This Is Advent

(I wrote this piece last year, and have chosen to offer it up once again for my new readers. It is also the final chapter of my first book, It Began on Washington Street, Tracing the Goodness of God Through All of Life.)

My plans for Advent have crumbled, and it is perfect, in a terrible sort of way.


It all began Thanksgiving Day. We had a houseful of family, friends, and neighbors. Midway through meal preparations, I peeked inside the turkey roaster and discovered that the bird was a whitish-pink. After initially cooking hot, for a short time, the roaster conked out. I glanced about our home at the sheer number of hungry people. At least there were plenty of side dishes, now sans turkey.

No one else was perturbed, given the bounty of food, but let’s face it: my plans for a tender, juicy platter of meat fizzled.

To further complicate, I began to feel unusually tired, but isn’t that normal (or so I told myself) when hosting an extensive holiday gathering? As the day unfurled, I began to daydream of slipping upstairs, crawling into bed, and sleeping for days. I longed for my soft pillow. (This is definitely not normal. My family knows that anytime I want to nap, something is off.)

Within seventy-two hours of Thanksgiving, I was terribly unwell. I curled up in bed and stared longingly at my new Advent book perched upon my nightstand, but could not draw strength to read so much as a sentence. When all was said and done, I was ill for over a week. And then, just about the time I began to recuperate, my husband came down with an aggressive kidney stone attack, landing us in the ER, and beyond. Shortly thereafter, I circled back around to the doctor yet again, this time with an angry sinus infection.

What does any of this have to do with Advent?

I had great expectations. Advent is a hunger, an anticipation of Christ’s coming. This was going to be the year for me to dig deep, to partake of the month-long devotions, to soar to new spiritual heights.

But like the cold turkey, Advent has not cooked up according to my best laid plans.


Down for the count as Advent began, I contended, painfully, in the dark. I tossed and I turned and I slept. And I wrestled. And through that struggling, I saw afresh my self-reliance in times of plenty.

Suffering, by its very nature, changes things. It forces my hand, and requires me to operate at a subdued frequency. Suffering whittles the edges off of things I hold dear, replacing those seared spaces with a burning for heaven. Suddenly, this present world loses its sparkle.

Advent is a fresh wailing. A pleading for Jesus to come to earth and make all terrible things new. He alone can put all sin and pain to rights. During the desperation of suffering, I see my complete lack and God’s goodness with fresh eyes. Prior to any of us being bedridden, or bankrupt, or living in bedlam, we assume that we may control and plan and move the proverbial needle, rising to our best self. And we fool ourselves into believing that this must be God’s plan.

It isn’t.

Read your Bible from beginning to end, and you will understand that we are, and have always been, a desperate, needy, sinful people. It is the wise soul who recognizes this, and moves toward Christ in humble repentance and trust and obedience. Again and again and again.

I have just finished reading my Bible straight through this year. It is the only way to stay grounded in truth. Through this daily reading, I have born painful witness to my own familiar sin on repeat. (As Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us, There is nothing new under the sun.)

I am like Eve in the garden, vying for supremacy, and after willfully disobeying God, I blame others (Genesis 3:13).

I am the children of Israel, impatient as God writes the Ten Commandments with his own finger (Exodus 31: 18). I seek that pretty golden calf, tossing my soul towards idols, before becoming a shadow of Aaron who shrugs, casting blame while pathetically announcing: No one knew where you were, Moses, so I collected gold, threw it into the fire, and voila! out came a calf (Exodus 32:21-24)!

I am like the children of Babel, fashioning towers of self-glory, which God mercifully confuses, opening my eyes to my foolishness (Genesis 11:4-9).

Like Jonah, I am a petulant child, often dissatisfied with where God has placed me to serve, irritated at all of the people who just don’t get it (Jonah 4:1-3).

I am Peter, boldly proclaiming God and his goodness, and then creeping to the shadows (Luke 22:54-62) and denying Christ.

But God (Ephesians 2:4-5).

There is hope. And this is what my daily Bible consumption gives me:


Our Savior is tucked right there in Genesis, and is present throughout Scripture, all of the way through Revelation. At the moment sin entered, there is a gracious promise of the offspring of Eve, who will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:14-15).

I finished Revelation this week and could have wept in relief. Jesus calls himself the bright morning star. (Revelation 22:16.) He is our Advent come to fruition. Our everything. Our only hope.

Jesus Christ was our chosen Redeemer before the foundation of the world. (1 Peter 1:20-21) Understanding this, believing this, clinging to this, leads to life. The world is broken and we do well to remind ourselves that it is so. This is why a sinless baby was lowered from the heavens. To suffer and to bleed and to sweat drops of blood as the sins of his people thudded upon his shoulders. The agony of it, the curtain wrenched and torn from top to bottom is a mighty preview of the Second Advent as we prepare for that eternal feast in heaven with Christ.

Under normal circumstances, when life is jolly: the presents are wrapped, the lists are checked off, the carols are trilling merrily in the background and everyone is quite happy and healthy, I would say something sweet, like: Advent is the anticipation of Christ’s return. A time to prepare ourselves for Christmas.

Years like this? When suffering and sickness are playing tag, and it is difficult to imagine how to survive the next twenty-four hours? Now I am desperate. Deep groanings. Jesus is coming back to make all things new, and I plead for his return.

In a rude stable Christ was born, in veritable obscurity, as a star sparkled in the heavens above him. In Christ, we too have a star overarching our painful, beautiful, God-ordained lives. It is a star called salvation, a gift for the ages: imperishable, and hidden with Christ on high.

Advent, for the true Christian, is a restless, holy, and deeply personal matter. A work between you and God alone. Pray to him, ask him to soften and ready your heart for his coming. Remember that he is always faithful.

This is the time to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Do not wait.

The pain, sickness, loneliness, and confusion on earth? None of these things may separate you from God. Remember, what Satan intends for harm, God will use for good (Genesis 50:20). There may be joy and growth in the midst of suffering. Draw near to him in repentance.

Whatever cup Christ has poured for me, I must steadfastly accept and drink. Suffering in itself does not make any of us holy, as suffering is universal. It is suffering well, the pressing into God with our open-handed Yes and Amen, trusting his good plans when they hurt most, when the glass seems dim and we do not understand how he can allow such terrible cutting shards into our lives, that makes us more like Christ, and deepens our relationship with him.


This frosty morning, on my walk, I stepped over a dead copperhead on the edge of the road. His head had been crushed.

My heart swelled at the consummate symbolism.

Satan has been crushed.

It is finished.

Come Lord Jesus, Come.

From Griping to Gratitude

I am sitting in the walk-in clinic and my throat is on fire. I lean my head back in the chair, longing to be at home, and I am now imagining a day, a week, a month, where I have few obligations. I conjure a day spent, windows open, piano music in the background by way of Alexa, dusting the hutch, brushing our dogs, not a care in the world. Strings of days void of all deadlines as I pause to sip fine coffee, take leisurely strolls through the neighborhood, texting our children and phoning my husband at work just to say: Hey there, husband of mine.

I close my eyes, lost and treading water in my pretty little palace of unreality, waiting to be called back for my throat swab. Suddenly, a woman trips over my extended legs as she leads her coughing daughter from the waiting room to the common restroom.

I pull my aching legs back as her little brown-haired pixie, maybe five-years-old, passes by. Another spasm of coughing erupts, as the mother propels her sick little one into the bathroom with a Hurry up! as she closes the heavy door.

She glances my way.

I don’t mean to stand over you, she says, but my daughter will probably need my help again. She thumbs toward the closed door and rolls her eyes in great exaggeration, seeking comradery in the annoyance of children.

Not today, Mabel, I am thinking.

You’re fine, I say instead. My throat hurts so much that it is painful to speak.

And then I hear: Mommy!

The woman pockets her phone and sighs, shoulders slumped in frustration as she enters the restroom. She must not realize how paper-thin the walls are as she closes the door behind her. Echoes of spoken impatience flood the waiting room. I am both annoyed and embarrassed on her behalf.

Your daughter is sick, I long to say. Be kind to her.

They emerge from the restroom, mother and daughter, hands dripping. Paper towels must have run out, I imagine, and I watch as they plunk down into a chair across from me.

The mother slides her favorite world from her back pocket and begins the almighty scroll, her thumb breaking records and her eyes desperate, as the little girl leans against her arm in between coughing jags. The mother’s eyes remain fixed to the screen as she inhales all of the juicy tidbits that will never satisfy. She has disappeared into a dark forest, utterly lost in false reality, into a place light years apart from the actual terra firma she has been gifted: the little person coughing beside her.

I am now convicted of my judgy thoughts. I ask God how it is possible for me to be thankful and peaceful with a throat aflame and aches all over while a mother masquerades across the aisle and a little girl is all alone as she presses closer, seeking comfort from her distracted parent?

The Holy Spirit nudges, bringing to mind my own recent thoughts. (Matthew 7:3)

Okay, so I was not on my phone, but I was definitely scrolling through escape scenes that diminish my current reality. Imagining a carefree life void of sickness, deadlines, genuine relationships, and weighty responsibilities. Void of everything God had graced to me in this actual here-and-now.

And isn’t this the pulsing drumbeat of grumbling? Wanting something just out of reach? Escaping to a plot of earth where the grass grows only a bit greener?


I was blessed with a bona fide friend during my later years of college. Thursday nights were our meet-for-dinner-in-the-dining-commons-and-engage-in-honest-come-to-Jesus-conversations.

In other words?

Genuine accountability and discipleship. But never mind the labels. We were friends. And real friends speak truth.

I had no idea at the time how rare such friendships are.

The two of us swam to the deep end those Thursday evenings so long ago.

I will never forget her words:

Kristin, a grateful heart is always satisfied.


So I close my aching eyes and pray for the little hacking girl and her mother. I try to put myself in the mother’s place: maybe she didn’t sleep a wink last night, or maybe she lost her job and is frantically scrolling for job opportunities. Thus the apathetic, lukewarm distractedness.

Maybe. But regardless? It’s not my business.

So I turn it around and thank God for the precious gift called motherhood, with all of its twists and turns and beauty and heartache.

I see the receptionist running a credit card payment and ponder the bill I will receive from today’s visit, which momentarily distracts me from practicing thanksgiving.

So I turn it around yet again and offer gratitude for my husband’s work, my work, and for our children’s jobs. God is our Provider, and every paycheck is his grace in our lives.

I am on a roll now, and I remember another stunning gift – prayer. You, dear God, allow your lowly creatures of dirt and rib to speak directly to you at any given time, our words a sweet aroma. (Psalm 141:2)

Praise be.

Thank you for walk-in clinics.

Thank you for Advil.

Thank you for a bed to sleep in and warm, soft blankets.

Thank you for the perfect weight of our grandson in my arms, and his little boy laughter.

Thank you for the most stunning fall I remember, and for the leaves now dropping and crunching under my feet as I walk.

Thank you for gifting us with stars and moon and sun, cold winds and fluffy snow.

Thank you for birds that sing and deer that graze.

Thank you for the gift of a growing family.

Thank you for nieces who correspond the old fashioned way as I joyfully pluck letters from our mailbox.

Thank you for Christ Jesus, who is coming back soon.

The little girl begins hacking again as the doctor calls my name.

I would love to share that the mother brushed back her daughter’s hair and planted a tender kiss on her forehead, pulling her close and reassuring her of her presence.

The truth? She kept scrolling.

I wish I could report that I felt better quickly, and that all returned to normal the next day, and I caught up on my work, but I didn’t.

I will say, however, that as I walked into the exam room feeling much like thin soup, my heart was well, robust once again, soft and tender and full of gratitude to God.

He had used a sore throat to bring me to the mirror of my pathetic self: tired, whiny, judgmental, and disquiet of heart.

But as the Holy Spirit flicked his spotlight, I was graced with the opportunity to see and turn back to God.

Yes, a grateful heart is always satisfied.

I was no longer daydreaming, filling my mind with a different set of circumstances, but instead choosing to thank God for what is, and what he is doing today.

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice. ~Philippians 4:4

The Story of the Substitute

A few weeks ago I stepped into a second-grade public classroom for my inaugural attempt at substitute teaching.

The majority of the twenty-one children were wild from the start, and completely undisciplined.

My lesson plans, left by the teacher and deposited in a blue folder atop my desk, were suspiciously scant, and nearly void of actual teaching. The instructions were geared toward busy-work, and would keep things rolling for two hours, max.

I stared at the wall clock and wondered how on earth I might survive the next seven hours.

After attendance and introductions, I began with the script for geography, as given by the teacher. We were supposed to review the world’s main bodies of water, followed by an exam. Problem number one? I was reviewing something that had not been taught.

Not one of the eight-year-olds could tell me where the Pacific Ocean was located.

Confusion erupted, as everyone began talking over me.

Shhhhhhh, I said. No speaking while I am talking. You must raise your hands. We are going to begin all over again. Okay?

A few nodded.

What planet do we live on?

The United States, a small boy said.

Raise your hand, Jimmy. No, the United States is our country. Earth. We live on planet Earth.

I tried again. What continent do we dwell?

What does dwell mean? A girl giggled as she stretched, sprawling across her desk.

It means “live.” What continent do we live in?

Virginia, hollered the little linebacker in the front row.

Charlie. Raise your hand. And no. Our continent is North America.

What is our state? was my next question.

In unison, they shouted the name of our town.

I was losing all footing, and quickly.

No. That is our town. Our state is Virginia.

I scrapped the lesson plan before me and headed directly for the gigantic world map.

Children, this is our continent called North America. And this is our country tucked within the continent, called The United States of America. And this is our State of Virginia inside of the United States. Tucked inside Virginia are many towns and ours is right here. I pointed to the speck.

They stared at me.

What is this body of water? I pointed toward the azure coastline hugging our state.

The beach! Charlie hollered again. I went to the beach once and we ate ice cream! He rubbed his belly.

Charlie, please raise your hand. This is the Atlantic Ocean. My hand swung left until it reached the California border. And this is the Pacific Ocean.

I longed to add that God had created the entire world, and isn’t he the Perfect Master Artist, painting the east coast so differently from the Midwest and the deserts and the west coast? How creative! How beautiful!

But alas, I am not permitted to speak the greatest truths in public school.

Rather than teaching geography and math facts and phonics, I discovered that this school teaches children that their emotions rule everything. Feel all of the feelings and obey them is the unwritten ideology. One of the teachers told me as much with a winning smile, and Isn’t this wonderful?

I was soon to be the recipient of such chaos.

We segued from geography to science. After reviewing the stages of metamorphosis, I asked the children to cut, paste, and color the egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages of a butterfly. It was simple and it was straightforward.

All was going swimmingly until I heard a gasp from the far corner. There stood David, standing by his table, mouth opened in a silent cry.

Whatever is wrong, David? I made my way over to his seat.

I am having a meltdown! he cried, unleashing a wail. The children glanced at him, nonplussed.

He does this every day, a girl nearby yawned.

I am super-sensitive! yelled David as I told him to calm down.

I have meltdowns every day because school is stressing me out. I want to learn something different. I want to pick the worksheets! He stomped his foot. I hate metamorphosis! His face was hot.

Well, you cannot choose, I said calmly. We are studying metamorphosis which is wonderfully fascinating. He yelled even louder and covered his ears.

I asked the children to put down their scissors and give me their full attention.

Just then another girl began sniffling, tears streaming.

What is wrong, Julia?

Amelia told me I am stupid and that I should be homeschooled.

Amelia, apologize to Julia.

She refused.

Apologize to Julia, now please. No one is stupid, and homeschooling is fantastic. In fact, I homeschooled all four of my children.

That got their attention.

Did your kids eat lunch at home? asked Charlie, who had already asked me for lunch three times over. It was now 9:30 am.

Children. Pay attention while I tell you something. Do you know that getting good grades is not the most important thing?

My mom says it is! shrieked David.

Children, what is more important than good grades?

A boy raised his hand. To get all straight A’s all of the time, he hollered.


Emma raised her hand. My parents say the most important thing is that I am happy.

Oh boy. This day was tanking. Quickly.

No, your happiness is not the most important thing. Being kind is far more important than good grades, I said.

I longed to explain to them that loving God was the most important thing of all.

Charlie wandered up to the front and gave me a hug. I like being kind, he said. And I am hungry.

I squeezed his shoulder as a girl chirped: Hey! He is not allowed to hug you!

I could not believe how this day was unfolding.

No one ever hugs me, he lowered his head and plunked down in his chair.

David began wailing again.

I feel another meltdown! I have lots and lots of feelings!

David. Stop crying. Please. We are going to finish metamorphosis and then I have a surprise book I will read to all of you.

He dropped into a heap on the carpet as everyone else ignored him and finished cutting, and scraps of paper began to litter the floor. I collected their work, and instructed everyone to place their heads on their tables.

No one makes a peep for five minutes. If you do, you will miss recess.

Instantaneously David began crying even louder and another boy challenged me by speaking out so as to test me. I told them both they would sit out during recess.

The class looked at me wide-eyed, and Charlie pretended to zip his lips. I was told later that no teacher ever does that.

The room was quiet, and I located the classroom broom and dustpan, and swept the scraps of paper and nubs of crayon off of the floor. I spritzed cleaning spray on the white board, and with circular motions removed all notes and words–a jumbled mess–from the previous day. Next I placed notebooks back in the cubbies and straightened the mound of papers on my desk into a neat stack. Lastly, I walked around the classroom offering every child a swirl of hand sanitizer.

With the room (and students) now tidied and hushed, I invited them over to the rug.

They sat cross legged and I pulled Miss Rumphius from my bag, waiting for complete silence before I began reading. We paused and lingered over the pictures, and this was our sweet spot in a day of bedlam.

They were mesmerized by such an exquisite book.

Did you enjoy that read aloud? I smiled as I completed the last sentence.

What’s a read aloud? asked a girl.

A book read out loud.

No one reads to me, ever, she said, and others nodded.

One student’s eyes sparkled. I am going to write books just like that someday, he said, shyly.

Charlie was also inspired, this boy who stood a whole head taller with thirty plus pounds on his classmates. A teddy bear of a boy.

I want to make something beautiful too, he said. Just like the book said.

What are some ways we can create beauty and kindness today? I asked. They had all sorts of interesting ideas.

So we turned over many stones–considering kind words spoken and kind deeds done. We also discussed the goodness of thinking of others before ourselves.

It was a magical time that carried me throughout the remaining hours.


The rest of the day was filled with meltdowns, phonics, recess, and gym class. The Phys Ed teacher told me the children were terribly unruly, but she used other words that were neither kind nor beautiful.

She also mentioned that she was ready to go home.

We had one thing in common.

And then finally, with five minutes to spare before lining up for their buses, I asked them again.

What planet do we live on?

Planet Earth!

What is our continent?

The United States!

Ah. I see how it is.

Substitute teaching is interesting. The key is to recognize the small victories.

Like read alouds.

Someone remind me to pack a suitcase full of them next time.

Heart Matters

It is roughly the size of a human fist and weighs only between 9 and 12 ounces.

It beats 100,000 times per day.

It pumps blood, giving life to our frame.

We cannot live without our heart, which feeds and awakens the body.

But there is something more important than this organ’s physical, life-giving job. It is also the gatekeeper to our spiritual condition.

The world casts its greedy eyes on outer appearances, so quick to judge and categorize: tall or short? Chubby or slender? Brown eyes or blue? Dark or fair-skinned? Handsome or homely? Stylish or frumpy?

Yet God studies the heart.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

The condition of our heart matters. God is observing those chambers where motives are born, swell, and give way to actions. A healthy heart will be soft, tender, and malleable, eager to submit to the Lord, while a hardened heart is cold, rebellious, and bitter. It rages against God and becomes incensed when faced with truth.

Pay attention. If you find yourself making excuses about haphazard Bible consumption, sloppy church attendance, or if your heart remains impenetrable while hearing the preaching of Scripture, you are in a dangerous place.

Thin ice, my friend.

Thin ice.


When I was a little girl, I waited eagerly for our pond across the street to ice over in winter. Ice skating was my favorite pastime, and I spent hours practicing.

The weekly lessons at our local rink were fun, and we would step off the ice only to watch the Zamboni clear the scrapings each hour, transforming the rink into a sheet of glass. Of course no one was required to examine the thickness of the ice, because if it melted, so what? There was no danger of drowning.

But our pond at home? Now that was a different story. Mr. Golden, our landlord, was the consummate safety patrolman. We were not permitted to put so much as a toe on the iced-over pond until he had given his nod of approval, and for good reason. The pond was not only deep, but it flowed to the steep dam, and if we were to fall in, we would be dragged downstream, carried away under the sheet of ice, unable to find the surface. We would likely drown.

There was no playing fast-and-loose on Mr. Golden’s watch. He required at least three hard freezes, with frigid temperatures in between before he would even consider testing the ice. Finally, after weeks of waiting, he drilled down to measure its thickness.

Once it met his approval, he stepped gingerly onto the slick surface and slid around in his work boots, jumping around a bit, arms waving to keep balance. My brother and I giggled. Mr. Golden was a large man–exceedingly tall and big-boned. It was comical to watch him bunny hop and flap his arms.

What’s so funny, you two? he roared, wiry eyebrows all furrowed.

We piped down.

Despite all gruffness, Mr. Golden was tender-hearted and his genuine love for us was displayed through protection. Thin ice equaled danger. We were warned that if we heard so much as a creak, we must get off the ice, and pronto.

Finally, when his standards were satisfied, we were free to skate.

Figure eights, twirls, jumps, a couple of hockey sticks and a puck, and we were off.


Oh friends.

There is so much toxicity swirling in the world this minute: a smoky haze of confusion. It is all too easy to grow careless and complacent in our pursuit of God. If not on our guard, we become like Adam and Eve, falling through the thin ice of Satan’s lies: Did God really say?

That one act of rebellion in the Garden of Eden resulted in heartache for the ages.

May I encourage you to wage war against all passivity? To awaken to the beauty and safety of loving God wholeheartedly? To guard your heart, and your relationships?

Will you choose to feast upon his Word daily and be quick to obey it?

To pursue holiness is to keep your heart healthy. No one can do this for you.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

To keep your heart is a daily, life-long endeavor.


It is helpful to consider the saints of old, like Caleb. He stood boldly in the minority (with Joshua) speaking truth. In the fullness of his heart he trembled at God rather than those intimidating giants. He banked on the promises of God, who had already gifted the children of Israel with the Promised Land.

Caleb believed God and was later rewarded.

But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. (Numbers 14:24 NIV)

Caleb loved God more than anything. Wholeheartedly. He was a leader among men, and a servant follower of God. He stood on solid ground.

The other children of Israel, floundering on thin ice, despised the truth he spoke and wanted to stone both Caleb and Joshua for their obedience. (Numbers 14:10) God intervened and everyone, apart from these faithful two, died without seeing the Promised Land.


I have been slowly reading and rereading Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel. Listen to what this Puritan minister wrote:

To keep the heart, then, is to carefully protect it from sin, which disorders it, and maintain that spiritual frame which fits it for a life of communion with God….Carnal and formal people do not pay attention to this; they cannot be brought to confer with their own hearts. There are some people who have lived forty or fifty years and have scarcely one hour’s discourse with their own hearts. It is a hard thing to bring a man and himself together to do this. But Christians know those soliloquies are very beneficial. The heathen could say, “The soul is made wise by sitting still in quietness.” Though bankrupt hearts do not care to investigate their accounts, upright hearts will know whether they are going backwards or forwards. “I commune with my own heart” David said. The heart can never be kept until its attitude is examined and understood.


In contrast to Caleb, consider Lot’s wife, whom God turned into a pillar of salt.

This woman dabbled in both the spiritual and the worldly, never a good plan. Conflicted in heart, she disobeyed God’s clear instructions to not turn back toward the destruction of the city. But her heart longed for sin. She was drawn to the life in Sodom, and the wickedness that flourished in that land. It pulled at her darkened heart.

Lot’s wife was destroyed for her disobedience, circling around her desire to melt into the throngs of the wicked. She died a salty monument to the bitter consequences of refusing to guard her heart through obedience to God.


I will speak plainly: it is often a lonesome thing to pursue holiness by keeping your heart. Many, many, people both inside and outside the church, will grind their teeth, incensed as you walk in truth. You will be mocked, slandered, and misunderstood.

It is wise to remember this: truth exposes wickedness. (John 3:20). We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

Tuck Scripture into your heart, feasting on a treasure that may never be stolen. And as you carry God’s Word in those secret, inner chambers, remember that God will be pleased. The Holy Spirit dwells there, giving you, Christian, the courage, and desire to obey him in the first place.


Ezekiel 36:26-27  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Common Days

I was folding a mountain of laundry atop our bed the other day, memories flitting to the surface. Once upon a time six people dwelling at home translated into as many piles of clean clothes, and I often sought the help of our four children to fold.

It took forever.

Occasionally I would leave them to divide and conquer, slipping away to grade math papers or stir the spaghetti sauce or if I was really craving a slice of quiet, I would lock myself in the bathroom, perch on the tub’s edge, and read the next chapter.

Upon my return, one of the boys would likely be wearing his dad’s shirt which hung loosely, reaching his calves, and another would be twirling a pair of gym shorts by the stringed waistband while gazing out the window, lost in thought, as my youngest two played stuffed animals amidst the sock pile.

I would grab the timer and announce: 3 minutes to finish!

That lit a fire. Competitive measures usually did.

These days I have three small piles to form, soon to be two. So I fold neatly and deliver efficiently, except now my husband’s sock is missing, and nothing drives me crazier than a missing something.

So I drop down and skim my arm under the bed, and my hand finds not a soft sock but something cold and smooth.

Our ancient phone and answering machine combo.

I smile and am surprised to notice a lump forming in my throat. This same feeling swelled earlier this week when I ceremoniously stood before my husband and told him I was throwing away my pillbox.

He looked at me and instead of teasing nodded with a spirit of gentleness.

The end of an era, he said wistfully, and I ached just a little.

Back in the laundry folding days, with four young children, I was queen of daily vitamins. Vitamin C and D and Lysine and Elderberry and you get the idea. It took precious time to pull the bottles from the fridge and dole them out amidst wiggly children squealing Did you take yours? and I am not sure!

So one day I purchased six individual pillboxes to carry us through the week. Sunday evening I would stand at the counter and fill them up and tuck them in the refrigerator. Each morning at breakfast, out came the pill boxes, so neat and delightfully timesaving. I was that mother, waging war on potential contagions, making sure our beauties were armed. I felt satisfaction upon seeing those six containers lining our breakfast table amidst bowls, napkins, and spoons. Our nest was full, and even if everything else came unhinged by day’s end, at least everyone had taken their vitamins.

And then?

Suddenly (actually eighteen years in the making) Caleb left for college, and overnight (but really twenty-four months later) Jacob did the same, and soon after that my husband’s pillbox disappeared and he decided he didn’t need another one. Before I knew it Marcus was off to college and then Lauren’s pillbox cracked, and I ordered a new one. It is a temporary thing, though, as soon she, too, will be following in her brothers’ footsteps.

So my pillbox bravely soldiered on —serving close to fifteen years of perfect use. It was speckled with tiny stickers, decorated by our children so long ago. I loved it for the memories, the endurance. But the other day it simply gave way and the vitamins scattered everywhere over the kitchen floor and it was sad.

So I stood solemnly over the trash can and bid goodbye to the sweetness of young-mother days. Everything feels diminishing and dull.

I know who God is so I remind myself of his goodness and his gift of life-seasons. I will trust him through this new phase.

But I acknowledge that it hurts a little.


Some people are prone to sulking and I am not one of them. But I really do miss the togetherness of those days. The laundry folding and timers and happy noises and pillboxes all lined up. I miss hearing those four sets of footsteps prancing about the kitchen, the living room, the hallway. I miss our boys’ rough-and-tumble wrestling, pouring over stats and scores and Lego creations. I miss the piano playing and singing, and I miss our daughter twirling around each corner singing while perfecting her ballerina moves, stuffed bear in hand, her big brothers clapping and encouraging their one-and-only-sister. I miss the daily joking round the dinner table, and the stifled laughter at night when everyone was supposed to be sleeping.

I even miss the confusion of so many missing socks. Several times during those early years I asked everyone to dump all socks onto the living room floor as I tried one more time to match them up. So many holes, so many tinged gray, beaten down from sweaty, muddy football practices.

So I ultimately tossed the entire pile into the trashcan with Good riddance! spending a pretty penny to start afresh, and it was good.

Sometimes we need a fresh start, don’t we?


I plug in the answering machine and know perfectly well what’s coming. I have it memorized. Caleb’s five-year-old voice followed by Jacob’s three-year-old voice—a conversation accidentally recorded as they spoke with their Dad one common day on his commute home from work.

We had taken a field trip to the farm that morning, and there was so much to tell! Their voices echoed in the quiet, a time capsule whizzing through space and time, sparkling in the air, pulling me back to days long gone.

Daddy, there were chickens and horses and goats and baby bunnies!

And my husband’s voice so happy, asking questions and delighted by their excited answers.

It was such a good day.

Did I know it then?

Common days are the best.

And then Caleb says to Jon—Daddy guess what? You won’t believe it! Mommy beat the deck of cards! Voice all gravelly, that dear, dear, voice. I had taught him to play solitaire, telling of the delightful rarity in beating the deck without ever rolling.

And then he said: Daddy? Here’s Jacob.

And Jacob’s small, clear voice: Daddy? Why did you shut the door?

Jon had closed their door early that morning so as not to awaken them as he readied for work.

And I hear the sweet little boy, and I remember, all over again, his white-blond hair and brown eyes. A gifted conversationalist, so gentle of spirit. Did I see then who our children would become?

All of those mundane days were filled with glory. God is always at work, building his people, brick by brick. And those people begin as children.

Yes, it was good. Not perfect, but deeply good.


I slip the answering machine back under the bed–the only item I keep there. It is a cord to the past, to another time and place.

I stand up and deliver the few piles of clean clothes to their proper places. As I walk down the hall, I spy my husband’s missing sock on the laundry room floor.

So I pick it up and match it to its partner.

Twenty-eight years ago, we had two piles of laundry, which grew to six, and will soon be two once again.


Day by day, we hold out frail hands, cupping the gift of today, saying yes to whatever God chooses to give or to take. To trust God is to hold all things loosely.

We are now dwelling in shadowlands, with groanings that will soon give way to perfection: no more sinning, no more death, no more sorrows, and no more goodbyes.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

Job 1:21

Say the Quiet Things, Out Loud

We hopped into our truck, the two of us, and sped away. Five whole glorious days with my daughter. Who knows when that might happen again? A punctuation mark at the end of an era. She leaves for college after Christmas, and this trip was a treasured gift.

We eventually exited our state, cruising toward the beautiful Midwest as we enjoyed fine music, podcasts, and audible books, sipping pumpkin coffee and Smart water, snapping gum, and playing word games. We laughed and chatted, discussed good things, funny things, and also delved into the hard, sorrowful places piercing the crevices of our hearts.

When all was said and done, and we pulled back into our driveway spent and happy, we had completed nearly forty hours of driving.

Just think of it: children, no matter how old, have one Mom and Dad, and you, parents, are it.

Cherish them, know them, love them well. Chase their hearts with a holy pursuit, seeking to engage them through conversation. And I am not only speaking to parents with young ones, but parents with children of all ages.

We are people of dust, yet made in God’s image, and shouldn’t we run after of our children’s hearts, just as our gracious Heavenly Father pursues ours?

Think about these things, ponder them.

And then?

Say the quiet things out loud.


Perhaps you are like me, more comfortable writing to process than speaking to process. I had one too many people recently express to me that they know me far better on paper than in person, which is probably true. I do not see this as a complete failure, necessarily, since God fashioned me to be an introvert. My dearest friends are few.

Yet at the same time, I want to make certain that my family knows me better in person than from my writings. Which clearly means a bit more effort and intentionality on my part.

This road trip offered unhurried time for deeper conversations, and there is something magical about long stretches of highway mixed with autumn’s splendor. A warm pathway to rich dialogue. It was a sweet opportunity to speak from the quiet places, and we did. Mother to daughter. Daughter to mother.

Also? We laughed a lot.


Don’t worry if you are not able to take a road trip. You can certainly venture to the grocery store or coffee shop, or enjoy a walk around the neighborhood with your son or daughter. Don’t just hear them but listen to them. There is a difference.

I remember sweeping up our third son, Marcus, to get his five-year-old pictures taken at JC Penney many, many, moons ago.

Just you and me, Mom? he said, handsome and wide-eyed, hair parted and slicked.

You bet, I told him.

Can we stop for cocoa on the way home?

And we did. We sat at a small table for a bit, and in that brief time he opened his young heart and told me all sorts of interesting ideas while peppering me with questions, this quiet little boy of mine. There was a sliver of time reserved for the two of us, and as the light cascaded through the establishment’s multiple windows, casting long shadows of my boy against the wall, I recognized, in that moment, that time was a fleeting gift; all too soon he would be taller than the silhouette behind him.


Here is the good news–even if your children are already adults, you may pick up the phone and call them, text them, and engage. No agenda other than to love them well. When they come home to visit, fluff up the pillows, buy their special coffee creamer, cook their favorite dinners, watch the game together. Listen to their words, because even when they are grown, good parents serve as a steady Home Base.

Be rocks, anchored in love and rooted in Christ. Many things will fade in this fickle world, but may our steadfast love never be one of them.


Bless your children with uninterrupted time. Serve them well, these people who are gifts from God. Be generous of heart. Forget about your phone and computer and grace your sons and daughters with your full presence.

Our children, regardless of their age, are not our parents. We are theirs–so let us be about the business of seeking and loving them well–unselfishly with our time, full gaze, and devoted words.

Go ahead–say the quiet things out loud.


A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Too Many Cooks

When I was in junior high, our pastor decided to initiate a prison ministry. He had a heart for local male convicts and decided that our church would host them once per month for a soup and salad luncheon following the service. A feast for soul and bones.

This evoked a cluster of furrowed brows and whispers from some, and a round of applause from others.

So plans were set into motion, and the youth group was summoned to assist a handful of adults in meal preparation. It was no small undertaking, as tables and chairs and tablecloths and napkins and utensils needed to be situated in the local elementary school gymnasium behind our church. We were tasked with dicing, chopping, and stirring massive pots of piping stew, chowder, and soup, as well as tossing mountains of fresh salad.

I volunteered to help on the first go-around, and while a few boys half-heartedly chopped peppers and tomatoes (before disappearing to sneak in a game of dodgeball, beyond thrilled to escape the lengthy sermon), the rest of us sliced slivers of onions and cucumbers before turning our hands to peel potatoes.

You might imagine that this would be simple and straightforward enough, but put a few folks together, assign a task, and watch those vegetable shavings fly.

I close my eyes and see it now with adult eyes, measuring the situation for what it actually was.

A fight for control.

For power.

Such foolishness.


We enjoyed having two hummingbird feeders in our yard this past summer–one in the front garden and one in our backyard. I kept them full of sweet liquid, as these tiny creatures required nourishment every few hours.

One day, as I stood at our kitchen sink washing dishes, I glanced out the window and noticed four ruby-throated hummingbirds bickering in our backyard. The feeder is large and could comfortably accomodate several birds at one time. For fifteen minutes I observed as one bird after another descended to drink, but upon doing so became incensed, territorial as the other hummingbirds encroached.

Guess what? Not one of them ended up feasting, as they were consumed with guarding their perceived space. It was terribly frustrating to watch, as I had provided abundant nectar for one and all. How I longed to exhort them to share.

Aren’t we those territorial birds?

How self-focused and distracted we sadly become, selfish and jealous in our pursuits, missing out on the rich nourishment meant to stretch and fill our souls.


So I am that junior-high girl done with potatoes and now cutting carrots when an adult instructs me to slice them thicker.

Okay, I answer.

Another adult leans over my shoulder. No, Kristin, cut them Julienne style. Everyone likes long, thin carrots in their soup.

Okay, I answer.

The first adult to the second adult: No–they should be round for this soup.

Round carrots can cause people to choke. Julienne cut.

At this point the adults-behaving-like-toddlers could have laughed and just let it go, right?

Oh no. Hands on hips, peelers in hand, they went toe to toe.

I am in charge, here.

Not sure you are! the other retorted.

People! A third adult, looking at her watch. Does it really matter? Let’s go–the service will be over soon!

Everyone fell quiet, and I returned to the carrots, feeling stressed.

Next? The tables.

Long, formal lines or randomly scattered throughout the gymnasium?

Again, the disputes arose.

By the time the church service concluded and the convicts and congregants lined up in the gymnasium, I, too, felt like a prisoner.

Soon came the crashing tide of official complaints to the pastor. Was it safe to feed such men? Was it wise to pull people from the service each month in order to dice, chop, cook, and serve? And Why are the pastor and his wife not chopping vegetables and tossing salads? It was their idea in the first place!

You cannot make these things up. But I understand now that there truly is nothing new under the sun.


Here’s the truth. Your feelings will get hurt time and again if you are serving yourself in church.

I have been guilty of this very thing. Do you know what has helped me to straighten up?

Enrolling in the unpopular school of Tough Love.

I drag myself to the mirror and speak truth:

Church is not about me. It is about worshipping God and serving others. So stop acting like a baby, Kristin, and grow up.

Preach this to yourself on the daily as you pour over Scripture. And yes, it will hurt your feelings…at first. Never mind that. Soon it will be your saving grace, as God is glorified. And the body of Christ? It will be strengthened.

The church is meant to be a thriving body with uniquely functioning parts to the whole: hands, feet, mouth, eyes, arms, shoulders. Do you see it?

Humility is paramount.

We cannot be serving each other and serving ourselves, grasping for ways to maintain a singular little platform of greatness or power. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Or in this case, a church body.

So may we consider:

What is the biblical role of a pastor?

Is he meant to be a proverbial puppet on your string? Pulled hither and yon, a task-man for your checklist? To perform your bidding?

Yes, I know. A pastor is an imperfect man. A person. And also God’s chosen one to lead, guide, and shepherd the church.

He cannot lead well if there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

Here are good questions to ponder:

Does my pastor teach and preach the whole counsel of God? Is he exhorting the congregation to grow in holiness? Is he preaching about the wickedness and deception of sin, the need for humble repentance, and the saving power and grace of Jesus Christ? Is he serving his flock? Loving the congregation with the truth of God’s Word?

If the answers are yes, then here is the crux of the matter:

Am I, are you, submitting to this man’s godly authority, while understanding that he will be held personally accountable to God for his leadership decisions?

A godly pastor cannot please both God and man, nor will he want to.


Back to the soup and salad.

Imagine if all adults had rallied around our pastor, whether they preferred this outreach or not. (We all have preferences, which are not synonymous with biblical mandates.) What if they had said: Pastor, thank you for caring about sharing the message of hope and food and fellowship with these incarcerated men. How may we best help you to serve them?

Can you fathom the unity, the love, and the genuine outreach, that would have occurred?

And then, replaying the carrot-chopping scene, consider the difference if an adult volunteer had encouraged with Good job! and joined in, helping to slice. Or if someone had prayed while we prepared, asking the Holy Spirit to soften hearts.

What joy might have unfolded through such unity.

That did not happen. While there were certainly some fun, light-hearted moments, more often than not, there was a heap of complaining, sulky attitudes, and relentless gossip.

We are prone to dismissing the fact that these sins rip the fabric of a church, tearing it to shreds. Bellyaching, selfishness, and gossip always wound the body.

Imagine the stunning landscape if we were to outdo one another in showing honor.

If we delighted in playing second fiddle.

If we minded our own business while serving others.

In order to practice such joyful submission, we must first understand that God chooses imperfect pastors and elders to lead, and our job is to follow them as they obey the Lord.

This is all part of growing in holiness. And sanctification. It is the biblical order of things.

But if we insist on serving ourselves? It will hurt the entire body.

And as we continue stomping our feet, demanding that our feelings and preferences take preeminence, we are quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit. While we tinker with sin, bickering and building personal platforms to rule, Satan hovers on the fringes, clapping his wicked hands and tossing back his divisive head with a roar.


Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

~Hebrews 13:17

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Road Tripping

I am away from my desk this week, taking a long and glorious autumn road trip to the Midwest with our daughter. We will listen to some favorite tunes, a podcast, and perhaps an audio book or two. I am sure we will play a few rounds of our car game, and I cannot wait. These times are both precious and fleeting.

It is good to get away every now and again, isn’t it?

A blog reader and kindred spirit has invited us to a conference, and isn’t God kind to grant me not only a new friendship, but also a husband who has sent us off with his blessing and a Chick-fil-A gift card? Along the way we will stop at my alma mater, so I can show Lauren the exact place I first spotted her Dad.


In the meantime, I penned some thoughts in another space, and thought I would invite you to read along.

I leave you with this prayer from Charles Spurgeon:

We ask for a revival of true godliness all over the world. We pray, grant that these disastrous times may drive your children nearer to you; may deliver many of them from a worldly spirit; and may it come to pass that, while they grow poor one way, they may grow rich in another, by the sanctification of their losses and afflictions.

God be gracious to this land. Send us, we pray, the Holy Spirit more abundantly than ever; and may there be myriads born to Christ in these latter days. So do with all the nations, until all lands shall bow before you, and all generations shall call you blessed.


Of Philodendrons & Sneakers

It’s no secret around these parts that I am partial to Phil. He is my Philodendron plant, which I have managed to keep alive for over six years. This might not be a big deal to the average reader but given how many African violets have perished at my fingertips, it is certainly encouraging.

Our four children have flown the nest, but my goodness, the nurturing instinct does not up and die when a mother’s children are grown. It is a God-given bent, and therefore a good one, I believe. So now I nurture in other ways, one of which is tending to our small flower garden, and Phil.


Three years ago, when we moved from Florida to Virginia, we maxed out every square inch of the moving truck. I admire those incredible people who are able to move swiftly and neatly, with everything perfectly boxed and stacked, hands free to hold the steering wheel or perhaps a book.

This has never been the case for us, and more often than not we have been smooshed uncomfortably as we travel from one home to the other, appearing as though we have been pulled through a knothole. This was very much the case three years ago, and when we had finally shoved every last thing into the nooks of the moving truck and our personal vehicles, I noticed that my husband had placed Phil on the sidewalk.

I’m sorry, Kristin, but there is no room. Don’t worry, I will buy you a new plant when we arrive in Virginia.

I stared at Phil, and then at my husband.

But I love Phil. He has been with us for years. Actually, I am willing to leave any piece of furniture behind before I leave Phil.

Jon looked at me as though I had gone mad, not even realizing until that moment that I had actually named this plant, while simultaneously assessing that I was an exhausted mess after having packed up our entire house.

Long story short? Phil survived and became a Virginia resident.

For the following two years, this plant remained centered upon our dining room table, alive, healthy in appearance, yet not really growing. I began to wonder if he needed more water, less water, better soil?

I didn’t change anything but kept wondering.

When we bought our new home over a year ago, I did a bit of research, and chose to remove my plant from his current soil, carefully washing off all roots, and tenderly placing him in a ceramic pot of water, which I have hung in a macrame hanger from my office window. This space is flooded with ample morning sunshine and filtered, afternoon light.

And that is when everything changed.

This philodendron grew by leaps and bounds.

In fact, he continues to grow, and one leafy tendril is now over two feet long, hanging pretty as it stretches toward the morning glow of light streaming in the window. His roots have also grown lush.

I have snipped off the abundance of leaves, and they are flourishing in other little jars and planters. A few are on windowsills, and they too are reaching for the light.



I have worn the same brand for the past six years, taking long morning walks each week. These times are good for my body, soul, and mind. I feel the presence of God so clearly as I exercise outdoors. It is my favorite time of the day.

I wear my sneakers to a fare-thee-well with so much walking, and when the soles begin to thin, I hop onto Amazon dot com and order a fresh pair. Typically, I go through two pairs per year.

A few months ago, with the soles worn down, I opened my Amazon account to reorder. As I did so, the same brand sneaker in a different model captured my attention. A newer model. A model with more cushion in the heel. Same price, with a few additional features.

I recently turned fifty and figured extra cushion might not be a bad idea.

So I went for it.

A week passed of wearing this newer model, and all was well until one morning, when I felt a slight pain in my heel. I pushed along, imagining that I had perhaps walked too far. I ignored it and kept going.

With the heartache of a long, stressful summer combined with the mental fortitude it took to simply carry on with life in general, I did not connect my heel pain with my new sneakers for the longest time. My mind was terribly distracted. I simply kept walking, until one night I couldn’t take it anymore, and bought a stretching boot and ice packs, while downing two Advil.

The next morning, it felt a touch better until one mile in, when suddenly the pain returned and I didn’t know if I could make it home. I limped back and rested for a few days.

It wasn’t until a month of this that I considered that my problem might be the new sneakers. And by this time? Both heels were aching.

I couldn’t return the used footwear, so I spent more money and purchased the old model. The relief was immediate. Everything felt better as I walked.


I consider my spiritual walk. Like Phil, there are times when my growth becomes stunted, and I must consider what I am doing to nurture my soul. Have I lapsed in those deeper spiritual disciplines? How may I walk more fully in the light of the Gospel, growing deeper, healthier, more mature roots? Has darkness crept in with unconfessed, unrepentant sin? If so, it is time to delve deeper into Scripture, lingering closer to God while saturating my mind and soul with his Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to work, scrubbing my heart clean.

And like those new sneakers, I am again reminded that newer does not necessarily mean better. The spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and gathering together with the church body, have not changed. We are prone to imagining that there are fancier and more cushy options, but there are not. Culture is always changing, but our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.


And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

~Isaiah 37:31

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Seasons of Sorrow

Our world has been gifted a new book: Seasons of Sorrow, written by Tim Challies after the unexpected death of his son, Nick.

This is not a common story regarding the death of a loved one.

This is not a raging against God, a permission slip encouraging anger towards our Maker.

Neither is this a distant, distilled theological primer on the proper steps to work through the complexities of anguish.

Rather, this is a hard story of a father’s palpable grief as he champions the truth of a loving, good, and sovereign God. Tim Challies offers beautiful, authentic words from a raw and wounded place. Such terrain of overwhelming sadness and heart-wrenching sorrow is bound only by fence posts of truth. Truth stemming from the Bible.

Our world needs this book because many of us suffer poorly, our souls growing cold during times of grievous loss. Seasons of Sorrow will sweep clear the opposite path, stirring and strengthening your soul–inviting you on a path of hope.

I could pass along many, many, rich quotes from this book’s pages. Instead, I recommend that you buy a copy for yourself, and another to bless a friend. Begin reading right away. This story is for everyone, not only for those who have buried a son or daughter.

I am certain that you will be shored up by the difficult and faithful steps that the entire Challies family has taken as they grieve honestly, knowing that they will see Nick again in heaven. And you might even be challenged, as I was, to view unwanted heartache as an opportunity to comfort and minister to others.

All of Tim’s books are excellent, and this one in no exception.

In fact, it is my favorite one of all.

(May I suggest that you also listen to Tim speak briefly about Seasons of Sorrow? Powerful.)