Chickadee Song

katy's ywam

(My friend, Katy, mission trip selfie)

The sun shines today, brilliant and deceptive, here in Minnesota. We are frozen in. It’s minus-30, a windchill, they say at 50 below. The whole state, nearly, enjoying a day off, homebound and staying put. The streets quiet, and my house quiet, too. A teen and a twenty up all night in anticipation of a whole day to stay in bed. Not that I get it.

My husband and I wake before light, like always. I start the coffee and start the fire, care for the dog. Her outdoor bathroom a shocking surprise. I watch through the window, coax her to hurry, when partway across the snow-laden deck she strikes a pose like Mr. Tumnus, frozen in place by Narnia’s White Witch.

Dog back inside thawing, husband settled with ice pack and crutches, I sneak back to my chair by the bedroom window. Smoke from a neighbor’s chimney catches pink like fire, faithful sun breaking through arctic cold. And it’s then I hear it. The chickadee song. Faithful, too, or a miracle maybe, tiny body greeting the morning. Song like a prayer.

I’m reading in Matthew*, talking to God, when this melody greets me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. And it strikes me then how life is never the way you expect it, and sometimes things turn out backwards. Like a bird in the snow. Or sun in winter. Mysteries hard to explain, unforeseen.

We’d prayed for his healing. Kyle’s hip, and I’d felt certain of God’s prompting. Felt certain of His power to do it. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Matthew again.* So I prayed right up to the day of the surgery. Asked Him for healing. And here we are, five days later, pain free and not so much as a Tylenol since they released him. Healed, it would seem.

Two weeks ago maybe, I ate Pizza Ranch with Katy and she told me all about her YWAM trip. She’d been in Nepal, and a short time in India. I’ve experienced my relationship with God like never before. I saw instant healings, seeds planted, and many lost come home. She’d said this on Facebook, and I’d been eager to hear her stories. Now, plates full of buffet, I asked her my question. Told her about my prayers for my husband, and doesn’t it seem like His healing is different, here from there? Katy answers like I’ve already suspected. Here we pray with our eyes on Plan B, but in Nepal prayers are desperate.

Yesterday at church, just about everyone on staff braved sub-zero temps and made it to prayer. Every Tuesday we circle the tables and lift up requests. This week Jim led us, recently returned from Haiti, and Jeff, too. He told stories of our global partners, terrible, beautiful stories. So much tragic, and so much God is doing. Jim read an article about untouchables in India, and later I shared Katy’s story about India, too. This Holy-Spirit-haunting story, on my mind every day since I heard it.

There was this little girl, ten-years-old, who followed Katy around the city. A name too long to say, Pam for short. She spoke English, understood it, a little shadow listening hard, soaking up gospel and prayer. The girl was Hindu, wore the mark, was drawn to Katy, drawn to her God. After a while Katy asked her, “Do you want to follow Jesus?” It’s then she learned the tragic story. How Pam’s big sister became a Christian. Defied her family. Burned to death by her very own father. Katy’s heart breaking as she hears it, but there’s more. He’s already with me. Innocent child, tells it simply. How when life gets scary, Jesus visits, holds her close, real as real. Little Pam, she knows Jesus, true.

This morning I pray by a window, warm from sun and heated house. Thirty-below plus windchill, and I’d been up last night, too hot, regretting fleece pajama pants, removing blankets. Now I talk to Jesus about chickadees in winter, and a little girl He visits in India. Healing, and plan B and desperation – and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. And it makes me wonder just how much I’m privileged and how much I’m missing, and if this life was lost, what exactly would I find?


*Matthew 10:39; 11:5

Nothing Broken

hip surgery

I’m surprised at the peace in this home. I shake my head even as I write it. If you’ve been reading this story from beginning to current you’ll understand. This miracle. This unforeseen blessing. How five years prior my insides quaked at the thought of giving it up. God’s answer – Shalom. Nothing missing, nothing broken. Amen. And Amen.

I’d been home from my retreat less than 48 hours, three bodies scrunched tight on a leather loveseat built for two. The dog taking more than her fair share. Parents talking about a son, teetering between youth and adulting, free to make choices, still needing guidance. How much is on us, and how much on him? I tell my husband about conversations with other adoptive moms, retreating together, how mostly I’d listened, saying little. Admitting, knowing, compared to others we’re light on rules, a bit lavish with freedom. And I wonder out loud if we’ve made the right choices.

And then he says it. A casual comment, until both of us realize the weight of wisdom, and he says it again. Home can be refuge, or it can be prison. They come back to one, escape the other. I look up quick, catch my husband’s eye. That’s it, my answer. Not just about rules, but this other question, nagging. There with the moms, seeking counsel. Plans moving forward to sell one house and build another. A year of transition, maybe longer. Will boys feel abandoned, and should we be doing it?

It was Katie, young mom of ten, and me asking how she’d learned to do it. Full immersion, the gist of her answer, and now she assures me. “Home is family, and family is home. It’s wherever you are, they’ll want to be there.”

Family is home, and home is refuge, and isn’t this the gist, too, of the verse we chose to grace our door for all these years? Hanging there now, above the entrance, maybe one day future greeting families with grandkids at a house by a lake.

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress,
and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Not promise, but proverb, which is to say it tends to be true. All these years of us fearing Him, and HE is our fortress. Our kids secure in a refuge of peace.

Nothing missing, nothing broken. This week alone we’ve got two broken cellular devices and a hip surgery. One phone washed and rinsed, spin cycle, donzo. And now twenty-four hours since Kyle’s post-op recovery, groggy all day and up every couple of hours during the night. 4am I’ve got a husband passed out cold against a bathroom wall, wet washcloth mopping his head, trying to rouse him. Threatening an ambulance, the one thing he’s dead-set against, and he musters enough stubborn strength to crutch his way over to the bedroom chair.

This morning I answer texts from my mom-in-law, a nurse and still plenty maternal, making sure her boy’s okay. I text back, alluding to nighttime thoughts about big men needing care and what-in-the-world does a small woman do when her man starts toppling? Confirmation, again, of plans for transition. Between this house and the next one, moving in with Pop and Grammy.

Nothing missing, nothing broken. This week, too, a little nephew experiencing trauma out in Colorado. Group texts sending updates, one sister reminding – a little broken keeps us dependent on the One who heals… Preach it, Sis. Amen and amen.

Just now we’re sitting peaceful by the fire I’m building with my man’s instruction. He’s propped on that loveseat next to faithful dog. Outside it’s snowing, but we’ve been greeted with an unexpected son-rise, which is to say, boys who usually sleep late on weekends, up all night playing video games, this morning rise early to check on Dad. Linger unhurried for rare conversation. And I’m thinking about shalom peace and nothing broken, and isn’t this the truest meaning? Bodies breaking, but nothing broken. His Refuge of Peace.

He Loves


(My “increasing” family.

Sometimes you read something in a book, something written by another author, and it is the very thing you’ve been trying to say. Does this happen to you? Finally you have language to describe it, and usually it’s about something God has been doing, which is how it was for me this week. It was a chapter in a book I’d been reading with a friend. A marriage book, which was the bigger surprise, since the application was so much greater.

I’d been working on a talk for the MOMs group, telling my story about the flesh being offended and the Spirit loving. And why it matters. Going back several years to a prayer I prayed in the bleachers at school. My own boys younger then, and I was watching students coming and going at a basketball game. Suddenly asking God and meaning it – Increase my capacity to love. Prayed it once and a hundred times more. Right alongside the other prayer that never fails – God, I trust you. And you know what they say. Be careful. How you pray.

And then. Fast-forward. And it wasn’t so much the capacity of my love as the capacity of my home increasing. Boys multiplying, stretching my trust and testing my love and the rest as they say. Is History. If I’d thought before I had limitations now I knew it without a doubt. And I told Him often. This is too far beyond me, and are you sure I’m the one you meant to do it?

Which of course I was, my husband, too. And we’d joke, but not really, “If you die I’m quitting life.” That desperate. So ridiculously in over our heads. But not Him. God is good and we trust Him. It becomes our new mantra. And not once did He fail us.

It’s the fire that tests you and never before had I known myself like I was knowing me now. Which is to say, Minnesota Nice is not the same as loving. This is me confessing. Self-protective. Passive-aggressive. I’d never have know it, but now admit. The first thing He increased was this truth of self, and it wasn’t pretty. God help me. Increase me. Desperate prayer.

He Is Good and He’s Faithful. He is.

And then this week, I’m reading this book, and it’s telling my story. Or His Story – in me. 

“Honoring commitments because of a profound trust in God’s goodness will feel less like doing one’s duty and more like pursuing one’s deepest desires”*and I can say this is true. Remembering a day. Writing about it here. Is love a practice, or is it emotion? Providing food and washing clothes, ignoring offense and being nice. Without the feeling. Does this count? For love?

People told me it did, and for a while I believed them. But not really. This empty duty seemed somewhat phony. Increase my capacity to ACTUALLY love.

Here again, in a book about marriage. “The usual argument promises that loving feelings flow from loving behavior: If we do enough loving deeds for someone for a long enough period of time, eventually we will feel loving emotions for that person.”* But as the author says, this promise LIES.

Which I could have told you. This nose-to-the-grindstone, going-through-motions, it’s not the real thing. It’s not really love.

But there IS love that’s real. It comes from a SOURCE. Not duty. Not doing. Not going through the motions. Love IS. And it’s HIM. His SPIRIT in me. The flesh is offended, but the Spirit loves, and for several months now, do I dare say this? My capacity. To Love. Growing. Bigger. His Spirit loving.

Years ago, sitting there in a gym, aware somehow of my own limitations. Asking Him then, to increase love in me. No way of knowing how He’d choose to do it. And there’s more to the story. ALL the ways He’s done it. Not just boys. The church and His people. Neighbors and strangers, the world around me. I shake my head when I see what He’s doing. How much I am loving. REAL and AMAZING.



*The Marriage Builder, by Dr. Larry Crabb – chapter 7



(New Year’s Eve Wedding – photo credit

It’s not something I do religiously. Intuitively, more like. Back in the day when our boys were young and still at home we had a New Year’s tradition of looking back. We’d each make a list of the things we remembered from the year gone by, and we’d write them down on small scraps of paper, taped in place by a Christmas card photo for a memory book. More remembering than resolving. It always seemed more honest to look back and see God’s revelation, than to look ahead and attempt to guess at what might be coming.

But I do come to 2019 feeling somewhat resolved. Not on purpose. Not some goal I set or plan going forward. Not this year with all the whirlwind of wedding and travel and who had time for resolutions? Midnight kisses for Luke and Ali, and a post-wedding party at Uncle Brain’s Airbnb. I’d barely arrived when I hit the wall hard, enough party for one day. Said my good-nights and held on tight to Grammy’s arm down the steep slope of icy driveway back to the Jeep, and back to our beds just minutes shy of the first of the year. Figuring it had already happened in Minnesota. And now twelve days into a new calendar year and I still haven’t done anything formal to ring it in. 

2018. The year of Maisy. Luke and Ali. A growing family, our girl-count rising, so many things to be happy about. And I am. Happy. Our lot on Green Lake, purchased, too. The first time sitting with my husband down by that lakeshore, knowing it was ours, and we prayed stunned. A whole year of dreams and blessings. And yet. I’m aware as I take count, there’s something else, too. Something bigger. I need to include THIS alongside the others. Becoming Love. 2018 was the year He showed me. Learning to discern between Flesh and Spirit. The flesh is offended, but the Spirit Loves…

The Spirit Loves. And if I had a goal, this would be it. To keep on. Doing this.

Even though. Even though I could fill a book with all assortment of all things possible for the coming year. Everything big and all kinds of changes. Which is what I’ve been saying for the past so many years. But this year…

2019. Wow. Twelve days in and we’re checking off goals like there’s no tomorrow. My husband with his wreck of a hip and surgery scheduled for day twenty-five, doing all he can do while he still can do it. He’s high on a ladder painting a bedroom, while I pack Christmas into tubs, wondering if this is the last one we’ll spend in our Orchid Street house. Yesterday meeting with Phil, and the tree guy, too, Kyle tells me he plans to be at the lot next weekend when the Oaks come down. Making space for a house, and boards for our floors. I’m already in bed when he shoos the dog and unrolls the plans, and we say it again. Phil is a genius. Or an angel. Because only God could have thought to add a reading nook with a crow’s nest ladder to the tippy top of this house, with three little windows, just for fun, and I’m like a little girl dreaming, thinking of books, not just reading, but writing. Maybe.

So I’m thinking about house plans and book plans while Nils helps me load the Jeep to the gills for a trip to Goodwill. Twenty-three years of old CD’s and outdated bedding and it’s only begun. We swing by Costco to stock up on snacks for college, a drive back to Iowa the following day. Three semesters left, if all goes as planned, and my one-time youngest talks about someday soon, a house of his own. Big brother and new wife settling into their own first apartment, and Nils reminds me of how it was just eighteen months from first look to wedding.

And then there’s a text from Kiana and baby Maisy’s fighting a fever. Six months old, and her first real illness, to be expected, and yet. And I’m thinking about the year ahead and all the changes, how it’s going too fast. Our first little grand and before we know it she’ll be walking and talking, by year’s end most likely, a baby no more.

2019 – the year, too, of Baby Jimmy, in his final semester, high school graduation on the horizon. And it really is the FINAL semester, twenty-one years straight we’ve had kids at that school. A lot of tuition, and a wealth of tradition, and I’ll say it again. Everything big and all kinds of changes…

Twelve days in, and I approach a new year, feeling Resolved. Remembering, because memories are the only sure thing, but the possibilities are a mile long. Gone are the day of gathering around a table with little boys and scraps of paper. Instead I sit at computer and I write this story, bit by bit as it bears out telling.

God is faithful, and His Sprit Loves.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.” 

(1 Peter 1:22-24 – from my 2018 Scripture memory)

L & A

the kiss

(Photo credit to Kiana Grant Photography)

We’re back in the Jeep, heading home, six of us in close quarters. It’s two days past our wedding, Pike’s Peak still in our rearview mirror, when Felipe starts the conversation. Does the Bible tell us to do it like this? He’s talking about marriage and all the fanfare, and he’s wondering out loud if there’s a prescribed method for getting hitched. It’s an interesting question and for the first leg of our journey it’s all of us talking, discussing together the pros and cons of a formal weddings versus other options.

As our family heads east the newlyweds are touring south, hoping to honeymoon in warmer weather. Still thawing out, no doubt. Ali in her sleeveless gown, a fairytale princess in wedding day photos, snow like diamonds dusting her hair. But in the words of the bride’s father, the coldest day in a half-dozen years, and “No, it wasn’t the weather they’d dreamed” ­– my response in the comments of a Facebook post. They’d hoped for sun and mountain views, the forecast every day before and since, but maybe this is what you get when you marry a boy from Minnesota. 

It was picture-perfect nonetheless. Breathtaking. The day after at brunch I told Elise about all the things I loved. Months of creating and planning alongside her daughter, and I wanted her to know I’d noticed. Yesterday at the chapel, those bridesmaids in their jewel-toned dresses, hand-made bouquets with assorted ribbons. Exquisite. The guys, too, in their hip J.Crew trousers and velveteen ties, shirts crisply ironed with special thanks to the groom’s dad, my husband. And Kiana said later, how those cotton-pod boutonnieres she’d helped Ali assemble months ago when she and Maisy had come out to visit, couldn’t have worked better. Every detail perfection. Little Gemma, with her one missing tooth and adorable glasses, passing out flowers as she walked down the aisle. Our own little Jack, ring “bear” bearing doughnuts on a silver platter, and we find out later Luke did this on purpose. A timely laugh so he won’t “ugly cry” when seconds later he sees his bride.

Later the wedding party would gather at tables lavish with wintergreens and jewel-toned vases filled with flowers, backdrop of endless windows, fading light on hazy mountains and fresh-fallen snow. Friends and brothers would give their speeches, and while mother and son slow-danced to Ben Rector’s More Like Love I’d tell Luke I thought Nils’ toast was the best by far, and knowing our bias, big brother agreed. The truth is, those speeches were like affirmation of vows made and promises given, and every witness knew without question, when Luke and Ali said “I DO” – they meant it. These two were meant for each other. 

And then it’s two days later, all the aunts and uncles and cousins packing up ski gear and wedding attire and remnants of Christmas, families and friends with staggered departures making their way home. The borrowed trailer we pulled behind the Jeep is significantly lighter on the return, wedding gifts and assorted boxes left behind. For a few scary hours parents of the bride and groom did panic, thinking we’d lost the box of wedding cards, but last minute we found it, buried in our family’s clutter. Disaster averted. And I’m thanking God for this, along with all His other answers to prayer. Mike Howard’s bout with the stomach flu, and Kiana, too, the day before wedding, pastor and photographer, both from Des Moines. But by New Year’s Eve they’re good-to-go, or at least good enough to muscle through. By God’s grace.

Now it’s the second day of the new year and we’re heading east, Pike’s Peak fading in our rearview mirror, when Felipe starts this conversation. I listen a while, and I think and remember. Pastor Mike in his wedding message, talking about love. L & A. Luke & Ali. Living Ahava. The love of devotion.

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
Song of Songs 8:7-8 

Mike mentioned this, too. The love of Hesed, covenant love. God’s steadfast love, which can never be broken. And I wondered when I heard it, if he remembered, since he’s read it. These verses from the Song, the ones I used in my Covenant Story, on the opening page.

And I say it to Felipe, there in the Jeep. How THIS is surely the thing that matters. This seal. This vow. This fighting love of steadfast devotion. 

To have and to hold, from this day forward, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

This marriage pledge between husband and wife.