Children of Eden

Once upon a time, my grandmother baked the most delicious apple pies. The secret was her crust recipe, kept strictly for family, which she scribbled down for me to file in my recipe box the summer I was married. Soon, I will be rolling out this very dough for Thanksgiving, the weight of the rolling pin steady beneath floured hands.

She was a superb cook; a meat-and-potatoes type of woman, with little fondness for casseroles. Seasoned simply, her cooking was fashioned with real food and few ingredients. The steamed carrots, bright, cut long and even, were neatly positioned aside the peas, slightly salted and peppered. A fluff of buttered mashed potatoes gave way to tender roast beef, never dry and only slightly pink, shaved thin. I loved it.

Despite these fine culinary skills, she was not one to teach cooking or baking or anything else, really. She possessed a superb memory, retaining cooking measurements and numbers with ease. Grandma did not suffer fools in the kitchen, which left little time and less patience for most. Even the recipes she offered me before marriage have important information missing, such as oven temperatures and cooking times. I have just had to figure it out. She did not require recipe cards.

My grandparents eventually lived with us, and there were inevitable childhood days when my brother and I fell ill, tucked in bed; home from school. My parents left early for work, and my grandmother tended to us.

Something overtook her when we were sick; she abruptly shed her cloak of disinterest, growing warm and attentive with a flourish, checking our fevered foreheads and bringing us tiny glasses of ginger ale, just the right temperature for our upset stomachs. She whipped up strawberry and lime jello, cut into wiggly cubes, coaxing us to eat slowly and assuring that we would feel better.

Just a little something in your stomach will help.

She was right.

I always knew how sick I was based on her culinary behaviors. When especially ill, I would hear the fork whisking eggs against the metal bowl. The oven would beep, signaling that it was preheated. After a time, dozing in and out of fever-induced sleep, I would inhale the scent of custard.

She called the custard grape-nut pudding, baked in white ramekins. While it cooled on the counter, Grandma helped me to the sofa, where I lay under a thin blanket while she stripped the fevered sheets off of my bed, quickly replacing them with a set of fresh ones, folding hospital corners to utter perfection. It felt divine slipping back between those cool cotton sheets before drifting off again.

The same care in cooking, however, used to show affection, was also withheld to show displeasure. If a mood struck, or she was crossed, then dinner might be cheese and crackers, or perhaps a bowl of cereal. A little sulking, a closed door, rather than dealing squarely.

***

The other morning, I held my breath as a doe pranced across the road. She paused, her wide eyes surveying. It was early and chilly, and the glow of the sun shimmered through the maples. Bearing witness to this creation, and acknowledging who painted the sky, I worshiped. Scenes of nature, created by the hand of God, feed my soul. I felt spoiled, to have such beauty gifted to me.

Psalm 84:11: For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

I was meeting with my spiritual mentor recently, doing some heart work, casting off cobwebs of sin as I long to walk uprightly. We discussed why many people willfully withhold good things from others: Kind words, favor, praise, money, gifts, encouragement.

It is a sinful, passive-aggressive way to control and manipulate she offered simply.

Yes.

Human beings are complex layers: body, mind, soul; yet often we fancy ourselves more complicated than we truthfully are. Aren’t we all children of Eden, lured by the serpent and star-struck by our own desires, our own glory and power? We want what we want, and we oftentimes push God aside to get it. God and others.

But God is never lured. He is perfect, steadfast, and shows passionate restraint. Every time he withholds something that I have desperately craved, it is his faultless hand, full of holy favor and honor. This is not the selfish withholding practiced cruelly by we as people. He is our sun, casting pure, warm light, and our shield, protecting us from ourselves.

***

I was a junior in high school when God withheld what I thought I needed. It was years before I understood why.

My best friend, who attended a different high school, but the same church, decided that we must attend the same college. I absolutely agreed. We had schemed for years about this. So we flew to several Christian colleges, spending a weekend in the dorms, testing the waters.

She was pretty sold on one of them, and started making plans.

I told her I would think about it, but I knew I could never go. The campus buildings, in a deeply wooded area, were dark and poorly lit. The cafeteria, also dim, had an odd smell, and simply felt unclean.

I never voiced aloud, to anyone, why I declined to attend a reputable college with my dear friend. Something I very much wanted. I muttered something about it not being the right fit, which was true enough, but it was actually because I preferred bright lights, clean and tidy spaces, and pleasing aromas.

Soon thereafter, I flew to one more Christian university, one that my parents and many other relatives had attended. A place I did not wish to attend. Fifteen minutes on campus and I just knew. This was where I would spend four years of my life. The buildings were bright and clean, with natural lighting. And the dining hall, freshly vacuumed, smelled like good food.

What I did not know was that my future husband was also making the rounds in search of the right college. A football athlete, he was narrowing down his list, but had his eye on one. When he did not hear back, he continued his search, ultimately deciding on the university that I had chosen. Only after committing, did he hear back from his first choice. I have the typed letter still. Your football information was lost in the mail, apologized the coach. By the time the school had finally received it, Jon had already promised to play elsewhere.

Passionate restraint.

I would love to report that I made my college decision after praying long and hard. The hard truth is that because of my minor obsession with clean and tidy spaces, I chose school number two.

But God uses all of the things, doesn’t he? He designs us, and uses our quirks and preferences, and seemingly insignificant details, such as lost mail, to divinely orchestrate our days.

***

The summer of my wedding, I asked Grandma to teach me how to make pies. I was beginning to panic, suddenly realizing that I was going to be cooking for my soon-to-be-husband every single night for the rest of my life. I had about three proficient recipes in my arsenal, with a few weeks to build up my repertoire. This was not good.

Rather than accepting whom I already knew her to be, I built up this grandmother of mine in my mind, envisioning a homespun afternoon of bonding as she shared her plethora of baking secrets with me.

Instead, she began dumping ingredients for the crust into a bowl, quickly, blending with a fork, and not speaking measurements.

How many cups of flour was that? I asked.

You peel the apples while I make the crust was her reply.

So I peeled apples and she made the pies. I offered to use the rolling pin but when I did not press down firmly enough, which kept the dough too thick, she laughed, annoyed, and took the reigns.

Then laying the top of her rolled crust effortlessly on the pie, running a fork around the edges to seal, she reminded me to always dab cream on top before sprinkling with sugar. It makes it brown just right.

With the remaining dough, she fashioned her famous little cinnamon roll using butter, cinnamon, sugar and cream.

And then she was done, tired and spent. Handing the timer abruptly to me, she turned on her heel, retreating into her dark bedroom.

***

Sullen moping and moodiness are as strong a repellent to my spirit as are unclean places. Oddly enough, so is hyper-cheerfulness, which usually comes crashing down, given time. One is pure negativity and the other is a strong lie. Both are a withholding of goodness.

I am anchored to the middle ground: honest, sincere, and striving for contentment in the ways of the Lord. Steady. A nod to the reality of a situation, yet firmly tethered to the hope found in Christ. Come, let us reason together, and with a grateful heart. God knows what he is doing.

It has taken me years to accept that I cannot snap my fingers and change anyone for the better. I cannot even bring lasting change to myself: that is a work of the Holy Spirit. I keep my eyes wide open, and acknowledge the complicated table my grandmother set. And what a table she created: preparing and fussing and then withdrawing and withholding. An impoverished way for a child to experience love, confusing under those long and conditional shadows.

I forgive her for those behaviors that have settled deep, fueling my ardent desire to serve and love my growing family with honest and unconditional devotion. A no-matter-what-kind of love.

So this Thanksgiving, during our cooking and baking frenzy, so loud and fun, I will treasure the precious faces in our kitchen. Faces that were birthed from the Lord’s passionate restraint: a no to our teenage wishes that ultimately yielded our greatest earthly gifts.

Then I will dab cream on the top of those apple pies before sprinkling the sugar and baking hot. They will brown nicely, I am quite sure.

Adieu

One September day in the late 1970’s, a family was traveling on a rare and much needed vacation. While stopped at a toll booth, the father leaned out the window, flinging the quarters into the bin. At that precise moment, a sleepy truck driver barreled into multiple vehicles, including this family’s stopped car, which burst into flames. Stunned, and momentarily unconscious, the adults fell from the car, burned. Their towheaded twenty-two-month-old was engulfed in his car seat, the plastic melting into his smooth skin.

A stranger, hearing the toddler’s screams, raced to the car and reached his bare arms inside, plucking the nearly dead little one from the inferno. He was alive, but barely. He was now charred beyond recognition. His skin was falling off his tiny frame in puddles as they waited for the ambulance.

***

Year’s later, on a warm summer’s day, when I was nine or so, our family drove into the city with relatives to enjoy a festival together. I would be meeting Joel, the little boy who had survived more than eighty surgeries after being burned from head to toe. His family were longtime friends of my aunt and uncle.

As we approached our meeting spot, my parents whispered: Be polite and Don’t stare, explaining that he looked different.

I was not prepared for what this meant. My heart was crushed for this little fellow. He had mere stumps for arms, and a type of surgeon-created claw for one hand. His face resembled someone adorned in a hockey mask with small slits for eyes. His mouth, not much bigger than a cheerio, was formed stiff in a surprised-shaped O.

People were pointing and staring; some openly laughing.

He looks like a monkey! a little boy shrieked, as his parents tugged him away.

Joel’s father remained calm, smiling wide and holding fast to his son, seated so high upon his shoulders. This is Joel, he offered, introducing him to my brother and me. I waved, and then didn’t know if that was okay, since he couldn’t really wave back.

Joel loves when people say hi! his father encouraged. And then, Wow, it’s hot! Let’s find some ice cream.

We followed behind, and in the midst of stares and ridiculing, Joel’s Dad strode forward, laughing and telling Joel about the beautiful day God had made, and how much fun it was to be outside together. His genuine cheer nestled deep within. Remember this, I thought.

We found a soft-serve stand, and I waited to see if Joel could even eat. His Dad lifted him down, tenderly placing him in a stroller. Then, taking the tip of the ice cream into his own mouth, and pulling upward, he created a thin, pencil-shaped tip to that vanilla cone. The perfect size for Joel’s tiny mouth.

And this is how he proceeded to share an entire ice cream cone with his boy. It was natural and steady and one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. Somehow I felt sorry for those kids making fun; it was Joel who was to be envied, with a father who clearly knew that he held the most precious of gifts upon his shoulders.

***

I was browning some ground beef last weekend, listening to it sizzle as I tossed in one finely diced onion, some garlic, salt, and pepper. Using a wooden spoon to turn the mixture, I held close the knowledge that this was the last dinner that I would prepare for our oldest son before his wedding. I asked him to choose any meal in the world.

Shepherd’s Pie, Mom?

Of course.

Heart preparation is a good and holy chore, often necessary for life’s changes. As the mother-of-the-groom, I am swinging wide the doors of my heart. Memories are a fountain flowing daily, and as the ground beef cooked and the potatoes simmered, I remembered twenty-three-month-old Caleb sitting high upon my husband’s shoulders. We were at the park, and it was warm, and I was hugely due with our second baby. My husband jogged, holding our boy’s chunky hands tight, his golden hair bouncing, his baby laughter contagious. Father and son, enjoying the afternoon in perfect simplicity. People smiled at our handsome boy. I had no idea how quickly those days would pass.

As I mashed and salted the potatoes, I spoke truth to myself. Always, we begin again. Births and graduations and baptisms and weddings and funerals. God holds it all: the pain, the people, and the pleasure. It is our life’s work to follow him, holding fast to his robes; trusting.

So I was happy, stirring our son’s favorite dinner. And truthfully, a little bit sad, too. It is the end of an era.

A wedding sparkles: an adieu to the old, a breaking off of an established branch. The start of a new and beautiful family. Our son and his bride love God. It is lovely and right and good.

As I layered the shepherd’s pie: ground beef and spice, vegetables, cheese, mashed potatoes, I prayed for the layers of our family: our son, his new bride-to-be, our three other children, the hope of future grandchildren. Holding up our family as an offering, a fragrance pleasing to God. Every word we utter and love we share and forgiveness we cultivate matters deeply; weaving the fabric of family for generations to come. Fidelity to the Lord through both joys and trials.

And then I remembered Joel’s family. Their hearts did not have the luxury of time to prepare: one minute they were laughing and sailing out of town to grow memories, and a second later, life as they knew it had vanished. This too, is the Lord at work.

I can only imagine the weight of those surgeries, the sadness that could encompass their marriage and other children, the feelings of lost time and withered dreams. No time to slow down and grieve properly. One surgery after another followed by another. During those horrific years, God held them and carried them as they chose to trust and offer their son first to God and then to the often-cruel world, many times overlooking insults. Plodding through the promise that God’s Word never returns void. (Isaiah 55:11) He is always working: holding, pruning, loving, permitting us to walk next to him into the fellowship of suffering.

I read that Joel is a married man today, a pastor now with children of his own. He has traveled the world, sharing his story and the goodness of God with thousands.

This does not surprise me, because I was once that little girl, watching a God-fearing man love his burned little boy with both tenderness and strength. Joel’s father was weaving a tapestry that would warmly blanket his son; allowing him to flourish; pointing his boy to security in Christ. And really, is there anything richer than knowing that our children are forever safe with God?

***

We enjoyed that Shepherd’s Pie and hot coffee. I cherished small memories a mama’s heart holds close. Seeing the light in his eyes, the words of the future, and the smile so genuine provided lantern-light to my feet. Soon we will take the path that waves goodbye, and then, after a time, bids welcome to this precious family of two. A tapestry fashioned by God.

An Education

In fifth grade, I left behind my public elementary school life and transitioned to a tiny Classical School in New England, where autumns burned glorious, and scholarly minds were most prized.

After the first few weeks at this school, I accepted two cold facts: the headmaster regarded our studies as the be-all and end-all, and the brightest students were her charms.

The upside about my being an average student was that I blended in. Public speaking and performing and even answering a question aloud felt like sudden death. So I studied hard, kept quiet, and observed. It was fun making new friends, but the academic expectations were taxing.

Headmaster, I am sure, had noble intentions. She was passionate about history, and it became widely known that her grade-school history exams rivaled that of most college freshman. She was born to lecture and philosophize, and would probably have been better suited teaching at the graduate level.

I distinctly remember trying to memorize the lengthy definitions of our vocabulary words: city-states, Acropolis, colonization, revolution, assimilation, Manifest Destiny, Louisiana Purchase. After defining these from memory on our test, we moved on to a matching section. This was followed by a handful of short answer questions. Then the dreaded map: twenty cities or countries or bodies of water to color and label. The grand conclusion? A one to two page essay. These Friday exams took an hour to complete. I was eleven years old.

When Monday arrived, she handed back our tests, always in the order of our scores: from highest to lowest. The same few students continually achieved the top grades, and Headmaster smiled, congratulating them as she returned their tests, voicing their scores. The rest of us prayed we wouldn’t be last. We looked away from that poor student who clutched the final handout.

I preferred to stay in the shadows, and I didn’t worry about getting the highest grade. But I did want to understand what I was studying, and often I did not. I dreaded those tests because of the suffocating pressure from the top. Drooping under the weight of being a slave to the test rather than a master of the material, I was not consuming any of history’s rich lessons. The irony was that the school’s primary objective was to train up children to think biblically and critically; grasping our world’s historical sins and mistakes so as not to repeat old follies.

Recess was even measured by brain power. Many recesses were staff-structured around a highly involved game of capture the flag. I nodded in pretend understanding of those complicated strategies, while my heart longed to play tag or softball or four-square…all things I had done at my previous school.

English class proved to be arduous as well. The diagramming felt endless. We parsed sentences to death on that black chalkboard; chopping them up and dissecting , naming every blasted syllable and part of speech. While this must have had its benefits, the beauty of the music of the sentences fell deaf; crushed beneath my chalk-dusted fingers.

I did earn an A for spelling, and went on to win a trophy at our small area spelling bee. Headmaster quickly reassured our class that spelling did not reveal intellectual ability; studies proved that people who excelled in this area had a unique way of processing written words in their brain. Perhaps it was meant to comfort the smart kids. I put my trophy away, feeling oddly apologetic.

Shortly after this incident I decided to change my handwriting. One day I simply altered my cursive. She handed back my short story, looking displeased.

I will not grade this story until you write it in your real penmanship.

I think my phony handwriting was my way of telling her my words, my style, my real penmanship, seemed never good enough.

So I began filling composition books at home with short stories and journals and ideas. I kept it carefully hidden under my pajamas in my dresser drawer.

The next year, when I was a sixth-grader, winter struck hard, and one January day it was too icy to go outside for recess. No capture the flag today. Headmaster announced that we would play an indoor game instead. Everyone groaned.

I will pick an unusual word from the dictionary, and each of you will create a plausible definition.

She would then read our definitions aloud, without revealing the author, and our class would vote on the definition that sounded correct. Slipped in between our fabricated answers was the real definition.

She spoke the first word, which I no longer recall, but remember it being a noun. I played with it in my mind, and scribbled down my first thought.

A tiny, dwarf-like creature.

I won that definition, and Headmaster looked up at me. Surprised. She carried on with the game, and I scripted some more false definitions that earned more votes.

Kristin wins again. Her eyebrows furrowed, and it wasn’t so hard to read that expression. It felt a whole lot like the Spelling Bee, part two.

And that is precisely when I folded.

Written words held power, and she didn’t like my words. I was not supposed to win anything, because I was not an exceptional student.

Her words and opinions wielded their own sovereignty too, and I was tired on the inside. I stopped trying to do my best, and wrote crummy definitions for the rest of the game, pretending not to care.

It wasn’t until a few years later, in ninth grade and at a different school, that my heart’s door slipped open; ready to participate in English class once again.

***

Then I was thirty-two with four children of our own. We had been homeschooling, and I was in love. With my husband and our children; with our life. With the school lessons, and especially the stories we read aloud together every day. It was simple and true.

When our daughter, our fourth little one, was two-months old, we found out that we would be moving across the country. My stable existence melted. As we lugged moving boxes, insecurities suddenly reared, voices whispering and begging my attention: was I really doing a good job homeschooling? Were my lesson plans truly challenging enough? We wouldn’t know anybody in our new state, so should I enroll our oldest in school?

There are all kinds of ways to stifle the Holy Spirit. And I did just that. I acquiesced to the loudest sound, pushing down the quiet truth of wisdom that my heart already knew: my children, beloved by God, were on the right path. Our home was gently structured: breakfast, chores, Bible lessons, math, reading, history, science and read-alouds. Lunch and rest time, plenty of fresh air and free playtime, library visits, trips to the park, good movies, and backyard football. There were hard days, to be sure, but overall it was wonderful. There was order but mostly there was a bunch of love, unhurried and strong.

So we schlepped across the country in a huge moving truck, unpacked, and tried to settle in. Our sweet baby was thrown off her normal sleep pattern and cried on my shoulder night after night. Our little boy was scared to sleep in his new room, and took to bringing his pillow on the stairs where he could get to us more quickly in case of bad dreams. Our two-year-old clung to our legs, unsure of where we had landed. I had also enrolled our third- grader in a university-model classical school which meant he would be attending classes two days per week, and completing work at home the other three days. I ignored my gut instinct, reasoning he would make new friends and still be at home most of the time.

When I had registered for these classes, however, I had not taken into consideration the fact that I would be dressing and hustling four children into the van bright and early, driving 25 minutes to drop him off, another 25 minutes home, homeschooling my first grader, getting our baby down for a nap, and entertaining an exhausted two-year-old. Lunch was a rushed affair, peanut-butter-and-jelly left on plates followed by another round of: Hurry! Hurry! In the van! Time to retrieve our son.

As it turned out, there would be more problems. The amount of work our son brought home was appropriate for a tenth-grader, not an eight-year-old. I could read our dear boy, who never was one to complain. But he had certain tells, and they were manifesting in spades. He was a bundle of stress. We all were.

One night, when everyone was fast asleep, I studied my son’s binder, and the work he was expected to do. My heart began to thud. It suddenly struck me; why had I not recognized it? I remembered my Headmaster’s face, prizing her sophisticated lectures, but never truly connecting with the student. And now I had resisted the promptings of the Holy Spirit, trusting my doubts rather than my God, placing our son into this wrong, yet strongly familiar setting.

I knew then that school was never meant to be a Venus Flytrap: snapping up a child and snuffing out his life. An education should be a gentle wooing, challenging and beautiful and filled with all of the good books and read-alouds: Shiloh, Little Britches, Lad: A Dog; Little House on the Prairie, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Hobbit. Stories of redemption, pulling the reader’s heart toward the goodness of God. Stories with meat that would form character: mind, heart and soul. I wasn’t after heady knowledge; I was pursuing lasting heart-change for our children. And the master key? Relationship with my beloveds. Take my hand and I will show you. It wasn’t going to happen if we remained tangled in the chaotic, neglecting our consistent ebb and flow of schoolwork, outdoor play, unhurried meals with good food and better laughs.

That schoolyear mercifully ended, and none too soon. Our son came home that final day, dropping his backpack by the door. It landed with a thud. He raced to join his brothers, sifting through Legos together as they built. I rocked our baby girl, kissing her soft hair, enjoying the sound of their laughter and her sleepy song. The relief was stunning, and I closed my eyes, thanking God for new beginnings.

My sons were building Legos, and I was building our life.

Safe With Me

We had little in common, other than the fact that we were in the same gym class, and shared the same name.

She spelled her name Kristen, as did the other handful of Kristens in our elementary school. Mine is Kristin, a slight difference, and a moot point when our gym teacher called out first names for attendance.

Kristen came from a family of athletes. We were third-graders when she won the chin-up contest for the entire elementary school. It seemed unnatural to watch this small girl pulling up on that bar effortlessly, beating out every boy. We all stood, mouths open as she kept going. While most of us were eating Cheerios each morning before school, Kristen’s parents were leading their kids in calisthenics routines. Pushups, sit-ups, dips, and chin-ups. They were a highly competitive bunch. I had actually played little league under Kristen’s mom, and it was not pretty. Forget having fun. We were little soldiers going to battle. And if the umpire made a remotely questionable call against our team, her temper flared.

One Saturday, we had to drop off something to Kristen’s family. Their house was at the end of a long, deeply wooded driveway. As our mothers were talking, Kristen invited me up to her room.

As we were standing there, her three-year-old brother wandered in. I gasped. An angry red gash spanned his face, from the corner of one eye, across his cheek and lips, then trailing down his neck.

He was attacked by a flying squirrel, said Kristen.

He nodded his small head in agreement, and lifted up his t-shirt, revealing yet another wound.

As it happened, this flying squirrel had nested in their attic. The little guy’s room was beneath, and somehow the creature had chewed its way through the ceiling before sailing downward and attacking him as he slept. Not only had he been scratched and bitten, but he was painfully treated for rabies, a precautionary measure, since the flying squirrel was potentially rabid.

The worst part of this situation was that flying squirrels are a protected species, and to have this creature hunted down and destroyed would take mounds of paperwork and lots of time.

As our mothers continued talking, we wandered into their kitchen. I watched Kristen’s father at the table, building a turkey on rye. With an eyebrow raised, he recounted the frustrating rules of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

I asked: Are you going to catch that flying squirrel?

Well, it is a protected creature, he said, scooping up his injured little boy and hugging him tight.

I thought about that sentence as we drove home. He had not answered my question. But I had seen the way he held his child, and I could feel the protection pulsing in that kitchen. It felt a lot like love.

Kristen ran over to me the next week during gym class.

Don’t tell, but my Dad killed that flying squirrel, she whispered, as we stretched in the gym.

I nodded. Of course he had. That was his son.

***

Friday night lights. Those were some of our family’s favorite years. Our oldest son was a tight end with a wicked stiff- arm yet soft hands; our second born son the consummate quarterback. My husband helped coach, and our third son was the ball boy. It was a fun time of life.

From the moment our boys could run, they played backyard football. There is something about that familiarity and chemistry that translated, quite seamlessly, to the high school football field. Words were not necessary, our tight end knew exactly what his quarterback brother was planning, and their timing was golden. To see those two in tandem, scoring touchdowns, was thrilling. They never owned all of the high-end gear or expensive cleats, but had something far better: a brotherly bond that was as natural as breathing. What everyone witnessed on that field was formed by years of play.

And then the time arrived for our oldest to go to college. Those Friday nights under the lights were still wonderful, just different. Our quarterback son’s arm was as accurate as ever, but the chemistry with receivers took more effort and patience. They weren’t brothers, after all.

One Saturday morning, during this time, I leashed up our two Golden Retrievers, and headed out for a walk. Our youngest three joined me. We discussed the football game from the previous night. Having fun conversation, I chose to lengthen the walk by going one street farther than usual.

Our discussion was suddenly interrupted by a deep, chesty growl. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw a massive Pit Bull, watching us; stone still. Thankfully he was chained, and his owner was hollering for him to shush. She gave us an apologetic wave as we quickened our steps, anxious to put space between us.

We turned off that street, rounded the corner, and headed for home. That is when I heard a snap and a clink.

The ground thudded, and as I looked back I froze. The Pit Bull was charging us.

I have read stories of people freezing in the face of danger. I never really understood how that was even possible. Until then. My legs were weak yet fastened to the ground. I held tightly to the leashes, and life unfolded in slow motion. The dog was now at my feet, snapping its fangs, biting our terrified dogs.

A true quarterback is wired to function at a high level on the field; especially under pressure. Reading the field and assessing the rushing danger is paramount. He must protect the ball at all cost.

As the beast began to attack, my quarterback son’s foot thudded against its wide chest. His arm swept his younger brother and sister behind him, to safety. He took the dog leashes from my hand as he continued to pummel the aggressor with his foot. He was calm; focused. The Pit Bull, bloodthirsty for our dogs, did not even seem to notice the beating.

My son then jerked our dogs away from the Pit’s jaws, handed their leashes back to me, pushed the menacing creature’s head to the ground, and straddled its back in a forced position of submission.

Looking directly at me, he spoke clearly as the monstrous dog beneath him kept trying to lunge.

Mom, stay calm and walk away. Slowly. If he tries to chase you, know that I won’t let him.

So I did.

Moments later, the dog’s owner came flying, a spiked choke chain in hand. She flung it over her dog’s head, and it ultimately took three people to drag the frothing beast back to its yard.

***

After we were safely home, and I had taken some deep breaths, I realized.

We were safe. My son’s actions had not been simply those of a quarterback. This wasn’t that. It was so much more. His swiftness to protect held an intense likeness to the heart of God; rescuing and leading his own to safety.

It felt like love to me.

Native Tongue

My grandmother was born in the very same Midwest home in which she died. She married young, and her wedding photos show a beautiful bride with smooth skin, 1930’s waved hair, and a clefted chin, lifted slightly in what I imagine was defiance. My grandfather stands next to her, a handful of years older than she, hair neatly slicked and wedding band shining. Even in that sepia photograph it is easy to see that his eyes were a dreamy kind of blue.

A cursory glance and I recognize traits that have been passed down: the fullness of her lips, a chiseled chin, his expressive eyes and strong hands: some are reflected in my own mirror, and others I glimpse in my children.

When my grandmother married, she brought her new husband into her childhood home that was fully furnished, complete with her German mother. It was a good thing my grandfather was sweet-spirited and compliant; he most certainly had his hands full. He was soon called off to war and was eventually awarded a purple heart for bravery. He refused to speak of his time in combat, flying that double-winger. An intrinsically gentle soul, attacking enemy planes must have seared.

It’s a funny thing, remembering. People are often petrified of telling their stories slant. I say there is no other way. We should tell our stories exactly the way we remember them, which by no means makes them foolproof. But slant is honest as we share events that have unfolded. We are biased in our story-telling simply because we are human. Only God is omniscient.

So I remember these grandparents of mine, who passed away many years ago. They chose not to travel much, and visited our home only once in my entire childhood. We drove a thousand miles to see them many a summer. Without air-conditioning, that stifling summertime heat caused my legs to stick to the scorching vinyl seats.

Once we arrived, relatives congregated and I observed. My grandfather sat in his lawn chair, smiling and watching everyone visit. His face was kind and his words were few. He watched the entire clan collectively while drinking his black coffee. His four sons and their families spread wide throughout the yard, grandchildren playing tag and adults balancing drinks and paper plates laden with burgers, German sausage, and potato salad. When anyone spoke to him he seemed to hear without listening. It was as though his entire progeny were one in the same.

My grandmother pushed herself up from the lawn chair positioned next to my grandfather, and spent most of the afternoon bent over, pulling small weeds out of her flowerbeds. Hard work was master: she labored in a factory for decades, and by her own choice. When she wasn’t there, she was planting and picking and watering her lovely perennials. I watched her face as well as my grandfather’s, secretly longing for a connection to these grandparents of mine. I performed a quick cartwheel in the lawn in front of them. When they didn’t notice, I joined in the game of tag with my brother and cousins.

One day during a visit with our grandparents, my parents walked my brother and me down the tree-lined street to meet more relatives. It was a few houses away, and I remember jumping over every crack in the sidewalk. My father knocked and rang the doorbell, and we waited. He knocked again, and a tall, older man answered. The adults greeted each other, and we were invited inside.

Kristin, this in your great-great Uncle Otto. A small woman appeared from the kitchen, smiling broadly and drying her hands on a worn apron. And this is your great-great Aunt Emmy.

I said hello, and Emmy bent down, looking directly into my eyes and smiling. She smelled of ivory soap. Would you like to see our home? I spotted large hearing aids in both of her ears. I nodded and gladly followed; her kindness met a tender spot inside.

She served us sweet bread and punch, and as we sat in their living room, I decided that I liked Uncle Otto every bit as much as his wife. He looked like Atticus in the film To Kill a Mockingbird, only older. Speaking in a measured manner, he thoughtfully asked questions that proved he was listening. I noticed that he, too, wore hearing aids.

It was a happy afternoon.

Not too many months after this day, Uncle Otto and Aunt Emmy heard another knock on their door. A salesman had a great pitch for them. Always polite, they listened patiently even though they were not interested in anything he was selling.

Their hearing had continued to decline, despite hearing aids. So while the salesman rambled on at the front door, they did not catch the sound of an accomplice picking the lock of their back door. In less than ten minutes flat they were silently robbed of all valuables, including heirloom jewelry and money that had been hidden throughout the house.

***

A year or so ago, I was driving home one afternoon with our son, when I noticed a bearded man hunched over a burgeoning shopping cart along a main roadway. He was attempting to push his worldly possessions up a small incline, while avoiding oncoming traffic. All of his things were strung together in tattered plastic bags. I asked my son to stop, as I wanted to offer him a few dollar bills that were in my wallet. My son braked, and I rolled down my window. Sir? Excuse me? Sir?

His back was facing me, and he did not turn. I raised my voice and tried again. He did not so much as turn around.

I shook my head. Forget it. Let’s go home, I said, slightly irritated.

So we did.

Yet I found myself thinking about him: He must have family, somewhere? And then, Why would a homeless person ignore help?

***

This morning, I read Proverbs 31:20: She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hand to the needy. I thought of Aunt Emmy, seeing me and holding out her hand, inviting me into their home. I was needy, just in a different sort of way: a longing to be seen, known, welcomed. She did all of those things beautifully, and in short order. Her native tongue was kindness.

God’s timing is quite perfect. I passed that homeless man again today, and instead of whizzing by, I remembered my Bible reading, and the five-dollar bill in my wallet. How good it would be for him to have a hot drink on a drizzly day.

So I pulled over, flashing the hazards, doors locked, and waved. To my surprise he smiled underneath the filthy hat and scraggly gray beard. I rolled down my window. This is for a cup of coffee, I said.

He took the bill, then gave me a gentle fist-bump with his gloved hand. Pointing first to his ears and then to his mouth, he shook his head. Placing both hands together in a posture of prayer he smiled wide and pointed at me.

He is deaf and mute.

I returned his smile as I accelerated, windshield wipers beating. A man, delighted with a five-dollar bill. And to think I had once so poorly assumed that he had ignored my help.

Once upon a time, it had been great-great Aunt Emmy, hard of hearing, who had heard me best of all. And now a homeless man, without a voice, had sung gratitude; a perfect melody, clear and sweet.

Small and Holy

I was walking our neighborhood the other day, enjoying the pull of fall: hints of red and gold filling the treetops; a slant of sunshine through those same trees, skies clear and blue with the promise of autumn. The days are growing shorter, and my soul feels such relief at the promise of this seasonal change. It is a steady reminder to me that our Creator does all things well, even when we feel whiplashed. This is the season when my bones and soul are alive; I am keenly aware as I walk that God’s beauty reflects his goodness and his plan. As I walked, I recalled other autumns of my life.

***

One fall, many years ago, I was a little girl growing up in an expansive New England farmhouse that had been neatly divided into four apartments. The great outdoors was my playground: raspberry bushes, a massive garden, forts in the front woods, a pond for row boating and ice skating, a crab apple tree holding our swings, a sandbox under said apple tree, and a large field behind the farmhouse. My brother and I were continually outside, and it was good.

One day, when the field was harvest bleached, but not yet baled, I frolicked in the midst of it with my red-headed friend. My hair blended in the golden field, but hers glimmered auburn in the fall sunshine. We were playing house, as little girls do; patting down the field to form a well-designed living space: a kitchen here; living room there. Our imaginations soared on that beautiful day. We had no idea what danger lurked. Blissfully unaware.

My younger brother had endured a terrible scare in that field the previous summer. Wandering in the middle of that tall grass, a distant neighbor’s aggressive German Shepherd had broken loose, and loped to our yard: searching, stalking, hungry. He began to circle the field, ears pointed, teeth barred. As the circle grew smaller, my little brother was trapped and cried for help. My mother, upstairs, heard the commotion and ran outdoors, trying to scare the creature away.

Our landlord, a gruff yet soft-hearted man, came running with his rifle when he heard my brother’s cries. With a shot fired into the air, the German Shepherd, steadily closing in on my brother, changed course and fled. We were all trembling. The rifle had saved my brother.

Now as my friend and I fashioned our imaginary home in that field, we did not realize that our landlord had been doing battle with raccoons and woodchucks, which had been devouring his ample garden each night. He and his wife spent most of their days in that lush spot; it was their work; their love, and it was stunning. Corn, squash, pumpkins, carrots, peas, beans and potatoes filled that expansive spot of soil, and mason jars of glory stocked their neat basement shelves. Come winter, they ate of their labor.

Our landlord, working in his breezeway between the garage and main house, had glanced in the field and his eye had caught a reddish-blond blur in the center of it. I’ve got you now, he said, reaching for his rifle. Moving quickly, yet stealthily, he crept into the backyard, raised his arm, eye squinted.

My little brother had been twirling on the tire swing. He watched Mr. Golden aim, and flew to his elbow. That is my sister, he said simply, tugging at his sleeve.

And just like that, my life was spared. The same rifle that saved my brother’s life nearly snuffed out mine.

***

Some time before or after this, I was snuggled up in the blue guest bedroom of my grandparent’s home, spending the night. They lived in the suburbs, on busy Washington Street. From the narrow bed, I counted the bright headlights from passing motorists pull across the ceiling. Accustomed to quiet country living, where the nights were inky and crickets chirped, this place stirred my mind, keeping me awake long after my normal bedtime.

I was talking to God, asking him to come into my heart and make it his home. I knew that I needed a Savior, that I was hopelessly sinful. I repeated my request over and over, as if the God of the universe was hard of hearing. I was alone and my words were sincere and unscripted.

What I did not comprehend yet was the beauty of the Holy Spirit working that night. That without him, I would never have been talking to God in the first place. The Comforter was with me, quietly and gently leading.

I know not the date, nor the time, nor even the year this evening happened, but does it matter? God knows. Many times along life’s path I have felt strongly pressured to fabricate something, anything! But God is never rushed, and is always working in his own time. It would make for a good story to pen how being misunderstood for a woodchuck led me to bow before my Savior, but these events remain somewhat tangled, as events for children typically are. All I know is that they both happened, and God is at work, always.

One Sunday in my early adulthood, my husband was traveling, and I sat in church under a pastor who steadily pounded the pulpit, insisting that we have a dramatic before and after story of our walk with God, that should include a specific date, or at least a known year of acceptance. If you cannot produce an account, then are you really following Christ?

To be fair, at that moment I had four little children, a husband away on business, and was sleep-deprived. Feeling tired and weepy, I remember my eyes brimming, as I desperately tried to come up with my before and after. I was stuck; all I could envision was the blue guest bedroom, small and holy. I knew that I was often stumbling forward; but forward still. I also was painfully aware of several longish times that I had quenched the Holy Spirit, resisting his promptings. That was followed by repentance, a turning back to God. He never let me go.

And that is what counts. The beauty of autumn is the death of the leaves. Their dying results in majestic colors, showcasing a season of completion. Our seasons of life with God matter. It is not only a beginning date, but our following, stumbling, and returning to God that matters.

This autumn our oldest son will be married. As the leaves show off their glory, I will be thanking God for this lifetime he has granted me. If I had died that day in the field, I would not be dancing with my sons on their wedding days, nor watching our own daughter walk to her groom in years to come. If I had died that day in the field, I would also have been spared much pain that along with the joys has painfully unfolded.

But God uses it all, and holds our before and our after. His followers are those beautiful leaves, created by him: green then gold, then scarlet, falling gently so that new life will return, come spring.

Never Switzerland

I double checked the room number and slipped into the front row. The professor nodded her head and began writing on the chalkboard. Others drifted in, some looking sleepy, others with damp hair and morning eyes. It was my very first college class.

She was tall and slender, tastefully dressed in a gray business suit and heels. I studied her furrowed brow as her manicured nails held the chalk firmly, porcelain skin contrasting with both dark hair and lipstick. She glanced at the clock, and at precisely 8:00am began speaking.

She was strict; punctuality was definitely the politeness of princes in her rulebook. We were allowed one pass for tardiness and after that momentary grace we would receive grade-dropping consequences. To prove her point, she called out a few stragglers who were minutes late. They had received their only pass, and on Day One.

I am glad to meet each of you. Please remember this is not high school anymore. You are big people, and you chose to take this morning class. I will be treating you like the adults that you are.

Her heels clicked as she moved up and down the aisles, handing out a stapled packet, carefully addressing each line item on the syllabus. I was stunned to learn that she would not remind us of assignment due-dates. We had been informed, and it was our job to keep track of papers and word counts and turn them in accordingly.

I paid attention, suddenly feeling the true weight of academic adulthood. I was utterly overwhelmed as I hoisted my backpack over my shoulder at the end of class.

Later that evening, while studying at the library, I pulled out my day planner and penciled in every assignment from each of my professors. English assignments filled many pages. How would I slog through all of this homework?

Yet as the weeks unfolded, I found myself enjoying that 8am class. Other students would nod off, but this Professor, although stern, held my attention. Incredibly bright, she seldom smiled, systematically teaching with great care and detail. I found myself analyzing her directives on thesis writing, story telling, and character development. I was an English writing major, and this was a far weightier cup than high school composition. A cup that I most definitely wanted to drink.

She lectured upon the use of flat versus round characters in literary works. Flat characters are served up on a platter for a distinct one-dimensional role: this one stands for evil, that one represents jealousy. Flat characters are never fully formed she said, they only serve a singular purpose in a narrative.

Round characters have both flaws and virtues: he might commit murder, but he also might truly love his mother and was actually protecting her when he pulled that trigger on an abuser; she might be jealous for the entirety of the book, but the author also formed her by showing her tender love and devotion for her children. Round characters develop and pull the reader in because they are credible.

Our professor faithfully prodded us along while simultaneously corralling us in with structured writing boundaries; awakening us to the wonders of good literature.

Chew up the meat and spit out the bones. Easy, happy stories are not the best. Take a strong position and write, people. Work the mind that God has given you. Think circumspectly; critically. Words lead people to places, and you cannot remain neutral and be effective. You are not Switzerland.

I mused upon these ideas; losing myself in thought. Every red mark on my returned papers was an opportunity to grow and sharpen my skills. To say I respected her comments is an understatement. Her suggestions were spot on.

One day, as heavy snow fell, my friend and I came into class, warming our freezing hands and laughing. We noticed that our professor was actually smiling. She greeted us by name; the usual sense of formality gone. Her cheeks were slightly pink.

Are you ready for your finals, girls? She tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, and something flashed. A magnificent diamond.

Your ring! my friend said. Are you engaged?

She nodded. I realized how we knew nothing of this glowing woman, other than her professorship. She looked softened; happy.

By the time I was a pupil under her again, three years had elapsed and I was a senior, with an engagement ring of my own. She was now married with a baby boy, and I smiled to see those same manicured hands gripping the chalk as I stepped into class. She smiled, remaining elusive, yet excited to be teaching this difficult English class with students who wanted to take notes and internalize her lectures. She was no longer so slim; motherhood had rounded her in all of the right ways, and although her personality was intact, she had somehow grown more comfortable with herself.

Still impeccably dressed, there were days she blew into the classroom just on time, heels clicking. The babysitter was sick, she offered, although no one minded. Her lectures were our feast.

At the end of my senior year, she hosted a grand party for the English Honors society, serving up the best German chocolate brownies. We had no idea that she delighted in baking, and when I asked her if she could share the recipe, she remembered and handed it to me before the next class. I have it still.

We also met her husband, thus observing another dimension to our serious professor. He was as casual and comfortable and light-hearted as she was formal. He held her hand and gently kissed her cheek, cheerfully collecting and tossing the paper plates into a trash bag as we were leaving. It was lovely.

***

Years later, when I had little boys beside me and a baby on my hip, I, too, baked those German brownies, pretending the wooden spoon was our microphone. I held the recipe card and smiled, remembering.

I finally had words for what I had seen: my favorite professor had become a rounded character during those years. Such personality: bright, determined, and thoughtful, with strong opinions, yet softened by a devoted husband and darling baby. Becoming precisely who God created her to be; and never Switzerland.

Burning Bright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Kindness always wins.

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

Steady Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

They nodded, eyes round.

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

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

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

Why do I say the sovereignty of God is hard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

***

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

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

Steady now.

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