Boundaries

As a little girl, I grew up in an expansive old New England farmhouse. The white house had been divided up into four apartment-type dwellings, and sat upon a beautiful piece of land. My brother and I had complete run of the yard, plus the field, gardens, and wooded area. Across the street was a pond and a small dam. We borrowed Mr. Golden’s tin rowboat and paddled all around, catching turtles, frogs, and small fish. We spent most of our play time outdoors in the fresh air. I loved that house and was sad when we eventually moved.

It was not difficult to know my boundaries at that house. Some of the vegetable gardens were staked off, other flower gardens we were told were off limits. Distinct property lines included an ancient stone wall. The neighbor’s field began after our woods, and I never stepped into it. Further down the street houses were divided by white picket fences, all whitewashed and pretty. They were not there for their beauty….they marked ownership and boundary lines. Those boundaries provided a source of safety and oddly enough, freedom.

Limits always produce freedom. Just watch children. It doesn’t take one hot minute to recognize which children are favored with boundaries that have been set and guarded. Most often the happiest children are the ones who understand that boundaries mean safety and the freedom to be themselves within those healthy limits.

Physically marked boundaries are obvious. Personal and emotional boundaries are often trickier. And if we do not build them, we will never be the whole person that the Lord desires us to be; his workmanship. We will be stunted and either frustrated, sad, or angry. Not to mention exhausted.

Recently, I have had to guard my heart with emotional boundaries. (Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23 NIV) This sometimes looks like sweeping a soft path away from a broken person who is inflicting pain, or other times looks like hammering a picket fence that allows the breeze to blow through, but definitively marks what will not be permitted to enter. We cannot change others, (that is the work of the Holy Spirit) but we may change what we allow to hurt our heart. If we do what we’ve always done, we will get what we always got.

One summer when I was perhaps ten, our family and extended family was vacationing on Cape Cod. Every day my grandparents would give us a handful of loose change to walk a half mile to buy penny candy at the corner store. This ended up being my brother, 2 cousins named Jim and Steve, and myself. Steve was harmless, but Jim was a sneaky and miserable kid. He caused problems wherever he landed.

We always raced from the candy store back to the cottage. Jim, who was bent on winning everything, would inevitably trip one of us to gain an advantage, or cheat with a head start. It was getting pretty annoying, but I did not say anything. I respected the boundaries of others, but had absolutely no boundary fence of my own. I had fashioned an idol out of peace-keeping, rather than being a good and objective truth-teller.

On the last day of vacation, we held our final race. This was it. I had had as much of my cheating cousin as I could take. I was determined to win this race. For the first bit Jim and I were neck and neck. Then I mustered up some determination and increased my speed. The cottage was in sight and I knew I could do this. My heart was racing and I was smiling. Just as I reached the foot of the cottage steps, I felt a pull on the bottom of my t-shirt, and suddenly I was falling backwards. I landed with a painful thump as Jim started of the steps.

“I won!” he gloated.

Something snapped inside of me, which up until this point in my life had never quite shown up. I flew up those steps, and as Jim reached for the screen door, I put my arm in front of his neck and pushed him. Hard. I flew into the cottage, and to the surprise of every adult announced loudly that I had had enough of Jim and his cheating ways.

Unknowingly, I had created a new boundary with my cousin that would remain. He continued to be a problem, but interestingly enough he left me alone. It had taken me at least five years of suffering to say enough.

Take it from me, it is better to trust in the God that created you and loves you. Your worth comes from Him. If you know this deep down in your bones, you will not be a people-pleaser and enabler, but a truth-teller. This does not mean pain will end; on the contrary. But you will have a clean and honest life before others and God.

Boundaries are not the same as walls. Walls block out everyone. Walls silence all conversation. Boundaries are fences that keep most toxicity out. One can gently converse over a fence, while maintaining a measure of safety and protection and limitation.

To be clear, some people do not like to be given limits, or boundaries. Pay attention. In my experience, every person who throws up their hands at healthy boundaries, are the very people from whom you must guard your heart.

Jesus was the ultimate boundary setter. He served, and then retreated to rest. He knew his purpose, and carried it out in an unhurried way. Often, if you read the gospels, Jesus did not do what everyone else wanted or expected him to do. He did not chase people down, but went steadily about the work that God had planned for him. He disappointed many, but it did not matter, because his focus was upon God alone.

Seasons

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)

     I grew up wrapped in the dazzling seasons of New England. After I married, and moved to Florida, the novelty of beaches and heat quickly dissipated, and a tiny seed of sorrow was born. It festered every single September for the next twenty-five years.

     New England summers typically hold only a couple of unbearably humid weeks. Older folks sip sun tea, no sugar only lemon please, fanning themselves and remembering when. The New England coastlines are summertime magnificent:  jagged and historic with cold blue waves and long jetties and beaches meant for walking and scavenging for sea glass and shells.

     Fall arrives: Oh September, a beauty! The air holds promise; leaves blushing crimson, fire orange, and gold. This is the season I treasured most, inhaling deeply, deeply. As a child I pondered the beauty; savoring and feeling God’s embrace through every outdoor adventure.

     As the autumn leaves begin to crisp, winter coats are plucked from cedar chests and LL Bean boots are readied by the door. Winter is necessary death; cold and still and stunning. A benediction to former seasons. Snowfalls hush then muffle, fireplaces roar and cheeks pinken with hot drinks and extra plaid blankets. There is outdoor play, but more so puzzles, movies and books.

     And spring. The apple blossoms and lilacs sing white and purple, their scent pungent and life-giving. The entire area awakens, and winter apparel is shelved for windbreakers, thin sweaters, and raincoats.

     This is the exquisite warp and woof of abiding in four seasons.

     What I warred against for a quarter of a century, was the aching to return to a life of seasons versus choosing to nurture contentment precisely where God had placed me. Truthfully, I did not feel well in the blazing and stifling humidity of Florida. And our hottest month was September, the time that ushered in the crisp fall of my childhood. I struggled with grumpiness and longing to once again inhabit a space where seasons were definitive. I was aware of my edginess; a spirit that did not give praise to my Creator. And when I was able to tame my tongue, I was unsuccessful in taming my irritated heart.

     What does this reveal about me? While I believe that place matters, and that God designed us with preferences, how does this mesh with living a crucified life? The Hall of Faith chapter found in Hebrews 11, pays honor to those who obeyed and followed the Lord, not for this earthly life and homeland, but for heaven. God is pleased with their heavenly gaze, so much so in fact, that He is preparing a city for them.

     As I have lived conflictedly, trying to untangle the strings of my life, I vacillate. I have followed my husband, our family’s spiritual leader, through many physical and difficult moves, supporting him fully. I have felt like Abraham, living a ministry of leaving without knowing where we are going. But even in this, I ached for what I did not have and inwardly moaned.

     And now, pecking away at my computer, I know I can write winsomely about the flush of fall, the cold snap of a winter’s day, the chirping of spring, and the Cape Cod lobster rolls of summer. It does not change the fact that I bowed my affections to seasons, worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. If I had bent low to God, I would have been content in Him, regardless of place.

     We recently moved to Virginia, and the state and seasons are stunning. Interestingly enough, months before my husband applied for this pastorate, I wrestled with God. One day, in an act of surrender, with tears of relief, I told Jon that I would willingly follow him to any pastorate of God’s leading. Even if that meant staying in Florida. Forever. A weight flew off of me, even as I knew that we would remain seasonless. I had wrestled and laid down my will. Within several months, Jon was hired in Virginia.

     Place matters; just not as much as my heart’s posture. A Chinese proverb says:  The strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink. I write to remember. 

Small Things

I like the small side of life. Those little beauties that are often overlooked. Tiny things, when noticed and appreciated, create a thankful heart posture and a rich life.

Hand written notes sent by stamp, a newly fallen maple leaf in autumn, the sizzle of an outdoor grill, hoodies on a chilly day, a sparkling clean kitchen, freshly cut flowers on the dining room table, an “I’m just thinking about you” text, a magnificent book I cannot put down, handing cash to a homeless person, a long walk with a friend, a dog giving me her paw, family dinners, lavishing a gift upon someone just because, that one Bible verse leaping off of the page and suddenly making sense as the Holy Spirit nudges.

Our particular sphere of influence may be small, but I am remembering today that that specific sphere is also a gift from God. He plants us in different locations for seasons of life, and he gently calls us to be faithful wherever that may be. We do not know our own future, and that is as it should be. We are not God.

1 Corinthians 3: 6-7 (NASB) says: I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

Steady faithfulness shines brightly in the midst of division and anger and broken relationships. We do not cause anyone to grow spiritually. If we are humble and faithful, willing to be guided and corrected, the Lord God will bring about growth in His timing. It is not our work to save anyone; that is a work of God as we encourage and teach and pray. Those small kindnesses, and little acts of faithfulness are never wasted. God uses them all.

Many times, as we face hardship and pain, it is easy to forget the small joys and beauty that God has given us. Do, do, do. Always frantic, always working, joy-less. This always becomes self-focused, causing more harm; never gracious.

There is a beckoning; a better way if you choose to listen. Stop the striving, and serve with joy. Striving is working to earn a place of recognition, it is burdensome and weighed down and complaining and heavy. This is easy to spot in others, but difficult to call out in myself. Serving with joy is more like “my burden is easy and my yoke is light.” The doing is not frantic, but giving, peaceful, and happy. This serving will still be a sacrifice of time and perhaps money, but it is wrapped up beautifully with a bow of peace.

When I was small, I remember holding my grandfather’s hand somewhere in Downtown Boston one Sunday after church. We were making our way to Legal Sea Foods restaurant, where I always ordered my favorite clam chowder. My grandfather lavished his family with good gifts, and going out to fancy restaurants was one of them. I always felt important to him, mainly because he spoke my love language of gift-giving. And with each gift, he never once reminded me of what he had done for me in the past; and this, too, was another gift in itself. I felt honored, and cherished, and important.

That day, as we were walking, we passed a fountain. I looked over the edge, and noticed what seemed to be a million coins: pennies, nickels, dimes, and even quarters, covered in the fountain water. That is a wishing well. Make a wish and it might come true! My Grandpa handed me some loose change from his pocket, and I tossed it, making my wish.

Most adults were walking by, ignoring the wishing fountain, and the treasure that lay within arms reach. I think I am sometimes like that: the riches of God are within reach, and I am oft that foolish person, walking right by treasure that is mine for the taking. I would rather work things out on my own, ignoring the small joys of life, working, working to earn something that I have already been given.

So I am thankful for small things today. I am also thankful for God’s goodness, and forgiveness, and mercy. Those big things that He lavishes upon his children.

Beauty

Fifteen years ago, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I settled onto our soft living room carpet, plucked Parade magazine from the bundled newspaper, and flipped to the back pages. With my husband and children napping, I looked forward to this simple weekly pleasure. Those were the days when Parade’s writing was mostly thoughtful.

On this Sunday, an editorial was written by a man whose wife had spent an inordinate amount of time and money on cold creams to stop the premature wrinkling of her skin.  It is one thing to spy crows’ feet at age thirty, but this woman had begun wrinkling in her twenties, and by the time the article was written, she was nearing fifty but looked far older. She was not a vain woman but nevertheless ached to give her husband a beautiful face to love.

I only wish that I had kept a copy of his writing. (I spent a few minutes searching, but so far nothing.) The author’s words pulsed with devotion and unconditional love for his wife. He wanted no part of lotions and creams. He told her every day that she was the most breathtaking woman he knew. I still remember how my heart swelled with the idea of such a devotion despite the world’s opinion. We all ache for such a human love.

John O’Donohue, the late philosopher, said that the world mistakes glamour for beauty. Yes. And the glamour is not even real. It is airbrushed and obsessive and restrictive in all of the wrong ways.


Which reminds me…

Two years ago, our neighbor died of a heart attack in her bed one January night. She was fifty-five years old. Within a week, her sister Brenda arrived to clean and sell all possessions before putting the little yellow house on the market.

Brenda was breathtakingly lovely. She was tall and large-boned and hugely overweight. Her hair had thinned down to wisps after enduring chemotherapy and surviving breast cancer. A large mole clung to the tip of her nose, her eyes were squinty, and her clothing was ill-fitting. She spoke kindly, expressed genuine appreciation for the smallest things, gave away quality belongings of her late sister to neighbors, and accepted all help graciously and without apology. She shared challenges in her own life with an authenticity that, for me, was unprecedented.  And despite her own recent trials, she listened well, laughed loudly, and loved big.

Imagine if we all were this beautiful.

Flimsy Hearts

“It is not good for man to be alone.” ~God (Genesis 2:18)

God spoke these words in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago. I wonder if a hush fell over the garden at that moment. Did the birds stop chirping; did the grizzly pause his berry hunt? Did Adam raise his arms heavenward in thanksgiving? Perhaps there was silence as the man formed of dust fell asleep and God built Eve from his rib. This word from God is proof that people need people. We need more than God…we need each other.

And then, when Eve was created and Adam woke up, what was said? We know that they were in perfect communion with each other and with God during this time in the garden. My mind has difficulty imagining untainted relationships. Communication free from misunderstanding and selfish intent. There were no ugly motives then, prior to the slithering snake named Deceiver.

Adam and Eve had everything they could ever want or imagine: food, drink, beauty, one another, companionship with God, safety, and love. The only thing they did not own was the highest ruling power position of all. And when they were given one rule and one rule only: do not touch or eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a door in their human hearts cracked open, so slightly. They became consumed with that one thing that was forbidden. At first touch it scorched deep and hurt but it was too late. A scar remained. Proof of wrongdoing and shame. All of mankind was injured that day.

Are we not  a mirror image of Adam and Eve? The Father of Lies whispers sweetly to our flimsy hearts. He is crafty and lovely, at first. The ugly horror of his persona is hidden until after he has hooked us, his willing prey, and we are left with our painful wretchedness and the sad aftermath it always ushers in.

Eve was created to help her Adam. Adam needed her; she brought strengths to this first of all marriages that Adam did not have. She was also the weaker vessel, and relied upon Adam’s protection and wisdom. Without Adam guarding, she heeded the wrong voice, that of the Deceiver. That bite of the lusted forbidden fruit turned to ashes in her mouth as she recognized her first sin. The garden was defiled.

God cursed his disobedient children. Eve was now destined to desire to rule her husband, going against the grain of God’s initial design. Childbirth would be utter agony. And Adam could no longer meander in the garden at his own leisure. He now had to work all the day long to simply survive. Planting and harvesting and hunting. Labor would exhaust him; provoking irritability. His passivity cost dearly, as did Eve’s disobedience in touching the fruit.

Talk of biblical submission is taboo in many churches today. I believe it is greatly misunderstood. Submission, when lived out God’s way, looks much like a man on his knees pleading with God for wisdom, and upon receiving it, gently loving his wife and children, while protectively guiding them in God’s ways. He gives his life for his bride, as Jesus offered up himself for the church. It looks like joyful servant-hood and wisdom, willing to correct sin and shepherd, taking into account preferences that are not his. It is never heavy-handed, even though the husband will answer to the Lord for being the head.

Biblical submission looks a lot like a wife joyfully helping her husband in his life’s work. How does this flesh out? Each woman should ask her own husband. What is helpful to some, might not be helpful to another. Respect rules the day, as does servant-hood. Titus 2:5: to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. A submissive wife is ruled by kindness and goodness and truth. She uses her gifts to create peace and beauty for her husband and family. She does not disparage, but speaks truth in love to her husband.

But sin.

Humans are footprints of Adam and Eve. We are corrupt and sinful beings. Every time I desire to rule over my husband, and roll my eyes, I am proof of the curse. The footprint of Eve. Every time my husband does not protect, guarding against evil, or grows passive, he is living the footprint of Adam. All of us fail, but perhaps we would struggle less if we recognized the principalities we are battling: the pride of Satan, that wicked serpent of deceit.

Our sins are like octopus’s tentacles: far reaching, entangling, with a mighty and relentless grip. The only way to disentangle and save is to cut off the tentacles quickly, brutally.

We need each other. We need to be willing to wound each other with the truth of God’s Word, calling out sin and killing it, eradicating the infection and freeing us to heal and thrive.

Who You Are

My second grade teacher called me to her desk. I was nervous.

“I thought you should know you did an excellent job writing your story, Kristin. Nicely done!” I glanced at my paper and noticed a large smiley face with the words “Good job!” flooding the top margin.

My heart skipped a beat. I was excited and embarrassed and suddenly aching to tell her writing was my favorite, but instead stayed quiet. I was not accustomed to genuine and effusive compliments. Reading, writing and spelling were not work; they felt as effortless as breathing. Math and geography were achingly difficult. I had a hard time comprehending and retaining the lessons taught in those subjects.

Miss White smiled big and her dangling silver earrings shimmered. I loved her for her kindness and for her firm control of the classroom. No one got away with teasing or cheating or lying on her watch, and it culminated in a safe and peaceful classroom.

On National Starvation Awareness Day some people in our community chose to go without food to raise money for the hungry children in Africa. On that particular day during my second grade year, my best friend Melinda was sent to school without her lunchbox. Skipping breakfast that day as well, she was ravenous by the time we arrived at the cafeteria, but would not accept food from any of us. Mom wants me to understand the African kids, she said sadly.

The fall weather was stunning that day, leaves all crimson orange and yellow. We played tag in the crisp air during recess, but Melinda was listless. By the time we returned from the playground, she whispered to me that her stomach felt funny and she might faint.

I had to do something for my friend. So I explained the story to Miss White.

A fire danced in her eyes, and her lips tightened. Melinda, have you eaten today?

No. My Mom said I couldn’t because it is Hunger Awareness Day.

Miss White reached into her L.L. Bean bag. She fished out a granola bar and a shiny apple.

Eat these, dear. Don’t worry, I will call your mother and explain. Your body requires energy to get your schoolwork done. In my classroom all students will eat lunch every single day. Now eat up, and pronto!

Melinda gulped them down.

I loved Miss White with my whole 7-year-old heart that day. She was protective and fair and brave. She did the right thing no matter what and it was exceptional. She operated from a place of wisdom, and it made her trustworthy in my eyes.

That second grade year was also pure joy because Miss White brought her faithful companion to class every single Friday. Her gigantic Sheep Dog, Chinook. He licked my face as I hugged him tight. I longed for a dog of my very own, and prayed about the matter every night. Chinook made waiting more bearable, and I simply loved him. Miss White understood who adored her dog, who was indifferent, and who feared dogs in general. She made this a part of our classroom learning which was an admirable feat for one woman with twenty students.

******

In my experience, most people do not change too much from who they were as children. The above story pretty much sums me up today: my love of written words and stories and autumn and dogs, my protectiveness over those that I hold dear, my appreciation for fairness and justice, my admiration for people who do the right thing regardless of consequences, my discomfort in being the center of attention or receiving compliments, and my proclivity for holding things close and keeping spoken words to myself.

I lost myself a bit when our family entered ministry full time over a decade ago. I felt pressured to conform to the wishes of our congregation, and then when I just couldn’t, I wilted. I had four children at home and I was homeschooling and there were music lessons and sports. Life apart from church was full. I remember one evening a church member telling me that I needed to speak to my sons as their handshakes were “too firm.” They were little kids. I went home and cried. I could not be all of the things to all of the people. I was drowning.

I definitely wouldn’t cry now. I would probably laugh and acknowledge how crazy some folks are, bent on negativity. I have learned that a few issues must be dealt with and quickly, but not every problem is a hair-on-fire situation. The Lord has pulled me through far deeper waters since that day, and even though it stung, and there are deep scars, it also served to refine me. I no longer believe the lie that I must defer to everyone’s whims and wishes. That would be a fool’s errand. It is a relief to part ways with people pleasing, and to live in joyful freedom. God knit me together and formed me. He knows who I am. I am His. I listen to His voice and His directives. He is my Savior and my rock.

Wisdom can come with time, but that is surely not a given. We must contend for our faith, and as our heart bears a posture of submission to the will of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit will overflow. Works give evidence of our faith. I am just now, at age 48, sensing the wonderful equilibrium of faith and works. As my husband says, obey God with your whole heart and everything else will take care of itself. Part of this obedience is to be still and know that He is God, and I am not.

God formed each of us with a specific personality. He also fashioned us with weaknesses. It brings him glory and honor when we cooperate with him and our uniqueness and gladly serve Him in our giftings. It brings Him pleasure when we lean on Him in the midst of our weaknesses and rest in His perfect strength.

As Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where do I feel most glad? It is always doing what God designed me to do.

Before the apostle Paul’s conversion to Christ, he was a strong leader, working against Christians. He was bold, direct, energetic, fervent, and powerful. He murdered believers and worked for Satan. When the Lord called the apostle to himself, did his personality change? I have been pondering this, and I believe the answer is no.

God fashioned Paul purposefully with those characteristics. When he accepted Christ, his heart softened, he became a new creature in Christ as his loyalties changed. But those traits, designed by the Creator did not. Paul served the Lord as a strong leader: bold, direct, energetic, fervent, and powerful. He was a mighty Christian, recognizing his own sin and weaknesses, while embracing his natural giftings and serving God. This is clear in much of the New Testament.

Being true to who God fashioned you to be can only happen after bending a knee in utter abandon to him. Grasp your life and offer it up, up to the Lord. Abandon sin. Cultivate a heart of ongoing and humble repentance. Then enjoy who he created you to be. Shut out the noise of the critics. You now serve an audience of One.

I Seek

I seek to be:

Unoffendable in spirit,

Generous as far as I am able,

a care-filled writer and gentle truth-teller who is daily

Doing the hard work of repentance,

honest writing,

and loving my family well.

Unoffendable in spirit. Being unoffendable is a choice that requires practice, and leads to a satisfied heart in Christ, not situations. It is grateful and happy. When someone offends, my gut instinct is to rehearse the wrongs done. This fosters bitterness, and eats away at peace. It is a relief to let the offense go, and carry on with life!

Generous as far as I am able. Everyone is battling something, and everyone has pain. I want to grow in grace, generously extending understanding and compassion, knowing that God sees and judges. “As far as I am able” simply means that there comes a time when a person is known by their fruit, and if it is continually rotten, then generosity granted at this point would become enabling. God alone changes hearts, and there is a time to walk away. It is not my job to fix anyone.

A care-filled writer and gentle truth-teller. Words matter. I love to think of caring for my readers by painting pictures with 26 letters, arranged in countless ways. A care-filled writer shows rather than tells, offers wisdom and truth gently, inviting others to gather around and think. A care-filled writer takes time to write consistently and beautifully, without hurry, without applause.

Honest Writing. Humble words that go beyond being care-filled with gentle truth-telling. Honest writing means sharing truth as best as I am able. A respectful transparency that is tethered to candor. I recently read a piece of writing written by someone I know in real life. If I had not known her, I would have been moved by her words. They sounded care-filled and a word picture was painted. The problem was that it was not honest writing. She took a real life situation and lied seamlessly. This is the opposite of honest writing.

Doing the hard work of repentance. It is a good and holy thing to take a solid look at myself in the mirror. What pride is creeping in? What self-centered attitudes are invading my heart? Am I doing battle with sin, or am I explaining everything away? And then: I am sorry, Lord. Please forgive me and help me to turn my gaze to you. Help my unbelief.

Loving my Family Well. I could write all the livelong day. But this would not be loving my family well. So I will carve out time to write, while being generous in serving my family with the other hours in the week. It is my joy.

Pencil

Oh my goodness. I should have used a pencil.

For over thirty years I have measured and structured my days by keeping a day planner. The styles have varied, and have most recently landed in the month-at-a-glance type. Not too bulky, lays flat, and holds enough space to jot down birthdays and appointments. I simultaneously have an index card under a paperclip that holds the planner open to the proper month. 

On the index card is my daily to-do list. Using various color pens, I write things like, “buy coffee” or “plan next year’s history class” or “schedule eye doctor appointments.” I do not write normal daily things such as Pilates, take a walk, Bible reading, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. Those just happen because those just happen.

I am fond of writing things down, and it delivers inordinate pleasure if it looks pretty. Thus the colored pens, and neat index card and attractive planner. Bless the people who keep all appointments and plans in their phone. They are missing out on the beauty of a straight, clean line crossing through a finished task.

Back in college, I recall using a pencil to write in my planner. Things were prone to change quickly with assignments, social gatherings and the like. I learned quickly that unless I wanted to own stock in white-out, I had better use pencil. Years later, when our children were small, I still used a sharpened Ticonderoga. Our best made plans seemed to flounder weekly, as they are prone to do with little ones. Someone would come down with a fever, or the baby was teething, or I was too tired to attend.

Then our children grew up, and although the pace of life increased, I was no longer cancelling things. I could leave everyone home when I needed to get a cut and highlight, or pick up medication, or meet a friend for coffee. One day I started jotting things down in pretty pen colors in my planner. And life carried on.

Until 2020. Wow. I continue to think of Proverbs 16:9 (ESV):“The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We had BIG things planned for this year, and most of them simply will not happen. It feels tangled and sad and uncomfortable. Yet God has allowed this pandemic and the cancellation of so much. 

My hero, Elisabeth Elliot, famously said, “With acceptance comes peace.” Yes. The posture of our heart will lead to hand-wringing, clenched fists, and anger, or….peace. Have your way, LORD. I love and trust you.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-17 NASB)

In other words, write in pencil. Make plans and hold them loosely. God knows best.

Holding a Face

Lauren, our youngest, was only a month old at the time. I had finished nursing her, and we were rocking, back and forth, slowly in the glider. I hummed, circling her tiny back gently with my hand as I listened to Moody Radio. This was our quiet spell each afternoon; the strong sun filtering through the sheer white curtains and dancing on the pinkest of walls. It was peaceful to hold my bundled baby girl close and whisper plans and dreams and wishes for our future.

Listening to Christian radio was soul balm in those days, too; I was happy but tired with four children under eight, homeschooling our oldest two sons and keeping up with the necessities of life. I steeped in the wisdom and courage and biblical application each radio guest brought to the airwaves.

That day a guest by the name of Dan Allendar was discussing what it meant to bless others in the midst of life, crisis, arguing, and dysfunction. He went on to say something that seared my heart: ultimately, we cannot control anyone else, nor do we determine outcomes. Our job is to pray for other people. As you pray, he continued, imagine tenderly cupping that person’s face; holding them up to the Lord. 

Yes.

Cupping and holding a face. As a child, Frances Hook’s painting, Jesus and the Children, hung in my bedroom. I would lay under my pale blue sheets at night, pretending I was the little girl in the painting being loved by Jesus. His hands, strong and caring, cupped my face. His gaze was more than loving, it was steady; fixed. I even imagined his words to me: I love you and you are mine. I felt safe while gazing at that painting; and sometimes I pressed my hand to his etched face, telling him I loved him.

I kept this to myself, a strong tendency of mine. Then, one day when I was twelve, we moved and the picture was never rehung. But now, patting my baby’s back, I could see that wonderful painting quite clearly.

I am sure Dan Allendar spoke other truths that day, but holding one’s face up high to the Lord in prayer wrapped me like a comforting blanket. I kept rocking Lauren, and as she slept, I began with her; my eyes closed, holding her baby face in sweet surrender and peace to the Lord. An offering. And then slowly my precious family, one by one : Marcus, Jacob, Caleb, and Jon. 

Even now, sixteen years later, in the hush of the evening, when all is still, and sleep eludes, I return to this communion and know that he hears my prayers; he is steadfast and perfect.

Show, Don’t Tell

Feel the difference between the following two pieces of writing?

The day was sunny and warm. Aubrie got her shoes on and called for her dog. She enjoyed taking walks in this spring weather. As she started to walk, she heard someone whistling a song. It was an older neighbor of hers, and he was walking with his wife. The wife smiled at him and they kept on walking. Aubrie noticed a pink tree, and some squirrels. It was windy and the sky was blue. Aubrie was always one to notice things.

******

Aubrie tossed her book onto the sofa and stretched as she stood up. Walking to the window and peeking through the blinds, she smiled to see the sun sparkling on the wet grass and driveway. Finally! Spring had blown in with so much wind and drizzle, and she was ready for a long walk.

“Come on Bear,” she called to her Retriever as she jingled his leash. He wagged and stretched his front paws long. Aubrie tied her sneakers and hooked up Bear. As they exited the driveway, Aubrie breathed deeply. There was nothing like clear spring air, pure and energizing. As she pumped her arms, and Bear trotted alongside, Aubrie heard a whistle. Turning to look over her shoulder, she saw old Mr. Hathaway shuffling along, his wife’s arm tucked into the crook of his. He was whistling a happy tune, and Mrs. Hathaway looked up at his old wrinkled face, grinning. 

Aubrie smiled too, as their joy felt contagious. Even the red bud trees danced and waved, their violet petals ablaze, while chunky squirrels scampered beneath searching for their buried treasures. As a gust of wind surged, Aubrie turned her face up, up towards the sunshine held only by the sheer blue of sky.