Death is not Dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Death is Not Dying

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

Her heart was melted wax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melted wax.

***

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

Are you ready?

Death is not dying.

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

The Great and Perfect Author is penning our story.

And he will hold us fast.

***

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One Stormy Night

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

That is, until one stormy night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin, right?

Yes, it is nice–

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

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

We should be home by 11.

And with that they were gone.

***

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

Time to push along and figure things out for myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew? Andrew! I called.

Silence.

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

Has this happened before, Callie?

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

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

Andrew! Dinner is ready. Macaroni and cheese!

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

Andrew?

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

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

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

I crouched down directly in front of him.

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

He stuck out his tongue.

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

He stuck out his tongue. Again.

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

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

And then?

I walked upstairs.

***

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

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

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

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

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

Callie studied me over her glasses.

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

Followed by a shrug.

***

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

I’m hungry, he pouted, arms crossed.

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

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

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

I handed Callie a drying towel.

I’ll wash and you dry, I said.

I never ever do dishes, she moaned.

You will tonight! It’s fun, I said.

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

And then, a tug on my shirt.

I’m hungry.

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

The wind picked up and howled against the windowpanes.

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

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

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

We say grace only sometimes, offered Callie.

I nodded.

***

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

Andrew wailed and said that he hated pajamas.

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

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

I want a book! screamed Andrew.

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

But it’s raining and I hate rain.

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

So up we went and he was speedy.

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

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

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

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

Her empty eyes widened.

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

I did not know what to say.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

The lessons are legion.

Do you see?

***

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

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

***

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Housekeeping

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

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

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

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

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

Even here at The Palest Ink.

***

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

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

Would you consider signing up?

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

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

I appreciate you.

Valor Without Renown

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are two translations:

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Goodness, I was wrong.

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

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

The difference was remarkable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My soul’s deepest cry?

To be well with God.

***

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

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

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

Does social media invite gossip into your life?

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

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

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

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

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

I deleted my account.

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

This, this is living.

***

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The Enchantment of Perennials

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

That pastor was John Piper.

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

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

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

God sees it all.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

The ripple effect widens.

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

Which is precisely what he has done.

***

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

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

The aim of the Desiring God ministry?

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

Indeed.

***

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

Consider the blossoms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

***

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

Psalm 145:4

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

Hebrews 12:1

Sing Me Home

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

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

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

Yes, Dixie-cup flower days are over.

It is as it should be, but still…

***

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

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

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

***

Several months ago I received an exquisite gift from Marcus.

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

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

A slow, gentle farewell.

Mason’s voice begins, followed by Marcus with:

We read through books

You’ve Been There (produced by Marcus)

I will treasure this gift for a lifetime.

***

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

Summer is also for driving home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I mean it from the depths.

***

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

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

Lauren, Marcus, Caleb, Jacob

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

Lauren, Jacob, Caleb, Marcus

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

This Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

And there you have it. A nearly perfect analogy.

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

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

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

These things never end well.

The missing ingredient?

Humility.

Sin cannot be managed. It must be slain.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the zookeeper.

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

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

God searches the posture of the heart. Always.

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

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

***

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

***

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

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.