Of Philodendrons & Sneakers

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

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

***

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

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

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

I stared at Phil, and then at my husband.

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

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

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

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

I didn’t change anything but kept wondering.

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

And that is when everything changed.

This philodendron grew by leaps and bounds.

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

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

***

Sneakers.

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

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

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

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

So I went for it.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

~Isaiah 37:31

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Seasons of Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, it is my favorite one of all.

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

Enough.

I was chatting with a friend the other day, when they said something that sparked a memory:

You get what you tolerate.

Indeed.

I remember a childhood time when I had tolerated enough.

***

My brother and I grew up palling around with two cousins who were close in age. The four of us were tossed together continually, and for much of our childhood, my brother and I stood on the fringes, wide-eyed as those two brothers beat the living daylights out of each other. It was a common occurrence to watch them pummel each other–rolling around, fists flying at home and even on the grocery store floor, tumbling about the feet of horrified shoppers. They pushed each other off their bikes, chanting: I hate you! The older one was the perpetual instigator, pushing all buttons, inciting his younger brother to brawl. It was a jumbled mess, and the turbulent backdrop of most family gatherings.

In contrast, my brother was my best little friend. We spent afternoons after school breathing in the great outdoors, romping about the fresh countryside, our blond heads warming in the New England sunshine, riding our Big Wheels, capturing frogs and turtles, eating lush raspberries and Concord grapes from the gardens, frolicking in the fields with our beloved pet rabbits who were tethered to fraying, slender ropes. We built forts from branches, rocks, and discarded weathered planks. Together, we spun circles on tire swings, swiveling beneath the squatty crab apple tree, spinning with one sneakered toe twirling in the sand until we grew dizzy, laughing and falling, landing in the soft grass, gazing skyward at the puffy cloud formations.

This lush, ancient farmhouse on vast acreage was our childhood kingdom. It was innocent and it was good. A joy pierced my young heart as I felt the presence of the Almighty in every slant of sunbeam and rush of wind and scent of berry. I worshipped God without having such vocabulary. The flow of seasons was designed by my Creator, and I loved him for granting such golden treasure.

I also loved my brother, and can only remember one time that we engaged in a true-blue fight. We felt so remorseful, so sad following this tussle that we apologized immediately and forgave each another, with hushed pinky-promises not to tell our parents that we had shoved and hit. He was eight and I was nine.

***

The older of our two cousins was a terribly unhappy and ungrateful boy: sullen, nosy, and frightfully mean. He was jealous of anything and everything, one of the most discontented people I had ever met. I was the only granddaughter for a long time, which meant that I was accustomed to being surrounded by boys.

One summer my Grandpa gifted the family with a cottage beach vacation, where the dunes swept high even as the sea grass bent low, dancing in the breeze, while the smell of salt air filled our pretty cottage with a beauty difficult to measure. The word that comes to mind is longing, a tender stirring of my heart towards God. I understood that he was the Author of this dazzling artistry surrounding me; the sky was his mural, the marshes his handiwork. The magnificent power, terror, and purity of the ocean itself prodded me toward God. Such thoughts cascaded through my mind, lighting and sparking my imagination like a fuse, swelling my soul even as I ambled through the kitchen, leaving a speckled trail of beach sand in my wake.

The cousins that summer seemed legion, six of us overlapping in age. The first night of vacation we were sent off to the cottage’s loft to sleep, each with a pillow and sleeping bag–little sardines in a smidgen of a room. While the others were downstairs brushing their teeth, I climbed the ladder into the loft. My older cousin scrambled up behind me.

I unrolled my forest green sleeping bag onto the narrow floor, fluffed my little pillow, and placed my teddy bear neatly in the middle.

As I turned around, my cousin was crawling toward me, undressed from the waist down, and saying: I want to show you something.

I froze in terror.

And then: heavy footsteps flying up the ladder. Suddenly, my cousin was airborne, yanked backwards by the scruff of his neck.

The cavalry had come. Grandpa.

His eyes were ablaze as he shouted. Don’t you ever-

And that is all I remember of that.

It never happened again, as Grandpa had put the living fear into him.

***

Years passed, and this boy remained a problem. He cheated at board games, whined to his parents that everyone else had received a bigger scoop of ice cream than he, and lied about both substantial and inconsequential things.

By and large it was accepted by the family that this was simply his nature. Thereby, we were held hostage, to a certain extent, by this little terrorist.

Such deviant behavior went on for years, and I endured. No one liked his company, especially his own brother. But what could I do? I was a pleaser, a fixer, a firstborn. If I was obedient enough, maybe, just maybe, I could prevent the wretched behaviors of others.

A failing plan if ever there was one.

And then? I turned ten.

And one summer’s day, enough was enough.

***

It was our last year vacationing together at the beach.

I clearly remember that summer because Grandpa surprised me with a t-shirt that I loved. It was maroon, with a yellow duckling on the front. I named him Puddle-duck, and wore the shirt as often as possible.

We lived at the beach those two weeks, walking with our bags and umbrellas and buckets and shovels after breakfast, returning home for peanut butter sandwiches and a rest at high noon. Mid afternoon we flip-flopped back, frolicking in the sand and waves, until returning again to our cottage in time to rinse off in the outdoor shower, washing away the grit of salt and sand before cooking dinner. With so much walking and swimming we slept deeply each night, blissfully clean and sun-kissed, all tan lines and golden hair.

I was a fish then, thriving in the cold water, the waves lapping, swimming for hours on end, collecting periwinkles and hermit crabs, watching them spar like valiant warriors in the bottom of my red pail. Come afternoon, my fingers were like raisins after hours in the sea. I was continually ravenous that summer, as my parents had signed me up for ocean swim lessons, which required heaps of outgoing energy. I was thrilled with these challenging lessons with other children, as we learned to battle the waves and swim incredible distances with proper breathing, measured strokes, and hard-won endurance.

My cousin whined No Fair! until his parents enrolled him, too. In the end, I passed the distance swim test, and he did not. It was not a big deal, a small thing, really. But my cousin grew despondent then angry. Very angry.

It was uncomfortable, as the entire cottage felt his displeasure.

On the last day of vacation, Grandpa generously doled out a few dollars to each of us grandchildren, waving us off to the local five-and-dime. This was a big deal, and we felt quite grown up skipping down the sandy roads to the gray and weathered establishment. We took our sweet time choosing candy treasures: fireballs, candy cigarettes, Necco wafers, wax lips, ring pops, Bubble Yum, and long paper strips of candy dots. The cashier was old and round and friendly, smiling as he placed our loot into our very own, pint-sized paper bags.

I was fairly certain that my cousin pocketed a few pieces of extra candy behind the good cashier’s back, but I was not positive.

My heart began thumping, and I looked at the kind soul ringing up his bill. What should I do?

I stepped out into the sunshine and unwrapped a fat piece of Bubble Yum. I blew some bubbles and practiced my new trick of snapping my gum as my brother grinned. We waited for our cousins.

Finally we started back toward the cottage, a cluster of stair-stepped children comparing bags of candy, and trading pieces.

My cousin turned to me. I have the most candy.

I rolled my eyes at my brother. So Nellie Oleson.

Cousin stared at me, and then: Hey Kristin, wanna race back to the cottage? First one inside wins.

I knew where this was going and felt his pulsing anger: the week of swimming lessons was eating away at this jealous-stricken creature. No one else cared, but he certainly did.

And then I knew. I needed to win this race. I thought of his cheating ways, his incessant lying, his indecency, and now his potential theft, which was the final straw. I was ten years old and this malarkey, as my Grandpa called it, had to end. So I said:

Okay, I’ll race you.

Good, he said. I will count to three.

I nodded, handing my brother my bag of candy, and lining up carefully as my cousin counted:

One….

And he took off, shooting out of the gate.

Once a cheat, always a cheat.

I was done. Finished. Over it. Tired of being swindled by this skinny kid.

So I flew after him, pumping my arms, eyes fastened to the back of his t-shirt.

Slowly, slowly, I gained on him.

The cottage stairs were in view. I sailed passed him, smiling, as my feet ascended step one, step two…

Suddenly, I was tumbling backwards, the back of my Puddle-duck shirt in his clutches. He yanked me down and I landed in a heap, while he climbed past me, flinging open the cottage door and yelling:

Hey everyone! I beat Kristin in a race! His skinny arms were pumping, Rocky Balboa-style.

I sprang up, flung open the cottage door, and yelled:

I’ve had it! He is a liar and a cheat! He did not win fair and square. I have had it!

And with that, I marched to my bedroom and closed the door.

***

I was generally a quiet girl. A rule-follower. I did not seek to rock any boat. A people-pleaser to the hilt.

Until that moment.

For my family to witness this display of outrage over years of injustice was nothing less than shocking.

The story of the race, and what truly happened spilled from my brother’s lips. The silence in that living room following my pronouncement was deafening.

But guess what?

He never bothered me again.

***

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

(Author unknown)

***

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Schooled

When our four children were young, and I was in the throes of homeschooling, I followed a strict inner compass. There were a few things that I was bent on teaching them, and it had nothing to do with worldly recognition, high grades, or prestigious awards.

Mainly, I wanted them to grow and mature in godliness. We sang the books of the Bible together, memorized Scripture, and read God’s Word daily. It was also my aim to teach them to be kind. Academically, I strived to help them become proficient readers and able writers–skills needed for all of life.

Read-alouds reigned supreme, and that is what I miss the most: diving into the good books, together. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Pilgrim’s Progress, Shiloh, Caddie Woodlawn, Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of the Monkeys, Owls in the Family, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Lad: A Dog. I still recall how much we all looked forward to our read-aloud times.

Then there was math–a necessary evil, (in my opinion) because, well…college.

I received much outside help for higher mathematics, given the fact that geometry gave me nightmarish flashbacks to my freshman year of high school. My teacher, Miss O’Neill, of frosted hair, coral lipstick, and smoker’s voice, was as thin as a wisp, gaunt really, which made her appear older than she likely was. She spent the entire class fuming at anyone who did not pick up on the finer details instantly, which was pretty much all of us. Tapping her heeled toe and rolling her narrowed eyes, she tossed up her hand with an irritated: Come on people!

When the bell finally rang, she flung her heavy purse over her shoulder and made a dash for the cement stairwell, landing in the parking lot for a quick drag on a cigarette before next period began. I never fully understood proofs, (still don’t) which is why I did not teach geometry to my children but farmed out those painful lessons. Obtuse, scalene, acute, intersecting, congruent, isosceles? What in the world?

Algebra was far better, thanks to Mr. Munroe. Excellence in teaching is a sweet gifting, isn’t it? And just because a person understands a subject does not mean that he or she should be teaching it. Patience and kindness and classroom leadership come into play, big time.

It was of prime importance to me that my children learned to be timely, meet deadlines, complete chores, and be able to interact with and serve all kinds of people. So we worked together on these things, little by little. I knew that if they could pay attention, heed instruction, welcome constructive criticism, and read and write with ease, then they could learn pretty much anything.

During this time, my husband was pastoring his first church. From time to time, he asked the congregation to stand and read Scripture in unison.

And I was stunned.

The group was unable to read chorally.

Some were reading aloud quickly, blowing through commas as if they were green lights, while refusing to pause for periods. Others were reading so slowly, dragging behind by a good three or four words, oblivious as to the flow. It was terribly distracting, with voices all over the place, so much so that I could not possibly concentrate on the meaning of the verses, which was the entire point in the first place.

So I made it my immediate mission to teach our children the art of choral reading. I am sure they thought it was overkill, which it most certainly was, but I could not live with the notion of them growing up and lagging behind or racing ahead in church. Reading in unison was a skill, a unifier, and we worked it out.

There was another area that bubbled to the surface, mainly because it felt to me like fingernails scraping north to south on a chalkboard. It was a widespread problem: the inability to summarize.

I noticed this issue at church, the grocery store, with friends, even at football practice. Everywhere.

Our children were so, so, cute. Polite. But it was hard for them to endure a longwinded story from a parishioner as I stood in conversation. Take someone’s upcoming surgery, for example. A woman might look heavenward, beginning with the words I was born in Kansas in the year…. and fifteen minutes later she had still not arrived at the ailment prompting a surgery. I can still envision my little ones tugging on my sleeve, eyes wide, shoulders droopy, silently pleading for deliverance. It had been a long morning, church was over, and they were ravenous.

So that is when I sprinkled another couple of features into our homeschool curriculum: the fine art of patient listening, coupled with the art of summary. I had them speak and write four or five sentences to capture that entire movie plot, book, or event from sports practice. We also put diligent effort into becoming a kind and patient listener, and I might have even taught them how to slip in a question in order to break that tedious soliloquy and gently hasten the story towards its conclusion.

After years of summarizing together, I began to notice a stunning benefit: my children’s ease of encapsulating large passages of Scripture into a few sentences. In hindsight, it is simple to realize that summarizing Scripture should have been at the forefront of my mind, rather than summarizing so as not be an annoyance to others.

Monday-morning-quarterbacking is real, I tell you.

And that, my friends, is the truth about homeschooling. As the teaching parent you are able to address pet peeves, and to deal with uncouth habits. I peek back in time now and plainly see the dozens of ways I could have improved as a homeschooling teacher. Time (plus a quiet house) often yields clarity, but God used even small pet peeves of mine to teach my children an important skill for better understanding his Word. Isn’t he wonderful?

Truthfully? No education is perfect because we are not perfect. God was gracious to allow me to serve him as a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling parent, and I thank him for gifting me those years.

This is the first year in forever that I am not homeschooling someone, and while it feels strange, I figure that every now and again I can encourage younger parents in the midst of their labors.

So I will offer this:

If you are new to this homeschooling venture, be patient with yourself and your children. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an education.

Pray over everything, stick with a simple plan while keeping a routine, tell your sweeties that you love them, buy doughnuts on the first day of your schoolyear, and make sure that everyone receives a solid dose of fresh air and sunshine daily. (Teacher included.) Recess is golden. Truly.

Recess and read-alouds.

Our grandson recently turned one, and every time I visit him we read books together. His Daddy, our firstborn, likewise reads to him every night. It is part of their routine, and my heart is bursting. The love of reading has been passed down to a brand-new generation.

Our grandson’s first word was Dada. His second?

Book.

I cannot stop smiling.

His education has already begun.

***

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Wrecking Ball

I sat on our front brick steps early the other morning, delighting in the cooler temperatures, inhaling the vibrant hints of fall. The robust spirit in the air seemed a nod toward future glory. Although autumn means death to leaves, such loss promises resplendent hues: rich, cinnamony reds, burnt orange, deep, buttery, yellows. This seasonal reminder is salve to my wounds. God’s promise is to never leave me nor forsake me. He faithfully turns the pages of life through all seasons.

Pay attention–he is doing so even now.

***

Adios, summer.

It is far more than the scorching sun and sweltering temperatures and drenching humidity that have me handing summer its hat and nudging it out the front door. It has been a long, painful season of sharp change and surging chaos.

While chaos is no friend of mine, I cling to the truth that such mysteries, permitted by God, are always cloaked in his kindness and his good purposes. The more I learn about the Lord, the more I see how little I actually know. The riches of his depths are fathomless. He is in complete control of everything.

Although the pain of this summer will not last forever, scars will remain. I consider the scars on the hands of Christ–those nail wounds of Roman torture which yielded boundless, magnificent beauty. Redemption. Life from death.

The death of my plans and dreams will pave a good and narrow path to God, as I trust him in faith, forever openhanded with my life. (Proverbs 14:12) (Isaiah 55:9) While I understand this truth, such death still hurts, doesn’t it?

Of course it does. It is death.

We are frail bodies cloaked in human flesh and bone. From dust we came and to dust we return. (Genesis 3:19)

But more importantly? We have been fashioned for eternity. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

***

It is that something. That situation which relentlessly slices your days into a before and an after. It is a time period of undeniable precision, a red pin dotting your life’s map, where something was destroyed. Often it is a wrecking ball for all to see: a death, an illness, a job loss.

Wrecking balls were common in bygone days–those massive, cumbersome, spheres of forged steel, which swayed from a crane, gaining momentum before thudding repeatedly into a building. The intent was clear – to demolish an entire structure. It weakened the building as it collided with the walls, until Boom! The entire frame crumbled. Decimated.

Those types of life’s blows knock the wind out of you, don’t they? Everything feels lost, broken, shattered, and the suffering is public. Friends gather to help. People know, and graciously step in to begin the process of helping you rebuild. This is one type of suffering.

There is another sort.

I write this for you. The one with hidden affliction, unparalleled trauma.

Right now there is a sharp, unspeakable torment coursing through your veins. A veiled horror. I liken it to standing barefoot on the beach as the gentle tide laps against your feet. As the waves surge and relent, surge and relent, surge and relent, your feet are gradually buried into the depths of the sand. You don’t move, but slowly begin to sink, stuck. Nothing seems off to others, (how can anything be wrong at this beautiful shore, the sun kissing your face and wind-tossed hair?) but there is an ache so unfathomable that it is hard to even breathe.

Although imperceptible to the world, you are reeling. Broken. Crushed. Alone.

This is the silent wrecking ball.

Gentle Reader, there is Hope.

His name is Jesus. He is near to you, the broken-hearted. He is making all things new.

***

It is tempting to withdraw into a haze of confusion during these afflictions, inviting a spiritual amnesia to linger and set up residence. A sudden forgetfulness that God is Ruler of all. We are so prone to wander, aren’t we?

Stiff-arm the desire to turn inward, pulling and playing with those small, distracting threads which will, given time, unravel your sweater, leaving you chilly and threadbare while simultaneously whispering empty promises of control. Human opinions? They amount to precious little. It is God’s thoughts that are pure and true.

What an ancient fable, a deception, this whole deconstructing one’s faith, placing human ideas and feelings and personal opinions above God–in essence trumping God’s Holy Word. This is nothing more than a faulty assurance that we are captains of our personal ship and may shore up our own destiny with a sprinkle of desire or lofty thinking.

Do you see it for what it is? A dead-end path, enticing all who are not saturating their hearts and minds and souls with God. This lie first presented itself in the early pages of Genesis, as Satan enticed Eve: Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden? (Genesis 3:1-5)

And there it is, only three chapters into the story of the world. The serpent trilling deception: You will not die. You will be like God. Adam and Eve lapped up the lies, and so it began.

Don’t be baited by crafty, seductive voices.

Satan has come to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10) while God comes to give life, and that life is found in our Risen, Conquering Christ. (John 10:11) Run to the Lord in your suffering.

No matter what type of demolition you are wading through, the most comforting fact is to know that nothing is random. (Proverbs 16:33) Isn’t this the sweetest truth? Those seasons of your life that seem a shipwreck of chaos are in fact, permitted by God. This cacophony Satan means for harm, God spins into a sweet, mysterious cadence for our good.

Consider a richly scented candle. The pungent aroma fills the air, offering light and comforting others only when it is on fire, burning down, and melting.

As we wade through suffering, eyes fastened on Christ, our hearts are softened, then melted, becoming a sweet, pleasing aroma.

Suffering well means enduring with humility, knowing that God is near, and that we are not him. We must learn to accept whatever God brings our way.

Suffering poorly is to rage, to grow angry and cold-hearted, distant, and bitter. To suffer poorly is to live in pride. And God goes to war against the proud, the arrogant of heart. (James 4:6)

It is hard to remain a burning candle. I would prefer to be a gigantic eraser rather than a burning flame. Erase this pain! Erase this suffering! Erase this sin! Erase those evil people on mission to destroy!

But God doesn’t choose to erase…he redeems and rebuilds the shattered. He allows brokenness, wrecking balls, with eyes full of compassion and judicious purpose. Eyes of wisdom, knowing that such sufferings are meant to bring us running back to him. He lavishes soul healing as we fling our broken, crippled bones into his arms.

***

Does this sound foolish? Backwards? Perhaps it does, if you don’t trust God.

My friend, pay attention: those wrecking balls of life will reveal the genuine state of your heart.

If you trust in yourself, your sweater will unravel, leaving you cold, frail, and helpless.

Don’t wait for life’s sufferings to happen. Run to Christ now, trusting him even as others neglect him and even continue to sin against you. Forgive them and turn to Life. Leave them in God’s hands. (Psalm 1) God will cover you, protecting you under his wings. (Psalm 91:4)

In the midst of your pain, just think of this: Today is a brand-new day. As God turns the pages of your life, your job is to turn the pages of your Bible. You cannot fully trust or love God until you make it your mission to know Him. And we know him through his Word. It is exciting to read both the Old and New Testaments. To see God working out his promises, bringing every single one to fruition. To see the strength, love, and compassion of Jesus who was sent to die for those whom the Father gave to him. (John 6:37)

***

Grapes must be crushed before becoming juice and wine, yes? And such violent measures result in a drink to remember the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. A physical reminder of our Savior sent to die, crushed in order that we might live.

A crushing sacrifice to cancel our wicked sin, tossing it as far as the east is from the west. Jesus will carry us from earthly shadows to streets of pure gold, in order to present us righteous before God. (1 Peter 3:18)

Trust and obey God. Love him most, our Ruler of all. As wrecking balls assail your frame, Christian, remember that God will keep you and guard you through every single affliction. He is molding you for eternity.

***

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This One’s for You, Jon

In honor of my husband’s 50th, here are fifty things you should know about him.

  1. He was Jonathan until junior high, when his friends suddenly shortened it to Jon. He and his family rolled along with the change which I find both odd and fascinating.
  2. Our dorm floor had a pic-a-date my junior year of college, and I did not want to go. The house rules meant that we had to phone a boy on behalf of our roommate, inviting them on the huge floor date. I told my roommate I was not interested, and she said, Yes Kristin, I know, but if you changed your mind, give me the top three guys you would ask. I looked at her and said, Jon Couch, Jon Couch, Jon Couch. So she called him and he said Yes. I was mad at her for about two seconds.
  3. Jon phoned me the next day and I liked his voice. Very much. The pic-a-date is two whole weeks away, he said. Do you want to go out this weekend? I paused for a second. Well, yes I do.
  4. Jon was called 90210 on campus, because he had long sideburns and hair similar to that of Jason Priestly and Luke Perry. Remember, this was 1992.
  5. The girls on campus (myself included) considered him dreamy.
  6. In fact, one girl on campus chased Jon for months while we were dating. Hey Johnny! she sang out every time she passed him. I rolled my eyes and mouthed Johnny?? Clearly, I am not one for sudden name changes. Praise be, she finally married someone else.
  7. On one of our first dates, we went to Pizza Hut. What is your favorite topping, he asked. Mushrooms, I said. He ordered a mushroom pizza, and as we were talking and eating, I noticed a pile growing under his napkin. Are those mushrooms, I asked. He smiled. Why didn’t you tell me you don’t like them. He waved it off. It’s okay, he said. He still despises mushrooms, and I still adore them.
  8. Jon proposed at that same Pizza Hut on a chilly Sunday night before Thanksgiving.
  9. I said yes.
  10. He tricked me by majoring in Business Administration.
  11. And then after some time in the business world, he became my pastor.
  12. He is the only person I know who chews ice cream.
  13. Corvettes are his specialty.
  14. He played quarterback in high school and college.
  15. I loved his athleticism.
  16. Our fall dates in college were often spent watching football. I learned so much as he patiently explained the game. Once we married, we kept watching.
  17. Good thing, since we would soon have four children who adore the sport.
  18. When our children were little Jon played with them after work every night. Legos, games of catch, stuffed animals. I’ve never known a father to get down on the floor and play so consistently.
  19. Some folks frequent theme parks, or travel the country by motorhome, or play video games. Not us. We played backyard football and watched college football and NFL. It was our thing, and still is.
  20. Jon was responsible for teaching all four of our children how to properly throw and catch, and it worked.
  21. Jon is always encouraging others.
  22. He does not cook.
  23. We are so, so, different.
  24. I have specific favorites of everything, while he does not.
  25. This being said, he was exceedingly particular about choosing our children’s names. I loved him for it.
  26. He delights in soft, chocolate chip cookies.
  27. When our oldest was four, Jon told me that he could not bear the idea of putting him into public school.
  28. So we didn’t.
  29. Jon was the biggest supporter of our home schooling for almost a quarter of a century.
  30. He quizzed our children nightly on spelling words and math flashcards.
  31. Jon prays aloud for our children every single time they call home.
  32. He is always reading and marking his Bible.
  33. I have never seen a more worn, marked Bible than my husband’s.
  34. He has expressive eyebrows.
  35. His eyes are hazel with flecks of light brown.
  36. As a little boy he turned over a trashcan in the back yard and pretended it was a pulpit, and began preaching.
  37. He does not like raspberries.
  38. I think ice cream should be a food group. Jon? Not so much.
  39. But he loves the homemade hot fudge I make.
  40. He preaches and teaches the truth of Scripture.
  41. He is a highly-functioning introvert, and requires a good measure of solitude. (This is the one way we are alike.)
  42. Our favorite times are those spent with our family.
  43. He buys me a Trenta-sized Starbuck’s passion tea with light ice and six stevia nearly every week.
  44. He champions my many hours spent writing.
  45. He spent decades living in Florida, and after three years in my favorite state he loves the cooler temperatures and stunning seasons here in Virginia.
  46. I am still learning things about my husband after twenty-eight years of marriage.
  47. Just recently he plunked down on the floor to play cars with our grandson. It brought back wonderful memories from those olden days with our children.
  48. We have known each other for 30 years.
  49. Our marriage has refined us in ways too numerous to count.
  50. Happy Birthday, dear husband of mine.

***

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Stand & Deliver

I have tried my hand at sales a few times, in seasons of desperation.

It was not pretty.

There was a month-long stint of peddling lotion and makeup products, back when our first son was an infant, after I had lost my job as a nanny.

Jon and I were young and brightly hopeful, pushing the stroller through our apartment complex, knocking on doors, and dropping off catalogs to women of all ages. I began apologizing before I had even extended my arm with the brochure. I am so sorry to bother you, and I apologize for interrupting your day. It was abysmal. I simply did not care one whit about the products I was offering, which was problem number one. But on the upside these lotions and perfumes were affordable, and as I studied my chunky, blue-eyed sweetness perched in his stroller, I knew in the depths of my thudding heart that I would do almost anything to stay home with him.

Honestly? No job could cut across the grain of my natural disposition more than sales. Except perhaps auto racing. Fast cars and curvy curves make me queasy–such wretched motion sickness. I am also opposed to risk.

So naturally I married a salesman turned pastor who adores Corvettes. It all works out splendidly, until he is taking a sharp corner as I white-knuckle it from the passenger seat.

Next up was my brief season of basket selling. Those were back in the olden days when friends held parties to sell dishes, candles, jewelry, you name it. I joined the throngs, showcasing baskets, tossing out practical ideas: stuffing tissues into this one or serving hot, crusty bread in that one, or perhaps hanging this slender beauty on a dark, wrought iron hook for decoration. Those baskets were pricey and lovely, but it was all too much. I preferred to display one, maybe two, not twenty-two.

Also? The sales part of the equation.

Another round of apologies, plus finding myself talking people out of buying more. My speeches were poor, uncomfortable, and rushed. Let’s get this over with type affairs.

Clearly, earning an income from sales was not to be.

I guess you have to enjoy mingling with throngs of people, and fully believe in the something you are peddling.

Which is exactly why, after giving birth to four children, I told my husband that I felt it my high calling to sell epidurals. I was quite serious. We had taken a few childbirth classes prior to our first baby, and we also skipped a few more. I did not want to discuss the intricacies of labor with perfect strangers (is anything discreet?) and was as happy as a clam to read the finer details in the book What to Expect When You are Expecting. I knew myself well enough to know that I would not require a natural, drug-free birth. I was missile-locked on the end result of labor and delivery: a sweet and precious little bundle wrapped up in bits of soft blanket. I favored whatever birth experience that would permit me to endure to the end without shameless screaming.

When the contractions began in earnest and I assumed that I was perhaps dying, I begged my husband to order the epidural. Now. The hospital was bustling that sunny April day, and it took far longer than expected for the anesthesiologist to show up. By the time he eventually sauntered into our room, hours later, I took one look at the size of that lengthy needle and simply closed my eyes while exhorting him to hurry up.

The relief was so fast, so delightful, that I was now able to focus on clutching the living daylights out of my husband’s hand as I delivered our baby boy.

Two years later, on another April morning, our second little beauty entered the world, and again, the epidural worked its magic. Ditto for precious babies three and four.

And that is why I felt called to sell epidurals, which of course never happened.

***

Several months ago I received a call from a friendly woman at the SBC of Virginia, asking me to speak at a small breakout session during their annual gathering this fall.

I wasn’t sure what to say, since I would be more inclined to draft a 1000-page paper. But then she spoke the magic words, enticing me by way of choice: I could speak to women in general, or to pastor’s wives.

Bingo. Epidural take two.

Yes! Pastor’s wives! I accidentally hollered, scaring her, I am quite sure.

It stirs a passion. I might not be a salesperson, but I have a fire in my bones, a longing to offer tired pastor’s wives real encouragement. In fact, I am so excited to offer them hope and truth based on God’s good purposes and promises from Scripture, that it feels much like waiting for a dear baby to arrive. There is preparation and work, but oh! The joy of sharing truth and love with these dear women deep in the trenches of ministry. I will share true stories of my lack, and of God’s faithfulness pushing me to persevere through adversity while burning to know Christ and love him most.

So that is what I am preparing for this fall. Through Hot Fires and Deep Waters is the title of my efforts.

My dear husband doesn’t quite understand that I cannot stand and deliver with ease, speaking with scant notes, as he does from the pulpit. He is gifted in this way, passionately pleading with people to be reconciled to God.

Clearly, I remind him, not everyone is a gifted orator. I am living proof.

One of our sons hatched a perfect plan, encouraging me to fully write my message and simply read it, which is exactly what I will do.

My spiritual mother, Elisabeth Elliot, often shared of the most common way God prepared her for any public speaking. Whatever topic she prepared; God permitted her to be tested repeatedly in that very thing. I have heard her say this time and again on podcasts, and I have thought to myself How wise of God to have refined her in this way.

Which is a sweet thought until you are the one being primed.

Most recently, God has dipped my husband and me into suffering, singeing us in the hot fires, and drenching us in the deepest of waters. (I type that sentence and sigh, realizing how anemic it sounds. In fact, this current suffering has been so awful that I am pretty sure a future book will be born from such adversity. A book to encourage pastors and their families, a book to open the eyes and strengthen the spiritual backbones of Christians seated in the pews.)

But more importantly? God alone, through his Word, has seen me through.

He is my lifeline, and the Bible is my compass. My map leading me to obey God.

So yes, God is preparing me to speak in November, teaching me, showing me endurance by way of sharp pains that feel as painful as childbirth.

This baby is not a helpless little wisp wrapped in a soft blanket, however. What has been born is a stronger, more resilient faith. A heap of perseverance, character, and hope birthed from suffering. God is chiseling me to become more holy, and it is both incredibly painful and deeply good.

My life motto holds true: God is always working and he is always good. This truth blazes throughout Scripture, and this, this, is what I will share with pastor’s wives. I might have scars, battle wounds, but God is unchanging and working all things for his good purposes.

I will say this: being married to your pastor is a little like being strapped into a flying race car while dodging bullets, curves, motion sickness, and on the worst of days, criminals. Not always, mind you. But often.

Be kind and gentle and supportive of your pastor and his family. They are shouldering a weight you cannot always see, and the spiritual warfare is dark, oppressive as they stand for God, fighting for the welfare of your souls.

***

Most of you are probably not in full time ministry, but the same truths apply for all true believers. Life is painful, difficult, filled with trials aplenty.

2 Timothy 3:12 tells us: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. In other words, if your heart is swelling to love and obey God, buckle up.

I write not as a salesperson trying to peddle anything. But I do long to point people to Jesus, our only Hope. I believe so deeply in walking in complete submission and faith to God, that I am willing to stand and deliver. I will offer my deepest fears up to God, allowing him to birth whatever he desires.

Be encouraged today, Christian. Whatever adversities befall you, know that God has ordained every single one for your good. Trust him. Repent of your sins. Strive to be well with God. He is forming you into the very image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

***

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

~Romans 5:2-5

***

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Twenty-Eight

It has only happened a handful of times in our nearly twenty-eight years of marriage. Those wild, swooping ideas that I have proposed.

Again, this is not the norm.

The norm for me is little change. In fact, I find it the highest of compliments when our grown children come to visit, smiling and hugging me with Awww, I love how nothing changes here, Mom, as they pluck their favorite coffee mug from the same cabinet, and find the same half-and-half and creamer on the same shelf in the ordered fridge. The diffusers are running, soft piano music is swirling, the birds are flitting to the feeder, and I am making another pot of coffee.

Place is important to me. A calm, orderly, peaceful atmosphere for my loves.

I eat the same breakfast every morning. I deep clean the same day every week. I write during specified times and read my kindle every single night before going to sleep. Come fall, other than Sundays, I live in hoodies, which I consider the finest clothing invention ever.  I take long looping walks five days per week. This is me.

I hold fast to this notion, penned by Gustave Flaubert: Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

Occasionally, however, I get an idea. An original idea, my husband might add.

***

Early on in our marriage it hit me one day –and I begged my husband to consider buying and running a bed-and-breakfast. I had it all mapped out: We could live in a house next door, and after I served breakfast to our guests, I could walk home and teach our children. They could certainly help with small tasks, and it would be fantastic extra income.

I pictured bagels and plum jelly, soft, fluffy, scrambled eggs, juice, and hot coffee in white bone china cups and saucers. George Winston’s music playing softly in the background –not too loud, not too faint. Each bedroom could be a different color—the blue room with fresh hydrangeas, the pink room with rosebud comforter, the yellow room with fresh daffodils—

Kristin.

I paused, slipping back to reality.

Kristin, think about what you are saying.

Jon is a kind man: non-bossy, empathetic, encouraging, and typically more of a dreamer than I. He is a big-vision man, while I consider the details, (its all in the details I continually chirp) moving things forward with precision.

Sometimes, only sometimes, the roles flip-flop.

This was one of those times.

I looked at him, pleading eyes.

Think about what you are saying. Where, exactly would we get the money to buy this Bed and Breakfast. And even if there was a money tree in our backyard, how would we have time for this? I am at work all day, and your hours are already long with homeschooling and the kids activities, and—

We could make it work! I countered, headed for a slippery slope. My heart started beating hard. I knew he was right.

Listen, you have a full plate. It is hard enough schooling and performing all household chores and paying the bills and running around for sports and lessons. Don’t you think?

I sighed. Yes.

We laugh about it now. I might have been able to whip up clean sheets and bagels and fluffy eggs, but it would have been the death of me.

My next idea was to breed Golden Retrievers. I love Golden Retrievers, and if we could only buy a female and a stud, just think of the delightful pups with papers? What fantastic income, and this could be a family business….

Jon looked at me, quite exhausted.

Where would we keep the litters?

We were living in a narrow parsonage at the time, with four growing children and two dogs, precious little space, plus a marginal checkbook. It was inconceivable.

I clung to my dream.

Maybe the shed?

The shed is full of tools and bikes and rakes and folding chairs and the lawnmower.

Of course it was.

And you like to keep things clean. Do you realize what an ongoing mess eight puppies would mean? For two entire months before they were adopted?

My resolve was burning up in smoke.

The final blow came as our daughter looked up at me.

Mommy, you would never be able to say good-bye to the puppies. We would want to keep them all, wouldn’t we?

And that was the end of that. Out of the mouth of babes.

Years passed.

And then there was a short stint where I wanted to open a spare room to rent out through Air B&B.

That conversation was the briefest of all.

Absolutely not.

Naturally, he was right. Our home is a haven, a retreat, and a pleasure to open to guests. For a meal and conversation. Not as a hotel.

So I guess three propositions in almost twenty-eight years isn’t too terrible, right? And something else I have realized: every one of my daydreams surfaces as fall erupts. Fall is my favorite, and even when we lived in off-the-charts-hot-and-humid-Florida where autumn bliss is nothing more than a pipe dream, I felt hopeful.

I waited for it, pined for it, dredging up memories of the glowing leaves, crisp air, apple picking, fat pumpkins, the change in the wind—

You see how it is.

So yes, fall is my spark. My anything-is-possible-and-let’s-live with-gusto-and-throw-caution-and-reason-to-the-wind!

I have refrained from burdening Jon with the most recent idea that unexpectedly came to mind. I was minding my own business when I read of a man who purchased a laundromat, and within months earned back what he put into it. Although I only schlep large items there once a year, it remains one of my favorite spots. Who needs a vacation when you may gather up your dirty linens and jars of quarters and hotfoot it to the laundromat?

The fresh smells, the swirling, sudsy water, clothes dancing, smooth counters providing space to fold. To finish. To complete. So clean. Not to mention that I find the folks in laundromats to be interesting, kind, humble. Simple folks, down-to-earth, true-blue and settled. My absolutely favorite kind of people. Salt of the earth.

Yes, laundromats are the best.

I can conjure up my husband’s face now, eyebrows raised, his voice mumbling things about sweeping generalizations, money trees in the backyard, the stresses of paying to repair washing machines.

But all I can imagine is that divine scent of clean, warm, sun-kissed detergent and fluffy fabric-softener.

Indeed.

***

Don’t worry, Jon. I will not ask you for a laundromat.

In fact, I finally see that my whims are centered around the same concept: home.

You and I have had our own bed and breakfast with our four children, a bed and breakfast now opened year-round for any that want to drop by. Our family is growing, and we will serve them, won’t we? The Golden Retrievers are snoring at our feet and the washing machine is humming. You have mowed a path in our back woods for grandchildren to drive those small battery-powered vehicles you have told me we will buy. I find this plan of yours to be quite romantic and delightfully fun.

So let’s pick up some bagels and juice, and toast to these twenty-eight years together.

Marriage is holy, hard, and good. It has formed us, hasn’t it?

I love you for staying the course through our ups and downs, in want and in plenty, for better and for worse. You and I are as different as peanut butter and jelly, but what a fine combination we make. God knows precisely what he is doing, and I am thankful.

I love you a bunch and look forward to the next twenty-eight.

Happy Anniversary to us.

P.S. Think about the laundromat idea, okay? Just imagine…

***

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Gifted

He is generous, thoughtful, and direct. A lover of his family. A humble pastor. A servant. Contemplative. Highly competitive on the field. A loud introvert. Coffee-lover. Sports enthusiast. Whip-smart. Comfortable alone, his thoughts faithful companions. A keeper of time and schedule. A logical, yet creative mind.

His love shines hard through texts rather than conversation. His biblical passions arise in his sermons.

This is Caleb. Our firstborn. A deeply kind and slightly mysterious man–in the very best of ways.

This, this is what Natalia has been gifted.

***

Years ago, when we lived over 700 miles apart, Caleb phoned me. At that time, he was in grad school, working on his MDiv. We chatted for a spell and then:

Mom? I am not sure what will happen, but I have met someone. You will love her.

Few details, as is his nature.

And would you believe me if I told you that I knew? Only because I read his tone. Relaxed, confident, happy.

My brother and his family were able to meet this Natalia first, and my sister-in-law texted me that day:

A gem, Kristin. She is a perfect gem.

***

Not so long ago, I was crushed. The reasons were layered and complex, but I was holding up. Few knew my situation, which was for the best.

Natalia approached me, huge eyes sorrowful, and took my hand.

I am so sorry, she said simply and gently, her dark eyes suddenly filling in compassion.

I didn’t have to explain, but I tried, and then just couldn’t. Her soft hand squeezed mine, and she was quiet.

Natalia does this thing when someone is hurting. She looks down and away, granting privacy in grief. Yet she stays– fully present and unmoving. It is a gift as she willingly pauses work, deadlines, chores, everything. To be fully engaged with the hurting.

It is rare and restorative.

Natalia could not fix this particular problem, but she entered a deeply uncomfortable place and set up camp, rallying.

This, this is what my son has been gifted.

***

I was helping with their baby boy, our beautiful grandson, one Friday many months ago. Times were tense, as the baby wasn’t sleeping or feeding well, plus there were pressures mounting at work.

She told me that she and Caleb were struggling, more than she preferred.

I was flung far back to those new-mother days of fragmented sleep, interrupted conversations, bills piling up, jobs to tend.

I also remember discussing these hardships with absolutely no one.

She openly asked my opinion on a specific issue, her words threadbare and honest, admissions that cast her in a less than charming light.

And I thought then of Caleb, who was at work, laboring diligently. I felt the weight he was now shouldering.

So I answered my daughter-in-law directly, honestly. It was not easy, but she asked, and Caleb is my son.

She nodded after I spoke my opinion. You are right, Kristin. And thank you for telling me the truth. I must apologize to Caleb.

Zero whispered excuses, no building a case with But…but….but he!

No hardness in her eyes. Just peaceful ownership and humility.

The fullness of her heart glistened, and she became my teacher that day. I won’t soon forget.

This, this is what my son has been gifted.

***

She calls Caleb: My sweetie, and her voice is soft and pretty.

That was the first thing I noticed when we met her.

Her smooth, gentle voice.

***

As she confessed later, she was nervous that day.

We first met each other up high on those intramural fields, where Caleb was playing football. It was bitterly cold for April– the wind whipping over the mountain that night, stars twinkling. I was shivering.

She waved and hugged each one of us openly, her smile bright, her happiness impossible to contain. Effusive, contagious.

My first thought? Of course he loves her. She lights up the field. Such natural beauty wrapped in joy.

Our conversation was easy. I have since come to discover that Natalia never pretends anything. If she is stressed, she says so. Tired? She goes to sleep. Sad? She cries. Sick? She rests. Happy? She glows.

Everything remains open, genuine, authentic. Unmasked.

This, this is what my son has been gifted.

***

Natalia has twin brothers, eleven years her senior, each married with four daughters between them.

At Natalia’s baby-gender reveal, Caleb fired a rocket into the air. As blue powder flooded the sky, we jumped and screamed and hugged each other with sweet, wild abandon. Her brothers grabbed Caleb, slapping his back in congratulations. Their eyes danced, warm and bright, so like Natalia’s, and their happiness flooded the entire yard.

This is the first grandson for both sides, and with so many little girls perched on the branches of Natalia’s family tree, it is easy to see why some older brothers might have felt envious of those puffy clouds of blue.

Not the case here.

Everything in this family is celebrated in fine fashion, joy filling life’s hard crevices. My husband and Natalia’s father met in the middle, hugging and high-fiving and shouting the beautiful news with all of their might. Two grandfathers, together. Natalia’s mother and I hugged, each of us more reserved than our husbands, understanding one another and celebrating with broad smiles. Two grandmothers, happily sharing our first grandson, together. Even now we pass him back and forth, loving our treasure, this baby boy who holds the features of his father, with his mother’s dark hair and warm brown eyes.

We are all for each other in a way that feels heavenly. The way it should be.

This, this is what Caleb and Natalia have been gifted.

***

I listen when Caleb tells me, months after their wedding day, how slowly Natalia grocery shops.

She picks up every piece of fruit, every can, every package of meat, examining. She takes her time traveling the aisles, looking.

He smiles.

The other week Natalia moved gently about the kitchen, taking time to make us a delicious heated sandwich. She buttered the crusty bread, heating it in the stainless steel pan, and sliced thin tomatoes to slip between the ham and melted cheese. A few sprigs of Arugula and a careful cutting down the middle, and the finished sandwich was divine.

I see clearly how their differences complement each other. Sometimes pausing to slow, to savor, to linger, other moments eyeing the clock in order to fulfill obligations.

And I understand now what I couldn’t always see in the early years of my own marriage: God gifts us with a spouse quite different from ourselves. On purpose. He alone knows how to soften and smooth our edges, nudging us toward patience. And in time, we learn to grow, and flourish, as our roots deepen.

This, this, is what my son has been gifted.

***

I think she was surprised, at first, by how little fanfare I truly prefer.

I like clean, simple lines and spaces. Less is more, less is beautiful to me. I do not want to fill shelves and countertops. I am always tossing, donating, simplifying.

Birthday wishes for me are few: family all together, an ice-cream cake, a gift card, a pot of coffee, a fine walk, time in nature, a favorite movie.

Birthdays for Natalia are balloons and streamers and fancy cakes and games and restaurants and bunches of friends and surprise! surprise! I understand this now.

This, this, is what my son has been gifted.

***

He serves his wife and his son in ways that cause me to catch my breath. His patience has skyrocketed and I know so clearly that God sees, bears witness to the honor he shows his wife. The fruit of the Spirit is lush, ripe, lovely. He labors for his family, makes the baby breakfast, and works amidst broken sleep. He is a fine man.

I told her recently that Caleb has some mystery in his personality.

I love a little mystery she says with an easy laugh.

This, this is what Natalia has been gifted.

***

She told me she thought he was the one on their first date.

Kristin, he made me laugh so hard that my cheeks hurt from smiling!

She looks out the window, and her eyes are dancing, remembering. Her beautiful baby boy, a clone of his Daddy, reaches for her, and she holds him close.

I love you, she tells him with a tender smile and he laughs and claps.

This, this, is what my son has been gifted.

***

She is fun, genuine, open, authentic. She stretches her husband as she knocks and enters that inner soul-space that he inhabits, drawing him out of himself. She cooks delicious meals and welcomes help while cleaning up. He sacrifices his own preferences daily, loving his bride as Christ loves the church.

Together, they have built a family, and a home.

***

Happy Birthday, Natalia.

May your day be full of love, laughter, raucous conversation, loud singing, slow dancing, flowers, balloons, streamers, confetti, baby kisses, fancy cake, and ice cream.

***

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Death is not Dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Death is Not Dying

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

Her heart was melted wax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melted wax.

***

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

Are you ready?

Death is not dying.

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

The Great and Perfect Author is penning our story.

And he will hold us fast.

***

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