Family, Uncategorized

21 Years (Happy Anniversary!)

In 21 years, we’ve gone from bulking up to bearing up.  We’ve built dozens of houses but made only one home.  We’ve born babies, buried our hearts, gone bald, and given as boldly as we dared.  We’ve battled with words, bought at all costs, and built dreams no one else could see.  You are the beautiful gentleness that saw my heart for what it could be.  You gave my voice a chance to be heard through a tapping our of keys, and I got comfortable with the idea of you purchasing the ugliest beast of a warehouse this side of town.  I romance our past and you modernize our future.  You chart and calculate and ask thousands of questions, and in the process, hold the string of the kite I’m sailing on.  I dance and dream, and drum up far too many possibilities, and in the process, lead you to places that drop your jaw.

Thank you for staying the course through thousands of miles. For holding on through the highs and the painful lows.  Thank you for holding my hand and respecting my heart.  Thank you for seeing a covenant worth keeping.  For reminding me to seek the Savior when all I want to do is run.  For listening to my quietness.  For honoring my solitude.  Thank you for loving all the parts of me, even the broken ones.  Thank you for 21 years, Love.  Happy Anniversary (yesterday).

Family, Judah's Journey, Love of my Savior, Thankfullness, Uncategorized

When the Fruit of Faithfulness Guides

Very deliberately, I believe, the food pantry we were volunteering at was slow that morning. A few customers came and went uneventfully, and there were more staff than was necessary, which was unusual, so I stepped out the back door and hid behind my car where no one could hear or see my tremor, and I called the Doctor’s office. “Come on in”, they said. So I made a quick request to leave early, buckled my 2 kids into car seats and headed north.

I circled the golden arch drive-through and heard myself ask for two kids meals. I kept driving, straight to my mother-in-laws where I dropped the kids off with a forced laugh about my crazy life and blindly waved good-bye. Now alone, my breathing changed. I could feel panic pushing against my chest and I blinked dry-eyes and prayed, “Good Lord, please….please let this be ok….”.

I was 23 weeks pregnant with a son.

The nurse I had talked to on the phone met me in the lobby and guided me to an empty room where I undressed. The Doctor was at ease and wanted to pat me in reassurance, but on impulse decided to check me, and that’s when the unraveling picked up pace. My cervix was open. His eyes went round and he tumbled off his chair and fast-paced it out the door only to return within a few short minutes.

His words then came out in boldface, “I’m sorry, but your probably going to lose your baby today.”

The IV medications began to course through my blood. The ambulance ride bore down the highway. The contractions showed up early and I kept my legs together and gripped my phone in my hand in order to keep my following husband updated.

The next 12 hours are drug-induced and quite blurry. Labor commenced and in the still, dark night, we were given 2 choices. When the Doctor stopped talking and left the room, Ben’s head leaned over the bed rail and we prayed. We prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and we made a decision. One we’ve never regretted.

Had I not been faithful to the living push of the Holy Spirit throughout that day, I’m certain the end would have been different.

Faithfulness is a fruit so pure it can appear almost opaque. Like something light and frilly and easy to toss around. But that day, instead of admiring it’s loveliness while fanning myself with my self-righteousness, I saw how the Holy Spirit took hold of that faithfulness with both hands and stretched it down tight on both sides of me like guard rails. And I hung on for, not just my life, but for the life of my son as well. Motherhood can do that to you. And Fatherhood can too, because He did that day. And He probably does it so often that if we saw it all, we would understand how incredibly great His power really is. We might realize the magnitude of the roller coaster that races at terrifying speeds. We might see declines that would take us to spaces so deep we would curl up and give up. We would probably understand better how rails may exist in shaky territory, but ultimately lead us out too. Back to the slow. To the focus of a well beaten path that leads to Him, and to home.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay writes, “We are not victims of despair, darkness, or the evil in ourselves or the world. There is righteousness, goodness, holiness, fairness, wholeness. This is an objective truth, the very substance of the infinite God who is indeed there and who has not been silent. And so we, the finite, can know. We don’t have to search within our own selves to find the way. There is relief. We are sheep; we have been given a shepherd. We who sit in darkness have been given a great light.”  

We belong to a King who commands control by simply asking for our faithfulness. The guard rails are there. The path is laid out. Bumps will shake us. There will be places of complete blackout, time that is unlit, and not everyone in your story will choose to stay in your story. But let me say this while ascending out of a dark dusk…Things can happen in a moment of faith.  

Diseases get healed.

Marriages soften or shift.

Tenderness is smoothed over loss like a soothing balm.

Insubordination backs down.

Opportunity rises.

Words that weren’t there before suddenly find their purpose.

Stories turn chapters and our identity, our loneliness, our insufficient journey wakes up to rails laid down. Faithfulness.

What if you followed a commanding God simply out of obedience, because your faithfulness was locked into His salvation? Remember friend, out of all creation, you are His choice possession. He locked eyes with you the moment you drew your first breath, and He embraced the chance to be your Savior. And He doesn’t build rails that run out or dead end. No. He takes you all the way home.

James 1:2-4 (NLT), “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”

In pure faithfulness,

~kathy b

Macaulay, Susan Schaeffer, 1984. “For The Children’s Sake”. Crossway Books. pg.43.

Family, Grace, Hope, Joy, Uncategorized

Why We Need to Grab at What is Good!

Genesis lay open. Thin, delicate pages spread gently across my desk. The fruit of goodness cannot be studied without studying the very things that God calls ‘good’. I sit back and force my mind to stop it’s global spinning. This is not complicated. As I read through chapter 1, I see how simple it really is. God made it. And He saw that it was good.

My family and I recently got back from a vacation to Alaska. A ‘bucket list’ achievement we really never trusted would be possible. But after a heartbreaking loss of a loved one last Thanksgiving, my husband and I sat our weary souls into the living room furniture after the kids were in bed and decided we needed to try. Maybe we could make this happen? Maybe if we looked outside the box and prayed for a place for our family to recover a bit, we could make a dream vacation possible? It took months of working, planning, and saving, but we did it. We pulled the oldest kids out of school two and a half days before the end of the year, and we raced away, headed northwest.

Alaska did not disappoint. Every photograph, painting, and book I had read about Alaska came to life! The almost 3 hour drive from Anchorage down to a friends place was filled to bursting with scenes of genuine beauty. The mountains peaked in snow. Water glistened both gray and turquoise. Pines, Hemlocks, Spruce, and Birch trees grew from jagged rock. Wildlife everywhere we looked throughout our whole trip. Eagles, arctic terns, the Blue Goose, Horned Puffins, more birds of the air than I could identify. Moose, caribou, a chilled out black bear munching on spring grass, and one porcupine shimmying up a tree. From the sway of a boat we saw Orca’s, a Humpback Whale and a couple of Finn Whales. Fur seals and a couple sea otter got added to our list and my husband caught one big ol’ Halibut that nearly yanked the fishing vessel into a spin. The kids collected countless rocks across the oceans endless edges and the salty wind filled our senses with all that God created, saw, and called good.

Genesis was the beginning of all that we saw in Alaska, and although nothing is perfect, the way it was originally intended to be, there is still so much goodness in what surrounds us every day. Standing back, staring up, nature seems perfect in color, shape, and form. But there’s more. Always more. In Genesis 1:26 it says, “Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all the life – the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals.”

Here’s where that goodness goes wild because maybe we were chosen to be “masters” because we were Trinity’s masterpiece at the end of the week? Made in THIER image. Friend, YOU are the good that God gazes on. St. Augustine wrote; “You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just. You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring and yet we cannot comprehend you. You are unchangeable and yet you change all things. You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you.”

God planted the fruits of the Spirit in you so that you could grow and, like the trees growing seed-bearing fruit, produce the kind of good people from which you came. And, don’t miss it, you.came.from.GOD! Because He also is the same God who says in chapter 2 that it is NOT good that man should be alone. God, in His infinite wisdom, had the ability to look at and see and know what was not good. If you were anything else but good, He would not have considered you in His formative masterpiece. But you are an original, and you are a gift, new life from Him! Rise up to that!

I hear your doubting voice. You with the regretful past, with the unbelieving up-bringing, with your inability to commit. Commit to this, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17 NKJV). You see, God not only created you, He saw you. He. Sees. You. And Genesis also tells us that He blessed them and told them to multiply, and they multiplied into YOU‼ Beautiful, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, in all your goodness…..YOU!

Alaska was amazing! Some of my heart still lies there. Nature surrounds and I could see how God did not hold back. His creative abilities to design, form, and shape what He loves drew a broader perspective for me, and that’s when I saw too. Saw that I was part of that first beginning. I was made as a good and perfect gift, multiplied down from Eve.

Have courage, friend. Paul finishes out 1 Thessalonians with a few words of advice, and he makes six words accordion out into a heart stopping command. “Hold on to what is good.” And I know, I’ve been there, barely holding on. But the good he’s talking about is you, because the Hebrew word is kalos, and it means beautiful, excellent, precious! God does nothing except what is good, right, and true. Excellence is the only standard that exists in His infinite galaxy, and YOU are formed there. What you have to hold on to is that you are created, you are loved, and you are redeemed, and your savior is God’s good son, Jesus Christ! Write that down!

“Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way.” (Genesis 1:31a)

In pure goodness,

~kathy b

Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo) “The Confessions”. Clark, 1876.

Family, Friendship, Grace, Uncategorized

The Fruit of Patience and Grace-Filled Waiting

Weather men aren’t always accurate, we argued with ourselves, it’s the middle of April, the “storm” is probably a little over emphasized to get better news feed ratings. So we didn’t wait for anything. Planned, prepped, postured ourselves for the next day ahead. A day of fun and visiting. A day of short travel and great friends and eating out at a new-to-us restaurant.

But the next morning, we awoke to a fresh foot of snow on the ground. Wind rattled our windows and ice pelted their percussion matching rhythm against the glass panes. The house was COLD! The old farmhouse isn’t well insulated and the drafts can make the curtains dance on a stormy day. My first clue of how bad it was should have been the four year old who had snuck into our bed around five or six in the morning. He’d lost his blankets and his body type doesn’t hold any extra padding, so with frigid feet, he’d pressed himself in between his dad and I and promptly fallen back to sleep. He hadn’t waited for anything either. With just barely enough consciousness, he’d thumped down the stairs and bee-lined for down covers and adult body heat.

Four days later, after my husband had made one perilous drive across town in his diesel engined truck to load up the back with wood for heating the house, and a quick stop at the grocery store to pick-up a few essentials, we had stayed officially snowed in. The driveway was drifted over. Cold snow waved itself up across the landscaping and pushed itself under our porch door. More climbed our basement door, requiring us to literally shovel ourselves out of the house.

Let me remind you it was April. The middle of April. The time of year we typically finish the last of our maple syrup making and clean up the buckets, tubes, and boiling pots. The time when we desperately search the woods for the first signs of green shoots. We wait for spring to officially awaken. Waiting is something we northern Michiganders consider ourselves to be pretty good at, since winter takes up the majority of our calendar year. But based on the texting I received and the Facebook posts I read, this year choked out most of our patience. The waiting timetable had run out and we were left clinging to strands of what we THOUGHT was suppose to come. The renewing. The new grasses, warmer sun, lighter jackets. The ability to put away the heavy boots, hang up the hatchet for splitting kindling, and shift the windshield scraper to the trunk. Some of us, and I won’t mention any names, didn’t handle the extended wait very well.

The fruit of patience I’m painfully aware of because it almost always holds hands with, what can feel like, the idle time of ‘waiting’. And in the words of Dr. Seuss, “”You can get so confused that you’ll start to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. THE WAITING PLACE……

….for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.”

Friend, I want to look very carefully at the fruit of patience and take you to a place that might be a bit uncomfortable. Waiting, for some, is one of the most painful things to do. I am married to an Entrepreneur. He waits for almost nothing. There are plans to make, codes to write, designs to draw, meetings to be held, phone calls, emails, purchases…you get the drift. He knows the existence of the business falls on him. He mostly let’s no puzzle go undone. Whatever problem arises, he WILL find a solution. And he doesn’t quit until a resolution is in hand. Having said that, the good Lord, in his infinite wisdom, has gifted my husband and I a few circumstances where the outcome was not in our control. The waiting became part of our story. And the glory of the Lord came in the quiet long suffering.

Six and a half years of infertility treatments. Yeah. Long years of doctors, medications, ultrasounds, dreams blooming, expectations shattered, a vision that seemed to rebuke us turn after turn, but still, the desire to have a baby of our own never went away. So we prayed. We cried. We spent our savings. And we waited. And if you know us personally or have ever read any of my other writing, you know how the story turned out. We have kids! However….those kids have required us to maintain a seat in the ‘waiting’ place. I think we deserve seats with our names gold plated on them for how much ‘waiting’ we have done, but that’s just me.

I’ll be brief, but the eight years after our first pregnancy (which I miscarried), became this building of patience. It seems like one should grow more impatient with all the waiting, but, I believe, through God’s abundant grace, we were gifted more and more patience that we could use to weave into the foundation of our marriage. Every hard thing required long-suffering, and each event demanded waiting.

We waited beside the isolates of our first babies. Twins born far too soon. And the waiting was different for each of them. Our son fell ill at seven and a half weeks old and the monitors went still 24 hours after his diagnosis. There has never been a period of waiting that has been harder to sit through for me than those 24 hours. Had my husband and I failed to cling to a cross baring another Son, I don’t honestly think we would have made it through that fire. The waiting for our daughter lasted 4 months in the NICU. I would never want to redo those days, but I also learned how to be a mama in those long hospital hours.

For our second son we were required to don the patience cloak in the form of adoption. The waiting felt weird, detached, and the expectations changed multiple times. But he’s ten today, and our life more complete because of our willingness to forget about ideals and instead focus on intent.

Our fourth and final child also spent four months in the NICU. Believe me, we did not WANT to redo those days, but we were called to patience, long-suffering, waiting, again. One more time we endured the days and nights of wondering if he would live or die. Our youngest son is now four. Feisty, fierce, and demands us to refresh our parenting tactics. I love them all more than my own breath.

Habakkuk 2:3 says, “Though it tarries, wait for it…”

‘Waiting’ and ‘Patience’ have different names in the Greek New Testament, but they have the same definition. “Endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance.” I believe the gifting of this fruit from the Holy Spirit is, possibly, one of the greatest. Friend, you hold it within you in two ways. First, you have the ability, no, the opportunity, to sit with those in uncertainty. I cannot begin to list the family and friends who have stopped their lives each and every time Ben and I faced a new, hard thing. We sat with our babies day in and day out, but our people formed a cloud of sacrificial witnessing around us. In so many ways waiting makes one feel helpless, but I want to go on record to say that your ‘waiting’ with us through the multiple valleys of shadow is one of the greatest, most distinguished gifts we have ever received from human beings.

The second way that makes the gift of patience so special, is that we also have the distinct opportunity to read and accept and hold onto the truth that we WAIT for Christ to come. We have a vision of something that is not just an ideal but an intent! “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5(NLT). We get to choose to step away from the arguing over causes and issues because we can choose to devote ourselves to God Himself! In His coming. In His gifting. In all the merciful justice that is His to give, not ours.

And with all due respect to Dr Seuss, I pray you won’t see the waiting place as useless space, but instead, as patience-in-the-presence.

“Though it tarries, wait for it…” Habakkuk 2:3

Purely holding onto patient endurance,

~kathy b

Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” (New York: Random House, 1990) pp. 26-28.

Family, Joy

The Fruit of Love

It was that kind of day. The one filled with homeowner nightmares. Where adulting went way beyond exhausting and we felt driven to the point of being overwhelmed. A classic writers line might be ‘a comedy of error’s’, only I wasn’t laughing anymore and neither was he. How we both kept it together, I have no idea. Every new mess of the day, and I heard him sigh heavy. I only got quieter, just trying to process information so we could make the best move to get around the chaos and keep moving through the day. I’ll save you the disheveled details, but it ended with getting the car jumped so we could haul 3 kids to his office where we could all take a hot shower and eat dinner on paper plates. My bed felt like the kindest thing in my life that night and I drifted asleep in no time.

The next day I still had to work around the ‘broken’ parts of my life, but I had a plan and prayed for no more piling of pulverized things. I pushed through the hoops all morning, eager to reach that afternoon time that I had intentionally set aside for myself to write nearly a month before. So the moment I hit play on my Pandora pick, I peeled an orange and waited for the pinched pain between my shoulders to unwind a little. But the writing wouldn’t come. So I ate an apple and flipped through some favorite books and authors and I prayed, “Lord, I don’t even have a loaf or a fish today, but there are mouths to feed…” And here’s how He answered that, with a tap on the door my husband walked in with a grin on his face and a small box in his hand. Not a word was necessary, he simply opened the mouth of cardboard and a mechanical part of which I do not even know the name of, but I knew it’s purpose and necessity, was lying there in it’s own kind bed of bubble wrap. The long and the short? He’d called all across the nation for this one part (because the company had gone out of business) and found one, I repeat ONE, in Massachusetts, and he’d had it overnighted. He stepped into my writing space with the simple words, “I just wanted to bring you some happiness”.

Suddenly grace and peace rushed over me. You see, it wasn’t just an answer to our hot water problems, it was the small, intentional gift from my Father, God, saying “I love you. I’ve got this”. I could have wept.

At that moment, my spinning world felt steadied, and I knew love had a whole lot to do with it. My high school sweetheart of 20 years had left all of his emails, phone calls, cabinet orders, basically, his entire career, to “bring me happiness”. Love. Who does that? Who stops progress to package up happiness?

Frederick Buechner wrote, “By believing against all odds and loving against all odds, that is how we are to let Jesus show in the world and to transform the world.” Funny how a mechanical part in the mail on a Wednesday could transform a love affair from barely getting through the day to heart pounding joy.

Friend, Jesus loves like that. The moment you’re pretty sure you can’t take another chip out of your soul, the Savior knocks on your door just to bring you happiness. It’s a real thing. He didn’t leave a career, He MADE a career out of showing you all the ways He loves you. He left everything, a manger, a carpentry shop, His family. He left HEAVEN, BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU‼!

That day of blotched belongings left me feeling like the beaten up Jewish man. And verse 34 of Luke 10 cups raw wounds in the kind of kindness that love is. It reads, “Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them.” (NLT).

Friend, I want to talk about the first of the Fruit of the Spirit. It’s love. Plain and simple…and yet complex and life transforming. Author Ann Voskamp says, “Every small gift of grace creates a love quake that has no logical end.”

Christ is like that. He loves without logic, because He creates people. And people are His art. And He breathes His very breath into your lungs. And real, genuine love cannot be stopped by broken pieces, it cannot be held back with regretful words, it cannot believe anything else except that you might love back. He loves you so boldly that He made a commandment out of it. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” (Luke 10:27 NLT). He simply wants to meet you on the other side of the door so he can bring you happiness. He wants to be the guy soothing your wounds, binding up your broken parts, carrying you to cover. Love does that.

Your Heavenly Father wants to give you good gifts. Love is, maybe, the strongest one of all. I want to explore more of them with you. I plan to write about the Fruits of the Spirit throughout this year, because the planet has a bitter taste to it right now, and I want to remind you that the news is always going to be bad, but God is always going to be good, and He’s going to love you. The evil of the world hisses with the demons of corruption and those demons are armed with quivers full of fears. They aren’t afraid to use them. My prayer is to read, write, and pray through some of the gifts God’s perfect love holds for us. I pray it will become armor for you. To give you tools that aren’t so mechanical, but genuine means to ward off lies swirling around each of us. I hope you’ll join me?

In pure love with Christ,

~kathy b

Christmas, Family, Grace, Hope, Uncategorized

2017: A Year In Review

It always takes a bit of mental sorting to write a Christmas letter. To rewind the memories of the mind. To retrace steps of a year gone by. Especially when that year held moments that fragmented the heart. However, no matter the suffering, it is always a healing balm to be able to see the flesh of a baby in a manger. The light of love come down. The warmth of hope wrapped in swaddling clothes. Christmas throws a rope of rescue to those of us needing something to cling too. And although stores fill their shelves to overflowing this time of year, nothing behind those glass doors holds the miracle of strength, of renewing. The stuff of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays will never be able to give an understanding of journeys. Journeys of exhausting proportions. Journeys of diseases fought, marriages glued back together, depression trampled, or death knocking on or knocking over those we love. If there is anything Ben and I have learned it’s that there is a whole separate journey in witnessing the walk of a Godly King through a year of hard. See how His footsteps match yours print for print. How His hand opens doors of healing, spreads hope like a warm robe, and carries grace right through your front door!

In years past, I have enjoyed breaking down the family by individuals and bragging about their growth and development. I feel like I get to introduce them to you all over again, because each year comes with a view of someone new emerging. But this year, we couldn’t separate. This year, we printed out a proclamation from writer, Ann Voskamp, stuck it on the wall and memorized it, “Family is a VERB. It’s not just what we ARE, it’s something we actively KEEP ON MAKING!” Because, without experience, I had no other way of knowing how to get through what I knew would be hard.

The first 2 months of 2017 were spent consulting with doctors in Grand Rapids and here in Petoskey, and on March 1 I was officially diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Like my mother, my little sister, my grandma, two uncles, and several cousins ahead of me, I learned what infusions centers looked like, I learned how to give blood on a weekly basis for months, I learned how PET, CT, MRI, and MUGA all precede the word SCAN and what that means to a mortal body. I learned how to wear blue bandana’s so that people would say how pretty my eyes looked instead of how bald my head was. I learned how a husband can fall in love with a young bride in her prime, and 20 years later, still see her scarred body as beautiful. I learned how a 12 year old girl could instinctively care for a 3 year old baby brother, put lunch on the table, and clean a bathroom, and still make straight A’s, while her mama slept away the effects of chemotherapy. I learned what it meant to a 9 year old boy to have his mama at his baseball games, even if she was the one wrapped in three blankets and wearing a winter hat in the spring. I learned how a church pulls together and offers comfort, meals, care, all while their hands are raised in prayer, and how that feels like warriors going to battle for you. I learned how friends show up to stuff your kids in their cars and take them on play dates, take them to lunch, take them to get their hair cut, while you waste away a little. I learned how ‘family’ was something we HAD to actively keep up, so that cancer wouldn’t destroy us. And even when your bones ached and your skin tingled you still pulled those kids close and read them stories and said their bedtime prayers together, because you knew the ache of losing them would hurt so much worse.

This was also the year Ben altered the course of the business a little. It wasn’t meant to all happen at the same time, but for several months last year, he had been preparing to focus more on the custom cabinet business. And for the first time in 15 years here in northern Michigan, his company did not build a single home in 2017. Instead, he poured time, money, and resources into building a team, a family, at Stillwater Custom Cabinetry. It was necessary to slow down the growth to build the foundation. We pulled the purse strings tight at home and he spent a great deal of time developing a software program to help run a smoother cabinet shop. He and his team are preparing for larger manufacturing orders, as he has done the research to know that the need is out there and not being met. He’s part of a board of advisors to a software development company on the west coast. They all want to change the way computers, equipment and carpenters can communicate and produce products at a high level of quality in the most efficient amount of time. It’s been the cutting edge challenge he needed and desired. The customers are calling and the list is growing and we haven’t even advertised yet. It will be another sort of journey to see where Stillwater goes in the year 2018.

Maddy, Brett, & Judah. Only a parent can know the slow breath of relief that this was a year of healthy kids. We got to watch them snow ski, ride bikes, play in the sand, smash baseballs across diamonds, and build forts in the woods. We let a lot of things go this year, we didn’t plant a garden, never made it to Farmer’s Market even once, and only used the boat twice. But we did read through stacks of books, finished up our fifth year of homeschooling, built an entire fort village in the woods at the edge of the property, and just basked in the company that flowed in and out of our driveway as they came to offer the support and care that they could. We felt especially grateful when the doctors stopped my chemo at the end of June and put me on Prednisone so we could make the trip on the ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, WI to witness dear friends say their vows. Then drive up and through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and across the Mackinac Bridge. One week later we packed up the camper and spent a week at Camp Au Sable for family camp, cherishing every moment with family and friends, every worship service at the lakes edge, every class taught, every song sung. And when it was time to plan for the next school year, we did what we’ve done through everything, we bowed before the Good Shepherd of our journey, and asked what we should do?

Camp Au Sable not only helped us create memories this summer and gave us a break from medical requirements, but they have now become the place for Maddy and Brett to get their education. The doors were flung open and both kids have flourished in their new environment. The teachers, the students, and the woods have all helped keep the Creator of all life front and center. So when Isaiah 42:16 says, “I will make the darkness bright before them and smooth out the road ahead of them”, Ben and I could see what that meant. Nothing has eased our minds more than putting our kids in a school that offers such light, and, though the road to get there each day is long, it is the smooth road.

If I could end this letter there, I would be ok with that, but sadly, I cannot. The year was not without its deep pain. In August Ben’s step-mom, Treasure, was diagnosed with Metastatic Cervical Cancer. For a moment, I thought that swapping hats and wigs back and forth would be something we would laugh about someday. But her battle was fierce, consuming, deadly passionate about destroying her. And on November 24, her tiny little body could fight no more. We kissed her, and held her hand and said our final good-byes and wished with all our hearts that this was a big bad dream. Losing Treasure has left a huge hole in our family. She was something special and unique to each of us. Her contagious laugh, mouth-watering meals, and blithe sense of humor will be massively missed. We are sad, but not without hope. Hope in seeing her again someday minus her wheelchair. She and Brett have a standing appointment for a foot race first thing when they get to heaven. I’ll be at the finish line hollerin’ loud and hugging both of them something fierce.

With all the hard this year, there has been so much good‼ We’ve been able to see how people really do show up. How they have heard the gospel and understand what it means to reach out and serve. We’ve been reminded of how to live not climbing ladders, but instead, pressing our knees into the floor. So with Christmas here, it’s no wonder we find ourselves pressing ever closer to a crude manger holding a baby-King.

And if you are receiving this letter, its because you have been a part of our journey. You’ve bowed low and prayed loud and helped absorb our storm and we are SO grateful for you.

The Brower Family

Ben, Kathy, Maddy, Brett, & Judah

Family, Friendship, Grace, Uncategorized

When Serving Grace Became My Saving Grace

I remember the place. I even sort of remember his bearded face. And although I can still see his platform, I don’t remember the size of his audience. I remember sitting near the back, but was that by choice or necessity? I listened intently at first because his surface showcased a long list of accomplishments for the church. He was there to share all his ideas and what he was doing trying to save souls and at first I was impressed. But then I felt small because, what appeared to be a check-list of do-good deeds, I knew I had never done any of them. Nor had I stopped to grab a copy of some-said list of what we should be accomplishing for the Lord. I felt empty-handed and momentarily worthless. In a quick blink I felt like a much bigger taker than any sort of giver. Here’s something else I remember, I remember quietly getting up and walking out. I remember my mid-twenties self feeling twisted in a knot over what I hadn’t done and how I wrestled with the “pitch” of the whole meeting. Was this really how Christ was saving me? Did I miss some hidden memo, some forgotten memory verse about how to save souls for Jesus? And in saving souls, Christ would save me? For a young, true-to-life people pleaser, it was a legit worry. Thankfully, the Lord knows that mans heart and He knew where that gentleman was in his own life. And thankfully, gratefully, the Lord knew mine too. Fifteen years later, I’ve learned something else about saving and serving. I’ve also learned that, without grace, there just isn’t a point or a platform for either.


See, there’s something I’m slowly becoming aware of. That Mid-twenties wife that I was, eventually became a mama with babies and very little sleep. She learned how to become a comforter, a singer of rhymes, a stain magnet, and eventually, a taxi driver, cheerleader, and mediator of quarrels. And in all of that, I lost a lot too. Lost privacy, an actual income, and my bridal body. I also lost things that cannot be replaced. Cannot be fixed. I lost parts of my heart, and now parts of my body, that I’ll never get back. But in all that losing, Jesus still chose to save me. I have often felt Psalms 109:22 “For I am poor and needy, and my heart is full of pain.” And very few times have I allowed myself to believe that God’s grace was and is for me too. Not just those who “..do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.” I have feared and I have wept and I have clenched my fist tight shut because I couldn’t see how God’s story was really going to save me.

And then you all showed up. And you taught me more about God’s way of serving and offered me grace, and your faces and your hands literally reached out and became the points of a saving grace that I never understood before. See, I could have refused you. I could have sent you away from my door, from my porch, from my life, but if I had, I would have missed the incredible journey of watching God’s daughters minister. I would have missed how serving grace was literally becoming my saving grace.

Serving grace. That’s what it felt like. A lesson in humility. A lesson in service. A big lesson in grace. Because when you showed up at my door with a meal. When you walked across my dirty floor to fold two loads of laundry and iron the boys’ dress shirts. When you strapped my kids in the backseat of your white car to get them out of the house for the day, that’s when it all became clear to me. How SERVING grace interconnects with SAVING grace. Because in a world of loud social media and fumbling relationships, you give up yourself. In a world of speed and instant gratification, you gracefully spread sheets across my beds and slowed long enough to serve. And that’s when I knew what saving grace felt like, looked like.





Showing up. Did you ever just show up because you loved someone? The situations can vary from sad and intense, to messy and flourishing. They can be joy-filled and pain based, but you couldn’t imagine being anywhere else? When, at the moment, your own life felt pretty good, but you remembered when it wasn’t, and so you were smarter and wiser about how to reach out? That’s grace. That’s serving. That’s God’s great saving grace.

Psalms 112:4 “When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous.”

That was you. That was you being the light. Being the serving grace that comforts the broken, the busted, the bruised. When you show up, you are already serving. And those of us losing much at the moment, we’re actually finding comfort in the way you show up. We’re seeing how you embrace the example of Jesus and you pencil in your already busy calendar and show up. And you don’t wait for just the right time, you MAKE time. You are so gracious!

“Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God, who calls you, is faithful; he will do this.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24 (NLT).

Purely learning to serve,

~kathy b

Family, Friendship

What Women Really Crave After Mother’s Day

The table held 14. It was full. There were five mother’s and one baby boy to represent mother number six whose lungs had filled just two days before with pneumonia. Some of those relationships went back forty plus years. My history with them was shorter. Only 15-20. But when heads bowed to give thanks for the food before this crowd, my thoughts crowded right up with the cherishing companionship that had brought us here. Brought us to this Mother’s Day brunch.


The fact that we have a day to honor mother’s is all because of a woman named Ann Jarvis. Ann’s senses heightened during the Civil War when homes were void of men. No more Dad’s, Husbands, Brothers, Uncles, or man-sons. Homes held Mama’s, half-grown kids, babies, and the elderly only. Trying to make family into a verb was crumbled. However, what woke Ann up were new, sudden, quiet friendships among all the women. Companionship, turns out, was essential to survival. She watched another kind of family form when women began sharing letters, food, and conversation with each other. These women began to gather, especially when a son was lost. No matter the North or the South of the side, Ann watched these women cross lines to pull themselves out of the darkness of loss, desperately seeking to fill empty spaces with friendship. And when she began making the trek through war torn camps holding the typhoid fevered skeleton’s of all these sons, she found them again. All these Mama’s. Holding the wretched leftovers of what a fight for freedom looks like. And she knew she had to do something other then serve brunch. She wanted to make a public war-cry on the bleeding hearts of Women.

She wanted to bless them. To honor them. She felt it deep in her core. How a woman’s womb could empty right out and when her umbilical cord was severed from her son it would sever her ability to protect his life. So she would sit there. She would sit and read his letters, patch his clothes, peel his favorite potatoes, and one day, maybe , sit by his broken body and feel whole parts of her separate.  

And loneliness could literally clamp tight across your core and dare you to breath.

Ann wanted to win something for them. Something to acknowledge their offering, their loss, their stoic ability to keep walking upright. She watched them reach for each other again and again. Put the teakettle on, shake out the laundry and clip it tight across the line, and move one shaky step forward. Pick each other up and hug tight and weep deep and pour hope into each other’s pain.

Ann’s gift was a calendar day to honor these women of war. To shape a day out of rigorous routine to honor their sacrifice. Girls who dreamed romantic dreams of weddings and babies, now turned into women of loss and death and diseases. Oh how she admired them!
Turns out, in the end, Ann needed her own companion. She did not get Mother’s Day accomplished on her own. Her daughter, Anna, had to experience her own loss when her Mama died. But Anna was that friend that took what was left behind and continued to push forward until President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday.
Friend, it was the companionship that held these women up. Held them together. Held each other’s hands. Maybe that’s why Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stood together at the tomb of Jesus? Maybe it was in the helping that these two women found healing. Maybe it was the comradeship of common heartache that found them walking towards a rolled rock on a dawn lit Sunday morning. They NEEDED each other!  
Maybe that’s what we all still need. Companionship. For the holding on while the world spins and the loss hits and the agony catches us? And in a personal way, I know this it true. You showed up when I needed you! You never questioned whether my hard was easier than yours. No. You just showed up. I love you for that!

Searching for pure companionship,
~kathy b

Christmas, Family, Uncategorized

Our Family in 2016

Dear Family and Friends Everywhere!

I’ve been mulling over the past year wondering how it ended already. I wonder if I’m dangerously close to standing in a blurry spot. That spot where life races and you’re head down trying to stay one step ahead, but you’re the girl in the kitchen behind the party and you just may have missed the events. The kids have sure grown like weeds. I haven’t missed that! Maddy is 11 and in the 5th grade. She grew three inches this year and stands at 4’11! Ben has admitted to confusing the two of us out of the corner of his eye on more than one occasion. I realize the high likelihood of looking her directly in the eye in another year and am grateful that her chocolate brown eyes are usually so kind to look into. She is doing very well in her schoolwork, and still finds time to read a stack of books every week. We redid the guest room last Christmas and moved her into it, so her favorite books and trinkets are now in her own space and the boys are much less likely to destroy her set-up. It definitely felt like we had literally moved Wendy out of the nursery‼ I didn’t understand how apron strings can get loosened and how a bit dizzying that can feel. Some of you are nodding and giving me the ol’ “Just wait!”. I know. But I’m grateful for the girl she still is. I love the girl who studies hard and works hard. I love how she hangs long across her bed and reads into the night. How she loves all things horses. How she loves downhill skiing and snowmobiling, but is happy to leave organized sports to Brett. I love how she offers to bake cornbread to go with our chili and how she volunteers to dress Judah on Sabbath mornings when Ben’s showering and, honestly, I just want a dress that fits! I love all the good that she is and is becoming!

Brett is taller too. Just turned 9, and in the 3rd grade. He’s stronger and smarter and has taken to sports with an overwhelming leap! Suddenly his body and mind put all the rules and moves together and his high energy and need to move took over and the old farmhouse feels too small to contain his run. It doesn’t hurt that he has a high level of competition flowing through his veins. I love what a big picture thinker he is. I love how fast he gets his chores done, and how he insists on memorizing every new piece of music the piano teacher gives him. I love how he loves to go to the coffee shop for a hot drink, a fresh pastry, and a moment of my full attention. I love that he’s already planning next summers fort in the woods and I so admire his forward thinking. I don’t know what company he’ll run one day, but I’m almost certain he will.

Judah is 3 and my most independent kid. He lives in a complex world of wanting to play hard, but never quite keeping up with the older two. He still requires a nap every day and loves sharing a room with an older brother. He pushes his way into Maddy & Brett’s chores, into their piano practicing, and into their board games determined to take over or at least be included. It all sounds brash, but really, with his shining blue eyes, soft sweet dimple, and his seriously infectious giggle, it’s hard not to want him around. He’s easy to entertain. A few Hot Wheels cars, a couple of books, and some music and/or musical instruments, and you’re set for hours. It also doesn’t hurt to include the great outdoors and his little Strider bicycle. The kid is an adventure just to watch and be around. We love him like crazy and wonder how our lives ever spun without him.

Ben and I spend a great deal of our time parenting these three with less sleep, more grays, and an endless supply of God’s grace. On top of that, Ben is still a devout entrepreneur. He is still building custom homes here in northern Michigan. We also have seen huge growth in the custom cabinet business, Stillwater Custom Cabinetry. He also continues to be heavily involved at church and still finds time to work around the farm, pull kids around the lake behind the boat, and camp a handful of weekends during the summer months. I love his passion for both family and work and how he prayerfully moves both forward, taking us where only God could reveal.

And as for me? Well, most of you know or can at least guess at what I have spent this last year doing. Three kids growing, learning, and playing, and I watch them and guide where I can, teach when their listening, and pray without ceasing. I teach them school, taxi them, tickle them, and time their math fact sheets. I read them great books, feed them bread for their bodies and their souls, and I pray feverishly that I won’t completely mess them up. I also try hard to grow edible things in our garden on a hill. I preserve, freeze, and dehydrate fresh foods while the dryer spins, balls bounce high, and the piano pounds loud. And in the midst of all that, I make time to love my husband and serve my church and write.

So this Christmas, between all the busyness of the season, we want to stop and slow down and see each of you for who you are. We want you to know that we’re rejoicing over here about this baby Jesus. This Son-King. We’ve been reading for Advent the story of the family tree of the Christ Child and how it grows in the most unexpected ways, and we feel the same about our family. We also look at each of you and see the special way you’ve each woven your way through our family and how only a God “who holds the wind in his fists, who wraps up the oceans in his cloak, who has created the whole wide world”* could have done all that. Please know that we Browers want to wish you the very Merry Christmas that you deserve. Because He came for you. Special you!

With love,

Ben, Kathy, Maddy, Brett, & Judah                                  *(Proverbs 30:4 NLT)

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