a new decade begins & a spiritual father dies

On June 7, 2019, I turned the page onto a new decade. I chose to mark it by a long weekend at my favorite beach with our family of four. Despite predictions of rain for the whole weekend, the sun broke through, and we had glorious weather for the better part of our beach days. I never tire of the rhythm of waves crashing on the shore, soothing and powerful and constant. I love looking into the horizon of ocean meeting sky and feeling wondrously small. In all my doubts about God and faith and goodness and struggle and suffering, the presence of the ocean is a reassuring reminder that I am a created being, and that I have a Creator. The world is not up to me to run, nor can I alone solve its problems or complexities. In the face of the vast expanse of the sea, I get to be a part of the creation whose primary job is simply to worship. (I am not saying worship is simple. Far from it. It can be quite costly, actually, and quite powerful, and worship is always transformative.)

In our time away, I found space to reflect on this past decade. It’s easily been – to quote Dickens – “the best of times and the worst of times.” Shortly after my last big birthday in 2009, we moved from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, for Seth’s first job as an assistant pastor. Later that same year, I launched a counseling practice at our church. God blessed us with the gift of our twins in 2010. Our daughters began preschool in 2013, and they started kindergarten in 2016. Seth and I celebrated our first decade of marriage, and I published my first book that same year (2016). Then we uprooted our family from Virginia and moved to South Carolina in 2017 to live closer to extended family while Seth pursued his Ph.D. I went to Italy to visit my dear friend, Maria, in 2018. I began working on a second small writing project in 2019 (due to be released this fall). And – I lose track of all of the years – I became an aunt to 7 additional nephews and nieces this decade as well (through a combination of births and foster care).

2010: our tiny twin bundles of joy arrive
2016: celebrating our 10 year anniversary in the Bahamas with dear friends Karen & Dan
2018: A view from the Italian coast near Naples while visiting Maria & her family

Those are a few of the major milestones in the category of “the best of times.” The “worst of times” – well, I would rather not dwell on them in detail. But I have blogged through some of them in this space. I have written about others. Other stories have yet to be told. To summarize, they follow the themes of my personal struggle with depression and anxiety, striving to live and write “Unashamed” while being more aware than ever before of the ways shame has had a hold on my life, grappling with deep communal tragedy, fighting my own stubborn sins of pride and entitlement and anger and fear, navigating how to be a wife and a mom and a writer and a counselor without losing sight of my primary identity as God’s beloved daughter, striving to live out the truth of my own writing and teaching, and learning my story and how to share it. There have been mentors and counselors and friends and family members who are witnesses to these dark moments and who have carried me – and our family – through them. There have been authors whose words I have clung to to make sense of the apparently senseless and meaningless, and who have served as guides to me along the journey of both the highs and the lows of this decade.

And that brings me to the second part of today’s post. One of those foundational guides and spiritual fathers died on my milestone birthday. David Powlison, professor and counselor at CCEF, passed into glory on June 7, 2019. I expect there will be many who will eulogize him – as well they should – and many who will remember the impact he had on their lives. I am one of them. I was first introduced to David Powlison in the fall of 2004 as I embarked on my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was my professor in the foundational course of the semester called Dynamics of Biblical Change, and I shared an auditorium with a hundred or so eager students. His instruction changed the way I viewed the process of personal change/sanctification. He taught a few other courses that were part of my degree in Biblical Counseling. Each time, he offered creative counseling insights into the human heart, and he exuded a deep compassion for people that was contagious.

David Powlison carried with him a sense of wonder at God’s Word and God’s work in the world. Whether it was a class or a conference, I cannot remember, nor do I recall the context – but I distinctly remember the way he highlighted the wonder of “a goldfinch in flight.” To this day, I don’t notice a goldfinch without thinking about what he said. I had never noticed goldfinches before, but now I can’t miss them. And I can’t help but to notice the beauty of their wings in flight. And I worship.

That was his larger point – it always was – to draw us to worship the God he himself delighted in. In worshiping, we change. We are conformed to whatever we love most. That is challenging, convincing, and hopeful all at the same time. I’ll end this post with a favorite quote from him, as I join a vast community that grieves his passing – with the hope he testified to – that we will meet again perfectly sanctified, in perfect communion with God and one another.

Thankful Thursdays

{I’m thankful for} the wisdom of God shown through the “foolish” love of a crucified Jesus. Really looking forward to exploring more of the depths of this wisdom as I prepare two retreat talks – “God: The Source of All Wisdom” and “Love: Wisdom in Action.” 

{I’m thankful for} the opportunity to speak at WRPC‘s fall retreat on “Get Wisdom” and the great team of women I get to prepare and brainstorm with throughout the process.

{I’m thankful for} a fun new tradition-in-the-making of gathering neighborhood moms for “happy hour” once a week during what’s usually otherwise known as cranky hour or what I’ve heard termed “arsenic hour” – yep, post-nap, pre-dinner period between 3:30 – 5pm.

{I’m thankful for} new neighbors who are good friends who moved in a few houses down from us last weekend.

{I’m thankful for} a break in the oppressive summer heat and humidity.

{I’m thankful for} a royal baby! How fun to hear the news of this new real-live Prince George and see the excitement generated around the world.

{I’m thankful for} finishing a really great novel, The Thirteenth Tale, about twins and story and writing … many familiar subjects to me.

{I’m thankful for} a quiet weekend ahead, full of beautiful beach days (I hope) and good family memories built – especially excited to see some of Seth’s cousins who are in the area. I *heart* living in a place people like to visit in the summer.


Want to join up with me for “Thankful Thursdays”? If so, grab the button above; leave your blog address in the comments below, and link back to this post. I’m thankful for “Loved and Lovely” for such beautiful artwork that I’m using. No rules on this as far as how many “thank you’s” or that it needs to be profound and deep. Let’s practice together opening our eyes to the grace that we’re showered with daily.

beach or desert: a matter of perspective

We had a beach day this morning. One of several we have been able to enjoy this summer now that our daughters are better able to enjoy sand-castle building and wave jumping (rather than sand-eating and rushing-too-far-into-the-ocean as they’ve done previously). It was perfect beach weather: 90 degrees, with a breeze coming off the ocean, hot but with the cold refreshing ocean to dip into as needed. And our girls had so much fun with the other family we met there, who have a teenage daughter whom they adore and who is SO great at playing with them. I even had a chance to read two whole chapters in the novel I brought (which before has been merely wishful thinking). It was fabulous. Like turning over a new page of the seasons of our family’s life, pun intended.

But then there was the walk back. And it felt like a desert because of the wide, wide beach. The sand we had all enjoyed playing with now felt hot and sticky and magnetic as we trudged the dozens of yards back to the boardwalk, and then to our car. The refreshing saltwater had dried out my skin, leaving a salty-sticky residue in its place. Beach flies had bitten my ankles. And there was all of our gear to haul back. The beach chairs, the snacks, the towels, buckets, shovels, even (yes) a portable/foldable potty for our potty training rock stars. And one of the girls began wailing. The. Whole. Way. Back.

I was annoyed until I realized that I felt the same way. I love the beach, but there reaches a point where all I really want is to be clean and dry and un-hot. And the only way to get there is trudging back through the sand, over the dunes, into the car, driving on the very long highway until we reach our house. In that long walk back, I felt like the beach turned into a desert. I couldn’t see the ocean; the breeze was nonexistent; miles upon miles (or so it felt) of nothing but sand stretched in front of me. And it could have been the desert, for all I knew.

The desert brings different feelings than a beach day. Connotations of scarcity, drought, survival, complaint, wandering all fit with the desert. And isn’t that how I choose to see life at times? With my “back to the ocean,” as it were, it feels like the desert. Nothing but sand and heat and miles of it stretching in front of you while your child wails and whines the complaint you feel in your own heart. All I had to do was turn around and remember the beautiful morning we had enjoyed there; to catch a glimpse of the crashing waves. To remember that even when it feels like a desert, it’s really a beach if I can see the bigger perspective.

Motherhood particularly challenges me in this way. So many desert moments to trudge through in a given day, week, month, year. But so many beautiful “beach” moments to savor and relish as well. If I have eyes to see, and if I ask God to help me see. His presence with me always transforms deserts into beaches. Because he is Life itself, and there is no scarcity in his presence. 


what I’m looking forward to in July

I cannot believe that it’s the first of July already. There is some bittersweetness because my birthday month is over (that’s a shout-out to my friend, Lev, who has encouraged me in his practice of celebrating birthdays all month long), and with it the way June initiates summer and holds the longest day of sunlight. July means H.O.T. humidity. But there are also things to look forward to in July. Here goes – 

1. Fireworks! I love them. I don’t know when it started but somewhere along the way I got over my intense fear of them and actually began to love them. When I say intense fear, I’m not exaggerating. My brother and I were so terrified of the sound and the thought that some stray spark might fall on us that we made my parents bring umbrellas to one neighborhood fireworks display. And my sweet parents did, and they opened them for us as we huddled beneath them. Wow – true love. Another early childhood memory is my grandma taking me into a bathroom until they were over because I was screaming in fear. So maybe I’m trying to make up for all of that lost time, so that’s the one thing I hate to miss on the 4th of July. I’ve dragged my less-than-enthusiastic husband to them every year of our marriage (except for the years when he won out and then I was disappointed and sulky). This year my plan is to meet up with friends after the girls go to the bed, leaving hubby behind for some quality time with his daughters. (He’s only too glad to volunteer.)

2. Freedom from diapers – I hope. We are going to try potting training boot camp [again] starting on Independence Day. We will have three days in a row of both parents on deck; it will be warmer than our last attempt (January 1st); and I think that the traumatic memories of that first attempt may finally be behind all of us. Here’s to hoping!

3. A fallow month – meaning that we aren’t anticipating any major social or work commitments/meetings/etc, and this will allow our busy pastor + counselor family schedule some time to breathe. I am looking forward to time to be spontaneous, to just be together as a family, to be alone, to wrap up home projects that have needed some attention to bring them to completion.

4. Beach days – because of the unscheduled nature of this month, we want to try to take advantage of living so close to the ocean and enjoy the wind, waves, and sand between our toes. (and in our hair, bathing suits, arms, legs, eyes/etc etc) We may even combine this one with #2 and do potty training beach-style. Leave those diapers at home and bring a portable potty with us. What better place for everyone to enjoy potty training than the beach? Just stay clear of our beach spot if you find us – consider yourself duly warned. 

Aaahh … summer!

It’s past 8 o’clock and there is still enough light outside to last for at least an hour. I love summer for its long hours of daylight and more frequent sun-filled days. There is usually a relaxed pace (except the summers when we’ve moved – 2006, 2009, 2010) and all of life seems to slow down to a “right nice comfortable pace,” as we say in the South. And, yes, you better believe it’s capitalized down here.

And the BEACH. We *heart* the beach. It’s one of the few common interests that Seth and I share. That and theology and philosophy of life and parenting and marriage and love. We say that we agree on the big things, and sanctify each other in the myriad other small things. We had to take a break from our frequent beach trips the past three summers – #1 because I was majorly pregnant with twins and on bed rest (and didn’t want to go anywhere anyway), #2 and #3 because babies who eat sand and toddlers who run away from you toward the ocean tend to interfere with the idyllic beach days that we remembered. Now they’re finally able to entertain themselves and we’ve learned how to enjoy the beach from an almost-three-year-old’s perspective.

Summer is the time of peak fruits and vegetables, and so we are savoring bright berries in abundance and veggies on the grill. The temperature is just nearly perfect tonight – hanging out between 70-80 degrees, although once it reaches 90-100, I’ll probably be singing a different tune about summer’s glories. And so (call us crazy), we think it will be a good time to try out potty training again. Worst case scenario, we can take the girls to the beach for it so that we don’t have to clean up the accidents. (Just kidding … mostly.)

It’s a season of parties, barbecues, cookouts, lingering hours outside with neighbors and kids. There is just something inherently hopeful about summer. This season reflects God’s glory in its brilliance. Which is always present even when hidden by the short, dark days of winter. And how I need to remember that! What a mercy of God to give us such a season.

What do you enjoy about summer?

The Gathering

img_3386First hint of dawn
Across marsh plains
Bidding us farewell.
Life scattered into corners
Of the family beach house
Now gathered back into neat tidy bags
Packed in alongside memories of laughter, tears, sharing hearts, dreams
And you blink and it’s the end
Of this annual gathering of all.

Back now to routine
To the trying to connect
To keeping the relationships alive
Through phone lines
Skype dates weekend road trips
Across the many miles and state lines from whence we gathered.

But it’s never quite the same as this week
Of all present, laughing, remembering, teasing together.
Each personality enriched by the other
And by the Spirit whose Life we share
As well as common lineage by blood or marriage.
Cousins reacquainted in play and long beach days
Talks on bike rides, a beach blanket, a walk along the shore, in a rare interlude of quiet amidst the loud happy chaos.
Dinners and desserts and food all the time everywhere
Music as background and soundtrack
To the celebration of family and life
That we gather up into one beautiful week.

Gift from the sea


While enjoying a week at the beach of vacation with the Nelsons, I am loving this book that the beach house owners kept on their shelves. An actually decent book alongside the rest of the typical beach paperbacks (brain candy?!), it stood out from the rest. “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I share a favorite quote here:

The beach is not a place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. … Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone. … The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. … Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.

So let me be a good learner these last few days! That I might leave with gifts from the sea, given from the hand of its Maker and mine.