Hot Fires & Deep Waters

There is, in fact, no redemptive work done anywhere without suffering. ~Elisabeth Elliot

***

Late one summer night, many years ago, I was sixteen, and driving home from youth group. It was a warm, moonless evening, still and dark, with scattered, twinkly stars to guide my path. I flicked on the high beams, accelerating slowly as I maneuvered snaking back roads.

Quite suddenly, a kangaroo hopped right through the headlights and into a thicket. I braked, coming to a sudden stop, glancing to my left, straining to see this animal again. It was too dark.

Returning home, I told my parents what I had seen. They stared at me, full of disbelief.

That’s impossible, Kristin! We live in New England, not The Outback.

I nodded, a touch embarrassed, realizing how absurd my claim sounded.

But it bothered me.

I knew exactly what I had seen.

***

I told some friends the story before homeroom the next morning, and the response was similar. One felt my forehead, grinning in mock concern.

Feverish? she joked.

I rolled my eyes. I’m telling you guys, it was a kangaroo.

Why don’t you join me in first period? teased another. Geography 101. We can learn how to find Australia on the map.

Funny, I said and we laughed.

I might have piped down, but what I had witnessed was real.

***

A week or so after my kangaroo sighting, our small-town newspaper headlines read:

Local Nature Preserve Recovers Missing Kangaroo.

***

Hot fires and deep waters, also known as suffering, are headed your way, sooner or later. Such things are inescapable as we dwell in a sin-soaked world.

Elisabeth Elliot defined suffering as Having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have. That sums it up perfectly, doesn’t it?

While we cannot obliterate suffering, we must grab hold of the truth, clearly evidenced throughout the pages of Scripture, that God ordains our every affliction. (John 11:1-4, John 9:1-3)

To embrace suffering as something authored by God will always seem foolish in the eyes of the world. Every bit as nonsensical as my kangaroo sighting seemed to others. Ignore public opinion, and hold fast to Scripture, trusting God with this truth: Your pain holds stunning purpose. (James 1:2-4) God is about the business of chiseling you into the likeness of Christ, teaching patience and endurance and hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

There is a prominent difference between a white-knuckling-pull-myself-up-by-my-own-bootstraps response to suffering, and a clinging to Christ in faith, soft-heartedly embracing what God has chosen.

One is to suffer poorly; the other is to suffer well.

The flesh will tug: Sail away on this magic carpet ride, and to oblige is to embrace cheap diversions that allow you to soar for a time, before crashing. There are so many ways to dabble, aren’t there? The world will continually champion substitutes for godly faith in the midst of suffering. Pathetic, clunky alternatives, floppy cardboard boxes filled with empty trophies heaved in human strength as we lug them, tip-toed and breathless, upon the throne of our heart.

To the soul wandering far from God and Scripture, suffering remains random, unfair, and meaningless. Yet we know that God’s greater purposes always come to pass. (Romans 8:28) In fact, absolutely nothing happens without his permission, and our sufferings are part of his good and holy design. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

To believe this, trusting God implicitly, (without clutching any flimsy escape clauses), will change our trajectory. Pain and suffering are flush with high and holy purpose, and I know of nothing more comforting than grasping the certainty that there is no random event, no haphazard oversight causing me to suffer. I can hold my suffering, tiny or gigantic, up to the light of God’s Word and say, This is so painful, but I trust you, God.

Consider the Old Testament’s Joseph. He was hated by his jealous brothers, who tossed him headlong into a deep pit, lied to their father, pronounced Joseph dead, covered up their despicable falsehoods by dipping his robe with animal blood as proof of his death, and then further abandoned their younger brother by selling him into slavery.

I would argue that Joseph had ample opportunity to grow bitter and hard-hearted.

He did no such thing. In fact, quite the opposite.

When a sinful yet enticing distraction presented itself, following his season of suffering and terror, Joseph fled. (Genesis 39)

How can I do this great wickedness to my God? was the cry of his heart as he stiff-armed sin, embracing the promises of God rather than the seductive wife of his boss.

Joseph’s earthly reward for such allegiance to his Maker? A stint in prison, where he landed with a hard thump.

How is that for gratitude the world hisses? Joseph languishes in prison for years, suffering for such immediate obedience?

While it might be said that Joseph suffered mercilessly at the hands of others, isn’t it truer still to say that God chose Joseph to suffer horrible things, unimaginable atrocities which ultimately led to his family’s restoration and the rescue of an entire nation? (Genesis 50:20)

***

We each stand before our front windows, studying the landscape. When Christ rules our hearts, the view is stunningly clear: bright, clean, and rightly ordered for eternity. If Christ does not rule supreme, our windowpanes remain tainted, foggy, and smudged. This is why feasting on the totality of Scripture is vital to our spiritual health. It paints a clear picture of who God is, and how we are to rightly live out our lives, our hardships.

To grasp the power and wonder of God is to accept his good purpose in every speck of suffering. The pain will still throb, pulsing and hot, but you will now be able to trust him in the midst of it, recognizing that his gifts of hardship yield beauty, making us more like his Son. Christians who have placed their faith in Christ but have not fully embraced God’s rulership in every facet of life, are yet peering through a smudged window.

Our heart’s true belief of God (not simply who we say he is) will be spotlighted during our sufferings. Complaining, sulking, withdrawing, pouting, and blaming others, reveal the true state of matters, called suffering poorly. It is impossible to continue in such behaviors while simultaneously bowing low in humility before God.

Think of Christ himself, who suffered most, hanging limp and bloody at Golgotha, horrifically tortured, yet graciously pleading: Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do. His heart’s cry was full of mercy and kindness. He suffered well.

Brilliant diamonds are forged in the hottest of flames, and lustrous pearls are created through sandy, abrasive discomfort by unwelcomed irritants to the oyster. We, too, are shaped, crushed, and even beautified through unbidden hot fires and deep, bone-chilling waters, as we press into Christ with Yes and Amen. Only then may we sing through our hardships, as God’s children, knowing that our sufferings are gifts specifically chosen for our good.

God is with us in our trials, and what comfort that provides! (Isaiah 43:2) Suffering awakens our need for a Savior, our need for mercy, our helpless state apart from God.

Your life as a Christian, with all of its wounds and scars, is hidden with Christ on high, a treasure growing and sparkling and preparing you for death into new life. An eternal crown, dotted with brilliant sufferings of diamonds and pearls, indestructible, forged through hot fires and deep waters.

Good Medicine

My husband had been given tickets to a comedy night at a nearby church.

I hear this guy is pretty funny, said Jon as we herded our four children into our van, some fourteen years ago.

The small sanctuary was packed, standing room only. Five minutes before the show was to begin, our two youngest informed me that they needed to use the restroom.

I took them to the foyer, pointing to the twin doors with a Make it snappy! We don’t want to miss the beginning!

As I waited in the lobby, tapping my foot, and watching the clock, the church’s front door opened and a man stepped inside. He was dressed in ratty jeans and an old t-shirt, with a mop of tangled hair. Without warning, he dropped to the ground, completing rapid-fire pushups. Then he sat up, leaned back against the wall, and closed his eyes.

The poor man, I thought. Homeless. He probably can’t even afford a ticket. I decided to give him mine.

My two children joined me, and I grabbed their hands, heading back to our seats. We passed Homeless Man, who was performing yet another round of speedy pushups on the foyer’s carpet.

Why is he doing that? asked my six-year-old.

We slipped back to our seats, and I leaned over to ask Jon about giving the man my ticket, but the crowd was now standing and applauding and he did not even hear me.

As the pastor welcomed the comedian, everyone clapped. I turned to see this comic jogging up the aisle.

Wait a minute.

It was Homeless Man.

Everybody give it up for Tim Hawkins! cheered the pastor.

***

We have had plenty of laughs over this.

Can you imagine if I had offered him the ticket?

I never would have lived it down. My reserved nature is a running joke in our family, and this comedian would have had an absolute field day.

It is good medicine to laugh at myself and all of those quirky happenings that unfold in everyday life.

***

I remember a season, before Jon became a pastor, when we were serving in a local church. We had recently moved long-distance and were new to this small congregation.

Joe and Marie.

That is what I will call them.

For whatever the reason, these congregants took a strong and immediate liking to our family.

Joe and Marie were sincere and friendly, sixty-something with precious little concept of personal space, standing uncomfortably close during every conversation. Marie wore the thickest of glasses, which might have provoked such proximity. Who knows about Joe.

My natural instinct was to back up, flee, or maybe disappear into thin air. But I quickly discovered that it was nearly impossible to kindly slip away from these two. I heard myself repeating, Well, I better be going, as they doggedly continued speaking, ignoring my cues, which no longer felt subtle, as they persisted with another story, another opinion, another idea.

I never recall seeing them at church without Styrofoam cups of steaming coffee in hand. Joe and Marie were an overtly animated couple, constantly interrupting and speaking loudly over one another, while emphasizing everything with exaggerated and frequent hand motions, thus prompting their milky coffee to slosh over cup’s edge, dripping on the floor.

They were, as Tim Hawkins quips, window-washinghand-raisers during worship, in a group that was not, shall we say, quite as expressive. One morning as the congregation sang, Marie began window washing, which clearly inspired her husband, who joined in. I am not sure if they forgot the coffee at their feet, but one of them bumped it and it flooded the tiled floor. Joe bent down to wipe it up, and as he did so, kept window-washing with one hand, while swirling napkins on the floor with the other, one eye closed before the Lord, and one eye trained upon the mess, in a unique wink. While this was happening, the chorus picked up, and Marie, quite overcome, began deeply swaying while window washing, inadvertently clunking a woman standing next to her.

As the woman rubbed her head and glared, Marie carried on, blissfully unaware of her mishap, eyes closed, tipping over yet another coffee, which kept Joe busy even longer as he sopped up the mess, one-handed and one eyed, with too few napkins that were now drenched, dripping, and ineffective.

This was all too much. My children’s shoulders began to shake uncontrollably, and I felt a contagious giggle bubbling up. My husband was working hard to keep a straight face as he helped clean up the mess.

We howled in the car later on, laughing until we cried, tears streaming down our faces.

***

After a few months at this church, Marie invited us over for dinner. The first two times she extended an invitation, we legitimately had other plans and were unable to go.

I assumed she would forget, but she did not. She was, in fact, perfectly relentless.

I don’t want to go, I informed my husband one night as I brushed my teeth in front of our mirror. They stand too close, and they don’t stop talking. Ever. Can we please decline?

Maybe we should just say yes and endure one evening? he said.

I sighed in defeat.

They were being hospitable, after all.

***

Joe and Marie swept us into their home without missing a beat. The conversation was unsurprisingly one-sided, as they talked and talked and talked some more, literally picking up from the place they left off the previous Sunday. I tried to keep up but found myself struggling to endure.

I was pretty sure, while listening to Marie talk, that I heard Joe telling my husband, that he had once siphoned gasoline with his mouth.

I am resourceful, if nothing else, he added proudly, hands resting atop his rounded belly.

Jon was visibly stunned.

Somehow, we survived dinner, and thanked them for hosting. My husband glanced at his watch: We must be going!

Our children revived, the boys especially. This was Saturday night in late fall, and college football was whispering our names. I was proud of our crew…they were polite troopers who had graciously endured a most tedious evening. Perhaps this would build character and fortitude in us all.

Wait! Before you go, we must show you our collection! Joe and Marie herded us toward a side room.

We moved in a cluster through the slim hallway, stepping into a bubblegum-pink guest room.

Dolls.

They were everywhere. These were not cute baby dolls, but adult dolls with staring eyes and shocking hair and candy-appled cheeks. A few clown-type dolls were strewn about for good measure, which I found greatly disturbing.

These beings sat perched upon chairs, beds, shelves, and even the floor.

Marie picked up one doll, and Joe another. They created high-pitched voices to these lifeless toys, holding them up to our faces, attempting to spark discussions between us and these ghoulish creatures.

It was wildly uncomfortable.

I am not quite sure how, but we finally managed to exit. I seem to remember Jon thanking them once again, his hand firmly propelling the small of my back toward the front door.

At first it was quiet, driving home.

I cleared my throat.

What in the world just happened? I said.

One of our sons started to laugh, and soon we were doubled over, roaring, not so much at the oddity of such a night, but rather at the memory of each other’s facial expressions during those bizarre conversations. It was hard to get complete sentences out as we laughed, but a few words triggered understanding… Mom’s face…Dad’s shock…Siphoned gasoline?

My sides ached from laughing so hard.

It ultimately became a story for the ages. We have bunches of them, actually. Memories understood in our own language; comical tales and inside jokes that resurface at perfect times. When the going gets tough, we pluck them liberally from our treasure chest, laughing all over again, and it is good, good medicine.

***

A joyful heart is a good medicine; but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. ~Proverbs 17:22

Drink

My father’s German parents, whom I scarcely knew, dwelt upon a pretty tree-lined street in the suburbs of Chicago for their entire existence, working steadily, attending a Lutheran church, holding silent their opinions and beliefs and ideas with measured stoicism. They also enjoyed a fully stocked bar in the basement of their Craftsman home.

I was mystified by my strong-willed grandmother, who with no more than an upward tilt of her clefted chin and a narrowing of her eyes held the power to subdue any given atmosphere. She had once been a beauty, and I could see it still in the rare moments when she laughed.

My grandfather ambled about, as peaceful as could be, always smiling comfortably while remaining consistent, methodical, and neat in his work. This too was mysterious to me as a child because underneath that pleasantness seemed to stretch a vast, wind-whipping prairie: unreachable.

The basement.

Descending to the dark depths of their cellar by way of a steep and narrow staircase stirred feelings of both curiosity and claustrophobia in my young body. There were bottles upon bottles of wine and drink and beer perched in open shelving behind the bar itself. The space was tidy and smelled of sweet pipe smoke. My uncles would stoop, descending into these depths, and I heard laughter amidst the clink of ice. Although no one was drunk, they were different as they sipped: looser, more relaxed.

Grandpa, when he was not sipping coffee, held a drink in hand, quietly smiling while remaining gentle and calm. His glass was short, filled with ice, and colored with amber liquid. As he emerged from the basement, positioning himself comfortably into the striped lawn chair in their tended yard, he observed his grandchildren frolicking about. Those soft blue eyes took in the scene before him, before fading to a faraway place. Grandpa was a WWII veteran, had piloted a double-winger and was awarded a purple heart. (I learned these things as an adult, only after studying his obituary.)

In wartime, his sons were not yet born, still a twinkle in his eye. The first five years of his marriage he spent apart from his new bride, as he commandeered that double-winger. Shortly after he returned from war, my grandmother discovered that they would be a family of three. All went smoothly until days before her due date, when the baby stopped kicking. She delivered their lifeless firstborn: a son. My father and his three brothers had not a clue of this fact until they were grown men. The baby’s name, if he was ever given one, was never spoken. This says much, doesn’t it?

Although mild-mannered, I learned that my grandfather grew upset when questioned about his wartime experiences. So much so, in fact, that everyone stopped asking. His sufferings remained personal, and I imagine he took some horrific images to his grave.

Of course none of these events occurred in a vacuum. Hurts and choices and customs and world views always collide given time: swirling together and eventually spilling forth. The whole not dealing directly approach tends to spiral downward generationally, after the context for such behaviors is no longer clear. Too late. The patterns have now been normalized and fully adopted, even embraced.

What I wouldn’t give now to dig deeper and learn this person who was my grandfather. I am fairly certain ease and pleasure through lifelong drink involved more than family tradition and those formidable German roots.

It seems to me he drank to forget.

Do you know of anyone who drinks to remember?

Neither do I.

***

Fifteen years ago, before I consistently studied the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, I would have told you that drinking alcohol was a sin.

This was when my reasoning was based solely upon personal experience, with a couple of Bible verses added for good measure. There were a few hushed suicides tucked back a generation or two in my paternal family tree, and it terrified me. There was also a slim, yet clear trail of what I now recognize to be functioning alcoholics, and with the knowledge that these propensities often hold a genetic component, I decided early on to abstain. In fact, when my own children were quite young, I told them often of our familial history. I wanted them to understand the dangers, the addictions, the fault lines. I thought drinking was mainly a sin because I never witnessed it producing anything good or safe or meaningful.

Furthermore, two childhood experiences had deeply disturbed me, thumping a permanent and heavy weight upon my young heart.

***

One particular summer, on a visit to my grandparent’s Chicago home, I was introduced to two new cousins, not yet two years of age. They were busy toddlers, wanting to join in the fun, hyper and refusing to nap. Their parents grabbed a beer, pouring an inch or so into their bottles before swirling it with milk. They held it skyward and everybody roared, slapping their legs as the toddlers guzzled and grew sleepy.

If I close my eyes, I remember the tightness in my chest, the lonely feeling of despair, knowing, that while everyone around me laughed, this was all terribly wrong. I was draped in a cloak of guilt by association feeling quite powerless to stop such activity.

I was eight or so at the time, standing alone in the side yard near a tidy cluster of Hosta plants, lush and green, which were my grandmother’s pride and joy. Conversation swirled, drinks in hand while German sausage sizzled and bowls of sauerkraut and coleslaw and German potato salad were placed on the indoor kitchen table so as not to attract flies. The screen door opened and slammed shut again and again, as everyone helped themselves.

The liquor frightened me. It held an unfathomable power to change people, somehow swelling who they were, while diminishing who they were meant to be.

***

A few years later, one Sunday afternoon back home in New England, my brother and I were invited to our minister’s home for lunch following services. He had a bunch of children, and we were good friends with several of them. My brother and I had been welcomed to lunch before, seated at their immense English table, privy to the British tradition of heated dishes and utensils, a large roast surrounded by cooked carrots and brightly steamed peas plus baked potatoes, neatly divided on China plates, topped off with endless slices of hot, freshly baked bread. Our pastor’s wife donned an apron, smiling kindly, looking both wan and settled. She waited endlessly upon everyone, slowly serving dishes, and passing plates, adorned in her Sunday dress and warm slippers, a long braid dangling down her back.

This was all quite different from our familial Sunday lunches, in which my father would slice cheese, placing the wedges atop Stoned Wheat Thins, then pouring tomato juice into stout glasses before sprinkling oregano on the surface of the drink. It was delicious and staved off our hunger until our lunch was ready.

On this Sunday, once seated, our minister turned and asked us if our parents partook? I did not know what that meant, but my brother, a year-and-a-half younger than me, answered.

They sometimes have wine with dinner.

Minister nodded, looking at his wife, who reached into the top cupboard, pulling down three goblets.

He then leaned backward in his chair, opened a pantry, retrieving a wine bottle. The red liquid glugged as he poured three glasses: one for his wife, another for an adult guest at their table, and then one for himself.

After saying grace, everyone began to eat, fork properly overturned in hand, index finger applying pressure while neatly cutting the roast. The sturdy silverware clinked and my thick cloth napkin, tucked into the top of my dress, interfered with the view of my plate.

This was definitely not the simple meal I was accustomed to.

In the midst of chewing there came a knock on the kitchen door.

In a flash our minister’s children swiftly yet calmly reached for the wine goblets, concealing them under the table, as the guest stepped into the room.

What were they doing?

After a few minutes of conversation the visitor said goodbye, and the children placed the glasses tabletop and resumed eating.

Our minister’s blue eyes crinkled in a smile.

We wouldn’t want to offend, he said in that smart British accent.

This was clearly not my grandparent’s basement, but that familiar claustrophobic feeling rose again.

***

My other grandfather, who lived on Washington Street, had once upon a time enjoyed beer and cigarettes with the fellows. On the night he gave his life to Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in Boston, those behaviors disappeared. Drinking and smoking ceased, quite literally, overnight. He became a brand-new man: a young, god-honoring husband and father who searched for a Bible-preaching church, and then served that congregation diligently, worshipping there for the rest of his life.

So by the time I was old enough to pay attention, I had front-row seats to these four grandparents of mine. I observed each one and discerned the steadfastness and surety of Christ anchored only in one. It was not too difficult to see.

My Grandpa on Washington Street, who was tethered to God, did not drink.

Why would I want to? That was the old me, he said, simply.

A few shook their heads. Legalistic, they murmured in hushed tones.

I did not know what legalistic meant. All I understood was that Grandpa drank hot tea with lemon, was fully present and unchanging, and checked off the pages of his Bible as he read them. He told bunches of stories and laughed, adored and protected his family, and was comfortable and generous and kind.

His basement served not as a bar, but as his home office. It was light, and although small, felt warm and open and inviting. When we visited, he called my brother and me downstairs in between his sales calls, allowing us to sort through his delightful promotional samples.

Take whatever you want! he cheered; a snug beanie perched upon his nearly bald head for warmth.

Nothing felt concealed, hidden, or dark. He was far from perfect and the first to admit it, but Jesus Christ had already forgiven and transformed Grandpa, who trusted in faith.

He lived freely, and it glistened, like sparkling sunshine dancing upon water.

***

Grandpa’s one sentence: Why would I want to? That was the old me, landed softly inside of me, planting a seed. Over time, it grew then blossomed.

Years later I returned to these words of Grandpa’s, plucking the flower, and inhaling its scent.

***

Decades unfold, and quite suddenly I am an adult, with two sons in college, two teenagers at home, and a husband traveling in his ministry work.

One Sunday, with Jon out of town, I am visiting a church.

The sermon proves topical: Christians and Alcohol.

I lean in.

The pastor cites Scripture after Scripture about the evils of drunkenness, pounding the pulpit for emphasis: drinking is a sin.

I am surprised not to be mentally high fiving him.

By this point in my life, I have been reading and studying my Bible from beginning to end and know from God’s Word that while drunkenness is clearly a sin (Galatians 5:19-22) (Proverbs 20:1) drinking itself is not, and can even be something to enjoy (Ecclesiastes 9:7) (Psalm 104:14-15). Jesus’ first miracle, in fact, was turning water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11).

So I sit there, scribbling notes, fingers flying to the concordance, looking up all of the drinking verses, aiming to gather the whole counsel of God.

I long to live in the shadow of Christ, humble and unswerving in obedience to God. It is hard for me to reconcile the idea of an ardent Christ-follower enjoying wine, drinking moderately for pleasure. But God’s Word is clear, never to be dismissed or replaced by my conflicting experiences and human opinion.

***

I know that the Bible is living and active and true.

Everything important comes back to cherishing God’s Word, doesn’t it?

Weeks after this sermon, the truth clicks.

The entire counsel of God and his Word.

***

Grandpa’s words rush back: Why would I want to? That was the old me.

Grandpa remembered who he had once been before his encounter with God. He stopped smoking and drinking cold turkey from a pure heart, not from a space of legalism or condemnation. Those were old patterns, his former coping strategies, and he had been changed. His heart belonged to Christ, and his about-face was a bright testimony. His choice not to drink did not save him, Christ did. He walked away from those hindrances.

Truth is far bigger than dutifully looking up each Bible verse regarding alcohol, or any other behavior. The real question is:

Am I obeying and glorifying God?

I have heard 1 Corinthians 10:31 used in a way to condone appetites of the flesh. Do whatever to the glory of God, carelessly used as an excuse to overeat, drink greedily, and smoke cigars.

Taken out of biblical context, it becomes grotesquely flippant to our Creator, and in my opinion, utterly lacking in the reverence due him.

Consider what Jesus himself said is the most important commandment of all: Mark 12: 30-31 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than this.

If we are heeding Mark 12: 30-31, then our outward behaviors will reflect it. 1 Corinthians 10:31 will be attainable because we are no longer seeking loopholes, nor checking off those fearful and legalistic boxes. Instead, we offer God a heart of total surrender, bowing to our heavenly Father, overflowing with genuine love for our neighbor, and enjoying God’s good and gracious gifts.

Which is why some Christians may freely enjoy a glass of wine, while others, knowing their own histories and weaknesses and proclivities, are free to abstain.

As Christians, may we partake uniquely, always drinking deeply the entire counsel of God and his Word.

***

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

Unoffendable

I will never know what might have happened if our neighbor hadn’t intervened.

My heart was flailing, as I stood wide-eyed, attempting to fill the frame of our front door. It was my hope to shield my children’s view of this woman, a futile plan, given this creature who was now screaming at me, a Jezebel in the flesh, eyes blazing and nostrils flaring.

***

We once lived on a short cul-de-sac in Texas, home to some ten families. Our sons played outdoors daily, by the slant of afternoon light. Neighborhood boys flocked from surrounding streets, dividing and forming football teams. I occasionally offered drinks and snacks, walking outside with our two-year-old daughter, while keeping an eye on everyone.

It was a wonderful group of boys, many with a key dangling about their neck, parents working until the dinner hour. I remember their names and faces even now: Donovan, Mouse, Jake, Cody, and Finn. Plus our own three sons: Caleb, Jacob, and Marcus.

These games were rigorous: Our ten-year-old, Caleb, the oldest of the bunch, had mapped out strict playbooks and schedules, tallying scores while diligently keeping stats. It was all quite official and the boys treated the games and each other with the utmost respect. I could feel their hunger for leadership, routine, and purpose. As I plucked weeds and played with our daughter and walked our dog, occasionally treating knees with Neosporin and band-aids, I grinned at their serious discussions. These boys had resplendent plans: college football prior to skyrocketing to the one and only National Football League.

Those were the days.

***

One of those splendid afternoons, as the boys were in the thick of a game, I stood indoors, folding a mountain of laundry heaped upon the dining room table. Our daughter was napping upstairs, and from time to time I paused my work, peering out our front bay window, double checking that all was well. After returning to my folding, I paused upon hearing deep voices. Opening our front door, I observed two teenagers as they intercepted the football. They tossed it back and forth, cackling over the heads of the younger fellows.

I stood there for a moment, considering. Maybe they will just join the game. That sentence evaporated as intense taunting began. It was now a game of keep-away, a pathetic sight coming from sixteen-year-olds to mere children.

My protective instincts caught fire as I whirled down our driveway.

Hey! That’s enough, guys. Please give the ball back to the boys.

They turned, surprised.

It’s my street too, lady. One of the boys approached me, defiant.

Give my son his football and head on home. I stood still, arms crossed, and the street hushed.

He sneered and twirled the ball high into the air, before slinging it back to Caleb.

We’ll see about that. He glanced over his shoulder, summoned his pal, and strolled away.

I kept a close watch the rest of the afternoon. All seemed well.

***

Early that evening, before my husband had returned from work, I prepped dinner, chopping and dicing while the kids sprawled on the living room floor enjoying a movie. In the middle of this peaceful scene, the doorbell rang. I opened the door, surprised to see a middle-aged woman dressed in business casual. I did not recognize her but smiled.

Who do you think you are? she hissed.

Excuse me? My heart began pounding.

You certainly have a lot of nerve telling my son to leave his own street. Her voice was rapidly escalating, and her eyes were hot. I started to slowly close the door.

Oh no you don’t. She pressed her manicured hand on the doorknob, her thick foot blocking the doorframe. You owe me an explanation.

I was too stunned to answer.

Now! she exploded.

Explanation? Your son was bullying

Bullying? Bullying? She was now screaming. You call trying to be included in a football game bullying? Let me tell you–

And then.

Hello, Kristin. Our next-door-neighbor, a petite, middle-aged woman whom I had chatted with only a handful of times, was now standing next to this angry lady.

I am sorry, dear, if I have caught you at an inconvenient time, but I wanted to once again see the lovely paint color in your dining room before our remodel. It must match my quilt.

She held up her arm, over which draped a tidy blanket, folded. Turning breezily to the ranting woman, whose face was burning, she continued. Would you excuse us, please? Her voice was kind yet firm as she guided me back inside.

And just like that, she followed me inside, quickly closing and locking our door.

I was shaking.

This good neighbor peered at my children who had never heard such ranting.

Oh, it’s okay. Some people are just so grumpy, aren’t they? she smiled at my wide-eyed tribe. My goodness, you are watching Peter Pan! I love that movie. Keep it rolling. I have to get some paint ideas from your Mom.

We stepped into the dining room, and she parted the curtains to make sure the Screamer was gone. She was.

Thank you, I said weakly. My legs were shaking.

I almost called the police, dear. That woman is a ticking time bomb. A couple of months ago she had issues with another neighbor down the street.

***

I never saw the screaming woman again.

In fact, prior to this incident, we had only glimpsed the back of her head as she careened into her garage after work each night. It remained the same after her rage on our doorstep.

I was greatly offended and nervous. Would she come back?

Deeper still was the uncomfortable knowledge that someone did not like me. I had spent so many years staking my worth upon lack of altercations and disagreements, keeping the juggling act afloat, working tirelessly to earn favor with nearly everyone. And now this?

Couple this with the abysmal reality that my time spent in Scripture was haphazard at best: cherry-picking verses, snacking upon God’s Holy Word if I found the time, rather than choosing to feast daily, and it is plain to see that I was spiritually bankrupt.

God never condones idolatry in the hearts of his own, and people-pleasing is simply that. It is a deep, deep well and also a sneaky one: appearing kind and gentle and sensitive and servant-minded and considerate. It is not.

Those who abide in man-pleasing ways, rather than fearing God most, typically display the same acute symptom. They are easily offended.

Bowing first and only to God while loving others well, breeds true freedom. As we dwell securely in this space, we will no longer be content to live a flimsy, man-pleasing life: a shallow, upending existence if ever there was one.

God has given me a simple measuring stick in examining my own heart: Am I easily offended? Huffy? As I abide fully in Christ, the more unoffendable my soul becomes. My heart and mind and soul are consumed with obedience to God, rather than focusing upon the fickle affections and reactions of man.

***

There is a deep transformation taking place in the true believer’s heart. A slow and tender growth, as God clips away the sinful thorns that distract us from walking in step with the Holy Spirit. It feels crushing as we stand exposed in our sin and weakness.

But then, just as he did for Adam and Eve, God supplies leaves to cover us, soft green branches of hope, given to clothe us in his righteousness as we cling in trust to Christ who is our Vine, our Shelter, our Savior.

And that increasing desire for God himself? This, too, is from the Lord.

***

We had a couple of guests at our church one evening last month. As I stepped into the sanctuary, I noticed a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, sitting in the back row with her father. I ambled over to their pew, introduced myself, and welcomed them to our church.

Within one minute I could feel the daughter’s angst. As I chatted with her father, her eyes raged against my friendliness, until finally she said icily:

What, did we take your pew or something?

I felt the darkness clashing and a sorrow welled up inside of me at her rudeness.

I smiled at her. No, not at all. I don’t own any pew. I just wanted to welcome you. My husband is the pastor here, and I enjoy meeting new people. I am happy that you are here. Merry Christmas!

Her father looked deeply embarrassed as I said goodbye and moved on.

***

Later, much later, I turned this scene over in my mind. Something nagged at me, as I thought of this young woman.

What was it?

I was unoffended.

The realization came in a rush, so refreshingly different from my old patterns of harboring and rehearsing deep offenses I had once clung to.

The reactions of others always reveal their own hearts, not mine. It is not my business to own their responses, only to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

God, in his kindness, has been at work, transforming and renewing my heart and mind through his Word, while granting me the longing to love him most. God is everything. It is important to understand that obedience to God is highly offensive to unbelievers. Darkness hates light.

So I no longer hold people’s opinions as supreme. This is true living. A life that is filled with deep, imperishable joy, regardless of others.

***

If I could now walk backwards sixteen years, to the Screaming Lady Situation, I might be caught off guard, but I would no longer be offended.

She was a woman without the hope of Christ, and her festering wounds knew no bounds. I see that now.

It was never really about me.

At that time, I was an infant subsisting upon spiritual milk: splashing in the shallows instead of diving into the deep waters filled with the truths of God and his Word.

It was thus impossible for me to share that which I did not possess.

In hindsight, I can now see this incident as the spark: the beginning of God tenderly cupping my face, turning me around, and leading me directly into his Refiner’s Fire; unraveling all of those tangled messes I had spun in my own sin and fragility.

He is stitching me back together still, piece by piece, and it is my honor, and my joy to abide in him, through faith and obedience. And when I fail? I repent and return.

I pray for God to keep me faithful, allowing me to maintain both a spine of steel and a soft, humble heart.

Unoffendable.

That One Common Ache

We are a funny people: planning, mapping, strategizing. We purchase gym memberships and anti-wrinkle creams, free-range this and organic that, paralyzed by anxiety of our inevitable aging and death, fearful of missing out on a life-changing blurb awaiting us on social media, and agonizing over insufficient retirement funds. So much preparation for worldly things, while prone to disregarding our soul’s eternal future.

Fellowship with God on streets of gold or scorching flames and torment without him will be our forever. One or the other. There is no middle ground.

We rage against our story.

What beauty might erupt, if this year we chose instead to press into our own narrative, divinely written by God our Maker? Palms held loosely open, (Your will, God, not mine) humbly and graciously accepting his path, trusting him implicitly by way of adoration and bowed obedience?

Our past, present, and future is mysteriously braided together by God himself. His plan unfurls through our unique stories.

Just imagine if we treasured our fleeting lives enough to surrender them fully and generously to the Lord, no strings attached.

***

Not so long ago, I bumped into a woman whom I had not seen for a bit. One minute into the conversation I slipped away. My feet did not move, and I may have nodded at appropriate moments, but after a short time, she lost me.

Honestly it was not really a conversation at all. It was more of a soliloquy revolving around her children’s accomplishments:

4.0 this, President of that, Honors Society Member and Dean’s List and Straight A’s and Star Athlete and on and on and on it went. It had been awhile since I had seen her, and it pained me afresh to recognize that her children’s worth is so poorly measured by fleeting accomplishments, tangled and jumbled in earthly awards that fade in due time. I could picture her pressured offspring, burdened by weighty backpacks of accumulated winnings, soul-exhausted with their lot in life, and feeling quite powerless to escape.

As she rambled, a familiar feeling floated upward in my mind. Suddenly, I was nine years old and swinging my legs in the shiny wooden pew of my childhood church.

***

It was a chilly January morning, and the promise of a brand new year glowed brightly as the sunshine danced its way through the sanctuary windows. There was a delicious excitement in the air: a brand new calendar flush with possibilities. That magical sensation in which wrongs may be righted and the sky is the limit and this year, yes this year will be golden! (Of course this feeling crashes and burns as winter unfolds, and the snow turns to dirty mush along with our resolutions and we wail: Where is spring?)

I was holding my own hymnal that day, feeling quite grown up as our minister asked our congregation to please stand and sing: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. As the organ sounded, and the richness of those words sprung forth, their meaning jolted my soul. Especially verse two:

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right man on our side,

The man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth His Name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

My heart quickened, as my eyes filled. This Christ Jesus was wonderful, and I knew him.

I considered the words: Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. The Holy Spirit was at work.

As the next verse began, a new voice joined in, one or two measures behind our congregation, and terribly off-key. I peeked over my shoulder, and saw Jimmy swaying in the back row. He was standing, as always, next to his mother, who smiled gently as she sang, looking both tired and peaceful.

Jimmy had been born late in his mother’s life. His father abandoned the family soon after Jimmy had been born with Down’s Syndrome, meaning that his mother was left to raise two boys alone, which she did, working many odd jobs to remain afloat. Eventually, her older son labored to support his mother and brother, which was of great comfort.

And then, one evening, in the depths of night, a harsh and insistent knock interrupted their sleep. Jimmy’s mother rushed to fasten her robe before opening the front door. Two policemen stood before her, caps in hand, bearing the grim news that there had been a terrible accident, and her older son had died.

I knew all of these things as we sang A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and as I peeked at Jimmy, who continuously missed words and syllables, I was fairly certain there was no voice as sweet. His face was glowing. Jimmy loved his mother and he loved God. It was that simple. He sang loudly and without embarrassment, worshipping his Creator.

His mother clearly delighted in the sweet abandon of her son, never shushing him despite pointed stares and a few grimaces from others. She was a soft-spoken woman, who had humbly accepted her hard story, full of broken edges and dark spaces. In her crucible times she clung to God rather than raging against him. And guess what? Her life did not grow easier, yet was magnificent.

I might have been quite young, but the tranquility of her soul spun brightly, and I knew with certainty that I wanted precisely what she possessed.

Which is interesting because she lacked all worldly treasures: money, beauty, high achievements, a pretty home, good health, an intact family, and popularity.

It simply did not matter. She delighted in the one matchless gift she held dear: an unshakable faith.

***

During this same time, several women at church grew edgy with each other, (smiling prettily through gritted teeth) as their children reached high school. It became an obvious game of Let’s See Who Can Outdo One Another With Our Children’s Accomplishments. I meandered through the congregation after the service, waiting for my parents to finish talking, and overheard snippets of conversation amongst these competitive women, which revolved around things that did not matter. I felt confused as I tried to reconcile the Win! Strive! Compete! with this God of merciful grace, whose yoke is easy and burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

I eventually put on my thick winter coat and stepped out of the narthex into the biting New England air. Jimmy’s mother was ahead of me, graceful and quiet, nodding her hellos to a few folks while pulling her coat tighter in the freezing temperatures as she ushered her son through the parking lot. He looped his short arm through hers, and she turned and smiled at him so dearly, and with such a tender mother-love that my heart ached. I knew her life had been marked by tragedy, yet here she stood, in the cold sunlight, dressed in a threadbare coat while stunningly cloaked in utter devotion to God and her son.

***

Oh, the common ache of mankind! To be known and loved unconditionally.

How devastating to neglect this staggering fact: if you are in Christ, you already possess this unconditional love. You are known and fully treasured by God himself. What an imperishable delight: one that cannot be withdrawn.

Nor can it be earned. God’s love is a majestic gift. We are his image-bearers, and therein lies our complete worth.

Gym memberships and slim physiques, beautifying lotions, new clothes, straight-A children, fancy houses, scholarly degrees, popularity among mankind, successful jobs, and fat bank accounts are no measure of anyone’s worth. All of these things are fleeting.

Jimmy and his mother acquired none of these earthly treasures. Their lives echoed Lamentations 3:24:

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.”

Their faith in Christ Jesus sparkled as brightly as the New England sunshine casting its rays on the snow-covered hilltops. Mother and son delighted in God, praising him for his unending goodness. They were the rich ones, indeed.

***

I snapped back to the conversation with the woman in front of me. She had paused, inquiring if I was doing well?

I nodded, adding that this past year had been both broken and beautiful. God is faithful, I added, meaning it whole-heartedly, always at work.

I think it was her turn to fade away, as she fumbled for her tweeting cell phone. We said goodbye with an awkward wave. I watched her retreat into the distance, clothed in her expensive coat and handbag.

She had everything, and nothing at all.

***

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 ESV)

Thank You

As we bid adieu to 2021, I want to thank you for granting me your time.

My blog is certainly not required reading for anyone, and I appreciate you choosing to linger in this quiet corner. As a writer, I am so grateful to have a home for my words to dwell.

God chooses my readers, and I take none of you for granted.

I write to remember what God has done and is doing. He is good and faithful and purposeful and unchanging, and it is my prayer that the stories I share might deepen your walk with him.

And if you are new here, welcome. I have chosen to finish 2021 with some of my readers’ favorite posts from the past twelve months.

Happy New Year!

Things We Remember

Keep Your Soul Diligently

Humility Precedes Him

Unspoken

Remembering Finn

The Secret Things

Please Stay

Tell the Truth

Flesh and Bone

I Do and I Will

This is Advent

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:

Jesus.

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.

There You Are

My Grandpa lit up a room with his warm smile. I was delighted to observe how people naturally swarmed to him. Everyone knew Bob. He was the quintessential gentleman in a suit and tie and camel trench coat, smelling faintly of aftershave and peppermints. His facial features were large, even though he was not.

His heart was magnificent.

No wonder Grandpa was a successful salesman. He was deeply good with people, and that was his golden charm. He could not cook, (Bob cannot even boil water, moaned my grandmother, phone cord stretched to a fare-thee-well as she gossiped to her friends while stirring dinner) nor was he handy with household repairs, relying heavily on duct tape to patch things up.

He puttered at the local hardware store many Saturday mornings, looking dapper in his weekend jeans and Ivy hat. Grandpa was there for conversation, purchasing tools he would never use, in order to Give the fellows some friendly business, Kristin.

He served by way of conversation. Direct and graciously honest, he dismantled all smoke and mirrors with plain speech, seeking others out, inquiring about their interests, meeting them right where they were, always abounding in friendly care. (Once, while he and Grandma were visiting our church, he noted our pastor’s threadbare sports coat, his keen eyes traveling the row of endless children in this minister’s family. Grandpa spent the next day hatching a plan to quietly assimilate the necessary measurements in order to purchase two brand new suites. Which he did, delivered anonymously, so as not to embarrass. I was sworn to secrecy, and kept my promise, beaming at the magnanimity of my grandfather.)

Grandpa was winsome: his inherent ability to connect with others was magical. He was popular with others mainly because he never tried to be.

There you are, his eyes spoke kindly, offering me, his shy granddaughter, an arm, treating me like royalty as we entered church, or a store, or a restaurant.

If Grandpa had one besetting sin it was his quick temper, which was utterly forgivable, seeing that it soared only to defend his loved ones. He seemed incapable of nursing a grudge and was quick to forgive.

Once, when I was an infant, visiting Grandpa’s and Grandma’s church, my mother dropped me off in the large nursery prior to the service. The sermon was scarcely over when Grandpa hot-footed it to retrieve me, eager to show off his only granddaughter.

The nursery attendant, who knew my grandparents quite well, refused to hand me over the half-door.

Rules are rules, Bob. We may only return her to the person who dropped her off.

He was livid.

But I am her grandfather!

The woman raised an eyebrow but would not budge.

Grandpa’s eyes widened, as they always did when he meant business. He swirled through the crowd in a huff, tracking down my mother. After a few minutes, his temper melted to reason, and he circled back to the nursery attendant to thank her and to apologize for his ire.

You were only doing your job, and I see now that Kristin is quite safe in our nursery.

It was endearing how quickly he recognized his wrongs.

Safety through protection remained his native tongue, love in the highest form. He shielded me from things like a creepy cousin, an unusual great-grandfather, and even from my own despair.

***

One year, when I was at the tender age of eleven, that uncomfortable time in a child’s life where everything feels in between and awkward, my aunt announced that she was going to forge her way into the hair cutting industry.

She was flush with ideas that typically fizzled, given time. She was going to become a concert pianist, an accomplished cook, an artist who painted and stenciled cloth bags, and then a professional Christmas crafter. But nothing stuck. I felt her pulsing unsteadiness. She was the mother of two sons and zero daughters, which remained a cosmic sticking point in our family tree. Desperately pining for a daughter, I felt her tracing my movements, eyes narrowed. I was that sore, perpetual reminder of what she lacked. It felt oppressive, as though I had done something dreadful.

To this day, I do not understand why I was allowed to be her hair-cutting victim. I have a few theories, but whatever the actual reasons, I knew I did not want her touching my hair, which in my opinion was far too short already. In fact, I was desperately trying to grow my hair longer before middle school. No matter. I was instructed to ascend the chair, and allow my aunt to practice her newly-discovered passion.

I was her first and last client.

I remember looking down, past the black cape draped over my shoulders, beyond my flip-flops, at the impossible inches of straight blonde clippings scattered upon the kitchen floor. I felt tears welling, seeing the clear evidence that it was now too late.

It will be a cold day in July before she cuts Kristin’s hair again, my father muttered to my mother on our way home, which was no consolation whatsoever. It was done, and I walked into my bedroom and stared in the mirror, gasping. My hair was jagged and gone.

***

Things worsened.

The next week, I followed my mother into a local market, and the woman behind the counter smiled at me as she totaled our produce, before asking my mother if her son wanted to carry the grocery bags.

I sat in the car, numb, the entire ride home. This isn’t happening, This isn’t happening, This isn’t happening.

Once home, I slipped off to the bathroom and hovered over the edge of the tub, sobbing while covering my mouth to keep quiet, feeling ugly and hopeless and quite helpless.

When Grandpa found out what had happened at the market, he hit the roof, eyes bugging out.

She said what to my beautiful granddaughter? Is she blind? You are the prettiest girl in town. I am going there tomorrow to set her straight.

Once he settled down, he found me. Just wait until you are sixteen. I will be fighting the boys off with a crowbar.

He smiled. And your hair will grow back soon.

What he meant was: There you are, no matter what.

I felt a spark of hope. Grandpa never lied, and he still cared, regardless of my outward appearance. His belief, measured futuristically, illuminated a path out of my current state. It was a promise to cling to, a promise which carried me through.

***

The next weekend, he and Grandma whisked me off to the mall. Grandpa steered me through Jordan Marsh, plunking clothes on the sales counter as he opened his wallet and expanded my wardrobe with purple and pink.

Of course he did. I see now that it was the only thing that could be done to restore my femininity until my hair had time to grow.

There you are.

The future felt lighter, brighter as we returned to their home on Washington Street, and I unpacked my bags, swirling in front of the mirror like a ballerina. Grandpa made everything sparkle.

***

My hair eventually grew back, and I made it to sixteen. The boys came calling, just as Grandpa had promised, and he met each date, except the one whose last name I stole.

***

One frigid January evening, my sophomore year in college, a mere seven months before I met my future husband, our dorm room phone rang ominously. Grandpa’s painful battle with cancer was over. I only remember crying, the phone cord pulled into my dorm hallway as I doubled over on the shiny floor. I have no memory of flying home for the service, nor do I recall the funeral itself. It is the internment I remember, the silent cry that rose in my throat as I dropped to my knees on the frost-covered ground, weeping as they sprinkled his casket with dirt.

He is with God now, everyone said, meaning to comfort. But at age nineteen, all I longed for was one more afternoon to spend with Grandpa.

As it goes, memories of him, seasoned with time, are sweet, thirty years later. I am surprised to remember so much happiness; the measure of his kindnesses, his selflessness, his love. His grandfatherly instincts were unique, stemming from his strong faith in God.

Not everyone has parents or grandparents who model the heart of God the Father. But rest assured, if you are in Christ, then God has chosen you, regardless of appearance, or intelligence, or social status.

God has called you by name, and you are his.

You are his beloved.

Timeless

This week’s story weighs 14 pounds and is beyond handsome. Our grandson is currently napping in the crook of my arm, limp and peaceful, smiling in his sleep. It is delightful.

But I must give you something lovely to read this week before Thanksgiving, a pause from the dicing and chopping, table setting and dusting, as you smooth sheets over guest beds, and prepare to stuff that magnificent turkey and bow in praise to God for his never-ending goodness.

I have chosen the writings of another to share this week, a timeless tale of selflessness and kindness and true love.

Enjoy. It is one of my favorite short stories of all time.