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Do You Want to Get Well?

In my quest for freedom from back pain there has been a lot of hard work. I’ve been rowing for three months now. There were many days that I didn’t feel like doing it. At all. But, the payoff has been huge. I was able to go to my mom’s this weekend and do very labor-intensive yardwork, only coming away with minor aches and pains. Praise Jesus! Before, this type of labor would have left me with debilitating pain for months. I am so thankful to be feeling well — it has been worth the work!

When I think about this journey, I am reminded of the man Jesus healed by the pool in John 5. The man has been an invalid, laying by this pool, for 38 years. That’s almost the whole of my life. When Jesus meets him, he asks him this question, “Do you want to get well?” This seems like a wild question to ask someone who has been laying invalid for 38 years! Of course he wants to get well! Or does he want to BE well?

You see, rather than answering Jesus with the resounding “YES” we expect, he immediately makes an excuse. “There’s no one to help me into the pool.” Ahh, how many times have I made a similar excuse? Sure, I want to BE well, but there’s no one to help me GET well. So many people, myself included, want to BE healthy, but we don’t want to put in the effort to get there. Or we want to be a mature Christian, but we don’t want to put in the effort to get there.

Despite the man’s excuse and misdirection from the question, Jesus chooses to heal him, immediately. His power is more than enough for the man’s healing. But there is work on the man’s part that must be done in this healing process. Jesus gives him three instructions: Get up. Take up your mat. Walk.

Can you even imagine the amount of effort and faith that it must have taken for this man, an invalid of nearly 4 decades, to stand up? To lift his mat? To take those first steps? What if Jesus had offered him healing, but the man chose to remain in his crippled state? What if he continued to be unwilling to engage in his healing process? What if he just sat there? He would never have walked into the healing that Jesus offered him.

This is where so many of us live spiritually. Jesus has given us eternal life through his death, and, by the Holy Spirit, everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us the means to BE well spiritually, to be right with God. Are we going to continue sitting in our crippled state, or are we going to walk forward into healing?

Do you want to BE well? Then you have to want to GET well. Jesus has done everything to conquer sin and death so that we are no longer crippled by those. (This is not a matter of earning our salvation through works, or being perfect enough to atone for our own sin.) But we won’t stumble into holiness or patience or faith or forgiveness or humility. Getting well spiritually is a process just like getting well physically. We have to put in the effort just like the man in John 5: Get up. Take up your mat. Start walking.

What this looks like for me is going hard after spiritual wellness by tackling study in the Word in areas where I am weak. I chose rowing because it would target my core, where I was weak, and it is actively strengthening me in that area. If there is an area of your life, spiritual or physical, where you need to be strengthened, follow Jesus’ instructions and go for it. Remember that it is his power that unlocks your healing, but it is your effort that is required to walk out that healing.

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Weeds (part 2): What are You Cultivating?

I shared much earlier this spring about the plant babies I started inside in my bay window – bachelor’s buttons, zinnias, and lavender. I’m always so eager to get my hands in the dirt and see something growing as soon as any hint of spring wafts through the air. My zinnias and bachelor’s buttons took right off, but my lavender just sat there. So, I did some research on growing lavender, and I found out – it’s not all that easy to start from seed. The seeds do best when they’re planted in the fall and can feel the chill of winter before the warmth of spring. I also learned that they can take an incredibly long time to germinate. And when they do germinate, they don’t look like lavender right away (this, as you will see, was a crucial piece of misinformation for me…) So, I didn’t throw out the pot I had started in my bay window. I waited. At long last a tiny sprout emerged. I was so excited. At least one seed had germinated. It didn’t look like lavender, but I was trusting the information I had gleaned online, that it might take time for it to look like lavender.


Here I sit in mid-June, with a plant that is most certainly NOT lavender. The bigger it got, the more my doubts grew. Finally last week I had my plant ID app take a look at it. The confirmation was clear: This is a WEED. I had a good laugh at myself and threw it away.

Look at my lovely weed!

Of course in light of the post I just wrote about the weeds in my hillside garden and the weeds of fear and anxiety in my heart, this new discovery got me thinking along a new line about weeds: What am I cultivating in my life? Am I cultivating things that are healthy and beneficial and desirable, or am I cultivating weedy practices that choke out life giving ones?


I spent some time in the weedy hillside garden this morning. There’s this one really pretty weed – crown vetch. Its leaves are fernlike and dark green. It has lovely light purple flowers all over it. Many have admired this pretty weed, and I did too last spring. That is, until I saw what it is capable of. What looked like a harmless pretty weed that would help stop erosion in the sandy, hillside garden, turned out to be as invasive as all the websites warned me it was. Before too long, I found myself needing to literally rip it limb from limb because it was completely overtaking the other desirable plants in the garden. You can see from these before and after pictures what a giant monster it can quickly become. If I allow it to grow unchecked, it totally takes over the garden. It chokes out the plants that I actually want to be growing.

Before weeding the crown vetch. Can you find the lilies and susans?
After weeding the crown vetch. Hello, plants!

I’ve learned from the weeds that I’ve accidentally and intentionally cultivated in my pots and gardens that I need to consider: What am I cultivating in my life, in my heart and mind? Am I feeding anxious thoughts with more anxious thoughts? Or am I ripping those suckers out as fast as I see them emerge? Am I cultivating a lifestyle of being overly busy and over-committed so that I’m too drained and living in survival mode? Or am I cultivating space, rest, and peace for myself and my family? Am I feeding the cravings of materialism and greed? Or am I exercising self-control and cultivating contentment? If I cultivate unhealthy practices, just like weeds they will quickly grow into monsters and choke out the good things in life.


Because the Bible was written during a time period when the world was largely agrarian, there are many references to sowing, cultivating, soil, reaping, and harvesting. Here are two that speak to the point of this blog.


First, Jesus’ famous parable of the sower with four types of soils encourages us to have hearts that are ready to receive his word, free of hard rocky spots where truth cannot dwell, and free of weeds that will choke out the truth, and protected from “birds” which may be lies of the enemy, distractions, or other pursuits that come and steal the truth (Matthew 13). This passage certainly encourages us to consider what we are cultivating in our hearts. Do our daily practices cultivate truth and give it a place to grow? Or are our hearts to full of bitterness, sin, lies, etc? What are you cultivating?


Second, in Galatians, we find the famous adage, “you reap what you sow.”  Galatians 6:7-8 says,


Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” After this comes the encouragement to continue sowing good: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”


So whatever it is that we are sowing with our lives, that is what we will reap. If we are sowing seeds of busyness, we will find ourselves with an overcrowded schedule. If we are sowing seeds of rest and peace, we will likely find space for those things in our hearts and homes. If we are sowing seeds of fear or anxiety, our hearts and minds will feel troubled. But if we are instead meditating on the truth, then we will experience the freedom that God intends for us to walk in. I don’t know what other kinds of seeds you may be struggling with sowing in your heart and mind, but these are the issues that are foremost in my mind right now.


When I start to sow the wrong kinds of seeds in my heart and mind, I’m going to picture that ridiculous weed that I accidentally grew in my bay window for three months! I’d never intentionally cultivate a weed in my flower garden or bay window! Why would I cultivate one in my heart?! Why would I give anxiety one moment to dwell there, knowing the giant monster it can become? Why would I entertain my fears and what ifs? – cultivating them only makes them more overwhelming. Instead I want to cultivate God’s truth in my heart and mind. I encourage you today to take a moment and assess what you are cultivating in your heart and life. What are you allowing to grow by the seeds that you are sowing? If you don’t like what you find, what changes can you make so that you are sowing seeds that are pleasing to the Lord and building the kind of life you want to live in? Maybe we need to start sowing some new seeds and hacking out the weeds we’ve let grow for far too long.


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Help, I Can’t See!


Winter driving. It’s a whole thing. Snow. Ice. Slush. And don’t forget the lovely salt/dirt combo that coats every car traveling winter roadways in Ohio. What a mess! Thank goodness for windshield washer fluid! Have you ever been out driving on slushy roads and run out of washer fluid? It is quite possibly one of the worst things that can happen. I don’t know if it’s just me or if everyone is VERY bothered by looking through that nasty dry mud/saltwater combo that dries on the windshield. It drives me nuts. Last week I ran out of fluid while I was out, and I didn’t have any in the car. I knew we had some at home, and I planned to ask the hubby about refilling it when we got home. But I forgot… until the next morning, when we were rushing off to school, late of course. No time to stop for washer fluid. So, I had to drive around with a dirty windshield for most of the day.

As I struggled to peer through my dirty window while driving on an especially bright, sunny day, I thought about the things in life that can cloud proper vision. For me, most often it’s my feelings that cloud my judgment. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s anxiety. Often, it’s past hurts. All these things can color the way we see what’s coming at us in life. They keep us from seeing clearly; they distort our view of events and circumstances, just like a dirty windshield in the car on a bright sunny day. It’s hard to see clearly through all that grime, whether it’s made of salt and mud, or wild emotions.

This is why God’s Word is so vital to us. We need the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Eph 1:18) so that our perceptions are not colored only by our emotional responses. Time in God’s Word keeps me seeing clearly. Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” When I spend time in the Word, I can have my vision cleared so that I can see people and situations the way God sees them. Yes, he gave us feelings to guide us, but we must always remember that even though the world encourages us to follow our hearts, the Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” When feelings arise, it is so important to recognize them and unpack where they are coming from. But it is equally important to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). If my feelings don’t align with what God’s Word says is true, then I cling to his word and tell my feelings to pipe down!

May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened today as we seek to look at life through the lens of God’s Word, and not through the dirty windshield of our past experiences and emotions.



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Sophie’s Story: Diagnosis Day

Sometimes life is full of really bad things.

Sometimes your dad spirals into dementia, your neighbor “granny” dies, and your child is diagnosed with autism, all in the span of a year, or a month.

Sometimes any grass seems greener, because you really feel you HAVE NO GRASS. Just a lot of dirty dirt.

Sometimes life is cruel.

But God.

God is always good. And he is always kind.

I refuse to allow my circumstances to become the lens through which I see my God. Instead, I will be steadfast in choosing to see my circumstances through the lens of God’s kindness. I choose to believe that he is always being kind to me, even when life looks kind of rotten.

That second sentence up there is a glimpse of my past year. In March of 2017, my dad underwent minor surgery, and the anesthesia accelerated his dementia. A year later we are just now starting to get it settled down a little bit. And in March of this year, my dear neighbor was in a car accident, which ultimately resulted in her death on April 30th. There are no words to express the depth of this loss to our family. Our Granny was one of a kind.

And then there was today. Today I heard the answer that I never wanted to hear, but always knew in my heart I would hear some day: Autism. When no one else saw it in Sophie, I did. As heartbreaking as it was to ask, I knew I had to. And over the last six weeks, her team has worked feverishly to evaluate her through many different assessments for the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So, today I sat in a room and listened to her team recount her many difficulties and deficits. It was oppressive to hear. It was heartbreaking. And at the end of the meeting, I sat and listened to our school psychologist explain to me that Sophie does meet the criteria and definitions of Autism. After six long — but so incredibly short — years, we have our diagnosis, the diagnosis I never wanted.

I really don’t even know how to process any of this. Mostly my busy life and my busy children don’t allow me a lot of time for quiet contemplation to process. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, fixing this meal, cleaning up that mess, drying those tears. It’s what we do as moms. And somehow we’ll find our way with our Sophie girl. I will keep believing, keep trusting, keep praying, and watching for God to move in her sweet life. His favor clearly rests on her, and I firmly believe he has a good plan for her life.

As friends surrounded me with encouragement today as I shared this news, one friend’s words broke down all the resistance I have been feeling to this day. “You were made for her,” she said. “You were made for her.” Truly God knew from the beginning of time that there would be me, and that there would be Sophie, and he crafted us for each other. To me, this makes no sense right now. But I know she is right.

Today there have been lots of tears. This last month there have been lots of tears. This past year there have been lots of tears. But tears are not a place to stay. I don’t want to always see my life through my tears. Even as I observe these losses, these griefs, even in the sadness and the tears, I’m trusting that God is infinitely kind to me and to those I love.


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A Love Story

Once upon a time there was a little boy and a little girl. They grew up in the same world. She watched him poke at bugs and toads with a stick. He knew her as the tall girl. Sometimes they played at mutual friends’ houses or carpooled with each other. But they were always at a distance, coexisting in the same sphere. And so they grew up. And life got in the way, and the boy moved away. The girl went on, unaffected by his absence.

Years passed and the boy and girl were no longer little. The teenage years arrived. And the boy moved home again. In friendship they walked through these years together. Often she was more “one of the guys” but still always a lady, guarded by her brothers in Christ. They played hockey together and went on missions trips. They did everything with the youth group and went out to lunch every Sunday after taking up the first row at church. There were concerts and conferences, sporting events and holiday fireworks, camping trips and movie nights. There was so much laughter. And the girl dated. She laughed and loved. Her heart broke a few times. And that boy was there to pick up the pieces.

And through those years somewhere like turned into love and friendship into romance. And the boy and the girl began to date. The storms of life hit hard in those years, and the girl thought of walking another way, an easier way. There were difficulties with their families. There were many tears. But in her heart she heard her Father’s voice, “this is the one I have for you.” And so she stayed through the years. But the boy never wavered in his devotion. I think he knew even at 16 that she was all he ever wanted.

And when the girl moved away for school, they made promises to stay together. And through the ups and downs of long distance, they wrote love letters and shared weekend dates. No one else ever turned either of their heads or hearts.

So they bid farewell to the teenage years and walked together into adulthood. And before long they knew that they didn’t want to walk separately anymore, but together, always together. And so the boy bought a ring and asked a question. They planned a big party and invited all their friends and celebrated their love to the tune of Pachabel’s Canon and Cotton Eye Joe.

And in the blink of an eye, ten years passed. New homes, new jobs, new babies and new roles as mommy and daddy. Life changed. And their love changed. It grew deeper, richer, and more. The man loved his wife as Christ loved the church and laid down his life every single day to serve his family. And the woman knew how blessed she was to call him her own for these ten years (and more). And she looked to the future with joy and peace with him by her side. He was her best friend and the love of her life. No, every day wasn’t happily ever after, but it was a blessed and beautiful life.


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Two Kinds of Bottle Brushes And the Spiritual Truth I learned from Them

We recently brought home a new baby. A sweet little girl. At six weeks old she pretty much has down the eat, sleep, poop routine. She makes a lot of laundry, and a lot of dishes, mainly bottles, to wash. In just six weeks I’ve learned that there are two types of bottle brushes in this world: those that CAN and those that CAN NOT. Because our sweet baby came a week early, there were a few items that were not yet purchased or readied for her arrival. The bottle brush was one such item. So I asked my dear husband to pick one up when he went out for groceries. He made some flippant remark about the ones at the grocery store not being good enough, but I insisted we “just needed one right now” so he should get what they had. And so he did.

Let me tell you, this bottle brush was one of the CAN NOT brushes. It was an epic failure at its life purpose. I mean, a bottle brush has essentially one job to do: Clean the bottles. Right? It’s not like I’m asking it to scour my pots and pans or fix dinner. It would be like a fly swatter that was unable to kill bugs, or broke after the first swat. The spongy part on the top of this bottle brush ripped off within a week of use. A week! Come on!

When I brought home the second bottle brush, similar in nature to the first, my husband questioned my logic. If the first one proved a failure, as he had predicted, why would I buy another one? Because, simply put, I am Marian Halstead’s granddaughter. Why would I ever spend six dollars when I can spend three? (Since most of you don’t know my grandmother, I’ll add that she was the type of lady who washed and reused her tin foil, her plastic baggies, and — get this — her saran wrap! Seriously?! I don’t even like to deal with it the first time around, let alone to wash and hang up to dry, then fold and store to reuse the darn stuff! Oy! That was my grandmother. Frugal to the core.) Although, if you’re doing the math like I am, you’re realizing that two bottle brushes at three dollars does in fact equal six… So… we can chalk that one up to sleep deprivation?

So anyways I brought home the three dollar bottle brush. And what did I get for it? Well, this one did last a wee bit longer than the first, maybe two weeks, but it did me a worse wrong, because it cracked in half while I was using it, the entire scrubby portion disattatching from the long handle. So here I am with my fingers pinching this short stubby bottle brush top trying to wash out my bottles. Insert eye roll. It was an obnoxious way to waste my precious time by making the bottle washing process even more laborious. When my husband came home from work and I showed him what had happened, he chuckled at me and insisted on buying the “nice” bottle brush. Amazon Prime will have it here in two days. Perfect. Until then I tweedled with the insy-weensy top of my bottle brush to get the job done.

So I’ve been using my new bottle brush for about a week now. It’s so luxurious, guys! I love it! Not showing any signs of breaking down, this one. It is definitely a CAN bottle brush. It can fulfill its life’s purpose with gusto. And I am pleased.

So as I washed the bottles tonight this really got me thinking about what I’m investing in, other than stock in the bottle brush market. Is it the cheap-o stuff that really just CAN NOT make me a better person, or is it the CAN stuff, which will fill me and feed my soul?

I feel like I don’t have a lot of free time right now, but I do spend a lot of time feeding my baby, which requires me to just sit and be. While I am often using this time to referee my older children, there are many minutes where they are entertaining themselves, and I actually do have some quasi-free time. Imagine that. So I’m evaluating what I do with this quasi-free time, because I kind of feel like my life is complete chaos right now, and I don’t really like it. Some of that just goes with the territory of having a new baby at home. We are all adjusting and finding our way to her addition to the family. I am sleep deprived and not functioning at my finest. And before you try to tell me not to be too hard on myself, trust me when I say I’m not. I recognize the transition we are in and that there is much grace for my shortcomings. However, I would still like to do my best through this transition. I would still like to bring my A-game as I raise these precious babies that God has entrusted to me. And I don’t think even my C-game has been showing up. Nope. And I’m not good with that. So, back to my free time which I was evaluating. I’m realizing that I’m filling it up with a bunch of meaningless time-wasting junk (aka, playing on my phone, darnit). Not exactly a soul-filling activity.

There’s a passage in Isaiah that says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

Why, oh why, am I investing my time in stuff that does not feed my soul?

Just like the bottle brushes, there stuff that CAN feed my soul and stuff that CAN NOT. The stuff I’m filling my time with just CAN NOT cut it, just like my cheap-o bottle brushes. This stuff won’t fill me up to meet the challenges of my day. But God’s Spirit, his Word, those CAN. I don’t want to settle for the three dollar fix that just can’t cut it. I don’t want to spend “money on what is not bread” and “labor on what does not satisfy,” to invest my time in that which will never feed me. It’s like I’ve been using the lousy bottle brush time fillers instead of investing in what really works — spending my time in God’s word, in prayer, in worship. These things will do the job to fill me up, to make me capable of the tasks before me. No more wasting my time tweedling around with stuff that’s less than, that’s in the CAN NOT category. Time to invest my time in a way that feeds me and fills me.

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Hannah Jean

2 Corinthians 1:9-10
“Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”

We have all had moments in life where we felt the sentence of death. For some of us, it’s the diagnosis of a fatal illness for someone we love or for ourselves. For others, it’s the death of a dream or the future as we watch our relationships fall apart, the loss of a job or career, financial ruin, in some way, our dreams become forever out of reach.

In my own life, I have experienced this feeling at least twice as an adult. First, I felt the sentence of death when we received Sophie’s apraxia diagnosis. We did not know at that time if she would ever speak. It was a heavy diagnosis. A life without speech is not at all what we pictured for our child, for our family. In that moment, everything about our future picture seemed to shift and go dark. Sophie’s future was suddenly so uncertain, once again. Yet, God met us in this moment reminding us of all the he is able to do in the midst of our weakness. God reminded me of the story of Moses who had a speech impediment, yet was used by God to free the nation of Israel from the enslavement of the Egyptians. A speech disorder is no match for God’s power. In our moment of hopelessness, he was able to quickly restore hope. And in fighting for Sophie’s speech these past two years, we have seen him bring so much life and goodness.

My stroke diagnosis also felt like a death sentence. I know, I lived through it, and it was nothing major, truly, but it represented the death of a dream. Last March (2016) when I finished a months-long barrage of testing begun because of lasting episodes of vertigo, there was really nothing clear except that I’d had a stroke, and most likely during pregnancy. So the doctors’ recommendations were all the same: No more children. This was a devastation for me. I battled all through the spring and summer to accept this, to find contentment, to see my very very blessed life with two sweet children was more than enough for me. I found his grace in each moment as I worked to accept our reality. And I truly became content with my new vision of my life, my family of four.

During this summer, I wrote a Sunday school series entitled “Heroes of the Old Testament.” There were lots of manly heroes in this series, but I also wanted to include some ladies, and as the series came to a close, I felt like there was one more lady hero that I was meant to search out. That August I found myself in I Samuel reading the story of Hannah, and I saw myself, the woman longing for (more) children. God’s words to me could not have been any clearer as I processed Hannah’s story: When you give to me, I give back in abundant generosity. I have seen this truth over and over again in my life when I’ve given my resources to God. But in Hannah’s story, it wasn’t just her resources she was giving. It was her pain, her dreams, her unfulfilled hopes that she poured out to God. And God was exceedingly generous towards Hannah. He blessed her with her son Samuel, and with other children after him as well.

I felt strongly as I studied this story that I needed to lay down my dream for more children again, once and for all, and accept whatever way God chose to be generous towards me, believing that he could give me fulfillment as a mommy in so many different ways. We still were not planning for more children, and my heart was very much at peace with this decision. I saw this desire to mother more possibly being fulfilled in another way, maybe through teaching, fostering, or just mothering my kids’ friends. So I once again laid down my dreams, my hopes, and my pain, just like Hannah, giving our Burleigh family future over to my loving Father, believing I would see his generosity.

This was August. And by the end of September, I was pregnant with our splendid surprise.

Why does God do things like this? Why make life look impossible? Why let us feel the sentence of death? Because that way we have to rely on him, on the God who raises the dead. He is the God who can resurrect any dream, any future, any person back to life again.

In our death sentence moments we feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Whatever dream has died, whatever has come crashing down, whatever destruction is taking place, it robs us of hope. But we serve a God who is able to raise the dead — the dead dreams, the dead relationships, the dead future, the deadness in our hearts. On him we place our hope. In hopeless moments, he is the one who can restore our hope. No, he may not choose to resurrect a dream or a relationship or a life in the way we imagined, but he can restore and resurrect life and hope in our hearts.

And so I offer you the story of our Hannah Jean. Our unplanned and much loved blessing. When I laid down my dream for more children before the Lord, I knew in my heart I would have another daughter. I did not know what that would look like, because God creates beautiful answers to our dreams in many different kinds of ways. But this generous gift he has given to our family is truly marvelous. And so in October when we learned another child was coming, I chose her name, confident of a baby girl. Named for Hannah, Samuel’s mother, and for my sweet mother-in-law Jean, as well as another dear family friend, who has blessed me immensely, our daughter’s name means favor, grace; gift from God. Truer words were never spoken in a name.

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For my Teacher Friends


We are entering the sometimes difficult weeks between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. Hopefully we are refreshed from a few days off. But maybe we are dreading going back into the difficulties of our classrooms. Some of us need to hear this tonight: You matter more than you think you do. You are doing more than you think you are.

A couple weeks back I sat observing my “at risk” students during their dinner hour at school. Their social behavior and their deplorable language provides a good glimpse into the immense dysfunction of their world. As I watched them, I felt the depth of their pit, for lack of a better word. Many of them are already felons at just 14 or 15 years old. I thought to myself, they are in such a deep pit, how will I ever provide a way out, let alone the first rung in the ladder leading out? How can I ever help fix their lives? It seems impossible.

I want this for my kids though. Because in the short time I’ve known them, I’ve grown to love them. I’ve seen the ways that life has mistreated them. And while that doesn’t excuse their behaviors and choices, it certainly gives me understanding, rather than judgment, for their choices. I want them out of the pit.

So I show up. I push them. I help them. I celebrate them. I know them and I let them know me. I give them the unconditional love of Jesus, in hopes of pointing them to him. He is the ladder. He is the fix. It will never be me.

After a “productive” night of class one evening, after helping these students experience some of the first academic successes they’ve had in a long time, on a night where I felt like I actually did do some good, I sat pondering my own educational career. Curiosity led me to recall my teachers over the years. At 33 years of age, I can remember the names of every single teacher who taught me from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Every. Single. One.

Why is that? Because they impacted me. They made a difference in my life. Some of them loved me through my mom’s cancer. Others called me on to be a leader. Many prayed with me and for me. They counseled me. They challenged me. They celebrated me. Few people in my life have impacted me the way that my teachers have. I don’t claim that all of my students will remember me by name and feel that I impacted their lives, but some might. And that’s enough to keep me doing what I’m doing.

If you are a teacher, as you head into the trenches tomorrow remember: You matter more than you think you do. You are doing more than you think you are.

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70 Notes of Thanks


My Dear Sweet Mom,

You are turning 70 years old today, and I celebrate all that you are! As I try to contemplate all the ways that I am thankful for you, I’m simply overwhelmed. On this Thanksgiving Day, your 70th birthday, I say thank you.

1. Thank you for loving me. While it seems that a mother’s love is always a given, as an educator, I have seen that this is not the case. There are many mothers who do not love their children. Or their form of love for their children is selfish, weak, or conditional. Yours has been the unconditional agape love of our Father God. Yours has been a love that chooses to do what is best for the beholden, regardless of difficulty.

2. Thank you for living loyalty. In our world today, friendships and even family relationships can change in the blink of an eye. You have shown me how to live loyally. You have never forsaken a friend. You have seldom failed to be there for a friend in a time of need.

3. Thank you for DOing your faith. You are not just talk; you are action. How many meals have I watched you prepare for friends in times of need? How many times have you fed the church work day? The Japanese teachers? The entire youth group? You have shown me that love and faith are not just words or feelings; they are action. They require DOing.

4. Thank you for teaching me that some thoughts don’t need to be spoken. This is an invaluable lesson to me. I learned self-control in an area where I had none.

5. Thank you for committing your life to my dad. Our society has so cheapened marriage and romantic love. Every day for my 33 years I have watched you live out the definition of a committed and loving marriage. Times may not have been easy, but you never wavered in your commitment.

6. Thank you for listening to me. Man, I could talk to leg off a brass horse, and I know it! But you always listen to every word. Although I love to talk, you have also taught me how to listen.

7. Thank you for forgiving me. Now that I’m a mom, I can see exactly how offensive children can be to their parents. I’m sure there were no shortage of offenses as I grew up. Spoken or unspoken, I know that you have always offered forgiveness.

8. Thank you for making me keep my priorities. It’s easy to be selfish, especially as a teenager, but you always helped me to see that it was important to keep my priorities in order. If I was committed to something at church, it was important to show up. If I needed to do schoolwork, then that ought to come before fun. Chores had to be done before TV time.

9. Thank you for teaching me about Jesus. Jesus was in everything we did, from our Advent Calendar at Christmas, to our Bible promise cards each morning, from our prayers before every meal, to the songs we sang as children and the music you played as we grew up. Jesus is the center, and as a mom this is something I strive to keep at the center of my family as well.

10. Thank you for blowing bubbles in the milk with me and Andrew when life was just getting too serious. I try to remember to exhibit the same lightheartedness with my kids.

11. Thank you for thinking of me. From care packages in college, to special outfits when I was growing up, to notes in the mail, you’ve always reminded me that I’m never outside your thoughts. You always go the extra distance to be thoughtful.

12. Thank you for taking me camping. I have some of my fondest childhood memories rooted in our annual camping trips. Now that I am the mom, I realize how much work it is to go camping. You did it tirelessly and never complained.

13. Thank you for praying with me and for me. Prayers at bedtime. Prayers at meals. Prayers at DTS. Prayers before long car rides back to college. Prayers in times of trial and sadness. Prayers for health. Prayers for my babies. Prayers on the phone. So many prayers. When you don’t know what to say or do, you’ve taught me that prayer is always the answer.

14. Thank you for teaching me how to be a servant. When I think of the ways you’ve spent your time, I see servanthood everywhere. You’ve served our family. You’ve served your church. You’ve served your friends. You’ve served people who you don’t like very much. You’ve served Daddy. From meal-making and cleaning, to car rides and mentoring, your life has been one of service.

15. Thank you for helping me learn to make healthy choices. Your dedication to exercise and to cooking healthy food stands out when I think of my time at home. I know you did this because you wanted to stay healthy for our family. You showed me that good health in the long term is more important than a tasty treat had too often.

16. Thank you for fighting cancer. You took up that cross and you bore that sucker with the utmost humility and grace, if such a thing is possible. You could have given up so many times. Thank you for not doing that.

17. Thank you for always giving me your time. So. Much. Time. I’m sure as a baby I required infinitely more time than I did as I grew up. But I don’t remember that. What I do remember is how you showed up for everything. You came to every sporting event. You took me shopping for prom dresses. You came to all my wedding planning appointments. You waiting anxiously as I had my babies. You gave your time at my house to care for my family when we had those new babies. You have always been generous with your time.

18. Thank you for so many yummy recipes. Nobody makes veggie soup, spaghetti sauce, or chocolate chip cookies like you! Not to mention chicken pot pie, apple crisp, potato quiche, pancakes or waffles. It never tastes quiet as good as when you make it, but when I cook your recipes, I’m always reminded of the loving home you provided and the many meals we shared.

19. Thank you for family meal times. Our schedule was often crazy because of sports or Dad’s work schedule, but you always made sure that we had a family meal each day, even if it was a noon or at 4:30. We even had breakfast together so many mornings! Those family times helped create support and stability in our home.

20. Thank you for never giving up on your dream of having children. I know you waited a long time. I know there were many tears. I know you went to baby shower after baby shower. But you never gave up on the children you knew God had for you. I know it was hard to wait, but I’m thankful for God’s perfect timing.

21. Thank you for all the many hand-sew and hand-crocheted items you have made for me and now for my children. I remember (and still have) many Easter outfits and special quilts. Now there are the baby sweaters, the NiNis, the blankets. So many precious items that will forever be treasured.

22. Thank you for giving me chores. I learned early on that the dishes won’t clean themselves, the clothes won’t fold themselves, the dust won’t magically blow away. I also learned that each member of the family, no matter what age, can help and contribute to the success of the home.

23. Thank you for letting me “help” with baking. Now that I have a little girl who likes to “help” with my baking, I realize what patience it takes. I’m sure I made a mess. I’m sure it took three times as long to do it with me as it would have to do it on your own. I treasure those memories, some of my earliest memories of you and I together.

24. Thank you for worshipping visibly. Any time you were in the kitchen, you had the worship music going. And I know that as you worked and sang, you also worshipped. In church you never held back from kneeling before the Lord or raising your hands in worship. This has been a powerful example to me.

25. Thank you for passing me the ability to write. Writing is like breathing to me. And, while I know it was God who chose to bless me with that skill, it also comes from your genes. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write a book like you have.

26. Thank you for going on adventures with me. I’m thinking of the boy-band era here. We had some exciting car trips so that me and my friends could go see these heartthrobs in concert. While I remember the thrill of those concerts, I also remember that it was you who piled us all in the minivan and put up with our craziness, even driving to other states, paying money, buying us food, and going to a concert with a bunch of crazy teenage girls. Stephanie, Jessica, Katie K and Nikki thank you as well. 🙂

27. Thank you for teaching me to read and instilling in me a love for it. Some of my other earliest memories with you are of trips to the library. Again, now that I take my little ones there, I know that it’s almost more of a headache than it’s worth sometimes! But I treasure those memories.

28. Thank you for reading to me. There’s something special about time spent reading before bed. We did it for years. I know that’s why I love to read so much now.

29. Thank you for telling me “no.” Sometimes “yes” is a far easier answer with children, but it’s no that teaches us that we’re not the center of the universe, and that we can’t always have our way. It’s no that teaches us self-discipline and respect for authority.

30. Thank you for making time with grandparents a priority. You knew that we would have far less time with our grandparents than most kids did, and you made it a point to go and visit them. I am thankful that I got to know them as well as I did at a young age. I wouldn’t have if you’d not made them a priority.

31. Thank you for family game nights. I learned to laugh with my family and to like my family because we played together.

32. Thank you for doing the laundry. There is always so. much. laundry. You washed load after load of my clothing, even when I came home from college! That was truly above and beyond.

33. Thank you for packing my lunch, every night, for 12 years. That’s a lot of lunches. Somewhere in the vicinity of 2,160 lunches, give or take a few snow days and sick days.

34. Thank you for disciplining me. Another unpleasant task of motherhood. You trained me in the way that I should go, and I can never say thank you enough for that.

35. Thank you for the birthday parties, cakes, presents and special times celebrating my life.

36. Thank you for being generous. I’ve lost count of how much money I owe you. I’m sure you haven’t. BUT you never cease to be generous. Whenever we have a need, I know you are there. You always have been.

37. Thank you for sacrificing your sleep at night when I was afraid. I’ve lost quite a few hours of sleep now with babies who can’t sleep. I know you must have been tired, but you always came and laid down with me anyways.

38. Thank you for the backbreaking work of gardening and canning so that our family could enjoy fresh, healthy food all year long. I know there’s nothing better than fresh corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, and homemade applesauce.

39. Thank you for making financial sacrifices so that I could go to a private Christian school. I am so thankful for the education that I received. The teachers supported me through each stage of my academic and spiritual growth.

40. Thank you for teaching me about modesty and purity as a woman. I learned self-respect and how to look like the woman God created me to be.

41. Thank you for indoor picnics on the green blanket, and for never crying over spilled milk. You made mealtimes fun and never took life too seriously.

42. Thank you for no-thank-you helpings. Although I still don’t like green trees, I did learn to like a lot of other foods! And I learned that sometimes we have to eat things we don’t like that much because they are good for us.

43. Thank you for always making church a priority for our family. We went to everything, and so we were woven into the tapestry of the church body. Our church became our family in so many ways.

44. Thank you for allowing and funding so many amazing opportunities, from camps and DTS, to missions trips and school trips. I’ve seen more of the states and the world than many. Now that I’m a mom, I have a panic attack when I think about sending my children overseas without me. But you opened your hands and let me go where God was taking me.

45. Thank you for teaching me never to make negative confessions. There is so much more power in the words we say than we realize. You taught me never to open the door to let Satan work or to give him any opportunities. I have learned to speak positively and take my fears to the Lord instead.

46. Thank you for always keeping homemade sweets on hand, particularly your famous cookies, which I am now craving. Many of my friends stopped at the cookie jar before coming to locate me in the house. A true testament to the goodness of the cookie. I know it took time and effort to keep home-baked goodies around, but you always made sure it happened.

47. Thank you for imposing limits, from TV and video games, to treats and bedtimes. I learned self-discipline and delayed gratification, among other things.

48. Thank you for choosing to parent rather than to be my friend as I grew up. I needed parental guidance to learn how to be a decent person.

49. Thank you for becoming my best friend now that I am grown. There is literally no friend dearer to my heart, nor more cherished.

50. Thank you for Boston Brown Bread. MMMMMMMMM.

51. Thank you for trusting the Lord at every turn. No matter whether the need was financial, or for healing, or direction, you always placed your trust in God’s goodness and believed that he was in control. Your example has helped me to place my trust in him even through life’s most frightening moments.

52. Thank you for living with compassion. You were and are the kindest mother, not a push-over, by any means, but so kind. Beyond our home you have showed compassion to countless other women who have needed it the most. I strive to live with your compassion for my children and for the friends in my life.

53. Thank you for living a life of peace that provided a peaceful life for me. Ours was never a home of strife. Even in tense circumstances, you rarely seemed ruffled. I’m sure that inwardly you were, but outwardly you maintained a peaceful demeanor. This protected me from much, and it also pointed me at the Source of our peace.

54. Thank you for exhibiting patience. It is easy as a mom to lose your cool with the kids. I rarely remember this happening. Beyond the home, you have always been patient in difficult situations and with difficult people.

55. Thank you for teaching me by example how to honor and protect my spouse. You taught me how important it is to always speak well of my husband, to keep his name as safe in my mouth.

56. Thank you for teaching me the truth of I Peter 3:3-4 “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” You not only taught this, but you lived it as well!

57. Thank you for living a life of self-sacrifice. I know that you always put everyone else’s needs above your own.

58. Thank you for dealing with all the bodily fluids. They can be so overwhelming.

59. Thank you for tapping on the bathroom wall, and years later, the bathroom door. This is one of my earliest memories, and one of the fondest.

60. Thank you for always calling me your “favorite girl in all the world.” It made me feel so special, and it still does.

61. Thank you for teaching me that I don’t have to be perfect. I just need to do my best and trust in God’s grace for the rest.

62. Thank you for pointing me back to the Scripture whenever I have a concern or a need. You’ve always been able to give me a verse that helps with anything I am dealing with.

63. Thank you for praying a love of Scripture over my life. That prayer opened a door for me that has changed my life forever. I have never forgotten that moment.

64. Thank you for introducing me to Dove dark chocolate. There’s just nothing quite like it.

65. Thank you for so many trips to the DQ. Another treasured family memory for me.

66. Thank you for believing in me in a way that helped me realize my unique gifts and talents. You instilled self-confidence in me by allowing me to try different things, and encouraging me when I did well.

67. Thank you for making me apologize when I did something wrong. Saying “I’m sorry” is not an easy thing to do, but it is so important, as is saying “I forgive you.” Early on you taught me this vital process in keeping my heart free from bitterness.

68. Thank you for keeping a sense of humor. From hidden asparagus to food-colored milk, and contagious laughter during family card games and meals. I caught your contagious laughter, and it strikes now and then, till the tears run down my cheeks. And I always think of you.

69. Thank you for retail therapy. I wish we still lived close enough that we could just take off for an afternoon and go shopping together like we used to. I cherish those memories of time spent just you and me.

70. Thank you for your amazing example of motherhood. Although we are different in our temperaments, I strive to be like you as a mom in every way that I can (actually probably because of my temperament…). I know I’m not perfect, but I try to love my kids and point them to Jesus, and trust that his grace is more than enough for my weaknesses. This I learned from you.

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Eighty: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived


You are turning 80 years old in just a few short days. I find it hard to wrap my mind around this number! 80! Wow! But more than the number, I’ve found myself reflecting so much you and on our relationships, and I’ve been wowed by how blessed I am to have a daddy like you. You have loved and served the Lord with your whole life. As I have entered into my journey of parenthood, I realize even more what an exceptional job you did — because parenting is hard! But if I am able to be the kind of parent that you have been, then I will count it a success!

For your 80th birthday, I thought I’d share 80 of the lessons that I learned from you. I could write for paragraphs on each of these ideas. But that would take a whole book. So I’ll keep it simple. Some of these you have said to me, over and over again, but more of them, you have said with your life, over and over again.

1. It’s all about Jesus. We should strive to represent him in all we do.
2. Be generous. It’s only money.
3. Family comes first, always.
4. Commitments matter. Keep them. From small to large. If you say you’ll do it, then do it.
5. It’s ok to cry. I get my soft heart from Daddy.
6. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord.
7. Be committed to a church body. Don’t be a drifter.
8. Serve in your church.
9. Never be too proud to repent when you’ve made a mistake.
10. Repenting also means living differently henceforth.
11. Tithing to God’s local church is pleasing to him.
12. You don’t need wealth to be happy or to have a good life.

13. Discipline is an act of love.
14. Integrity. Do what you know is right. Just do it.
15. Serve your family as unto the Lord. Even if it means riding a pink little girl’s bike so that you an all go on a family bike ride together even when you are one bike short.
16. Play with your kids. Rough and tumble or tea party, whatever they like.
17. Be involved in your kids’ lives. Show up to their events. Cheer them on.
18. Kids don’t raise themselves; they need parents, not parents who act like friends.
19. Realize when it’s time to release your kids into more independence.
20. Teach your children right from wrong.
21. Pray. All. The. Time.
22. Practice gratitude, continually.
23. Work at improving in weaknesses; don’t just sit in your sin.
24. Loving what you do is a blessing.
25. Make sacrifices for those you love. Lay your life down for them as Christ did for the church.
26. Pray for and with your children.
27. Pray for and with your spouse.
28. Say “I love you” often.

29. Show affection.
30. It’s ok to have conflict in a relationship. Stick to your commitment and work through it.
31. Read the Bible daily.
32. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Daddy isn’t a great singer, but he always said that didn’t matter. The Bible didn’t ask for great singers to worship; it says, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
33. You never know when or how you’re going to touch someone’s life, so be available.
34. Sometimes all we do is plant a seed in someone’s life. Way down the road, God may do something miraculous with that seed.
35. Always be truthful.
36. Love and serve your spouse faithfully. Make sacrifices for your spouse.
37. Cardigan sweaters are THE way to go!
38. No matter what is going on in life, remember, you are on your way to heaven, so it’s ok.
39. Spending time together as a family is important.
40. Laughter. It’s good stuff.

41. Enjoy your kids; they grow up really fast.
42. Math jokes “always add up.”
43. 6 is afraid of 7, because 7 “eight” 9.
44. Everyone has a dessert pocket.
45. You are Christ’s ambassador.
46. Lean on your friends during difficult times, and allow them to lean on you during their own trials.
47. Love and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.
48. Stuff is just stuff; don’t make it too important — “you can’t take it with you!”
49. Every single person was uniquely created by God, and he loves and values them all.
50. Find what you are passionate about and spend your life doing it.
51. Honor and respect your elders and authority figures.
52. You get what you pay for, so save up for quality when you’re purchasing something important.
53. Find businesses that you can trust and give them your business loyally.
54. Don’t just get your hair cut, get them all cut!
55. Medicine is another name for ice cream.
56. Peanut butter is the best food on the earth.
57. How to be a teacher. This is the most oversimplified statement I have ever written. Teaching has been his life, and now it is also mine.

58. How to write incredibly quickly on a blackboard so that your students are scrambling to copy it down before you erase it with your free hand 🙂
59. A love for puzzles — his are numbers, mine are words.
60. “Multiply by the power, decrease the power by one.”
61. Make sure you do maintenance on your car because it’s cheaper than fixing it after it breaks.
62. Take good care of your teeth — you only get one set.
63. Take care of your body. You only get one.
64. Attitude is a choice.
65. Camping can be fun, but be sure to bungee your cooler shut or a coon might make off with your roast in the night.
66. When camping, changing clothes is not necessary.
67. Never go to Camp Run-Amuck.
68. Always go to Colonel Mustard’s Custard.
69. Have as many meals together as a family as you possibly can.
70. Be punctual.
71. Open your home to others — “wear out your furniture for the Lord.”
72. “Can” is about ability, while “may” is about permission. Don’t misuse them.
73. Puns are the best kinds of jokes. Use them frequently.
74. When something is lost, ask God to help you find it, because he knows exactly where it is.
75. Age is just a number. It doesn’t mean you have to grow up.
76. You don’t need to be someone’s parent biologically to speak into their lives or to be a parent figure to them.
77. A smile, a hug, or a kind word can bless someone more than you know.
78. We are blessed with each new day that the Lord gives us to serve him.
79. We should give ourselves to the Lord daily and look for what he is doing in our lives.
80. People and God are the only things that really matter here on this earth, so spend your life loving and serving God and his people.

I love you, Daddy. Thanks for teaching me. Happy Birthday!


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