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

Hope, Uncategorized

A Lament For A Lonely Heart

Dear Father God,

When the soul feels so empty, do I dare come before your throne? When my head knowledge says we’re still connected but my heart feels that somehow there’s been a breach in our relationship, do I dare still ask you for renewing? You have always been my rock, my rescuer, my confidant, but why then do I feel this hollow empty place? Why do I find myself flipping through catalogs and store windows to buy? Why do I somehow think that all that pretty stuff will fill the void? If I’m being honest, God, I feel sad. I feel…..abandoned. When you asked me to walk through the fire, did you know how lonely the hot spot feels? You promised to never leave me or forsake me, but I’m afraid to lean right now. Why? After all these years, why does your strength make me feel weak? You and I, we were going to tell this story together. We were going to show people that you aren’t afraid to create a storm to show your majesty, your power. And I was willing. But I am a broken mortal. My body bares scars. And now my heart feels heavy.

But….this heart, the one in the wrecked body of me, it still belongs to you. I won’t ever deny that. And this body, it will eventually be nothing but dust. But, Lord, in this life, I am nothing without you. So have you pulled back your hand from me? Have you placed a shadow of gloom between us? And if so, why? Is it my doubt that disturbs you? Is it my emptiness that pains you? Are you just too busy with all the destruction happening in the world that you have forgotten our story? I understand that there are guns firing loud, blood running in streams down church aisles and truck beds and, Lord, people, their cries and tears are calling loud. I hear them. But if you are omnipotent, can you not hear me too?

Lord, forgive me. I don’t mean to lose perspective. I see storms in all shapes and sizes and I wonder why any of them should exist at all? Job said it, he pleaded with you. He predicted this future time, “It is a land as dark as midnight, a land of utter gloom where confusion reigns and the light is as dark as midnight.” Humanity is frail. I am no different. Please do not meet me with silence. Please do not leave me out of your presence. I need the hope of a kingdom not shaken with self-serving agendas, dark secrets, and stolen weapons. I need to know your kingdom holds room for me. Please, Lord, light even a small window that I might see it and know that you’re in my corner, too.

Father God, Almighty, please forgive me. Forgive my self-doubt. Forgive a girl who battles depression. Forgive a girl who needs evidence of your existence. I ask that you stir my heart. Make the blood in my veins ripple with a wave of your courage. The wicked have no hope. Forgive my wickedness. Gift me with hope. Give me rest in my soul. Strike me with a match of your light, that all will see we really are in this together. That the disease defecting my body is simply part of the mapping out of your redemption story. Make me a pillar. A pillar made to withstand the agnosticism of the crowd. Heal my roots. Roots buried deep in the truth of your existence. Turn my eyes to you first, before any shop, any craft, any event that might try to pull at my meager resources.

King David lamented that he had lost joy, I know that breaking. Immanuel, break these chains of darkness instead. Begin the repairing of my overwhelmed heart. Once I was young, and felt the satisfaction of the world. I spent my time with what looked like beauty carved to adorn worldly spaces. How fleeting that was. How small. God, you see a grand galaxy that spins in perfect harmony, and I feel small. You are master of miracles, let me not forget. Draw me close to you. To what really matters. Direct my heart back to your Sovereignty. Help me make peace with your decision of order.

Jesus. In one name you can silence loud spaces. I ask that you silence the breaking of my heart. Please help me raise my open hands once more. Turn my moaning into prayers cloaked in incense. An offering of my life, instead of a lamenting of an uninspired breath. Remind me that I am not a savior, but a servant. Amaze me once again with your greatness. Forgive me for forgetting what mercy looks like. For you could have stripped my life from this earth long ago, but instead you have blessed me over and over again. How quickly I am to forget all that.

God and King, I can hold no space except the space where I kneel at your throne. You hold grace and love for me. You are so kind. My tears flow, but only with the awe and humility at the realization of who you are. Because you brought me life. You formed me in my mother’s womb and planned my life to glorify you. You have blessed me with a husband. Strong and giving. You have blessed me with children. A daughter, quiet and quaint. Sons, flourishing and boisterous. You have blessed me by covering me with your grace and loving all of my flaws.

O God, you have never changed. You are everything you said you would be. You have freed me from this disease. Let the wounds, like your own, be displayed to show how a little dust of a human can be an arrow pointing up. When my cries come, as they most likely will, wrap me in your arms of grace. Rescue me from those who would question your knowledge. You know every space and you know time and history more than anyone, and you know what the future holds. I give you praise for allowing me to see how you hold us in the hard times. When I slip into the darkness, Lord, please come after me. Please run. Don’t let me lose hope. Keep the darkness of the night back. Take me to your mountain. To the strong place where my enemies cannot reach. Bring me to your flock. Hold my pain, and, God? Hold my heart, it is yours, after all.

Purely yours,

~kathy b

Family, Friendship, Grace, Uncategorized

When Serving Grace Became My Saving Grace

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


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

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

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





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

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

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

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

Purely learning to serve,

~kathy b

Family, Friendship

What Women Really Crave After Mother’s Day

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


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

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

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

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

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

Searching for pure companionship,
~kathy b

Hope, Uncategorized

When Hope Is All You’ve Got

I’m going to start today being completely honest. I have struggled hard knowing what to write about this month. Inside, I’ve been my own complete mess, and I came to the realization that some of you might be feeling the same way. I pawed through to the bottom of what the real issue[s] were and one word became bold. H.O.P.E.

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Because, really? Isn’t that the pinnacle between success and defeat? Aren’t we all holding some fragmented thread of hope?

Hoping to lose weight?

Hoping for an easier schedule?

Hoping to come through surgery ok?

Hoping for a new baby, a proposal, a new job?

Hoping to hire the right person, to clean out the basement, to make a little more money?

Hoping to not let them down, not lose your temper, not disappoint?

Anxiety weighs in and we toss in our sleep. All this hoping….makes one feel hope-less at times. Doesn’t it?

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But if God is a God of love, then hope is real. Hopelessness is a form of worry, and when was the last time we abandoned worry because we felt deep confidence in what God was planning for us? See, I was reading King David’s Psalms again, and he wrote this,

“My heart is confident in you, O God; no wonder I can sing your praise.” Psalm 57:7

Kind David is singing! My worry has not left me singing! Snarling…yes. Teeth clenching…for sure. Distracted…positively! So how can a song well up in a God-breathed soul when worry keeps beating on your chest?

Is that it then? Worry has taken over hope? We worry we won’t get the desired results and the loss of hope reigns a near blow to our value? Because we want to be valuable? We want to mean something to someone? We want to be noticed, admired, cherished, loved unconditionally?

God is love though. Isn’t He? And love encourages and fosters hope to grow. And wouldn’t a Father who formed you so beautifully, love you so deeply? So then, isn’t He the master of hope? Paul felt that He was. After all, he wrote in 1 Corinthians the love chapter. Chapter 13, which ended with three things. Faith, hope, and love. These three form a braided rope absolutely unbreakable by any worry the devils hissed in your ear.

I have to get you to look a little further back in that chapter, though. Because after worry has been pretty vigilant in forming her new home in my ever beating heart, God is working to alter the blueprint. Verse 7 threads it’s way into my soul amnesia, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I’m letting out one big ol’ shaky breath.

God is love. He put himself in some unbelievably difficult circumstances, because His whole hope is based on the thought of you loving Him back. He’s hoping you’ll choose relationship with Him over stuff in stores and stuff in bottles and stuffy people. He’s hoping you’ll grab on to that one braided rope and know the strength of a tied up cord.

Oh, and did I tell you that other part? The part about the origin of words? Words like ‘hope’? Turns out, the Hebrew word for hope is tiqvah (tik-vaw’) and it literally means “a cord, as an attachment”. Zechariah 9:12 uses it poetically, “Turn you to the strong hold, you prisoners of hope…”. Friend, there have been a few times where circumstances have been very prison-like, but how could my hope possibly run out if I was imprisoned to, well…hope?

If any of you are mothers out there, do you remember that deep down maternal instinct kick in when that baby was forming inside you? Do you remember the constant worry of whether you were doing any of this whole ‘creating’ thing right? Do you also remember when you realized just HOW connected you were? There was that life line between you and baby called an umbilical cord. Tried and true cords that have been feeding and growing babies clear back from the beginning of baby-making time. That’s a pretty irreversible commitment.

What if hope, love, faith, looked like that? What if I told you, steeped in Christ, it does?

Attached. So.very.attached. Love.Faith.Hope. Always. Tried and true.

Turns out, hope isn’t all I’ve got. And it’s not really as fragmented as I thought, either.

~kathy b

Christmas, Family, Uncategorized

Our Family in 2016

Dear Family and Friends Everywhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,

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

browerfam1of26

Uncategorized

When Your Thankful And Your World Knows It

It’s no secret around here what school day is their favorite. I squeak the bedroom door open and the big boy rolls over and cracks out, “Is it Thursday?”. I say good morning and yes, it’s Thursday and I can hear him in the dark. Hear him stretch full length and tighten muscles for the shift to standing. Thursday’s seem to be the only school day he’s actually WILLING to get up for without a wayward groan. “Oh good. We have thankful journals today.”

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I never knew that when we started these Thankful Thursday’s over five years ago, that it would stick. How does one come up with that many things to be thankful for? Seems like the basics would have been met by now. The first year was easy. They were little and I allowed colored drawings to go along with what they were thankful for. I treasure those first journals like only a Mama can. Stick figures and wiggly, misspelled letters. They’re enduring for all the innocence they represent.

But the second year came and after the first 6 weeks of school, I knew they were going to be a lifeline for us. Our unexpected baby was born so tiny he was not given more than a one percent chance to live and suddenly every breath was being counted. We packed the kids and their school things up and moved into the hospital three and a half hours from home. And I tucked those thankful journals and shortened colored pencils into their backpacks. It became intentional not to miss a Thursday. A weekly habit of being thankful.

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There’s all kinds of data out there for how long it takes a person to form or break a habit. I don’t know numbers. I only know that when your very life depends on habit, you form a new routine, and I know that those around you begin to notice it. Two little kids living in a hospital with a plastic isolate for a baby brother was their reality, and they learned all the ways to be grateful in those moments. I noticed. I cannot tell you the number of days I listened and watched them and was awed by their resolve. Not a Thursday got missed, and those thankful journals kept filling. That habit became something we really did wear.

More people began to notice it. Nurses, respiratory therapists, interns, physical therapists, nutritionists, social workers, family life specialists, pulmonologists, the entire Neonatal ICU Physician team. They all noticed. Several chaplains came in to lift us in prayer and more than one photographer asked our permission to capture these kids managing a difficult situation. And tiny Judah, I am convinced, was part of that gratitude habit. He had his own numbers all over that hospital room, and when we lifted his tiny body out of that isolate to tuck him into our very skin, he slowed those numbers. His body would still and his heart would even out and his oxygen needs were dialed right down and his dad and I witnessed the birth of his own gratitude journey.

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Dorothy Thompson, who was an American journalist and radio broadcaster in the 1920’s and 30’s is most known for her interview with Adolph Hitler in Germany, and wrote a book about her experience entitled, “I Saw Hitler”. She was kicked out of Germany for her remarks about him. Through her experience she says this, “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live in every experience, painful or joyous, to live in gratitude for every moment, to live abundantly.” Her words were a small key to unlocking a prison of gloom and fear I may have once been in.

If you haven’t yet been in a painful experience, you will. This is for sure. But just like the joyous times, when it’s easy to write down all those things we so love, I encourage you to write down the good even when the good looks and feels really hard. Because it’s the habits in life that bestow the good blessings. Even in the rocks, the wildflowers grow, but you’ll miss them if you don’t note them. And your world around you will notice. Gratitude doesn’t hide well. Joy bubbles out of that, and where there is joy, true worship forms.

“Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him.” Psalms 95:1-2 (NLT).

 

I also want to take this moment and thank each of you for allowing me into your space. I don’t take this lightly. We are a busy planet and I know your mailbox, inbox, invoices, and voicemails are all pretty full. So I appreciate your listening ear and your precious time. Thank you!
In pure gratitude,
~kathy b

Love of my Savior, Thankfullness, Uncategorized

The Fall Season and Falling in Love


Sometimes skies are more gray than blue. Sometimes night-time comes so fast, you might forget to notice today. Most likely you’ll be stuck inside staring at walls, staring at tiles, staring at the dirty water running over sticky dishes and you’ll lose another day on that old wall calendar.

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But…..what if we tried not to?

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Not to miss the colors, the walks, the sticky mess of candy apples? What if the sky reminded us to stop the crazy cycle of staring at drywall and instead stare at the beauty of written words and breathed out creation? What if, instead of noticing the knot of weariness we noticed the tangled tree swing and the tangle of shoe laces at the bottom of the stairs? What if we actually took that long fall walk and stalked the leaves and their changing. Ran our hands through the kids messy hair and touched the scratch of palest birch bark? What if tomorrow’s darkened morning was the dawn of your new daily search of God’s gracious words? What if He INTENDED for you to stop the hustle of the schedule to, instead, bury a few minutes into the love letter He wrote for YOU?! What if this fall turns into your own falling-in-love story?

To walk is to traverse. To advance by steps. King David knew this, but he also knew that walking might be best with a stick, a rod. After all, he wrote and sang about the protection of that staff, especially, and maybe most importantly, when walking through those darkening valleys. I don’t know about you, but something inside me admits to a gnawing fear of what might lie ahead. Turns out, I don’t know the terrain as well as I thought. But the beauty of the season isn’t worth hiding from either. So I choose to relinquish fear, and walk with the gentle Shepherd anyway. And we’ll throw our heads back and laugh at the day and He’ll ask me out again, because He loves me so deeply.

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Isaiah saw the morning dawn. He walked with his shepherd, who, it turns out, was a giant warrior too. Isaiah walked himself into a message. He peeled open his own letter of hope. Hope for a busted up group of people who were stuck in their own walls. Stuck in their own beige crumple of despair. He read and talked about “…..a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” (Isa 9:2). Isaiah saw the sun break the horizon. He saw a king, standing tall and broad, his wide stance, unflinching. A lantern dangling from His walking stick and no one can deny the battle wounds in the palms of His hands. And right then, Isaiah writes about those people. Those war ravaged people, throwing up a hooray‼ “They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest.” (Isa 9:3b).

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I pick pumpkins with the kids and harvest our own tiny potatoes and I hear the squeals and cries of delight and their season is towering in just a few short hours. The husband blows crispy leaves and they float above and around us and the magic of the occasion isn’t lost on me. I know this is all part of that love letter. Part of that quest to draw me in deeper. To open my eyes to the change and know there is glory at the end of this road.

We each have this love letter. I’m finding that mine seem to be short and sweet on the easy days, but when conditions get rocky, Jesus stacks mine up. Stacks to cushion the bumps, the boulders, the sharp pains. He piles love letters around tough phone calls, heartbreaking headlines, and my teetering self-worth.

“As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.” (Gen. 8:22). And as long as you and I have breath in our bodies there will be God’s letters of love to encourage us, to hold us, to value us, to sweep us off our feet. And in this beautiful season of apple picking, leaf piling, and pumpkin pie, may there also be a love story. Yours! Might you open that autumn scented letter of scripture and feel Him wrap you in tenderness.

Enjoy this season, friend. He’s MAD about you‼
Walking in love,
~kathy b

Uncategorized

Why That Mirror Might Be A Hoax

….Jesus…said to him, “You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have….and come, follow Me.”  But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”  Luke 18:22,23

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What makes one line, one request, sound so hard?  This text sat shallow in my peripheral most of my life.  I’ve never been “rich” like this ruler appears to be, so giving everything to the poor didn’t pull any weight for a girl just trying to make a life. 

Until.  Until all that reading brought out a line that thumped me in the forehead.  Until all this adult life of mine dashed like a movie strip on fast forward through my memory, and something busted open.  When all those moments poured together, something inside the skeleton of me, broke.

It was Oswald Chambers.  The young man who, in today’s standards, wasn’t given a long life, but was assuredly given a long, deep, relationship with his Savior.   It wasn’t the question he asked that undid me.  It was his statement after the question.

“Have you ever heard the Master say something very difficult to you?  If you haven’t, I question whether you have ever heard Him say anything at all.”

Ok, friend. So here’s where I let you see a bit of my broken heart.  A bit of the raw.  Being an adult has been, so far, my favorite part of my life.  Childhood was fun, but awkward.  This adulthood has made me feel in control of my decisions.  I balance what I can, and if I can’t I strive to figure the rest out.  Not always successfully, but if I fail, it’s my own fault.  I own that.

And that’s the surface of it.

The deep part?  The part of the Master?  The part where love exists?  Where trust and respect and forgiveness pool together?  That tight wire stance of “my own decisions” and “the Masters request” bump the line and I’ve wobbled, dangerously.

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Funny, how there’s this proverbial mirror we women love to stand in front of and observe our decisions.  We can pivot and twist just so.  Suck our cheeks in and flatten our womanly bellies and pull our lives a little bit more together.  Categorize the calendar and set alarms and look back at ourselves and apply one more dollop of foundation and then walk away with shoulders set.  And when the mirror fades into the shadows of the night we’re finding the foundation of our interior lives crumbling. So we try again the next day.

Friend, this is my dangerous wobble.  You see, there’s nothing difficult in setting up a mirror.  The really hard?  Is hearing the Master speak and say, “Turn it around, and hear Me here”.

That mirror of my life, my control, my decision-making, is crumbling the ultimate love affair.  The love affair with the Maker of my heart.  Never once has he asked me to DO more or BE more or square my shoulders at all.  He has asked me to submit my decision-making.  Sounds simple.  But say it out loud to yourself.  Not so easy, is it? And yet, how is it any different from what he was asking the rich young ruler?  This is shaking up my vision of that verse.  That request.

John Piper writes, “Love is costly.  It always involves some kind of self-denial.  It often demands suffering.”  There’s no mirror in love.  Mirrors are one-sided, which gives us only a one sided relationship.  This may be controversial to some of you, so chew on it a bit, but hear me out.  That mirror will fail you.  Life will throw unexpected and terrifying things your way, if they haven’t already.  And I say this with the memory of finding myself doubled over with fear and pain.  My heart has leaked with brokenness in an irreversible way.  But my Master has found me in the quiet and loved me back to my feet.  No one else can do that because we’re all jagged, only He is complete and whole.  Hear Him when He says. “There is no mirror more beautiful than when you reflect My image.”

Friend, stop trying to be all.  Sell the mirror and follow Christ.  I can’t guarantee it will be easy, but the love you will find will be the greatest treasure you’ll ever own.  Come to Christ, in whose presence are fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore.  And when it hurts, He WILL be the soothing balm that covers your whole heart, soul, and mind.  Even a stubborn girl like me is learning this.

 

In pure love with Christ,

~kathy b