Family, Grace, Parenting, Uncategorized

For The Mama Who Feels Deflated

Recently, my husband and I sat in a big group of parents and discussed some big, broad topics. One of the questions we were asked went something like, ‘What character in the Bible do you most connect with’ or ‘..see yourself as’?

The truth is, I can relate to an embarrassingly large number of Bible characters, but not the character traits that I wish to have. For instance, I have a temper like Peter, I doubt great things like Thomas, “But God when….”, and, “God, why haven’t you…?”, and “God, I doubt I’m much of anything…..”. I have put out more than my share of fleece’s like Gideon, and have been very tempted to run….far…like Jonah. And I have also been like David, face on the floor, prostrate before God in deep agony, desperately begging for healing, for forgiveness, for mercy. But ultimately, I hope to identify with Jesus, because there really isn’t any other Bible character that I want to find my identity in.

 

As a Mama sitting here scrubbing smashed blackberries off of the table, I remember other tables I’ve read about. In the New Testament, there are two tables Jesus touched in two extremely different manners . One was the tables of the merchants who had the shaming nerve to set up shop in the Holy Temple of God. They cackled loud and swindled deep and ripped people off and went home and slept the night away with zero guilt over their lewd business deals. They were sordid entrepreneurs who dealt doves in dark alleys and then displayed their scandal all throughout the church. And when people came to pray for deliverance, for direction, for renewed dependence on God, they had to set aside their desire for God for a time in order to deal with the purchase of a sacrifice obtained in disgrace. So that day, after entering Jerusalem on a donkey and turning the heads of the believers and the disdainers, Jesus walked into the Temple and drove out the dirty dealers. He called the filth by it’s true name. And when the dust had settled, when the mess of merchants had fled to the shadows, those who needed the temple, the house of prayer, the Savior within, came close and fell in love with a man who simply wanted to be among them.

Then there is the other table. The table where Jesus, the sacrifice, ate his last meal. And although He held within Him all of the human tools to sit quiet and feel sad, to let anxiety drown out the idle chatter, to begin the grieving process that the disciples still had no clue about, He didn’t. He sat at that table and looked around at those He

loved the most. The crazy menagerie of men who had hung on His every word, handled His crowds, and witnessed His healing hand a thousand times. He looked at those He loved and chose to wash their feet and serve them one more time. He chose to care about their mess and help them clean it up. He chose to show them how to forgive and try again. These were His people, His family, His boys.

In our old farmhouse, we have only one table. Not a kitchen table and a dining table. Not even a coffee table. One table. Everything happens at that one table. We eat there, pray there, school there, worship, create, and theorize. We argue, cry, and write, all at that one table. And as I look to Christ for direction, I learn how to call wrong what is wrong, how to identify what is messy and clean it up, but I also learn to look at the faces of those I love most and know that these are my people, my family. And I wouldn’t choose to be with anyone else.

And so, yes, I can identify with several characters in the Bible, but my identity always lies in Christ. I may not have many of His traits yet, but I do have His grace. “Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” Romans 3:24 (NLT).

So, to the Mama who feels a bit deflated today. To the Mama who bakes breakfast first thing, and scans the bulging calendar and wonders ‘How?’ To the Mama who has begun to stockpile school supplies and uniforms and sandwich bread and colored pencils, who somehow pinched a couple more pennies out of the budget this month to replace too small tennis shoes. To the Mama too tired to remember what day of the week it is and how long now has this headache lasted? To the Mama who just wants clean floors and an empty kitchen sink once this week. To the Mama who watches the midnight clock move towards morning and prays for enough strength to make it through the day from start to finish and NOT lose her temper or set loose her tongue. To the Mama rounding on patients, praying for words to say to families clinging to hope. To the Mama clipping coupons and counting dollars and rechecking her checking account. To the Mama with the light on late at night, I honor your work and love your devotion. And although the party got rained on and the kids seemed to tune you out and your husband is in the middle of harvest/turn-over/overtime/on-call/call-to-duty, you really do have this. Because there’s another character in the Bible that doesn’t feel like she’s got it either. There’s a woman who knows the right thing to do, but only now feels rescued from her orphaned life, and how dare she rock the rhythm of the royal palace? But she is Esther who follows God’s order, and does it anyway. And guess where she sits when she upends a murderous scandal and asks for the saving of her people? At her table. Because she was called to ‘such a time as this’, and Mama, so were you.

I understand your heart and see the privilege of your duties, but I also believe you were created for this time, this moment, these people. God is on your side. God is merciful and God is deeply in love with you. And if you’re feeling the suffocating lies of someone’s “better life” on social-media, know that you are better protected by a surrounding Father who will never tell you that you are not enough. He listens to fears with open ears and holds your tears in a glass bottle because He values every part of you. He protects your beating heart and pulls you under the shadow of His wing. He fights for you with sword drawn and, yes, when the time was necessary, He opened wide His arms and sacrificed Himself for you. You are held safe beyond the reach of enemies. You are given a perfect champion who can send the right buyer, schedule the compassionate doctor, and harness the growing business idea.

Go to the table, friend. Go clean up the mess, clear the rumors, corner the mischief , and together, with your people, close your eyes and worship the Christ who identifies with you.

~kathy b

Grace, Hope, Kindness, Uncategorized

Because Who Doesn’t Love a Little Hand Holding?

“Reach out your hand.”

HipstamaticPhoto-568051740.357871HipstamaticPhoto-568134807.494855file3-1

Reach out to her running solo in this role she didn’t choose. Not back when she was dreaming of wedding gowns with ruffled hems. Not back when she was wrapping a new baby in a royal blue receiving blanket. Not when she read those words of rejection and racked heart pain on the bathroom floor. Reach out to her.

“Reach out your hand.”

Reach out to him reawakening his dream to shift his real history into something better than where he came from. Reach out so he has a chance to retrace what was hard and try another route. Trying to walk refreshed and redeemed. Reach out to him.

“Reach out your hand.”

Reach out to her ripening in age, wishing she could reverse time, just a little bit. Rewind back to relationships she found rare and roguishly raw, but were lost in the progression of life. Be the substantive conversation she remembers, when respect for hard work and religion went farther than a rapid text reply. Reach out to her.

”Reach out your hand.”

Reach out for those whose only response is a reflexive kick in the dark. For those in the room of the womb. The ones in the midst of a raging storm they didn’t create. Reach out for those rapidly, fluttering heartbeats, and those rounding cheeks, those resting retinas waiting for the light to refract. Reach out to the rudimentary cry of the babe just born.

“Reach out your hand”

Because He said it and it wasn’t a question. It was a request. Or more of a requirement. The man’s hand in Matthew chapter 12, the one Jesus happened to notice at the synagogue, the hand that was deformed, that’s when Jesus spoke. To restore and redirect a limb back to it’s intended structure.

“Reach out your hand.”

The man did not come to Jesus, Jesus found the man and spoke those four words. “Reach out your hand.” Reach out to the reason Jesus wrote a rescue plan. Reach out to the reason Jesus resurrected from a tomb carved out of rough rock. Reach out to the reason Jesus reposts in your life every day, “I. Love. You.”

Follow suit, friend. Repeat His words and be the relief for a resentful human soul. Live your story stronger. Repeat His words and recognize the voice of reason. Recognize the recovering disbeliever you were and rebuild that redeeming relationship with the Ray of Hope who spoke those words in front of the doubters. The judgers. The highly critical.

“Reach out your hand”.

Know that when you do that, when you reach out your hand, the comfort of His hand in yours will become the normalcy you’ve craved. The settling of your roving heart. The healing of your restless soul.

That, my friend, is worth reaching for.

~kathy b

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.

Grace, Love of my Savior, Uncategorized

Why You Cannot Skip The Fruit of Peace and Still Hope to Survive Life

It’s been exactly one whole year. One year ago I remember laying on my stomach, arms stretched above my head, my forehead pressed into a padded ring. I was told I would have to hold very still while the MRI hummed and snapped pictures of the inside of my chest. I remember, just before she slid me into the machine, the technician gently draping my body with a warm blanket. Eased into the metal machine, I closed my eyes. I had been so cold, chemotherapy will do that to you, but that blanket captured my chill and I felt ribbons of warmth wrap around my skin. An IV pulsed dye into my veins and I finally opened my eyes. I don’t know what I expected to see, but it wasn’t what I saw. Under my face was a mirror. And the mirror reflected a mural painted on a wall somewhere. The scene was a beautiful lake with a break-wall leading out to a lighthouse. I decided to settle in, after all, this test was going to take awhile.

This may sound strange, but I was sick, cold, and tired, so I allowed myself the simple pleasure of imagining myself walking along that pier with a very hot breeze penetrating my body. The idea of not being cold for even a moment, or worrying that the weather might change and drop the temperature, was freeing. It was also that moment that I began to pray. I prayed for a lot of things, but the quick answer, the rapid assurance, caught me in a powerful moment of peace. What I saw on that pier wasn’t real. And yet, it was. What I saw was a powerful truth. As I stood there, alone, in the hot winds near a lighthouse that doesn’t actually exist, I looked back towards shore. Three figures came towards me. Two walking. One in a wheelchair. My three mothers. We did not embrace. We spoke no words. I stood a few feet from them, but I felt their voices mix with the winds and their hands smooth out my wintry skin. I knew God had sent them. I knew, when their arms caressed my knotted hair, the hair rapidly falling out, that God had sent them to remind me to be at peace. I was not alone. I knew at any given moment, when I wanted to crumble, I would think of them, and I would stand tall and finish this journey because of who they had helped shape me to be. I would do this, not FOR them, but BECAUSE of them.

I felt, more than heard, the whispers of the Holy Spirit. And I let my salty tears fall onto the small mirror with the imaginary seashore in it.

The fruit of peace is not an easy one to write about. In fact, it’s a hard one to narrow down. What kind of peace is Paul talking about? How do we wrap our minds around something we can’t actually produce ourselves? But I had felt it inside that MRI machine, and now I wanted to understand it. Paul says, “when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in it”. Peace. Paul also writes in Ephesians 5:9, “For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” The right kind of fruit. The fruit of peace.

Good. Right. True. Peace.

One of the definitions for peace is “of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.”

Whatsoever sort of an earthly lot you get, that should be where you find peace.

What if I told you, and quoted, “God loves you dearly, and he has called you to be his very own people. May grace and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:7

Again, “…you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did all Christians everywhere – whoever calls upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and theirs. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you his grace and peace.”. 1 Corinthians 1:2,3.

Does it sort of feel like Paul is out gifting grace and peace? But Paul, who had the perfect upbringing, the perfect education, three square meals a day and was the teen with the latest fashion? Why does he need to know anything about peace? Friend, he was also the Paul who, as Saul, persecuted Jesus’ followers. And, once he accepted Christ as Lord, he became the Paul who was put in jail more times than I can count, whipped, stoned, and faced death again and again. He was shipwrecked three times. He faced dangers from cities, deserts, and the stormy seas. Jews and Gentiles both shook their fists at him. He went days not knowing where his next food or drink would come from. But time after time he entered into a meeting with a group of believers greeting them with grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Could it be, always, in the tunnel of fear and uncertainties, that what IS good and right and true is the perfect gift of grace and peace? Could it be, that Paul had settled into a life of knowing and understanding how that light, the one lit within, was able to glow bright even in storms? Paul knew his earthly lot was to spread the gospel of Christ Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. But he was human too, and perhaps the need to complain raised it’s unconscious hand once in a while. Maybe the raspy voice of hunger or the latest exhaustive trial seared his ability to hide criticism. I don’t know. But maybe the greeting was simply his ability to pause before preaching. Maybe it was his way of being a gracious host to his own soul.

It’s a powerful lesson for me. My own personal lot of late has darkened my interior. But he reminds us that there is light within us. The good and true kind. We are God’s chosen people. We also read, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16. Could it be, this is where we find peace? The lining of our souls might be the protective barrier for the candle burning deep within. What if we learned to pause before judgement and criticism could escape our lips? What if we actually allowed God’s grace and peace to steady our tongue or still our anguished heart?

Paul also writes in Philippians 4:6 & 7 (NLT), “ Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Paul knew that his heart was guarded and in Colossians 3:15 he points out that peace ruled his heart as well. Peace is the culmination of good, right, and true gifts, and this is what stills storms. So there IS balance in this out-of-balance world? I think so.  

Grace and Peace.  

From God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Guardian and Ruler over….

our hearts and our minds. 

Balance.

And there, in the dark tunnel….

PEACE

In pure peace,

~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