfectly stunned.

We will increase your pay by twenty-five cents per hour.

I had no words.

Her husband, shuffling through the day’s mail, looked deeply embarrassed as I gathered my things and told her I would need to talk it over with my husband.

It’s hard for her, he offered in low tones, waving a hand towards Caleb who was sound asleep in his car seat. She really wanted a son.

I am certain he knew that her pathetic offer would be impossible for me to achieve, and would ultimately lead to my resignation, which it did.

My last day at work was terribly sad, as three sweet little girls clung to my legs as I hugged them goodbye.

***

Envy.

The rotter of the bones.

It casts a long, dark shadow.

Nobody wins.

***

I had seen the ugliness of envy.

I had essentially lost my job because my employer wanted the son that I had.

Given these facts, you might guess that I would certainly not fall prey to such jealousy.

Wrong.

Nine months later, we were scraping by, without my paycheck. I was now a stay-at-home mom, my dream come true. Even though money was beyond tight, I loved taking care of my husband, baby, and our tiny apartment.

In time, I made a couple of friends who were six or seven years older, with babies the same age as Caleb. They lived in houses, (not apartments), and had plenty of extra cash. They picked Caleb and me up weekly (we had only one car then) and we would visit at their homes, allowing our babies to play as we traded stories and sipped iced tea.

All was well in my heart until the day they decided to plan and create the perfect nurseries for their babies. They poured over magazines, discussing wallpaper, paint, curtains, and crib designs. One of those catalogs was my absolute dream: Pottery Barn.

And that is when it happened.

Envy crept over my heart and began to rot my bones.

I grew grumpy and short with my husband. I went home and studied Caleb’s inexpensive white crib situated at the end of our bed. I felt sulky and disappointed that Jon was using our second bedroom for his work office. (What was I even thinking? Where else was he supposed to work? This good man was slaving away, determined to keep me home with our baby. How selfish of me!)

In short, I became self-absorbed. Envy is not the child of logic or of grace, it is a sin of passion. I want what YOU have. It is ugly and hungry and is never satisfied.

This lasted for a few days, until one night, after dinner.

I was washing dishes at our tiny sink when I heard Caleb giggle.

I peeked into our living room, and there was Jon, sprawled upon the carpet, giving Caleb an airplane ride. Caleb’s chunky legs kicked, and his blond hair was still damp from his bath. They both looked so happy. It was so simple, so lovely. Lovely enough, in fact, to snap me out of my stupor.

My eyes filled at my utter wretchedness, and I told God I was so sorry. Caleb did not need a Pottery Barn nursery, or expensive toys, or wallpaper. He also did not need a mother full of envy, but a mother surrendered and joyful in the Lord.

We had everything single thing that we needed, and God was kind to give me two friends who were just that: friends. The problem was me and my state of envy.

What a relief to see it, and to kill it.

The peace of Christ returned.

***

Eve wanted to be like God. She envied his power and knowledge.

This woman had everything good and true and beautiful. She and Adam walked with God himself in the garden, in the cool of the day. She had a husband, magnificent scenery, and luscious fruit to enjoy.

But she hungered for the only fruit that was prohibited by God. The fruit that she believed would elevate her to be like him.

Envy rotted her, from the inside out. She listened to the wrong voice, the luring whispers of Satan.

Every bit of griping, whining, and enviously longing for the very things someone else has is anger toward God.

Not fair! Not fair! our toddler hearts rage.

Imagine if we were to cease such brazen posture, turning to God and thanking him for his perfect goodness and kindness.

Ed Welch said it well: Whatever wins our affections will control our lives.

May Christ win.

Just Last Week

Just last week I was driving home, my mind turning over the assignments and chores and appointments and meetings and gatherings in the busy days ahead. As I cruised along I glimpsed a fantastic cluster of clouds, sunlight streaming through, which led me to consider heaven, and that life-giving, most precious promise of Christ Jesus: I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)

I sighed deeply, asking the Holy Spirit to keep my mind in his perfect peace, rather than keeping company with the cares of life.

And then, a sudden flash of police lights at the intersection ahead.

I checked my driving speed and looked again toward the lights as I slowed to a stop. Several mangled cars were twisted in the middle of the road. I breathed a prayer for the people involved. This accident must have just happened, I remember thinking, since one giant of a man was just now emerging from his smashed vehicle.

As I was studying his face for injury, three policemen appeared in front of me, guns drawn and aimed directly at him.

Time, as they say, stood still. I could see one police officer’s profile clearly, the tension manifesting in a clenched jaw, before he shouted Get down! This hulk of a man stood slowly and raised his hands in surrender, his face smooth and cleanshaven and quite childlike. It is odd what details are considered in trauma: my brain noted his clean collared shirt, a green and white plaid. I thought, What could he have possibly done while dressed so neatly? And then–they must have the wrong suspect.

How ridiculous.

But I was frozen, mind confused by such frightening events, as my hands remained locked on the steering wheel. I was close enough to see the police officers’ shiny shoes, their hands tight upon their drawn weapons, the sweat glistening on the suspect’s forehead, and the wide eyes and opened mouth of the woman in the car next to me.

My heart thudded as I scrambled to call my husband. The light turned green, but no one dared to move even an inch, uncertain if we should drive away while the weapons were still raised. And then, two additional officers materialized and handcuffed the man who was now face down in a scant pile of gravel and sand that so often accumulates in the middle of paved intersections.

One police officer jogged two cars ahead of me, and began to wave rapidly, circling his hand at the first car in line. Go, Go, Go. Come on, let’s go! he mouthed, urgency framing his face, impatience growing evident in the swiftness of his motions. His other hand remained fastened to his holstered gun.

Yes, I was right there, watching this scene unfold.

Still, I did not know.

***

Just last week, a squirrel found a way to dismantle our squirrel proof bird feeder, snapping the springs and disappointing not only me, but hundreds of songbirds.

I was gifted some birthday money a few months ago, and took Matthew 6:26 to heart, investing in a feeder, inviting beauty while discarding worry. There are many situations draped over my life, some good, some not so good, some tangled, and others draining nuisances. But I know for certain that all of these these things hold purpose, as God is always working his good plans.

With so many issues simultaneously occurring, I realized that drastic times called for stricter measures. I prayed and asked God for wisdom regarding my time management. I removed a few apps on my phone, and my relief was immediate: palpable. Snippets of time, pieces here and there, actually added up to far more distraction and confusion than I cared to admit. My soul had begun to wither in disturbance, and I realized that I craved simplicity. Removing some apps paved a path towards time to peacefully think, pray, and be fully present in my life.

I am spending more time in stillness, watching the birds. I fill the feeder, and all-day long cardinals and chickadees and woodpeckers and buntings and sparrows and scores of others winged creatures flit to the feeder and eat their fill. I pause as I pass by the window, sometimes observing for five whole minutes, paying attention to their vibrant colors and shapes and cheeps and distinguishing beaks. They are darling, and utterly trust me to fill the feeder up with birdseed. Their songs are my payment.

All was well until a chunky squirrel clung too long to the feeder’s top, swinging wildly, thus snapping the spring which locked the food holes under such weight. My husband taped it up until I could buy a new birdfeeder. But then I awoke the next morning to a squirrel feasting upon the food in a fast and greedy fashion. I was ticked. Squirrels are adorable, but by no means do I intend to purchase birdseed for them.

So I carried the broken feeder into the garage, and for two entire days, until the new feeder arrived, the songbirds were without their normal treasure trove.

I know this is a small problem, but how I missed the sweet sound of their chirpings outside my window as I worked. I could not reason with these tiny creatures, explaining with: Hold on…a new and better feeder is on its way. I promise that I have not forgotten you!

They simply had to wait, and trust, which leads me back to Matthew 6:26. I too, must work to the glory of God, trusting him as I wait. He is God, and he knows exactly what he is doing. The more I trust and obey him, growing in faith and Christlikeness, the more arduous my journey will become. I am learning this clearly through the path called suffering.

Don’t worry, little ones. The squirrel never has the final say. I will feed you.

Satan has come to kill, steal, and destroy. But he also knows that the day is coming in which he will be crushed, destroyed, decimated by the hand of God.

In order to survive, and thrive, we must determinedly clear our heads from the ways of the world. If we fail to do so, we will be yanked into the fray, digesting the loud opinions and voices of others, or even ourselves, where confusion rules the day.

Don’t be fooled. Satan is the father of lies, the deceiver. Every speck of selfishness, envy, hate, discord, and confusion belongs under his pithy dominion. He wants to devour your soul. Turn to God through Christ and hold fast to the truth found in the Bible. It won’t be flashy or fancy or popular, but neither was Jesus. The closer he drew to God in obedience as he headed to Calvary, the slimmer the crowd became. Remember that.

God is God Almighty and we are not. (Isaiah 45:5-7) We have no control over events or the attitudes and actions of others. Our only control is in our personal heart attitudes and responses to everything that unfolds. Bow low before Him and wait.

***

Just last week, I took inventory of our yard. Come June, it will be one year since we purchased our home. The first time my husband and I perused the property, the yard appeared lush and green, from a distance.

Upon closer inspection, the bright yard was full of bright weeds. Thick weeds, which had choked out the lovely blades of grass. Pretty curb appeal, but not a healthy yard. When my husband contacted a yard company, they told him that the previous owner, who had lived in our home for six years, had chosen a cease fire against the weeds.

It is too bad, he said. The owners before them had kept it up beautifully.

It did not take long for the yard to be overrun.

So we had a choice. Mow the weeds and pretend that all was well or open our wallet and go to war against this contagion, and fight to have a healthy yard.

We are fighting for health.

It is terribly slow, and my daughter and I laughed a month ago, as a portion of our yard looked like it had a rash. Patches of healthy grass scattered here and there, bare patches where weeds had shriveled, and still some stubborn weeds.

Patience, my husband reminded me. This will take time.

I am not laughing now, as the health is multiplying, and a luscious, healthy lawn is growing. The patches are filling in, but guess what?

It will be a lifetime of maintenance, a fight to eliminate deep-rooted weeds as they erupt in our fallen world. Those weeds would choke the life out of our yard if we were ever to sit back, relax, and merely hope for the best.

***

Just last week I learned why those police officers had taken swift action.

That plaid shirt man, all kind-faced and clean shaven, had murdered someone at a truck stop, less than thirty minutes before crashing at the intersection. A second suspect was still at large.

The policemen knew information that the rest of us did not.

They were impatient and tense and protective for good reason.

Things are not always as they seem, are they?

***

The new birdfeeder was a bit more expensive but far more sturdy. It is built with a guarantee to last. As I write, the song birds are flitting and feasting, singing as they go.

Do Good

I grew up enjoying homemade trail mix which consisted of three ingredients: peanuts, raisins, and M&Ms. We slipped this treat into movie theatres, snacked on it during long car trips, and nibbled from shiny white ramekins while watching television.

As a child, I lined up the M&Ms in my gently cupped palm–red, orange, yellow, green, tan, brown. The colors were handsome together, and for some reason I was certain the red and tan tasted best. (I know, I know. They all taste the same, you are thinking.) My brother would even test me, giving me different colors while my eyes remained closed.

And then in 1995 I ripped open a bag and discovered that the tan M&Ms had been replaced by a species of blue. This was not a soft robin’s egg blue, but rather a fluorescent color that eliminated the calm order that had always been. My little line up was no more. Why, oh why, did this company change what had worked beautifully for years?

Sometimes it seems like we have overcomplicated nearly everything.

***

My best friend in kindergarten was Melinda, a girl who lived at the very end of our lengthy street. We were companions by default, as our mothers were partakers in a health food co-op, one of those lovely deals where women flooded a church basement like swarming bees, stirring, and divvying up natural peanut butter kept in enormous white buckets, the oil separated and floating thickly on top. As women scurried about, gossiping while bagging oats and nuts and seeds and honey and peanut butter and laundry soap, Melinda and I played tag and colored our Holly Hobby booklets.

Our family subsisted on healthier foods than most of my friends. No Twinkies, Oreos, or Doritos in our New England home. Tofu was the prominent dinner guest, as were soup and salad, topped with produce fresh from our garden. And yet somehow we were eccentrics amongst this fastidious co-op where sugar remained the arch enemy. I say this because in the midst of tofu and salad and natural peanut butter, we also enjoyed ice cream on the regular with decadent homemade hot fudge sauce. Once a month or so we cruised downtown for pizza. On those particular evenings, my brother and I were allowed to choose our own Fanta soda, orange or grape, fizzy and sublime. Does anything taste better than hot pizza and ice-cold soda? I think not. Also, we were no strangers to Dunkin’ Donuts which we frequented on the way to my grandparent’s home on Washington Street, all: Boston Cream, if you please. So clearly, we had a thing for sweets.

Melinda’s mother, on the other hand, was a health food fanatic. It was honestly rather disturbing. There were so many complicated rules, and meals in their quiet, dark house felt like work, not pleasure. Melinda and her older brother were forbidden to partake of anything overtly sweet or salty, which promptly eliminated nearly everything delicious. She was not even allowed to enjoy trail mix at our house.

In fact, her mother concocted a different sort of mixture, which she referred to as Gorp–a name which sounded every bit as awful as it tasted. Instead of M&M’s, she purchased massive quantities of carob chips through the monthly co-op, mixing them with unsweetened banana chips, which tasted stale, plus unsalted nuts.

The first time I tasted the mixture, as a kindergartener, I assumed the carob chips were chocolate chips. What an unpleasant surprise. This handful of Gorp was chalky tasting and caught uncomfortably in my throat. I asked for a drink of water, but Melinda’s mom thought it would be a perfect time for me to down a glass of milk. I never drank milk, and could not, without gagging.

Our family thrived upon copious amounts of iced water, with an occasional twist of lemon. Not milk. So rather than telling the truth to Melinda’s mom, I slipped off to the bathroom and cupped my hands beneath the sink, lapping up water, again and again. This was to be my first and last experience with Gorp.

Melinda was the only classmate I knew of in school who was not allowed to buy Friday’s cafeteria special which included a slice of pizza, tossed salad, a fruit cup, plus an individual milk carton. Her mother instead sent her to school with a bulging tuna or egg salad sandwich. It was the thickest, driest, most abysmal homemade bread on planet earth. This dark bread tasted like sawdust and crumbled mercilessly over her waxed paper wrappings. Mayonnaise (which should be paired with tuna or egg salad, right?) was taboo, adding to the dry state of affairs. The entire mess was virtually impossible to swallow, and believe me, I knew this to be true after having dined at their house on previous occasions. After being once bitten I was twice shy, and thus typically returned home from play dates famished.

I felt sorry for Melinda, who was growing increasingly sad whenever she opened her lunch box. I remember asking her why she had darkness under her eyes. She shrugged her shoulders and told me that she was so tired.

Those of us at our small lunch table shared our fruit cups and granola bars and goldfish crackers and Cracker Jacks with Melinda. I even offered half of my beloved pb&j layered on soft bread. She seemed hungry, longing to eat our offerings, but after one bite pushed the food away, probably conflicted between disobeying her mother’s fastidious eating regimes and enjoying a bite of good food.

On the upside? She always enjoyed my Friday milk carton, which I was only too delighted to give away, as I drank from the water fountain. It was a system we patched together, as best as first-graders can.

***

Melinda’s father, Delvin, was an engineer, and had a twin brother named Melvin.

Delvin and Melvin.

Melinda’s father once shared a childhood story. He and his brother were in junior high at the time and had left for school one day. Their mother was at home when the milkman arrived to collect his weekly payment. She had forgotten to go to the bank and borrowed the few dollars from Melvin’s piggy bank in order to pay her bill. Later that morning, she ran errands in town, withdrew the necessary cash from her bank, and returned the money to her son’s room.

Within an hour from returning home from school, Melvin approached his mother, icily asking who had touched his money. She explained the situation, and asked how he even knew?

Of course I knew, Mother. I check the serial numbers every day.

His mother was stunned.

Melinda’s father laughed as he told this story. I did not think it the least bit funny. It was creepy.

I might have been young, but it sounded an awful lot like the behaviors dominating their current household, making my best friend increasingly sad. It was becoming far more fun for me to play with my other friends, who were fairly happy-go-lucky and were free to enjoy an ice cream cone or cookie or trail mix. Not Gorp.

I also felt helpless, wishing someone would help my friend.

It finally happened, in second grade.

***

She wore fun, dangly earrings and smiled as each student entered her second-grade classroom. And yes, this was her classroom, a point she made perfectly clear on our first day of second grade. Miss White’s icy blue eyes matched those of Chinook, her gigantic mixed breed dog that she frequently brought to school, unleashed. He thumped down by her desk, a calm, obedient, and panting creature, whom I hugged as often as possible. Miss White encouraged me in my canine affections, allowing me to brush him before going outside for recess. It was delightful.

This woman ran the strictest of classrooms and loved each one of her students. She spelled out her few rules clearly, from the beginning, and then cared enough to enforce them, disciplining and correcting us as needed. Never mind the silly baby-talk–she spoke to us directly as though we were real people, who of course we were. She taught thoroughly, pausing lessons to show us a praying mantis on the classroom window, and even inviting a woodworker into our studies who showed us how to cut jigsaw puzzles. She crafted interesting unit studies, one regarding Alaska and the famous Iditarod race. She cut flowers from her personal garden, carrying them to school in a lovely vase and teaching us the names of each kind, encouraging us to sniff these beauties. God’s creation was her playground, and we were invited to revel in it.

Miss White lavished praise upon us only when due, which stretched our spirits with a longing to obey and work hard. Her classroom was the safest spot, as rules never wavered, and her generous kindness abounded. I did not have the specific words then, but she was deeply fair and she paid attention. We learned to improve our cursive penmanship, wrestle with those horrific fractions, and memorize maps. But it was the practical character lessons that threaded a tender path through our classroom.

Miss White did not fear students, parents, or anyone else for that matter. Her classroom was her classroom, and one day she proved it. I will never forget the day she became my hero.

***

It started off as a normal school day. Miss White passed out our fast math worksheets, and as she did so, I glanced at Melinda, who was seated next to me. She was clutching her stomach and looking pale.

What’s wrong? I whispered.

I don’t feel good.

Tell Miss White, I said.

Melinda shook her head.

I finished my math paper and took it up to our teacher’s desk.

Melinda is sick, I told her.

She pushed back her chair, stood up, and approached Melinda.

What’s wrong, dear?

Melinda moaned.

Did you eat breakfast?

No, whispered Melinda.

Are you hungry?

She nodded.

I have some pretzels in my bag and I want you to eat them.

I can’t.

Yes, you can.

No. My mother said today is National Hunger Awareness Day and I am not supposed to eat anything until breakfast tomorrow.

Miss White’s eyebrows furrowed. Why not?

To help me remember what it feels like for starving children in other places.

***

We are people of dust, designed by God as humans in need of basic things: food, water, sleep, comfort, compassion.

In the pitch-dark forests of life are sparkling treasures–glimpses of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Miss White shone brightly with all of these. I was sitting in her classroom where small kindnesses ruled the day. I was her pupil, paying attention.

Here is what her actions declared:

Do the right thing, no matter what.

Do good.

You might be made fun of, cast aside, defamed, slandered, and hated.

Be fearless and obey God, anyway.

***

Miss White stared for a long moment at her listless student.

This is my classroom, Melinda. No student of mine is going to be hungry as long as I am their teacher. You will come up to my desk right now, eat pretzels, drink an entire glass of orange juice, and then feel better. Understand?

But my Mother–

You leave that conversation with your mother to me. Now eat.

***

Something rose up in me that day. A spark that I would carry even to this day, decades later.

This woman had such courage. She fought against something wrong, something dangerous, something skewed.

There are a plethora of moments in life when doing the right thing will be difficult, but it is still right.

My teacher had zero fear of man. Of the consequences that might spring up around the bend.

Her instincts were noble, clear, and deeply good.

It was beautiful, indeed. I remember.

***

Melinda nibbled the pretzels and drank the juice, thus restoring color to her face. My stomach relaxed. Chinook licked her hands, and being the good dog that he was, offered a gentle paw to Melinda. That dog had a kind, fair master, and it showed.

Later, in the school cafeteria, we pooled our resources as Miss White had instructed us to do, creating a delicious feast for Melinda who was now happy to eat. She even tried my famous trail mix, lining up the colored M&Ms and eating them all, one by one.

***

He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Christo et Ecclesiae 

My very first introduction into life as a pastor’s wife felt like a colossal crash and burn.  

I had married a businessman and was accustomed to waving a breezy goodbye each weekday morning, smiling with, Dinner at 6!  I home-schooled our children, and our days were full of lessons and field trips and sports practices. Friday was pizza night and an invitation to the slower-paced weekend. Church was church. Work was work. And the two did not meet. 

When Jon became a pastor, suddenly work and church became synonymous, and I had no idea how complex our simple, quiet life would become. Overnight.

We moved into the parsonage (situated directly behind the church) on a Saturday, with Sunday being Day One of Jon’s employment. Piles of boxes were stacked about our dining room, and I could not find my six-year-old’s shoes. With one eye on the clock, and the other on the moving-box chaos surrounding me, I realized that the shoes were likely buried. She would have to wear flip flops.

Is everyone almost ready? I trilled down the narrow hallway, as I brushed my little girl’s hair into pigtails. Jon was already at church. As the boys brushed their teeth and tied their shoes, there was a knock at our back door.

I could not imagine who was here at this early hour. I did not have to wonder for long, as a woman’s face appeared in the window, hand cupped to the glass in order to peer inside our dining room.

I was stunned.

She knocked again, and I opened the door.

Good morning! She introduced herself. I want to invite your kids to Sunday School and I brought a pumpkin to show you what Bible verse we are carving in them today. She held up a round pumpkin.

I think I smiled, pointed to our boxes, and told her that despite a crazy morning, we would be over to church soon.

She stood on tiptoes, attempting to look over my shoulder into our home. Where are your children?

They are getting ready for church. I waved and thanked her as I backed up. We’ll see you soon! I slowly closed the door and leaned against it. Would this be a common event? If so, I needed to buy curtains, and fast.

I cherish privacy. Deeply. To peer into anyone’s window is as unimaginable to me as stealing a car.

My life as I knew it was over. Gone. It had vanished into thin air. We were living in a fishbowl.

***

Hours later, after Jon preached his first service as pastor, our family lined up to greet the congregants. I can see our children now—the boys tanned with slicked down hair, our daughter so small, blond pigtails bobbing. They were proud of their father and it showed on their glowing, upturned faces as we shook hands with nearly everyone.  

Afterward, as we returned to the pews to gather our Bibles, a tall, sour-looking woman approached me. 

I need to speak with you, she said, coolly. 

I turned and smiled, striving for friendliness, longing to make a good impression. 

You need to speak to your sons. She pointed at my chest. 

My heart fluttered. 

Your boys shake hands too firmly. Too strong a grip. We have elderly people in our congregation and it is inconsiderate. They could break their bones. 

I had no words. 

Also, you need to do a better job critiquing your husband. Tell him that he needs to look over the entire congregation when preaching. He was favoring one side. She waved a finger in the general direction. 

My eyes filled as she turned and strolled away. 

Day One and I was crushed. Who did this woman she think she was, criticizing my precious family who had done nothing wrong?  

Truthfully? I wanted to trip her as she walked out the door.

How’s that for Day One as a pastor’s wife? 

*** 

Recently, many years following my initial days as a pastor’s wife, I was jolted; convicted. All because of one sentence from Elisabeth Elliot, a woman who had once been a missionary to an unreached people group.  

The Aucas had murdered my husband, Jim. But I did not hate them. I loved them, she said. 

I was cut to bits. This woman loved and served the very people that speared her Jim to death.  

My own husband, Jon, is very much alive but stands in a frequent line of fire. He is my pastor, and I am favored to be married to this man of courage, who consistently preaches verse-by-verse, pleading with people to be reconciled to God. 

How is this standing in the line of fire, Kristin? you might ask. A touch dramatic, don’t you think?  

Not at all. God’s truth is deeply offensive to the human flesh. And let us not forget that there is a war raging in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12) Many people tend to grow stiff-necked and grumpy when presented with truth from the pulpit. Rather than grappling with God’s Words on a soul level, embracing the truth of sin through surrender and repentance and obedience, many lash out, kicking the message-bearer in the proverbial shins, slicing with pointed words, angry silence, or crossed arms. The posture of their heart is on full display.

I have come to accept this as par for the course, but it has taken many years for me to embrace the will of God with a peaceful, submissive heart. Are these folks in the right? Of course not. 

But neither am I if I choose to harbor resentment over forgiveness. I have been selected by God to be my pastor’s wife and have learned to calmly rely on him to enable me to do his will. He is fully aware of my weaknesses and sins.  He designed me to be an introverted woman who thrives behind the scenes, in the quiet places. And in his wisdom, he has pulled me into something quite different. It is my job to trust and serve him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.  (Matthew 16:24-25) (Mark 8:34-35)

An abundant life in Christ arises from the ashes. New life from this death-to-self. Always. 

So I must forgive those that bruise my husband and choose to kindly serve them out of obedience to God. This is an audacious act of the will that tugs against my natural inclinations. Never mind those complicated, conflicted feelings. God is always working and expects me to obey, despite my feelings. I hold fast to his Word, such as Lamentations 3:24: “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 

Yes.  

I invite you now: Come and die to yourself. Live for Christ. Do these things for Christ and the Church. 

Christo et Ecclesiae.

*** 

Church, it is time to wake up.  

Arise from this stupor that has fallen heavy over us, the body of Christ. 

Wake up. 

The thief, Satan, has come to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). He is wreaking havoc on the bride of Christ while we, as a body universal, have become weak-kneed and timid, fearing man rather than reverencing God and his Word.

Wake up. 

I read a piece of writing this week that went something like this: I love the church, but I have been wounded by much division, so I am going to curl up at home for the foreseeable future, sip tea, and nurse grievances until I feel ready to return, if ever. I can be close to God without going to church. I invite you to do the same.  

I tremble at these words, and at the influencer that invites other in with such lies. 

The Bible tells us not to forsake meeting together, as is the habit of some. (Hebrews 10:25)

Christ loved and gave himself for the church. (Ephesians 5:25)

We as Christians form one body and each member belongs to one another. (Romans 12:4-5)

Don’t buy the lie that you must always feel like going to church. Don’t buy the lie that grievances and hurts and offenses deserve to be fed, nurtured, and coddled.  

Feed yourself the truth that we are called to meet together as a body of believers, not forsaking one another, but dying to our flesh, outdoing one another in showing honor to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  (Romans 12:10)

How?

By feasting upon Scripture every single day, learning who God is and hearing his voice speak through the Bible. Obey God, spear sin, and pray for wisdom. Come Sunday, your heart will be soft and tender to receive the Word with meekness.   

So many have lost a fear and holy awe of God. Bibles sit dusty, neglected, disregarded, pages unmarked. But this is how we are to know God! How tragic to leave it unopened, bowing to the whims and preferences of men, rather than our Creator. 

It is time to take a firm stand. Like Jesus, we must set our face like a flint, and do God’s will with joy in our hearts. 

Congregants. If you are favored to be part of a church in which the pastor is boldly preaching the unadorned truth of the Gospel, give thanks to God and show up every single week, ready to worship, to chase holiness through unwavering obedience to Scripture. Scripture is God’s voice, the way in which we know how to please him. Showing up to church casually, only when you feel like it, when the mood strikes, when you have nothing better to do, is blatantly dishonoring to our Savior and to the church body as a whole. Adopting such a cavalier attitude is taking God’s holy name in vain. He died for his bride, the church, and there are to be no other gods before him. Pay attention to the state of your soul. We should be pricked and offended during the proclamation of the Word. Truth cuts against our sinful flesh, as the Holy Spirit stirs up our hearts in conviction. If you are never convicted, then something is terribly amiss. Do not ignore this, but throw yourself upon the mercy of God in repentance, pleading with him to rescue you.  

If your pastor is teaching inspirational messages that eclipse this biblical truth called sin, find another church body that is committed to the totality of Scripture. We must be continually digesting the hard truths of sin, repentance, obedience, and suffering. We must also be gloriously reminded of the grace and mercy of Christ as we approach him with fear and trembling in humility, confessing sin and turning from it. Jesus came to rescue and save sinners, not to enable his people to remain comfortable in doing whatever pleases our flesh. We are also called to submit to and obey our leaders, who will give an account before God himself. (Hebrews 13:17) If you are a church member that leads in ministry within the church body, bear in mind that your service is not your own, but God’s ministry. You are a humble servant to the people of the church and ultimately to Christ.

Pray for, assist, and respect your pastor. He is working for God and ministering to you. Preaching is a hard and holy calling.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it well:

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Preaching is theology coming through man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.

Pastors wives. Your main work is not within those church walls. You are not called to pastor—that is your husband’s job. There is no biblical office of pastor’s wife. Biblically, your chief work is to love and honor and serve your husband, a man who by the nature of his work is under a weighty, weighty burden. Bend your knees and pray for your husband. Love him. Keep your hearth and home a calm, ordered, and peaceful place, which is pleasing to God. All of this is done with a heart bent on love for Christ. You have a unique calling–no one else is married to your pastor, and may I suggest a word of caution? Do not become so overly involved in the church happenings that you no longer have time for your husband and family.

Few in your congregation will have a clue of the challenges that assail your family. How could they? Resist the urge to place an expectation upon others to understand your position, but soldier on in courage and faith. God has called you to this place and will give you his strength. He who promised is faithful. Tending to your husband-pastor and family will ultimately produce fruit within the body of Christ. Your job at home is a long, slow, tender work in one direction that often goes unseen. It is vital. Encourage your husband to steadfastly teach the truths of Scripture. There is nothing more important. Dig into Scripture daily. Sit under church teaching with joy, taking notes and thanking God for infusing your husband with the desire to proclaim the Word. Yield your will, walk in the Spirit, and bow to God.

And love the people. Give thanks for the many kindnesses they extend to your family. Forgive lavishly and speedily. Your congregation does not realize how many issues land upon your doorstep, by nature of your husband’s work. Learn to be unoffendable as you work unto God, and not man. Serve God, your family, and your church in humility.

Pastors.  Keep at it. You are doing a good and holy work as you submit to his yoke. Pray, study God’s Word, and obey. Some of those faces in your congregation are dead bones walking. Plead with God to bring them to life, as only he can. And for those that have been made alive in Christ, pray for their hearts to remain soft as you deliver God’s Words, not your own. This whole shebang is God’s doing, and you are called to leave the results in his perfect hands.  

There are certainly stiff consequences to preaching truth: people will hate you, people will leave the church, people will squirm in the pews, people will dismiss you. But remember, others will turn to Christ in joyful surrender. You are being held to a higher biblical standard and will be judged with greater strictness. Embracing this truth will strengthen your resolve to be loving in the pulpit. Love never fails, and always has the best interest of others in mind. Nothing is more loving than pleading with people to turn to Christ. Be direct in your preaching, relying on the Word.  

Your work as a pastor is a bidding to come and die. Death to self, popularity, man-pleasing. Love your congregation enough to care for their souls. Don’t harden your heart toward these people whom God has graced to you for his good purposes. Shepherds feed, guide, and protect. Feed them God’s Word, guide them in truth, and protect them from false teachings and wolves.  Follow God in obedience.

*** 

Dear Church,

Time is fleeting.

Christ is coming back for his bride.

Are you prepared?

After Washington Street

I was twelve when we moved out of our apartment and into a ranch-style home, a duplex shared with my grandparents, who had recently sold their home on Washington Street.

I had adored our New England farmhouse apartment, the only home I remembered. We were scarcely unpacked from this new abode when I began pining for my former stomping grounds: the pond and fields and forts and gardens and berry patches and obsidian nights with only the big dipper to light the way.

I also ached for Washington Street, the place where my love for God began; the home which burst with the magnificence of Grandpa, who invited my brother and I to fiddle around in sample drawers stuffed with promotional samples that he kept for clients. We galloped on the expansive front porch and played tag in the fenced side-yard, romping with cousins aplenty.

Washington Street was the unchanging place where our family’s heritage was ever on display: etched whale’s teeth heralding our ocean ancestry, spearing those massive creatures of the sea. Curious, heavy trinkets adorned each room: engraved pewter jewelry boxes, delicate bone China, mortar and pestle nestled beneath proper New England furniture, atop Oriental rugs. Even the galley kitchen held memory: Grandma’s famous apple pies and melt-in-your-mouth roasts around which clustered bright, tender carrots, evenly cut and placed alongside pearl onions and new potatoes.

Washington Street also held vivid story of my grandparents in their younger years–ages before I was born. I remained transfixed by the sound of Grandpa’s voice, carrying me backwards in time to their early days together. My grandmother had tripped and lurched headlong down the steep, narrow staircase while holding their newborn baby. A fall that landed them both in the hospital with dark bruises, broken bones, and crushed spirits. I considered this each time I descended those stairs.

This home on Washington Street was a historical mansion to me, built with the hammer and nails of Grandpa’s steadfast love and goodness. I was stunned, as an adult, to learn how tiny their Washington Street home actually was: a mere 1425 square feet. One bathroom and three slender bedrooms which housed their large family of seven. Memory is a funny, tricky thing. I only remembered their home as a structure fairly enormous.

***

Now, decades later, I am growing deeper roots of appreciation for what my grandparents actually did that year we combined our households under one roof with two doors. They paved a way for our family to purchase a home in a place where property prices made home ownership prohibitive. My parents were nominally paid schoolteachers and considering the fact that my brother and I were reaching an age where it would be difficult to continuing sharing a bedroom, something needed to change. Grandpa was paying attention and hatched a plan.

By all accounts, this certainly could not have been easy. Grandpa and Grandma were over sixty-five the year we moved. Grandpa was still a full-time salesman with rhythms of his own, plus a thirty-five-year faithful member and trustee in their church. He had always been most comfortable as a city dweller, inspired by the noise of heavy traffic, the throngs of people, and concrete sidewalks.

This move, some twenty-five miles west of Washington Street placed him away from all jumbled noise and under the hush of mighty trees, chirping birds, singing crickets, and green pastureland. The slow and gentle lilt of quiet, small-town living. Such a change prompted increased driving times, greater fuel expenses, and the sudden need to learn different highways and back roads.

Grandpa managed well, cheerfully disassembling his old home office on Washington Street, before unpacking his new space in our cellar, an office now shared with my father who graded student papers by lamplight. None of these changes could have been easy after decades of routine.

In hindsight, I understand that my grandparents probably could have maintained their daily warp and woof, holding fast to their comfortable habits by asking us to move into Washington Street, the home they had lived for their entire marriage. They might have built an addition and upped their square footage, keeping company with the familiar in their older age. Instead they chose the opposite, for the sake of my brother and me. We had bunches of friends, plus a sturdy sense of time and place in our church and school.

So they invited my parents to dinner one evening, and Grandpa proposed this new venture, as a way to help our family along, while also hinting at their future need for our assistance as they aged. My grandparents were still active and independent, but of course, this would fade, given time.

This move is a way to kill two birds with one stone, said Grandpa with his wide smile.

He was a rare species, our Grandpa. A true gentleman with total class. Insisting that he and Grandma would one day need help was a kindness aimed at preserving my parents’ pride.

I thought little of it at the time, being only twelve, but they sacrificed everything for us. Grandpa took the whole shebang one step further, insisting, on the front end, that this move hinged upon one absolute contingency: an addition on the back of our ranch home. It was to be an enormous family room, full of tall windows to invite natural light, complete with a wood stove and luscious carpet for comfort. Two outdoor decks would hug each side, allowing for perfect grilling space on those hot summer evenings. This family room would be the one shared space in our ranch home, other than the basement.

My parents hemmed and hawed, likely considering this too great of an expense, and one in which they could not afford to contribute.

Grandpa held out his hand, eyes wide and serious. This is my treat. It is for my grandchildren, and for all extended family to gather during the holidays.

My brother and I were ecstatic. The deal was done. We were the luckiest kids alive, with a Grandpa like no other. We thanked him.

Our grandfather had somehow made moving into our new home both a grand adventure and a small happening as he waved his arm nonchalantly.

Anything for you guys, he smiled good-naturedly, just as though we were going out for an ice cream cone rather than moving homes and habits and entire histories while spending his hard-earned savings and beginning afresh.

I can picture him even now in his office, rummaging through drawers of samples as he spoke in friendly tones to his clients by phone in our unfinished basement, beanie perched on his perpetually cold and balding head, Cross pen fastened neatly in his shirt pocket, dress shoes neatly tied and shiny. He steadily worked through any and all interruptions, of which there were now plenty.

Never once did I hear him complain.

***

True love always entails sacrifice, doesn’t it?

I often remember that time of life. That move away from Washington Street, a home so dear, and owned outright, must have shattered Grandpa in a dozen different ways. If it did, we never knew it.

My grandmother, however, took a vastly different approach, head flung back on the new sofa, moaning about having to carry the laundry basket all the way down to the basement. I stayed quiet, observing her griping from a distance, but marveled at her crumpled spirit. Their old washing machine on Washington Street had also been situated in the basement. How was this any different?

And we are now so far from church, and I am not getting any younger, she sighed. This stove is different and I am not used to living in the country–are there bear in these woods?

My brother, backed turned to the lump of our griping grandmother sprawled upon the couch, crossed his eyes for my benefit and made a crazy face. I stifled a giggle.

Plus Marilyn doesn’t style my hair the same way Dottie did. I miss Washington Street.

And on and on and on it went.

It was tedious, I tell you, listening to her complain. When she had lived on Washington Street, she had groaned about the narrow kitchen, the lack of closet space, the postage-sized yard. Nothing was ever right. I realize now that I was unwittingly learning as much from my grandmother as I was from Grandpa.

She was the perfect primer on what not to become: discontent, sulky, temperamental. A natural repellent.

***

When they purchased this new home, it was not, shall we say, move-in-ready. To give context, I hail from a long line of exceedingly tidy women, which is why I tell my family not to necessarily blame me for my freakish OCD cleaning tendencies. My grandmother’s favorite saying was Soap is cheap, meaning anyone can be clean if they so choose. Whenever she crossed the threshold of a home that beheld dust or crumbs or a ring around the sink, I studied her narrowed eyes and pursed lips. She could certainly clean with the best of them, and she did.

So you can understand the horror when we discovered that the previous owners of our ranch home had owned a motorcycle, and had literally, in the chill of winter, changed the motorcycle’s oil in our living room. There, in the middle of a hideously abused rust carpet, lived a dark and foreboding stain. A pool of greasy residue. For the love, can you even imagine?

The kitchen linoleum not only held sticky grime, but also curled at the outer edges, which caused us to occasionally trip and pitch forward, careening into the wall. I remember my parents reminding everyone what the realtor had mentioned ad nauseum–location, location, location. So yes, it was a fine neighborhood, a pretty yard, but the house required work.

The interior walls were infused with a stubborn, smoky tinge, as if the wicks from hundreds of burning candles had joined hands and crawled upward. We scrubbed those walls for days with scarcely an improvement. Also? Our stove could not be cleaned.

My mother tried. Desperately, and for hours on end. Grandma, who had stretched the phone cord into their television room while gossiping to her California sister, announced that my mother had scrubbed to a fair-thee-well, with plenty of elbow-grease, but without luck. Grandma paused, probably hearing my tiptoed footsteps, but as I stood still and held my breath, she continued. And after so many expenses, they cannot even afford a new oven, she whispered. This raised my twelve-year-old hackles.

My father, who descended from a long line of housepainters, gave the entire home a fresh coat of interior paint which infused a clean, comforting glow within each room. It was a gamechanger that served to lift everyone’s spirits. My parents also ripped out the oil-stained carpet, replacing it with a greyish blue plush. The new carpet scent was a fantastic relief, and things were finally shaping up. My grandfather also paid to have our kitchen linoleum replaced.

We finally moved in and began unpacking.

A few days passed splendidly and without incident when my grandparents oven, which was old but at least clean, conked out.

Grandpa knocked on our door and Grandma–who was carrying a generously peppered roast– stepped across the threshold and requested to borrow our oven. Grandpa bent low to open it for her, immediately glimpsed the unsuccessful-cleaning-attempt-situation, and stood upright.

No family member of mine is eating anything cooked in this contraption. His eyes were huge as he closed the oven door firmly and told us to grab our windbreakers. I am treating everyone to Giovanni’s tonight.

I felt like hugging him.

***

Within a week, delivery men finagled two brand new ovens through our narrow front door and into each kitchen. They were exquisite pieces, and we thanked Grandpa, who as usual, had chosen the finest.

He was certainly a Go Big or Go Home man; never one to skimp. Our Grandpa despised fast food, off-brand ice cream, poorly stitched clothes, and shoddy furniture. Everything he paid for was sturdy, made to last, and bought with consideration toward the future.

God saved me, I heard him once say. How can I not give to others?

***

It is not difficult, as Christians, to dress up in our Sunday best for church: dress shirt, tie, blouse, skirt, or favorite jeans paired with good shoes. It is another thing entirely to clothe oneself the Colossians 3 way–setting one’s heart on things above and not on earthly things. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, may we put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness. And above all? Love, which binds everything together in harmony.

This is simple in theory yet difficult in practice because it requires dying to our own flesh: our stubborn preferences, our beloved routines of self-preservation and self-care, our wants and perceived needs that are pervasive today. This current mindset of brooding, challenging, and questioning the authority of Scripture–(surely Jesus did not really mean denying oneself, picking up our cross, and following him?) actually encourages division within the body of Christ, and is a mockery to God. If we have been truly redeemed by Christ, we are instructed to seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)

In humility, may I suggest burning those bridges that encourage such deception? Not in anger or with noisy fanfare, but with the solid knowing that keeping company or seeking advice from those who encourage decision-making based on fleshly desires, following your heart rather than God’s ways, will ultimately harden your soul to the things of God. (Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 15:33) Do not be deceived–our flesh is weaker than we believe it to be, (Matthew 26:41) and our adversary, the devil is roaming around seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) We become like those with whom we keep company. (Proverbs 13:20)

Truly following Christ will cut the flesh, and deeply. It will cost you, and it should. (Luke 14:33) Obedience and love always involve a measure of sacrifice.

Grandpa lived this. No long faces on his part–bemoaning the challenges, as my grandmother did. His steadfast faith in Christ was his joy. He trusted God implicitly, served others, denied himself at every turn, and kept in step with the Holy Spirit.

***

This is what I now understand, as I remember Grandpa and Grandma while considering the precious faces of my own family:

They will remember the Italian restaurants, the family table, the hey-pal-come-along-with-me moments. They will feel known as I remember their favorite color, favorite team, favorite book, favorite ice-cream. Their heart will feel tended and cherished when I call them by nickname. They will observe how well I live out my faith each ordinary day, and see if I choose to love God through obedience. They will remember if I show my love with abandon, lavishly offering my time and money and home and words–a way of saying “You first.” Most every storm can be weathered by being deeply known, unconditionally treasured, and completely loved, just as God first loved us.

Make no mistake, they will also remember the moaning, the selfishness, the ways they had to crawl around me to see Jesus. They will remember the lack of phone calls, visits, the selfish choices to withhold attention, kind words, gifts, money, and time. It does not matter if I dress up each Sunday and stroll into church while simultaneously choosing to cling selfishly to my rights and my preferences and my way. Faithless Christianity ultimately shows up in unrepentant selfishness, pride, complaining, envying, empty words, and rotten fruit.

I will never forget that Grandpa chose us over his beloved Washington Street home.

And isn’t this true? We are who we are no matter where we live. Being a Christ-follower is not dependent upon a certain street address or zip code. It is wholly dependent up the finished work of Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we march forward in faith and dependence and obedience before God, joyfully denying ourselves.

I am not saying that place is unimportant. It is a secondary character within our story, isn’t it? God ordains our steps and places to tend–earth and brick and wood and beam that shelter us. But it is the people within such houses that shape us most.

My faith began on Washington Street, but it did not stop there. Grandpa brought his kindness beyond his cherished home, giving of himself until he died, for love’s sake.

I am still basking in his kindnesses, a flickering shadow of my eternal home with Christ in heaven.

**************************************

(Below are more stories of my delightful Grandpa. My first book is dedicated to him.)

Unspoken

There You Are

Things We Remember

No Strings Attached

Loose Change

A Tree, Severed

Most mornings I take a long, looping walk–nothing fancy here–a worn, comfortable hoodie and ponytail pulled loosely through my baseball cap. Often, I listen to an Elisabeth Elliot podcast, and as her words correct and exhort my spirit, a quickened pace stirs my limbs for the day’s work ahead.

There is so much abundance to be discovered in God’s creation– hawks and songbirds, deer and squirrels, puffs of clouds, sunshine warming blue skies, rain showers, stately trees, scattered flowers, and wild berries. I simply cannot understand how anyone can fail to worship the Creator of such stunning wonder. He is truly the Ruler of all.

I have a favorite spot on these ambles through partially wooded trails. A slim path by the lake where the waters sparkle, the breeze beckons, and the magnificent trees change color by season. This place has become a treasure trove of delight, now so familiar after nine months of walking these paths. Which is why I was jolted as I rounded the corner a month ago. Three of my favorite trees had been neatly severed by chainsaw.

To give context, I have dozens of photos of this triumvirate, taken during summer, autumn, and winter. One magnificent tree–the tallest of the bunch– was so resplendent that it burned in a blaze of yellow during fall. It was remarkable; truly the loveliest tree that I have ever encountered.

So I stood aghast at the sliced logs that had once been a sturdy beacon of beauty, and I pined for what was. Only three short stumps remained. I longed to observe these beauties in the fullness of springtime–and never will.

The reason they were felled?

They hindered the view of golfers as they moved down the fairway.

I know not what to say.

It is terribly sad.

***

This is Holy Week, and we remember.

That same Christ who was adored by the masses in the streets on Palm Sunday, was felled on Good Friday. Our gentle King of glory stood in the Pharisees’ way–he certainly was not the sovereign everyone expected to rescue people from Roman rule. Scourged, beaten, whipped, mocked. Our Cruciform King, nailed to wood, and left to suffer the cruelest, most horrific death.

Why do bad things happen to good people? someone once asked theologian R. C. Sproul. His answer? That only happened once, and He volunteered.

***

God is in charge of absolutely everything: the rising and setting sun, the spinning seasons, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the scattered stars twinkling by pitch of night, the story of our birth, the instant of our death, the rescue of his elect.

As Octavius Winslow once noted:

Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money, not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy, but the Father, for love!

Everything is under God’s rule–to the last iota. He sees what we cannot, and I am steadied by these words of King David:

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Psalm 16:5)

He holds our entire lives, our years, our weeks, our days.

1 John 2:17 tells us: And the world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.

To accept this truth is to fully live. To welcome the will of God, our portion, moment by moment, worshipping through determined obedience, leads to a tranquil state of the soul, come what may.

***

This morning, upon rounding the path’s curve yet again and encountering those three short stumps, I had a flash of imagery.

Three trees gone. One had been rooted enormous –more grand and stunning and glorious than all.

That one is like Christ, glowing in splendor now, seated at the right hand of the Father. I cannot see with physical eyes but know from the truth of God’s Word that Jesus Christ is fully alive and is interceding on our behalf.

The two other stumps mirror the image of the two criminals hanging alongside Christ at Golgotha. One entered paradise as he acknowledged his guilt and sought Christ for rescue, while the other cursed Jesus and entered an eternity of torture–absent of God. (Luke 23:39-43)

Those three stumps? I now consider them gifts to ponder each morning.

***

This Holy Week, as I read the gospel accounts, may I reverently honor the terrifying beauty of King Jesus, who was tortured to death in my place.

Please–let’s resist the impulse to clean up the cross with flowers or smooth silken sashes, making the scene palatable; attractive. The genuine, gut-wrenching beauty of the cross–a brutal Roman instrument of torture–lies in its horror: our sinless Savior, our Cruciform King hung bruised and bleeding and virtually unrecognizable, weighted down by the sins of his people, arms stretched wide while nailed to a tree, slowly dying. Asking his Father to forgive us.

His torment for our pardon.

May I grieve over my sins as I ponder the heinous nature of the blood-soaked cross. May I mourn and repent. And then may I give thanks as I sing reverent praise for the beauty, the holiness of the empty tomb. A miracle. Our Risen Savior.

Every single breath of every single day is a cause for Easter celebration. Jesus Christ is fully alive.

Take the time to consider those quiet glories granted in human hardships. We are gifted to join in the fellowship of His sufferings. Those proud, rebellious, stiff-necked people that mock us for our faith? We were once as dead in our trespasses as they are now, but have been made fully alive, gifted by God with faith in Christ. Pray for those that hate and persecute, and then carry on in clarity and in boldness of faith.

Make no mistake–our wounds, those whippings we experience for obeying God, will yield scars. But remember too that such markings will fall earthward, to be replaced with heavenly rewards as we enter eternity and walk with Christ, upon streets of gold.

The only unfading scars in heaven? Those treasures remain on the hands and feet of Christ Jesus–an unending proof of his obedience and perfect love. (Revelation 5:6)

Scars of beauty. Scars of abundant life–giving us an eternal reason to rejoice.

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No doctrine is more excellent, or necessary to be preached and studied, than Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

(John Flavel, Puritan 1671)