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.

links to savor on your Sunday

Good morning, friends! This Sunday morning, I am lighter than I’ve been in awhile because of completing yesterday’s retreat speaking on wisdom (and being reminded of the beautiful gospel truth I had the privilege of telling to these 70+ ladies yesterday, that I told first to myself – wisdom comes in a Person … more posts to come, I’m sure); and coming back home from our last week at the beach with family. A last week to soak up sunshine, the unmatched glory of an ocean-meeting-sky horizon, the break from go-go-go to simply be free from schedule and appointments and work, to focus on what (who) is most important: the sun-kissed faces of daughters; my tanned face husband; parents-in-law who shower us with love; my Creator-God as the giver of the gifts of this week.

And now, here comes the week out of its double-barreled shotgun. Church is up and running and in full fall swing for our pastor and counselor family. A little voice urgently summons me next door a full HOUR before normal wake-up time (really?!), and there are words I wanted to write and a week I wanted to pray through. And it’s easy to feel like vacation has evaporated like a morning mist. Oh my.

Then I read these words as another wife and mom anticipates her week, and I smile in recognition and I know I’m not alone, and that there will be grace for each challenge.

And a thought-provoking post on what I really need this September, which exposes my own similar struggles.

Finally, another pastor’s wife talks about finding Sabbath rest when Sunday’s the biggest work day of your week and your kids are young.

Enjoy, friends … now on to step 1 of this week: get some caffeine and try to love all the people in my house on my way to the coffee pot …

what’s not to love about Maine?

We are back home. I’ve missed blogging and routine, and after 28 hours of travel by car, I agree with Dorothy that “there’s no place like home.” But what a beautiful trip we had to Maine and then to grandparents in New Jersey. There will be more on all of that later … for now, a post that is an ode of sorts to Maine. It was lovely. In case you don’t believe me, some pictures to prove that. 

We trekked up the East coast to visit my brother, sister-in-law, and two bright and handsome nephews who live in Portland, Maine – their home since my doctor-brother started residency there. It was a brave and bold choice to make three years ago as a couple with a one-year-old who had basically lived their entire lives in South Carolina or Georgia. But they love it there, except for wishing the winter to be shorter and family to live closer.

After our second visit to Maine in the summer (and this time with older twins and a string of gloriously sunny days), we have caught the passion shared by all who love “Down East” (as Maine is known to true Mainers). A few highlights from our trip, under the category of what we love about Maine

  1. There are bike paths through woods even in a relatively metropolitan area. And they take you to beautiful destinations, like this lighthouse below.20130819-233807.jpg
  2. People fly gigantic (the biggest I’ve ever seen) kites at the field by this lighthouse. In fact, they have a kite club that meets every Saturday morning, which we gleefully happened upon.20130819-233839.jpg
  3. Downtown Portland, Maine, feels like Europe. Diverse people, cobblestone paving, street musicians who are actually quite talented, dozens of foodie restaurants and cafes beckoning me to come in with a book and my journal. Strange though it may sound, being there reminded me of my summer in Ireland.
  4. The weather. Cloudless blue skies, long days with early sunrises and late sunsets, allowed us to explore the beautiful outdoors to our heart’s content (well – almost – at least as much as we could within our four preschoolers’ limits, of course).
  5. The people! I’m sorry, South, but you ain’t got nothing on a Mainers’ neighborliness. Kids gather on the streets to play after dinner while their parents sip drinks and bring out tikki torches and music. One evening my sister-in-law and I were sitting on the front stoop, and a neighbor brought over a plate of homemade salmon cakes and aioli for us to enjoy as an appetizer. Their neighbors met us and greeted us each time we were coming or going. They have mowed my brother’s yard for him and offered A/C units on a (rare) hot summer day. They lent us bikes so that we could have a two-family-with-four-kids bike ride to the lighthouse (see #1). Community? Um, yes, please!
  6. Water, water, water. Everywhere we went there was a harbor or a port or a lake or a coast. It is Portland, after all. A highlight was the ferry ride we took to Peaks’ Island. Perfect delight for the 4-and-under crowd particularly! Especially since I’m pretty sure my daughters were thinking “fairy” ride v. “ferry” – added a magical element to the experience for them.
  7. Holy Donuts. You have not tried donuts until you’ve tasted a homemade HOLY DONUT from this local shop. Flavors included chocolate sea-salt, bacon, pomegranate, lemon, maple, and blueberry (of course).
  8. Farm-style dining. We sat outside on picnic tables in the midst of a field of wildflowers and herbs to eat gourmet fresh-from-the-farm food that was perfectly portioned and so delicious I don’t have words to describe it.20130819-233924.jpg20130819-233938.jpg
  9. A picnic of pizza at a park overlooking the port. Look at that alliteration. As wonderful as it sounds.
  10. My family. I know that without them living in Maine, it wouldn’t have the same appeal. We had days filled with lingering conversations over meals; fun cousin play; stories read by Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Nicole; faith and life sharing; and much laughter. I am deeply thankful for such friends who are also family. My heart is full in that joy mixed with grief kind of way. Joy for the time spent together; grief that we are so far away from them. Until next summer, then … ?!

Gift from the sea

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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.