Common Tragedies

I wrote this post over a year ago, after the tragic events that occurred at an elementary school in Connecticut. I am not really sure why I haven’t posted it before, but I have been reflecting a lot on loss lately, and so it seems time to share it now.

Public tragedy. An uncomfortable reality we reluctantly accept as part of life. The never-ending cycle of violence in nations, communities, schools, malls, homes, and even churches leave many questions that are hard to answer. 

What in the world is going on?

How could anyone do such things to other human beings?

And even more, how could anyone endure such horrific tragedies?

When innocent lives are lost in tragic, dramatic circumstances, the country, and perhaps even the world, sits up and takes notice. The stories are all over the news. The families grieve in public. Their grief, so private and painful, becomes a grief we try to bear with them.

It is right and honorable to grieve with families who lose loved ones in tragic events. But it is also seems a bit dishonest. When we hear of a deranged gunman shooting out a window in an elementary school to commit mass, premeditated murder, or of a bomb going off in the middle of a busy city street in the middle of a publicized event, we realize that it could have been our children’s school; it could have been our city. It could have been us. And so our grief mingles with fear. Even in the outrage over the senselessness of it all, there is a collective sigh of relief that even though it could have been us, it wasn’t.

It is easy to say that we share their grief, but the truth is, we don’t. How could we? Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all lost something real and tangible in those tragedies. They lost real people that were special to them, and beyond that, part of their identity.

What makes me a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a friend? It is nothing more than the people who define me that way. Tragic loss changes that definition, not in the heart and the mind, but in the day to day routine of life. I often think of the tragedy of losing a loved one when the table is set, and one place is no longer needed, when the laundry is washed, no longer to be worn, or when plans are made, never to be fulfilled.

This is the tragedy of losing those who make us who we are. It is in the redefining. A child lost will always be child to his parents, or husband to his wife, or mother to her children, but not in the practical-ness of daily life. Not in the restaurant where a table for five suddenly becomes a table for four. When the Christmas cards must be signed, and the name of that precious loved one is not included. When the milestones come and go, and all that is left is what might have been. There will always be mourning, always a sense of loss, even as those who remain work at the redefining.

When national tragedies strike, I wonder about those who lost loved ones that same day, quietly, unassumingly, un-newsworthy-ingly. We pause, we mourn, and we move on. We send cards, flowers, casseroles, and condolences. But we avoid making eye contact, because the dark pit of grief opens through the eyes. Grief is uncomfortable. Grief is raw and unpredictable. It does not make good small talk. It requires that we listen. And that we stay.

Our lives quickly resume “normal,” whatever that is. And we forget the suffering. But they don’t forget. How could they? For them, there is no national tragedy. There is no personal tragedy. There is only grief, and the real tragedy lies, beyond the loss, beyond the grief, in the collective amnesia we seem to develop over the suffering of others. May we weep openly and aloud at the reality of their tragic losses, as the Savior did, and may we bring the promise of future hope by simply being present. The best thing I can do for someone enduring tragedy is to just show up, and let God work at the healing.


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Precious Sacrifice

Precious sacrifice

On the altar of my vice.

Kicking, churning deep within;

Only God can see my sin.

Mother-heart multiplied

Beneath my breast and deep inside.

Now the heart is punctured through;

I saw nothing else to do.

Unprepared, spontaneous life

Burst forth in the midst of strife.

“This is best,” or so it seems,

Only God could hear her screams.

He stoops down and gently takes

The precious soul that’s tossed as waste.

Oh my God! What have I done?

Precious gift, forever gone.

On my knees, in distress,

God, take away this emptiness.


Sweet angel up in Heaven waits

To meet me at the glimm’ring gates.

Dressed in white, my soul made new,

There is nothing more to do.

Jesus heard my every plea

And He did it ALL for me.


Every January, we celebrate the sanctity of life and mourn the millions of precious lives lost at the hands of those charged to protect them. My heart breaks for the children, but also for the mothers who know all too well, too late, just what they lost. This is a poem written in the first person. As a mother, I can imagine the emptiness and regret, even though I have not experienced it myself. Blessings friends.


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A Mother’s Living Sacrifice

Motherhood: “…to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” -Elizabeth Stone

Scrubbing, Washing, Folding

Chopping, Mixing, Cooking

Wiping, Rubbing, Holding

Chasing, Tending, Training

Giving, Hugging, Kissing

Praying, Caring, Living


“Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

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Redefining, most confining.

Turn around, life’s upside down.

Love is lost, left alone.

Expectation to move on.

Easy said, harder done.

You were here, forever gone.

Emptiness envelopes me.

Loneliness, my legacy.

Redefining, most refining.

Christ in me, my joy shall be.

Nothing left, only this:

Jesus Christ, my only bliss.


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Overcome by Darkness – Part 2 More Than Conqueror

Depression is the cancer of the soul.




It comes quietly, inch by inch, until the consumption is too much. Mentally and emotionally well people do not suddenly become depressed. The progression is slow, almost imperceptible.

O Lord, how did I get here?

I have long loved my Lord. I have no dramatic before and after time: a remembrance of not loving God and then loving Him. My transformation into New Life has been gradual, one ray of Holy Spirit sunshine at a time.

Since childhood, I have loved reading the Bible and I have loved singing hymns. I have loved learning about God; asking question after question whose answers never quenched my thirst. I longed to know. I longed to understand. Not just cerebrally, but intimately. A knowing that would build my faith, my love for my Maker. An understanding that would draw me nearer to my Blessed Lord.  The more I learned, the more I knew the God who made me and the Jesus who redeemed me. Joy filled me. A happy heart makes a cheerful face. I have always been known for my smile.

But that restless longing to know manifested in less desirable ways as well. As my spirit wrestled with the Holy Spirit for the blessing of deep knowing, I also wrestled with the flesh, the old me, the sarx, which kept getting in the way of spiritual growth.

My faith in God was questioned. Questioned by those who should have known better: known that a child, a child of God at any age, is only, always becoming.

This questioning became the essence of my spiritual warfare, sowing the seeds of doubt.

And again, we’re back in The Garden.

Did God really say…?

Did God really say He loves me? Even though…?

Did God really say forgiveness is full and free? Even for me?

The nagging questions I could not answer made me afraid. Afraid of a God I would never be good enough to know. To really know, personally, intimately, fully. A God to really know me. Oh, how I longed to be known. To be seen in the deep dark corners of my heart and to be loved anyway. Fear squeezed my chest. Fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of failure.

Fear, my dear friends, is not from God. Conviction of sin through the Holy Spirit leads to repentance. Fear leads to doubt, confusion, and despair. It is not productive and does not bring about the peaceful fruit of righteousness. But fear became constant, not always evident, even to me, but always just below the surface. And when fear is constant, anxiety is never far behind. Anxiety manifests in anger. Anger wells up in emotional outbursts that do not reflect the true nature of the immediate situation, but the true nature of the heart from which it springs.

In all of this, I found no grace. Grace pardons and cleanses within. Grace is greater than all my sin. But I did not know grace.  I only knew guilt. Unproductive, spirit-crushing guilt. Guilt is not a good motivator for change, because it makes me believe I am beyond hope of change.

All this emotion, all this thinking, all this warfare wrestled within me from my teen years well into my adulthood. And so, depression and anxiety did not manifest in the winter of our discontent; they were already there, simmering. The heat had been turned up before in other situations, but the frightening, exhausting events of that winter brought them to a full boil. They became something I could no longer keep a lid on.

“You have depression. The post-partum kind and the regular, garden-variety kind.  And anxiety, mixed in with a bit of PTSD.” Strangely, hearing this prognosis from a trained professional was actually a relief. Once my hopelessness had a name, I could do something with it. And I did. Or rather, God did.

Depression and anxiety are many things: physical, chemical, emotional, and hormonal, but they are also something else, something we tend to ignore in our intellectual western culture: depression and anxiety are spiritual.

For me, conquering depression and anxiety meant dealing with them on a spiritual level. Please don’t misunderstand. Sometimes, medication is necessary. I was reluctant to try it, but my counselor at the time explained it beautifully. Depression makes it difficult, if not impossible to think clearly, process, and decide. Medication lifts the veil that is keeping the one suffering from making progress. And so, for many people, it is helpful. For me, I refused it. On a practical level, I am very chemically sensitive, and avoid medications of all kinds as much as possible. On a deeper level, I did not feel that was what the Lord wanted me to do.

Physically, there were other things too, things that I didn’t learn until much later: a low functioning thyroid and more than enough estrogen to go around. These issues I address naturally, and so far that has been enough. I learned that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s because it’s not right, and so I need to love myself enough, for the sake of those who love me, who need me, to go to the doctor. To ask for help.

Why is that SO HARD anyway?

Addressing the physical, chemical, emotional, and hormonal aspects of depression and anxiety are necessary and important, but for me, addressing the spiritual brought healing.

The year after the boys were sick, a friend gave me a book about spiritual warfare. She was not a close friend, but she felt the Lord directing her to do it. Praise God she did. Her sons were in my writing class. She came up to me after class one day, handed me the book and said, “My husband and I are reading this book, because if our children leave our home with baggage, we want it to be their own.” That sounded good to me. I read and cried through that book all summer, identifying the spiritual roots of fear, anger, and bitterness in my heart and rooting them out in Jesus’ name, one at a time, Scripture verse by Scripture verse.

We do not struggle against flesh and blood. When we pray, it must be purposeful. Intentional. The spirits that speak lies of fear and despair into our hearts and minds will never be defeated by wishing they would go away. We must arise, put our armor on, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. This is what I did, over and over and over again. Every day. Many times a day. It was exhausting, as battles tend to be. I was often weary, but each victory built my confidence in Christ and fueled my will to keep fighting. To keep praying. To keep living.

The lying, whispering spirits still visit sometimes, when I am tired, when I first awake, or when someone I love hurts me or lets me down. But now that I can see them for what they really are, I quickly tell them where they can go. A friend calls this “sanctified thinking.” And so depression is not something that ever completely departs, but through the conquering power of Jesus Christ in my life, I don’t live there anymore.

I come to Jesus, just as I am, and in Jesus I have victory.

If you are interested in listening to a message I gave on depression and anxiety, please copy and paste the link below.


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Overcome by Darkness – Part 1: The Dark Sea

Dark sea of confusion and fear, ebbing and flowing in the mind, rolling like waves through the storms of life. When that dark sea becomes placid, thick waters pull down into the depths where the surface is always out of reach. Down, down, down. Drowning in the everydayness of life. Drowning in the unbearable grief of lethargy, longing, and loss. Depression.

Slithering up from the pit of uncertainty and doubt, coiling around its prey, gently at first, spiraling up to the breath, the heart, the mind. Gently circling. Gently squeezing. Gently suffocating. Forcing the air out without ever allowing more in, so that the breath is always shallow, always just enough to survive, but never enough to be alive. Anxiety.

Depression. Anxiety. Dancing in the black chauldron of the mind. Weighing heavy on body and soul, making the everyday into Everest. Always climbing steep slopes with heavy limbs, heavy burdens, heavy breaths. Oh God, I cannot breathe.

Breath is life. If I cannot breathe, I cannot live. To keep breathing is to keep surviving: escaping the grip of death. Survivors are heroes. Escapees. The ones who refuse to stop breathing. Disease, war, abuse, pestilence and famine. The atrocities that humans inflict on each other. This is surviving in the heroic sense of the word.

Depression makes me a survivor of my ordinary life. My everyday blessings. My home becomes the prison that I cannot escape. My family becomes the burden that I cannot carry. Anxiety replaces joy with fear. Gripping, chest-crushing fear. Fear of everything and fear of nothing. My God, what am I so afraid of?

Too much. Too much. It is all too much. I cannot do this anymore.

This was the lament of my depression days. The cry of my anxious heart. When life was hard, and I could not see the blessings, because I could not take it anymore.

You’ll survive. You’ll get through this. 

So many people have it so much worse than you.

You have so much to be thankful for. 

Hollow words meant to encourage always fall empty to the floor.

Better words. Acknowledging words: I made dinner for you.

How can I help you?

Can I take the kids for a while? 

Focusing words: Everything you go through prepares you for future ministry. 

Purpose. Purpose in the suffering. Purpose in the surviving.

And most often, no words. Just presence.

Long, strong embraces that speak what words could not. Empathy. Encouragement. 

Life begins in the surviving: the raw human desire to live. But surviving is not living.

And Scripture does not call me Survivor. Scripture calls me Conqueror, yea, More Than Conqueror. Because nothing, NOTHING can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

This is TRUTH. Depression is LIE. Ancient lie, from the beginning. The lie that separated me and all humankind from perfect unity with the Creator. Sweet to the lips, bitter to the tongue, fire to the belly. Whether the first lie was committed or inflicted, the second lie always whispers just the same: unloved, unaccepted, unworthy. The unholy refrain: God is not with you, the world is against you, your suffering will never end.

How can a Christ-follower, a Jesus-lover, a TRUTH-finder be so utterly overcome by darkness?

How can I be drowning?

How can I be drowning when my God walks on water? And slowly, suddenly, TRUTH sets me free. Jesus comes to me, walking on the thick, dark sea of my grief and fear saying, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I am overcome.

TRUTH. I could not see Him in my dark mind. TRUTH in flesh, I AM TRUTH lifts me up out of my dark sea, and I am standing on the water with Him. Rather, He is standing with me. ME. Loved. Accepted. Cherished. I AM has come. Come to tell me, to remind that I am His. I belong to Him, and He always, always comes for His own.

I AM, that eternal name of God, the name He spoke to Moses. Revealing Himself: reliable, unchanging, covenant-keeping. His name, His person, embodied in Jesus Christ, loves me. Not because I am worthy, but because Christ makes me worthy. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Come, child. Jesus leads me on the water, and I am set free. Free from the darkness, the heaviness, the fear. I am washed, cleansed from the filthy muck that was drowning me. In the washing, the cleansing, there is mercy and pardon. Forgiveness for the weakness. Forgiveness for the fear. And even more, forgetting.

God forgets the old me. He cannot see old-me, because I am washed new. Clean. Clothed in the white robe Jesus bought for me with His blood. The brilliant white leaves no memory of my former filth. And God forgets. Not in forgetfulness, but in choosing.

How does God choose to forget?

Oh, how I would love to forget.

The root of depression is the remembering. Remembering the words, the hurts, the loss. Remembering what was, longing for what might have been. Living in the why’s and what if’s that never get answered.

The root of anxiety is the fear. Fear of the memory. Fear of the past. Fear of the present. Fear of the future. Fear of people, intentions. Fear of God, His will.

For too long, depression was my constant companion; anxiety my loyal friend. Never far away, even on the best of days. On those days, hope glimmered that they were gone. But it was not that easy. It is never that easy. The dark sea, warm and familiar, invited me back often, and I sank comfortable into its enveloping waters. Warm and familiar, until I was engulfed. So easy to sink in, so hard to climb out. Dark swirling down to deep, where the slithering, suffocating lies haunted me, and I could not silence them, because I was barely surviving, too weak to fight.

How did I get here again? How could I be so overcome by darkness?

How could I ever escape this endlessness?


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Blessings from His Garden

I have had the privilege recently of speaking at the memorial services of two very important people in my life: my father-in-law and my grandmother. These experiences have prompted me to think about those I am still blessed to have with me, and so, I wrote this as a Father’s Day gift for my dad. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Love you!

I clutched the steering wheel, letting go only long enough to turn on the radio.  Maybe the music will distract me, I thought, but the noise only added to my anxiety. My morning toast churned in my stomach.  I was 23, fresh out of college, and on my way to my first teaching job.  I exuded confidence throughout my teacher training, excitedly longing for the day I would have a classroom of my own.  I was going to be a great teacher.  But now, in this moment of truth, I felt like I was going to be sick.

The summer had been packed with preparations: studying curricula, planning lessons, and hanging bulletin boards. Arriving early that first day, I made sure everything was in order and took a few deep breaths before my students arrived. Suddenly, the empty classroom overwhelmed me.  

Did I forget anything?  Do I really belong here?  Am I ready for this? 

 Contemplating the weight of the task before me, I noticed something on my desk that I had not put there. It was a bouquet of familiar garden flowers, freshly cut and carefully arranged in a mason jar. I immediately knew who they were from. The card, a folded piece of unevenly cut white paper read, “Dear Julie, God bless you.  Love, Dad.”

Growing up, we knew Dad loved us. And we knew he loved Mom.  When he got home from work, Mom and Dad always greeted each other with a hug and kiss and spoke tenderly so that we couldn’t hear.  No matter what we tried to do to get their attention, it never worked.  “I’m kinda busy,” Dad would say.  Mom would laugh, they would kiss one last time, and then she would turn back to us as Dad headed outside to unload his truck and work in his garden.  Despite our protests, we were secure in their open displays of affection.

Dad loved to work in his garden.  In addition to our regular household chores, my sister and I were required to help him, but never with the planting.  That was strictly Dad’s domain.  We pulled weeds, raked the soil, and picked the small harvest of green beans, tomatoes, strawberries, and raspberries.  There were always experimental plantings, some more successful than others.  Dad enjoyed sharing the fruit of his labor with friends and neighbors.  But he was most proud of his flowers.

“Why are they impatient, Daddy?”  No matter how many times he told me he was lining his garden with impatiens, I never heard it right.

In the late afternoons, the rumble of Dad’s dump truck could be heard from way down the street. “Daddy’s home!” My sister and I exclaimed with glee.  The neighborhood kids were so familiar with our evening ritual that sometimes they shouted it too. We dropped everything to greet him.  He backed into the driveway, and we ran up to the driver’s door. Standing on tiptoes, we waited for Dad to reach out the open window and pull us each up with his strong calloused hands for kisses.  “Can we have a ride, Daddy?”

“Sure.  Hop in.”  We climbed into the back and rode to the end of our long driveway with the gravel crackling beneath us. 

After supper, Mom cleaned up the kitchen while Dad played with us. Sometimes, he played his harmonica and we danced around the kitchen table. Other times, we went into the living room and climbed, bounced, and flipped over his head until he sprawled on the living room floor, too tired to play anymore.  No matter how many songs he played or turns we took, it was never enough.

“One more time, Daddy! One more time!” We shouted over and over again.

Then one day, it was the last time for me.

“You’re too big,” Dad said in his usual matter-of-fact way. His words stung, but I stubbornly refused to show it. I curled up on the couch and watched the fun from behind mom’s good pillows. That moment was the first brick in a wall that slowly separated us.

It was official: I was no longer Daddy’s little girl.

The years that followed brought that reality into clearer focus.  I became rebellious, not in my behavior, but in my spirit.  I fought with my sister constantly, talked back to my parents, and always had to have the last word.

“Dad, why can’t you just listen to me?”  I complained.

“I don’t need to.  I told you what to do, and you need to do it now.  End of story,”  he firmly replied.  I wanted to explain. I wanted to be heard, but I knew it was no use. Instead, I felt the heat welling up inside me.  I was ready to explode.

“This is so unfair.  You don’t care about anyone’s opinion but your own!”  I shouted, melting into a steady stream of tears. My boldness terrified me, but I couldn’t stop the rising fury. My restless spirit demanded to be heard. Dad moaned, threw up his hands, and looked questioningly at Mom before marching out of the room. His “my way or the highway” approach wasn’t working anymore, and I wasn’t about to submit.  I fought with all the fire and drama a teenage girl could muster, and Dad responded with all the frustration of a man who was losing control of his daughter.

This scene played out many times over my teenage years. Later, I would affectionately refer to that period as “the nightmare years.” We never really talked about it much afterward, unless it was the punchline of a family joke. I got married and moved out before I finished college, so home wasn’t Mom and Dad’s when I left for my teaching job that first morning.

Back in my classroom, I gently lifted the homemade card from the thick bouquet and read it over and over again. Dad is a man of few words, so the note was unsurprisingly short and sweet. But it felt like forgiveness. Dear Julie, God bless you. Love, Dad. I kept the card close to me that first day, and I still keep it tucked among my treasures. Those garden flowers may be long gone, but the blessings remain.

I spent the rest of that day and many days after telling everyone I knew what Dad had done for me.  To this day I can’t think about it without getting choked up.  I am thankful for the time since then that I have had to reestablish a relationship with Dad that was lost during my teenage years.  Now I have my own children who bring joy and delight to their grandparents.  Dad looks at them with a mischievous sparkle in his pale blue eyes and repeats one of his many famous sayings, “What goes around comes around.”  I hope so, Dad.

I am so thankful that like Dad, my Heavenly Father loves me through every stage of my life.  His hand is always firm but loving; guiding me to be the woman He has called me to be.  In times of spiritual struggle when I’m not sure where I stand, His blessings are like fresh cut flowers from His garden.  They renew my faith in His love.

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In Memory of Dad on Father’s Day

On May 31st our family celebrated the life, ministry, and faith of John’s father, Jack Raudenbush. John spoke about his dad with his sisters, Katie sang “In Christ Alone” with her cousins, and I had the privilege of representing Jack’s years of ministry at Hawthorne Christian Academy, since I was both a student and faculty member there.

In honor of Father’s Day, I am sharing what I said at the service.

In the summer of 1990, my family received a letter in the mail with the fabulous news that a new administrator had been found to take the helm at Hawthorne Christian Academy. My siblings and I read the letter with fiend enthusiasm and laughed hysterically as we tried to pronounce his name. Was it Rod-enbush? Rad-enbush? Rood-enbush?

On the first day of school we met a giant of a man, and it never occurred to us to laugh at his name again. We quickly learned that Mr. Raudenbush was more of a gentle giant than a Goliath. He was not a mysterious man. We knew right away who was in charge, although we never knew what he was going to say next. He had no problem exerting his authority, but we loved him, because we knew that he loved us.

HCA’s new high school had only graduated two classes when Mr. Raudenbush arrived in my junior year. He embraced his new position with great fervor and restraint. I remember his example of wise leadership — he told us he would not make any major changes the first year – he would watch how things worked. However, he did institute a few things like bagel breaks, the jog-a-thon, and senior privileges.

Mr. Raudenbush led by example. If work needed to be done, he did it. He was not above any task, despite his position and experience. If there was something to be put together, taken apart, set up, or cleaned up, Mr. Raudenbush had no problem doing it. He was a great example of servant leadership. My mother told me that one of the first days she saw Mr. Raudenbush on campus he had his suit jacket off and his sleeves rolled up, and she knew immediately that he had been sent by the Lord. As I got to know him better over the years, I discovered something else about this trait: he couldn’t help it.

We’re not really sure who noticed me first: Mr. Raudenbush, or his 16 year old son John, who happened to be the “new guy” in our junior class. Early in the school year, Mr. Raudenbush asked John, “Who’s the girl in your class with the red hair that smiles all the time?” He was talking about me. By December, I was officially “going out” with the principal’s son. People teased me that my grades would improve, but anyone who knew Mr. Raudenbush knew that wasn’t true. If anything, I had ruined my GPA. But his son was worth it.

Enduring high school sweethearts are rare, but we survived college, and one day, the principal’s son asked me to be his wife. You may be interested to know that Jack and Gail were also high school sweethearts. Once John and I were engaged, Mr. Raudenbush looked at me one day with all the seriousness he could muster, and declared that since I was marrying his son, I didn’t have to call him Mr. Raudenbush anymore. I could call him “Sir.”

Four years after I walked up the center aisle of Hawthorne Gospel Church on graduation day, I walked back down that same aisle to become Mrs. John S. Raudenbush. A year after that, I became Mrs. Raudenbush, HCA’s newest 4th grade teacher. Jack was not involved in the interview process until I met with sixteen board members who wanted him to oversee the final interview. He asked questions, board members asked questions, and I answered with all the lofty ideas and inexperience I had in me. But I have the heart of a teacher, and I answered Jack’s critical question correctly: Do you teach math to students, or do you teach students math? When the interview was over, everyone stood, thanked me for coming, and politely excused me. Jack left with me so that he was not part of the deliberations. As the doors closed behind us, he didn’t say a word, but he gave me a sideways wink and thumbs up. I had done well. My pounding heart stilled a bit. I got the job.

I taught for 3 years at HCA. Jack and I shared the same mutual understanding he had with his own children when he was their dad and their principal: we avoided each other at all costs. He protected me, as he did the rest of the family, by telling me absolutely nothing about what was going on at school that I did not need to know. Not only was it none of my business anyway, but then when people asked about what was going on with this or that, I could truthfully say, “I don’t know. Go ask Jack.”

My 4th grade counterpart, Mrs. Burres, only had one year experience on me, so we learned together. I remember the two of us squirming in the principal’s office one day, waiting to be seen. We were in trouble. We had taught our students a great civics lesson about getting involved in politics by writing to government officials. As a culminating activity, the students wrote letters to school officials, calling for change in various areas. Mr. Raudenbush read their letters. He was not impressed. He said that we should be challenging our students to think about how they could bring about positive change in their families, school, and community, not encouraging them to write letters that amounted to unmerited complaints. I was horrified, not so much because I just got chewed out by my boss, who also happened to be my father-in-law, but because he was right. I had not even thought of it that way.

I also remember Mrs. Burres and I discussing with our students what they wanted to be when they grew up. I don’t know how, but we ended up talking to Jack about it. I don’t remember exactly what the lesson was about, but I will never forget what Jack said. He said that we shouldn’t be asking our students what they want to be when they grow up, we should be encouraging them to pray about what God is calling them to be when they grow up. John and I speak to Jack’s grandchildren the same way.

Teachers’ meetings were always interesting adventures. Jack always knew what he wanted to say, but he never met a tangent he didn’t like. One thing I remember him saying at every faculty prayer meeting was, “Life is hard, but God is good.” And you haven’t really been a student or a teacher under Jack’s supervision until you’ve heard this outside your classroom door: [KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK] “HELLO!” or, “GOOD MORNING!” That entrance was enough to scare the fire out of any intent teacher or day-dreaming child.

In December of 1999, John and I excitedly told Mom and Dad that they were going to be grandparents (again). As my father-in-law, Jack was thrilled. As my boss, not so much. The 1999-2000 school year was a fertile one for HCA. Three other teachers had already shared their exciting news, and four more made their announcements by February. Yes, eight pregnant teachers traded their brief cases for diaper bags that year, and Jack had to replace every single one of us. I believe it is the highest teacher turnover in HCA history.

Jack was many things to me over the years: Mr. Raudenbush as my principal, Sir as my fiancé’s father, Jack as my boss, and most importantly, he was my second dad. I would never presume to speak for Dad, but his legacy speaks for itself. If we were to ask him how we could honor his memory, I am confident that he would answer with 3 John verse 4: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children, my grandchildren, my loved ones, my students, and my staff walking in the truth.”

Do you want to honor Jack? Follow him as he followed Christ. 

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Remembering Grandma

Today we celebrated the life and faith of my grandma, the beautiful Hazel May Barker Walker. She passed into glory on the same day she entered the world, May 21st. She lived 96 blessed years, and is now in the presence of her Savior. I spoke at her funeral today, and someone at the service asked me to post what I said. So, here it is…

Grandma did not come to our family in the usual way. My grandparents were both widowed in their 50’s, and Grandma married Grandpa in the summer of 1975. I was 18 months old. She brought children and grandchildren of her own, and our family and our hearts grew.

Grandma was not a grandma in the traditional sense; she much preferred store-bought to homemade. Many people remember the inspiring sayings on their grandmother’s kitchen walls. Well, the one I remember from my grandma’s kitchen is, “I made my favorite thing for dinner: reservations.” Despite this lack of interest in domesticity, Grandma’s kitchen was always welcoming and well-stocked with plenty of store-bought treats to fill our bellies and our hearts. However, no family party was complete without Grandma’s jello, and occasionally she would get inspired to make her layered raisin cookies, which were delicious.

Whenever we stopped by, which she much preferred to pre-planned get-togethers, we were always warmly greeted at the door with an enthusiastic squeal, followed by, “Look who it is Father (that’s what she called Grandpa). It’s Anne and the kids.” Then we would all file in one by one and receive a kiss on the forehead, which over time became a kiss on the cheek, until eventually we had all surpassed her short stature and were kissing her on the head. With each visit she would size us up, stand us back to back with her, and declare that before any of us knew it we’d be “eating beans off her head.”

Before any of us knew it, we were stopping by with our own kids, who received the same warm greetings, the same kisses and back-to-back measurements, and the same bean-eating declarations.

Visiting at Grandma and Grandpa’s meant cramming around the tiny kitchen table, and fighting, or rather “discussing,” who got to sit on the two stools that she kept for extra seating. I remember many times sharing a kitchen chair with Grandma, because she always insisted there was “plenty of room” on her seat for two.

She had a way of conversing that made me feel like she was really listening. She also had some signature expressions, like “ee-wow-ee-wow,” “isn’t that darlin’,” and various one-line quotes and sayings. For example, when I started driving, Grandma gave me some basic advice that she repeated to me several times over those early driving years, “Green means go, red means stop, and yellow means go like ——.” I can’t finish the last line, because we’re in church. She also had a way of making seemingly insightful statements that didn’t actually make any sense. Uncle Wayne would say, “That’s a Hazel.”

Grandma loved to shop, for others, as much, if not more, than herself. One year, she gave Amy and me quilts for Christmas, and I remember someone asking if Grandma had made them. “Oh no,” I said, “my grandma doesn’t make quilts, she buys them at Sterns.” Even so, we slept soundly under those quilts for many years, and I still use mine on picnics with my family. That quilt is filled with plenty of Grandma-love, even if she didn’t stitch it by hand.

Grandma loved going places, and I think she kept Grandpa young for many years. They were very involved in our growing up: coming over for dinner, attending school concerts and graduations, and taking us to the the duck pond, the zoo, NYC with Kimmie and Paul, and once on a surprise trip to the circus. We spent the car ride there trying to guess where we were going, and they had fun keeping us guessing. They took us out to eat at Friendly’s and Steaks-n-Stuff, where we learned, “If you want good food you have to wait for it.” Waiting is hard when you’re little and you’re hungry. When the great-grandchildren arrived, Grandma and Grandpa carried on the traditions of family gatherings and school programs. Our kids were always thrilled to have them.

Grandma was generous, kind, fun-loving, and energetic. She filled an empty space in our family, and gave us someone to call “Grandma.” She was a blessing, a gift from the Lord for which I am forever grateful. For at least a decade, she has been saying, “We’re all living too long,” which is something her sister Evelyn used to say. She wasn’t bitter or angry about it, just growing world-weary as her body began to fail her. She was ready to die, because she knew where she was going. She sometimes wondered out loud why the Lord didn’t take her. We would tell her that her work wasn’t done, to which she always responded, “Well I wish the Lord would get busy telling me what I’m supposed to do, because I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Well Grandma, your work is done now. You have finished well. I know the Lord was happy to welcome you into His presence on your 96th birthday, with Grandpa, and Ernie, and all those who went before you that shared your faith. We will miss you Grandma. Until we meet again.

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My Jesus, I Love Thee

The familiar hymns of childhood reflect the enduring truths of my ever-deepening faith. There are many songs that beautifully articulate what my heart could not say, but My Jesus I Love Thee has been my favorite since I was a teenager: a timeless testimony of what Christ has done for me.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine

For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.

My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ’tis now.

I love You, Lord Jesus. I belong to You. I surrender the foolishness of my sin to You. You’re not just the Redeemer, the Savior, but my Redeemer, my Savior. I have long loved You Jesus, but now I am finally beginning to understand what that really means.

I love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,

And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath,

And sing when the death dew lies cold on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ’tis now.

I will love You until the day I die. With my last breath I will praise you. And on that day, I will sing my love for You without fear, because You have made me ready.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,

And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.

I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ’tis now.

I am only capable of loving You because You loved me first. You gave up everything for me. In Your deity. In Your humanity. I cannot help but love You back.

In mansions of glory, and endless delight,

I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright.

I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ’tis now.

I will sing for You forever, because you sang for me first. And when I depart this life for my mansion in glory, I hope that those who remain will sing. All four verses, please.


1. Hymn lyrics, “My Jesus, I Love Thee” by William R. Featherston, 1864, at the tender age of 16.

2. “We love because He first loved us.” I John 4:19 (NASB)





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