Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About Self-Control

I began dating my husband casually at the end of my Senior year in high school. I was about to graduate. The next two steps were simple to me, work all summer, then, go to college in the fall. I didn’t want strings. So we used the word “dating”, but all it really meant was that we would hang out in all the same ways we had been and also have an automatic date to any school events without having to deal with all the awkward, marginal, pursuers. We didn’t live near each other, so the summer break-up would also be casual. It would be over before our spiderweb of an attachment could ever turn into a cable-hold. This was what I wanted. He was sweet enough to let it be.

Summer came and we both got jobs, turning in time sheets with a full forty hours in each week. He cinched on a tool belt and climbed sand dunes and rooftops working construction for his dad. I punched in at a chain store that sold house-goods and “as-seen-on-tv” products. Ben sweat and tanned in the hot sun, while, 2 states away I stayed cool in the air-conditioning. We kept in touch. We even managed to drive back and forth and see each other some weekends. They were short visits, because, being in retail, I was required to work every Sunday. And while we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company, we tried to remain a little detached. Or, I should say, I did. His is a different story.

Fall flew in and school started. We were back in the same state, but not in the same school. Again, we kept in touch. Wrote letters and talked hours on phones with cords that wrapped clear around the house. However, I was already looking around. College was new and exciting to me. It wasn’t but a few months in when I called and told him it was time to see what other options were out there, for both of us. You can say I was cold-hearted, but, believe me, I explained everything in complete practical sense to my parents. It was logical for the stage of life we were both in. We needed to live in the moment. Enjoy what surrounded us. And yes, blushingly, I will admit to having a crush on a guy who was such a gentleman, that he would never have asked me out if I was still attached, even in the slightest way, to someone else.

OK. There it is. Did you catch it? That last fruit of the Spirit. Self-control.

Two guys. Both with clear consciences. And, might I add, two Mama’s who had brought up two solid guys. The first whose feelings had grown deeper than I was aware of, let me go. Let me fly. The second, who was a couple years older, could have tried to push the issue the moment he thought I might be interested, but didn’t until I WAS free to fly. And I could have played the whole thing back and forth. Two guys. Two different schools.

But I didn’t. Self-control brings joy, and that situation, which I wanted to be fun and casual, would not have been joyful if any one of us had lost self-control. This is not to say that feelings weren’t a bit jumbled and wonky. This is simply to give an example of what Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, “The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.”

The apostle Paul, when writing to the growing churches HAD to discuss passion in an open way. It was a way of life, this public pursuit of massive sensual appetites. It was impossibly non-Biblical. But the generational pattern had never been stopped, and so it appeared all too commonplace. But it wasn’t God-born, and Paul had to address the uncomfortable. And I, too, will boldly go on record to say that the venues may be different today, but the appetites are still excessively high. We live in a society that has taken relationships to a platitude of indulgence and, I don’t know about you, but most of it has buried many an individual soul in the process.

Charlotte Mason, who was a British educator at the turn of the 20th century, taught diligent lessons on habits and discipline. She believed so much of what we learn, our behavior, begins right away at a very young age, and that it is the pursuit of the parents to turn the wheel of the potter and help kids to be shaped and formed with a better understanding of the image of God. She says, “Every habit has its beginning. The beginning is the idea which comes with a stir and takes possession of us”. It saddens me that we live in a world that has let selfish passions form into perpetual habits. These habits have turned into intoxicating activities that seem almost justifiably normal, but in reality they are a temporal feasting for thieves.

But here’s where the arrow can be turned. Where the real joy gets handed back to us as a gift. The truth lies in this, if we are believers in Christ, who took the evil war-lord and beat him at his personal favorite, death, then we are not prisoners of a maniacal, beatnik society. We are lights encased in a glorious hurricane, protected by nails pierced only once through the flesh of a risen, redeeming Savior. We are a new creature, a new creation, put on display so that the world can see the generous love and forgiveness that God holds sacred to those who shed their maverick passions.

Self-control is a gift. The last fruit listed in Galatians 5:22 & 23. The lack of self-control, or temperance as some versions use, has been a problem throughout time. It bulges out of our news feeds at a dismal pace. The God of the universe, who created us to be sexual beings, also set up boundaries, because He knew, if we stepped outside those guidelines, the crumbling of the human courage would be the breaking of many hearts. So the Holy Spirit comes like a whisper and taps out ‘self-control’ next to faithfulness and gentleness. And we find it written in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

I can honestly say I’m grateful for the self-control of those two guys during my college years. The one I had a crush on, well, we were two introverts who quickly ran out of things to talk about. And Ben? The guy who let me hold him at arms length? He’s still with me. Twenty some years later. We’re still holding promises for both the present world and the life that is to come.

A perpetual student,

~kathy b

Shafer, Sonya; “Laying Down the Rails”, Simply Charlotte Mason, LLC, pg.138.

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).

Gentleness, Gifts & Talents, Uncategorized

How Real Women Use Gentleness

Gentleness is one of those words I hardly hear anymore. Try it out in your own mouth. Find a phrase where you might use the word ‘gentle’, and practice saying it, and while you do that, let me share a gentling story of my own.

It wasn’t that she used the word itself. She simply evaluated her job and the space we both occupied and she made a choice to be gentle with me.

Remember that trip out west we took? The one that gently turned us back into a normal family? The trip to one of Alaska’s peninsula’s, where we let God’s glory refill our drained souls? The trip began in Michigan, but we stopped the first day out to spend with my brother and his family in Washington. We capered around Seattle’s outdoor market and let cousin’s reconnect while they giggled at golden pig statues, wrinkled their noses at fresh caught fish flying, and soared high above the ocean’s edge in a slow turning Ferris wheel. When we hugged goodbye and returned to the airport for the next leg of our journey, there was an inward groan because we had to switch airlines and check ourselves in all over again. Once tickets were printed and bags checked we headed for the security line. Shoes off. Laptops out. Snacks separated. Cars, stickers, books, crayons, and one chewed on white-ish bear that the littlest sleeps with, all zipped up in backpacks. Oh! And that one card of mine. The newest one that brands me as a remolded human. Yeah, so I hold this one card out to the gentleman security officer who’s watching us eject all this stuff into bins. He nods and points me to a separate metal detector that spins around my body while I spread eagle and raise my arms above my head. And when the spinning stops, I’m instructed to step into her space.

She, again, had me lift my arms out away from my sides, and in the same breath asked me where my prostheses was? My arm? My leg? ‘No’, I answered…….and felt the hesitation sit long.

Her eyes met mine. And I didn’t know the proper thing to do. The big second hand in my head clicked loud and I had a lightning quick thought of the line of people waiting behind me, so I let it all.just.fall…. “My breasts. Everything’s just man-made product now.” And I let my eyes flick away from her face.

Her hesitation to respond to that lasted far less than mine. “You look really good to me.” Her words felt like she had just handed me a warm cup of tea.

Friend, I had felt the hand of the Gentle Healer. I had touched His cloak. And because that woman was on duty at that hour, He had used her to gently remind me that He makes all things new. That I was still made in His image. The world did not know that I had been rearranged to save my life. She knew because I told her, and she had been brave enough to look into my soul and gently guide my thoughts away from shame.

She was and is a stranger to me, and yet, there were things I was feeling, stuffing, and unbeknownst to both of us, her words echoed Simon & Garfunkels song.

“When you’re weary, feeling small.

When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.

I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough….

I’m sailing right behind you.

Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind.”

And woman to woman, face to face, it felt like a shared hymn of grace.

Oh, if we could all be so gentle.

Here’s a little something else for you to think about while you’re searching for your phrase. Jesus took three years to minister to people. People of all shapes and sizes. The young and the old. The rich, the poor, and the painfully average. The Jew, the Gentile, and the demon possessed. In those three years, it would be impossible to know how many people he healed and made well. And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t find a single story of restoration that He did out of anger or annoyance. Each person was treated with gentleness. Even when the room He was in sometimes buzzed with condemnation. It wasn’t and isn’t Jesus’ nature to scold you for being broken. It’s just not how He does things.

Ephesians 4:2, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (NLT). Remember, love does not boast, neither is it proud. It protects. And, sometimes, we need protection from our own battering thoughts. Sometimes we devalue the walk because what seems momentarily untrue may be the product of a new start.

Remember when Jesus had called Matthew to be His disciple? Matthew did not hesitate, but instead planned a big dinner with all his tax collector friends. Jesus walked into that house and immediately heard the Pharisees whisper in the windows, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” I am always humbled when I hear His response. “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.” (Matt. 9:11-13 NLT).

And here’s where I feel myself slowly move to the proverbial floor to sit at Jesus’ feet. Because I’ve been that sick one. Because His mercy sends a stranger to realign my scope. Because there’s so much He can teach me, and His gentle manner draws me in and I want to be blessed.

Jesus gently heals us. He gently comforts us. He gently whispers to us. And, when necessary, He gently corrects us, because He loves us. Because way back, near the beginning of time, when the first two children had eaten that which was forbidden, and when they had found the first hiding spot, it wasn’t a great big wave of violence that God met them with. He came quickly to find them. He didn’t wait for those two guilt ridden mortals to crawl to His proud throne, but He went straight to the place where they were, and called to them. His pursuit of lost humanity began that moment.

Here’s what else I know, sometimes you’re the one called to do the gentling. Maybe through a long-awaited phone call, or a slow walk, or even those quiet words that needed to find their own space. It might be that extra four bucks she needed to cover some bread, or arms of compassion wrapped around his shoulders. It might be an easy high five, or a storybook read out loud in the middle of chaos. Because here’s the heart of it, not one of us hasn’t been roughed up a bit by crude noise and the constant race of real life. Not one of us hasn’t cried a lament. But God, in His gentle way, stands us up and looks into our eyes and says, “You look pretty good to me”. And. He. Means. Every. Word!

Growing in Gentleness,

~kathy b

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.

Uncategorized

Why It’s Important to Fill Up on the Fruit of Kindness

Four o’clock in the morning can be, for some, the worst time to be awake. The possibility of a couple more hours of sleep is a prize winning feat, or a tossing, sheet-twisting agonizing waste of time. But for a few of you out there, it’s the quiet before the business of the day begins it’s pulsing rhythm. As a Mama, I’ve seen four A.M. a whole book full of times. Sometimes, because of babies who needed feeding, dry sheets, or a thermometer under the arm. Or it’s my mind, waking with fears, anxieties, or lists that seem to be running their own race. But there have been a few times that four A.M. has been a place of changing. Changing my life, my very heart. A place of shifting to that other woman that I thought I would never have to become. Prayed I would never have to be, but, somehow now, grateful that I am.

Thirteen years ago this month, at four A.M., our first born son took his final breath. The stillness of the morning broken by the battered bewailing that emptied out of my soul. When it was time to leave him, my once broad shouldered husband simply hung by my side, his step no longer sure, but instead, reduced to a shuffle. His eyes swollen with the pooling. Somehow, our feet walked through doors to the place where his dad and step-mom sat. Waiting. At four A.M. they sat folded onto a hospital couch in a family room. Waiting. Stiffly, stifling their grief. We gave them permission to go home, and Ben and I found bathrooms to pour water over our faces.

To this day, I don’t remember the thought process that pushed me back through the doors and over to where our son lay under the lights. But here’s what I do remember. Their kindness. Their gentleness in handling me. The nurses had brushed rapidly at their own tears and with utmost care, removed every cord, tube, and IV from our baby. And with hands formed by a gentle God, they had wrapped him in a beautiful blue and white blanket. A blanket handmade by another woman I’ll never meet. Those nurses moved two chairs close together and gently tucked the baby into me. Ben sat too and held my hand. And finally, after a forever twenty-four hour period, we both slept.

Kindness is a noun. A concrete thing. Kindness is something every single one of us is capable of. Kindness opens eyes and sees the needs of others in all their flesh. In their vulnerability. In the bigger picture of erupting pain or stony silence, kindness can bridge the chasmic pits.

Mr. Roger’s (Neighborhood, from PBS), once shared a story of when he was a small boy and horrible things would happen, his mother, to help him process the scary thing, would always tell him, “Look for the helpers.” I translate this into looking for the kindness. To those who dip into the drama to hold humanity.

It can be hard. Sometimes, the ones who need the most kindness are the ones most difficult to approach. And sometimes, the situation grieves big and we’re overwhelmed, and we feel ill equipped. Yet Christ, who loves us so deeply and so consistently, lavishes kindness and goodness. Allows it to flow freely. Rhythmically. God does not grow weary in doing good, nor should we. And just as He laps the waves onto the seashore over and over, and cycles the seasons so we can work hard and harvest at times, and then rest when it’s time to rest, so He also moves kindness with a vagility to pulse into something that keeps moving. It does not and should not go stagnant.

Friend, what if kindness migrated? Could we be so gentle? Could we be like David who stands over his enemy with every ability to kill him, but instead walks away with just a small piece of his cloak? In 1 Samuel 24: 19 King Saul asks the question, “Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today.” And could we be like the men of Jabesh-Gilead who took the time to bury Israel’s first anointed king after he was killed in battle? In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David blesses these men for their kind deed. The man who was hunted out of jealousy for years, is incapable of anything but allowing the fruit of kindness to flow freely from him. And how different, also, would our redemptive story be if not for the kindness of an innkeeper in a small town called Bethlehem who could not turn a young, laboring girl away, but quietly lit a light and led her and her fiancé to his stable?

Some of us can find a kind thing to do once in a while, when we suddenly have a moment of time on our hands and someone else’s emergent need scrolls through our Facebook feed, so we jump, because we impulsively can, and it’s the right thing to do. But what if we changed the habit of scrolling into a habit of sacrificing? Let’s be honest, habits are hard to change no matter how simplistic they look at first glance. But what if kindness flowed through our day, and our night, because it was the rhythm of our souls? What if YOU were the world changer because you changed the way you wanted the world to be?

Author Ann Voskamp writes “What if the truth really is that every tremor of kindness here erupts in a miracle elsewhere in the world?” What if kindness was what cycled bigger than the oceanic waves? How different would our hardships be if kindness was the power behind every motive? And in the still, early morning dawn, instead of being an island of shattering, what if small particles of healing could begin?

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:9 & 10 (NLT).

Growing towards pure kindness,

~kathy b

Ann Voskamp, “Be The Gift”,( Zondervan 2017) pg.11

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

Joy, Uncategorized

The Fruit of Joy

It was just he and I in the elevator. He must have been more than twice my age. A navy blue hat rested atop his head with the words, “Korean War Veteran” stitched in gold across his brow. He was going up and I was going down and I’m not sure which of us got on the wrong elevator, but it only took me a second, when his voice carpeted the metal space around us, that I knew it didn’t matter, because what he said next would have velcroed me to the spot anyway. He told me, in as few words as could fit into a 2 floor ascent, that his wife of over 60 years was here in the hospital because her heart had stopped. Twice. But how she was doing good. How she was too spunky to go down for long. And then he reached into his pocket at the same time the elevator jolted to a stop and pulled out something small. The doors hummed their slow open yawn and he reached across our safe stranger space and pressed the thing in my hand and as his foot propelled his small, age-framed shape forward, he said, “God is taking care of us.”

At that moment, I did not have enough breath in me to respond. Later, I think I remember nodding? Maybe I gave him a half smile in agreement? I chastised myself for not at least thanking him for his service. And yet, when the second hand of life’s moments ticked three or four more times while that elevator closed and my shoulder bones hiccuped upward because of the downward pull, I opened my gifted hand. There, pressed in, was a black leather keychain with the words, “Jesus Cares” 1 Peter 5:6,7. A yellow cross painted in the middle.

“He touched me,

Oh, He touched me,

And oh the joy that floods my soul.

Something happened and now I know,

He touched me and made me whole.”

I was flooded. They were the Gaither’s words, but it was the Lord’s joy that flooded me then as I shimmied my own diseased body up onto the radiation table. Was he just a stranger, or was there something more holy going on than I knew about right then? I don’t know the answer to that, but here’s what I do know. Joy. I know what joy feels like even in the drudgery of this sin filled world. Friend, I can tell you, my heart beat hard against my chest wall for the next half hour at least! First of all, I thought of all the ways this man had loved his wife for all those many years and through all the changing of their experiences and circumstances. Was it always joy? He went through a WAR! I can almost certainly say, no. But when her heart stopped it’s rhythmic pulsing, he had called for help. He had watched staff in scrubs hustle to restart her life. Twice. And in all that crazy, he had kept his perspective. “God is taking care of us”.

The Greek word for joy is ‘CHARA’. It is defined as, ‘the joy received from you’, or ‘the cause or occasion of joy. Of person’s who are ones joy’. Nothing ties joy to love like Jesus does in John 15:9-17. “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” And then He goes on commanding us to love each other the way He loves us. Read those lines again, because the flooding of joy comes from how much the Father loves us when we obey him, and we are to do the same for others. One another. Our husbands, our kids, our parents, in-laws, church members, even the stranger in the elevator. I wonder if broken hearts would even be a thing if we loved one another and spread that kind of joy around us? Even on our hard days? Because that is the obedience that God cares about.

It isn’t as if you needed one more story of joy lost, not after the recent news feed, but remember Kind David? The story is different than our modern day war cries, but it’s the same story of disobedience. You know the story, of a handsome king with everything he could want, including God’s blessing, and the beautiful wife of Uriah, one of his commanders, listed as one of his mightiest men. 1 Kings chronicles it as David’s one great sin. It WAS David’s disobedience. And the result? Everything that is obvious to us…death, heartbreak, deceit, loss, grief. But there’s one more thing, David’s loss of JOY! He writes about it in Psalm 51:8, after Nathan the prophet came to him, “Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice.”

It’s true, isn’t it? A broken soul cannot feel joy overflowing until the heart reaches towards the love only a Savior can give. And the only reason to look back is to remember the cause of our joy, defined by the person who brings us joy.

So let me leave you with this, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:18. That’s another act of obedience, friend. Choosing to see what will come! And when you see it, it will flow from YOU! This is the fruit you are capable of. This is the fruit of working together so that you will be full of joy. Standing in a faith that says, “God is taking care of me.”

Purely seeking joy,

~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