person holding round framed mirror near tree at daytime

The power of shock

There is a commonality I have found in working with people who are struggling. Its actually a connection that we all share whether now, in the past, or off in the future. While each soul has (or will) experience trauma, though the facts will likely be different, we usually start from a similar point–shock.

If you think about it, when you hear of a tragedy, how often do you hear the person saying, “Yeah, I knew that was going to happen!”? Almost never. Most of the time, if you really listen to a person that is hurting, you will hear that soul searching for how the scenario came to be in the first place. “I didn’t see the car coming.” “I never expected him/her to do that.” “Everything happened so fast! I had no time to think.” “I don’t know how it happened.”

When I started to write on the trembling and bewilderment that overtook Mary and the women who were with her, I decided to see what the other gospel writers had to say about their discovery at the tomb. Though I have read them multiple times, I was taken aback at how different each testimony was. Each contained varying versions of what happened. Mark 16:9 paid particular attention to what the women were physically feeling: trembling and bewildered. The other gospels communicated fear, confusion, awe, doubt, denial, tears, and additional responses not noted in Mark.

At first, I was a bit unsure of how to reconcile the differences. As I contemplated the accounts, and the fact that each writer was sharing the version that they experienced or knew of, an illustration came to mind. Much like looking through a microscope, you can turn the magnification button until it brings the lens in real tight on what you are looking at. If you dial it back, you get a broader view of the sample…hence, more of a big picture. But when something is enlarged, you often forfeit the fine details and specifics that come from magnification. In that process, you can loose valuable data. The same thing occurs with a camera. We can come in very closely on the details of a subject, or pull back and gain a larger picture of the surrounding background. Both perspectives can offer crucial information to aid our understanding.

Being that we have four accounts of what occurred at the tomb, it is important to note that each writer is sharing with us what they observed (or understood to have been observed). Their accounts make up a bigger picture that can be zoomed in upon to give details that may not have been noticed when looking from a broader context. Discussion of this event, the empty tomb, generally centers around the resurrection–the key tenet of our faith. But what if there is more there that God wants us to learn? What if He would like us to bring our lens in a little closer?

Much like the scene of an accident, detectives search for witnesses and interview them to help learn what occurred. Depending upon how close the witness was to the incident, whether they were looking in the right direction, even down to how they are positioned can impact what they see and hear; what they observe and what they miss. You can literally have two people talking to one another when an accident occurs in front of them, and each will remember different details in addition to what they may be able to recall together. At the tomb, we see the same thing occurring. There are the principal witnesses: Mary and the other women, the angel or angels depending upon the account, and the guards. Then, there are witnesses who appeared later: the disciples. While they did not observe directly what happened at the tomb, within short order, they went to the tomb and learned it was empty.

And it is in the emptiness of the tomb that we find all the witnesses bearing a similar response: some form of shock. Call it surprise, if you would like. Confusion, upset, distress, scare, jolt, collapse are a few of the synonyms. ( Each of the witnesses experienced something different, but all of them suffered a jolt to their understanding. Some were scared; some were confused. Frankly, that is what commonly happens when something painful and unexpected occurs in our lives. Almost as if God is adding emphasis, one of synonyms for shock is traumatism, which means “any abnormal condition produced by trauma, or the trauma or wound itself.” (

When we experience the shock of something, a wound has already begun. What becomes important to know is that our bodies and minds typically respond in certain ways. Tightening our lens on Mark 16:9, we see some of the common physical responses: trembling and bewilderment. When experiencing or recalling a trauma, it is not uncommon for the person sharing to tremble. Trembling can exist in a range from mild shaking to quivering to downright shivering. It is why you see people in emergency situations often covered with a blanket over their shoulders. It is why dogs who are afraid of storms do better when given a jacket that snuggles around them to help ease their trembling. It is why weighted blankets can work wonders for those struggling with PTSD. Trembling is a natural, physical reaction to the high stress that can occur in life. It is not a sign of weakness or cold or that something is wrong with them. One theory is that trembling is the body’s way of resetting the central nervous system after trauma, though the dynamics of why are not fully understood. (Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, 1997, North Atlantic Books).

God wants us to understand that the women at the tomb were responding appropriately to something traumatic, and that trauma manifested itself in their reactions and choices. While the resurrection is what we, as Christians, celebrate on Easter, we will be amiss if it is the only thing that we focus on. The gospel writers, with varying details, have described for us much more in the story of the empty tomb. Those details hold important information that we can glean and apply in our own lives and our world. The writers did not keep it simple and linear. They gave us observations and facts based on different eyes, perspectives and positions of those close and those further away from the event.

Shock, at its heart, walks closely with bewilderment. You can see it at most funerals; the family and friends walking around, looking lost or uncertain. The root, bewilder, means “to lead into perplexity or confusion; to lose in pathless places, to confound for want of a plain road.” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, reprinted in 2009, Foundation for American Christian Education, Volume I, pg. 21). Covid brought plenty of hurt, pain and uncertainty to 2020 and 2021 when so many peoples’ plans became altered–almost pathless–due to a pandemic that was not anticipated by most. The virus continues to make it difficult to plan long term as it ebbs and flows in reaction to society’s movements. Shock can even happen with things that appear positive on the surface. New retirees can feel confounded and lost for want of a “working” purpose in their lives. While retirement may have been longed for, the soul can suffer a loss of structure, purpose and recognition as the person transitions from one stage to the next. This can bring on feelings of confusion, pain, distress, and upset; the hallmarks of an initial shock often coupled with later words that retirement was harder than they had expected.

The women at the tomb were not acting disobediently to the angel when they fled in fear and confusion. They were responding in accordance with how we are made. Shock brought on the trembling as their minds dealt with the confusion of what they were seeing. For survival, shock allows us to function on the level needed to accomplish what has to be done, but it numbs the rest and stops us from processing so that our systems are not overwhelmed further. It focuses the body and brain on what is needed to survive as trauma kicks in our fight, flight and freeze response. Shock can dampen pain so that we can focus on a solution. It can quiet the mind in a way that has a tendency to make things feel like they are in slow motion. And it takes awhile for shock to wear off. Depending upon how we process and cope with the injury, hurt or wound, it can take a long, long time to heal.

The tomb is a story of trauma. The ripple effect of how a larger event can impact many, and how responses can vary in how the event data was seen and retained. The one thing we often gloss over is that there was no celebration at the tomb. The experience was one of fear, awe, pain, confusion, and shock. It wasn’t a holiday. It was another trauma for those who had already experienced the horrifying loss of a loved one, Who just happens to be our Savior and theirs. Maybe it is time for us to look more deeply at the story of the tomb for what it can teach us about trauma responses and people.

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:25-27
rural road between grassy field

The unexpected

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.

Mark 16:1

The unexpected is oftentimes hard for us. It does not mean that going through what we “expect” is easy, but at least we have some idea of what may befall us. As I read the story of the women who returned to where Christ’s body had been placed, I was struck by the juxtaposition of their strength and determination in the face of significant difficulties, and their intense and fearful reaction to a truth they had not expected.

Mary, and the other women, had gone to the cave where Jesus was placed with the hope that they could properly prepare His body in accordance with Jewish post-death rituals. The notes in my Bible spoke of the large obstacles that awaited them: guards that had been placed outside the cave and the large rock that had been used to seal it. Thinking further on their situation, it was also unlikely that they would be given permission to enter because, as women, they had little standing in their society. However, in their love and devotion for Jesus, they walked on towards those potential obstacles. Their faith lead them to face what seemed impossible.

Now most of us know the story. They arrived at the tomb. The rock had been rolled away, and there sat a young man in a white robe who said, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Mark 16:6. From the other gospel accounts, we learn that there was a pile of linens neatly folded where Jesus had once been. In fact, Mary had seen Him laid there before the Sabbath came. It would be shocking to learn that the obstacles you had planned for were mysteriously gone, but these women were jarred with the truth that His body was gone too! That was something they clearly had not considered as they journeyed to honor Him. The angel continued with his statement and instructed them, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.'” Mark 16:7.

As current-day disciples of Christ, most of us may think that if we had been in their shoes, we would have immediately rushed back to the other disciples–especially Peter–and conveyed the angel’s message. “Chop, chop!”, as I like to say in our household when we need to hurry. It is easy to think that we would have done just as we were told; for heaven’s sake, it was an angel speaking! Who would disobey a direct order from above, coupled with the amazing feat of having the obstacles removed so that they could see that He was gone. Surely, our reactions would have been one of automatic and unquestioning obedience.

But that is not what we saw happen, right? We did not see these disciples, who walked with and loved Christ in the flesh, act with superhero-size faith and instantaneous compliance. Rather, we saw them do as they had often done throughout their journey with Christ; they reacted instinctually to what they observed. In fact, I believe we saw what most humans would have experienced given the circumstances they went through.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Mark 16:8

It is at this point that it truly helps to understand how our body works and its response mechanisms to the unexpected, painful, and shocking. Simply put, how the body copes when faced with a traumatic event. “Trauma” is rooted, by literal definition, in the Greek word for “wound.” ( And wounds can happen physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Traumatic,” from the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster, one of our founding fathers, means “pertaining to or applied to wounds.” (Webster, 1828, volume II, page 96). Most people shy away from discussing trauma because it typically involves subjects that can be overwhelming and difficult. Others dismiss trauma information believing that they do not need it or do not work in a field that involves trauma. However, to dress a wound that impacts us or another, we must understand that trauma and wounds are often connected and occur more frequently than we realize. The more we understand about trauma, the better job we will do in helping ourselves and others to heal.

Going a little deeper in unfolding trauma requires us to dig into the meaning of wound. “Wound”, from Noah again, can be a “break of the skin and flesh…caused by violence or external force.” (Webster, volume II, pg. 115). Noah goes on to note, “The self-healing power of living beings, animal or vegetable, by which the parts separated in wounds, tend to unite and become sound, is remarkable proof of divine benevolence and wisdom.” Id. Trauma makes wounds, but inherently, most wounds are designed to heal given enough time and care.

Noah goes on to expand the concept of a wound as “an injury; hurt, as a wound given to credit or reputation.” Id. Hence, wounds can involve both physical and emotional injuries and hurts. They can come from words, a lack of words, or even body language as well as violence and negative physical interaction. Cascading our learning a little further, injury includes “in general, any wrong or damage done to a man’s person, rights, reputation or goods. That which impairs the soundness of the body or the health, or gives pain, is an injury. That which impairs the mental facilities, is an injury. These injuries may be by a fall or other violence. Trespass, fraud, and nonfulfillment of covenants and contracts are injuries to rights. Slander is an injury to reputation, and so is cowardice and vice. Whatever impairs the quality or diminishes the value of goods or property, is an injury.” Id. Additionally, injury can stretch out to involve both “mischief; detriment. Any diminution of that which is good, valuable or advantageous.” Id.

Suddenly, trauma can involve something less than tragic or horrific; it does not have to be extreme in tragedy to qualify as traumatic to the person experiencing it. But we are not done yet. In the definition of wound, which can be thought of as the origin point of trauma, we also find the word, hurt. Let’s unfold that to see what more there is to learn. To save space, here are two lists: its roots and the key words from its definition. Roots of hurt are wounded; to strike or dash against; to push, thrust or drive; to assault; to butt. (Webster, Volume I, pg. 113). Hurt’s key words are: to bruise; to impair the soundness; to damage; to injure by diminution; to damage by reducing the quality; to harm in general; to give pain to. Id. Not all hurts rise to the level of trauma, but all traumas come from hurts or injuries that damage, impair, bruise, demean, reduce, and harm.

Let us think back to the women at the grave. Broadening our vision and going deeper, can we see any event in their lives that had recently taken place that might have caused trauma, injury or hurt to any of them? Absolutely! They had just witnessed Jesus being crucified. But let us push back the timeline a little further…

Mary Magdalene had gone to where the disciples were dining with Jesus, a night or so before His death. With her, she brought an expensive bottle of perfume; something she treasured. As she arrived, she was not welcomed into the dinner; she was not allotted a space at the table. Rather, she got down on her knees and bathed His feet with both the perfume and her tears as the men ate and talked. As she was doing so, the disciples began to scorn and scold her for being wasteful for they could see the money that could have been gained if she had given them the perfume instead of using it on Jesus. They bruised and verbally diminished her and her gift, until Christ, Himself, intervened and corrected their insults and false assumptions. He brought healing to her wounds by gently praising her and declaring that her act would long be remembered in history.

Pushing back even further in time, we see Mary surrounded by many who held a superior position in society and felt justified to condemn her to death for an act of sin that she had been caught in. Most of them held stones in their hands as they had begun the process of judgment that would lead to the punishment of stoning. Alone, she would have faced death had it not been for the hand of her Savior and His words. He admonished them for their willingness to kill another despite the sin they, themselves, had within their own lives. Slowly, one by one the rocks fell to the ground, as those souls realized that their sin could have easily led them to the same fate they had willingly wanted to inflict on her.

In Mark 16, we now see Mary seeking to honor Christ. Yet, despite the obstacles, the soldiers who radiated a menacing presence, and how powerless they were, she and her companions pushed on until they were faced with something they had not anticipated; the lack of His body and an angel waiting for them. Those two things triggered a strong fear response in their bodies. In fact, it appears that the fear was already anticipated by heaven when the angel uttered these words, “Do not be alarmed.” But why? Why were they so overcome with fear when they had already expected to face the insurmountable? Why did the gospel writer feel convicted to note that the angel had foreknowledge of how they would likely respond to what they were seeing and what they could not see?

Because God has designed our bodies to take in trauma certain ways. Our systems, both body and brain are filled with nerve endings and senses that move at a speed that overwhelmingly outpaces our minds. When we are frightened, threatened, surprised, or even angered, we process circumstances differently than how we process most of the other events in our lives. Reflecting on the definitions of trauma, wound, injury, and hurt, it becomes crucial for us to recognize how traumatic events (whether big or small) impact us and those who surrounds us, whether friend, foe or stranger.

Before you deny the impact of hurts in your life, do you know that there can be secondary trauma? Yes, it is true. Secondary trauma can occur as people help other people through something traumatic despite not having been wounded or experienced the trauma firsthand. Sometimes it can occur just from learning of the trauma and understanding the impact. Trauma ramifications flow first to the person experiencing the injury, and then outward. It can have a ripple effect as news and the aftereffects circle out amongst those near and then move towards those further away. Much like a wave reaching a distant shore, trauma can continue well past its origin point.

When we unfold God’s words that involve trauma, we learn that we should not make quick evaluations or assumptions about others. We do not know what their past truly involves. In fact, we need to pause and stop relegating the effects of trauma to only near-death experiences or great tragedies; that blinds us to how pervasive trauma wounds are in our lives and the lives of others. Our blindness can lose sight of moments made for compassion, kindness and healing. As injury and hurt indicate, most of us have more painful moments in our lives than we likely want to acknowledge or understand. Despite our society being rooted in independence, toughness and forgiveness, our bodies are designed to quickly return to prior hurts when something too familiar reminds us of them. Hurts cannot be healed by indifference, denial, demands, procrastination, or deception. There is no sweeping it under the rug, as our bodies are not designed to do so. When we force things down or underground, we will not prevail in healing as the hurt and its effects will find their way to the surface of our lives eventually.

The science of trauma, which shows how it impacts our lives, has grown dramatically in recent decades. The effects of trauma can impact our decision making without us even being aware. It gives birth to many our fears, and lends support to the things we do to cope. It can cloud, like a thin film over our eyes, how we see and deal with others. Our hurts and injuries, our wounds, are catalogued by our body and considered in the future by our brains, whether we like it or not. Learning more about trauma is one way to loosen its impact on our lives. Understanding more about it can help heal those wounds that lie inside of us while also holding the potential to impart healing to others. God often moves souls into the path of those who have walked a similar road so that they know they are not alone and that their healing will eventually rise and overcome the brokenness of their hurts or injuries.

So, with that under our belts, let’s look at Mary and her companion’s reactions as they speak boldly and truthfully about how the body responds to trauma.

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.”

Mark 16:8

selective focus photo of magnifying glass

Understanding the depths of serving.

“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it seem to you like nothing? But now be strong”…declares the Lord. “Be strong…. For I am with you…. And My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”

Haggai 2:3-5

You might wonder why a small organization dedicated to growing faith and bringing encouragement to those struggling might want to talk about trauma? Encouraging, it turns out, is often a part of building or even the rebuilding of something that once was. When we are encouraging others, we are building up faith; when we are building faith, it frequently comes through strengthening others. And when faith falters, encouragement and support are the brickwork that restores it firmness and resolve.

Many years ago, we met a woman from New Orleans a year after Katrina barreled through Louisiana leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. While her home survived the flood waters because it was on the upper floors of a high-rise building, her belongings did not survive the looters who came in weeks later destroying everything they could in search of hidden money and goods. She had been referred to us by a program who had a family that needed help with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This gal had long loved Christ and humbly served in His Name much of her life, but at her lowest, she lost sight of Him in the midst of the storm that ravaged her life. That “storm” went well past Katrina’s arrival and departure. After boarding a bus with nothing but her loved ones, she found herself in Detroit trying to make her way in an unfamiliar land with little resources and great uncertainty as to what the future held. Her hope had been wearing then; her faith was clearly struggling.

That Christmas morning, she called. She tenderly shared that she had been at her wits end. She described how she had loved God and always felt near to Him. At first, in the hours and weeks after Katrina exited Louisiana, she was able to hold out hope and faith, but as the days grew longer and harder, she became concerned that maybe, somehow, God had forgotten her. Fear crept in as the confusion and heartache seemed unending. She cried out to Him repeatedly wondering if He even knew where she was anymore, or how devastated the storm had left them. Over a year later of unimaginable stress and change, she felt overwhelmed by her doubts and trapped by her fear. Shortly thereafter, packages arrived at her apartment full of food for Thanksgiving, with more arriving on Christmas along with presents and clothes. That very Christmas morning, she understood that God was telling her that He knew right where she was, and that message–via our hands and feet–restored her hope and faith. She spoke with excitement and renewal; her exact words were that her “faith had been restored.” She was not able to wait until the following day to call; she needed me to know that through our kind hearts and willing hands, she had received the message that she was not forgotten nor forsaken.

It was a conversation that deeply humbled me. Though it was early on Christmas morning, and a complete surprise, her call had come at the perfect time. I, myself, was struggling with the nay-sayers in my life who did not feel that FBF was necessary or needed. The work we had been doing, the deliveries we had been making, were scoffed at and trivialized by others on the periphery of our lives and dismissed as if serving God (and others) was an unnecessary hobby that was inherently selfish. The needs of others, they lamented, were not really needs at all, but rather poor choices that deserved the consequences of barren trees and tables. Their words had gotten the best of me, in part because I was not expecting them, and I spent Christmas Eve that year pondering if I had been mistaken in some way. Her kind phone call was God’s answer to me about the fears and doubts others had tried to saddle me with. Her call quickly cleared their weighty words and judgment from my conscience, as her needs were deeper than I had known. Our connection, her world and mine, both needed each other though we did not know that. Together, through kindness and support, God encouraged each of us that we, with His help and very Presence, could do what He was asking–we could walk where He had led.

Understand that life usually contains those who complain, demand, take, dismiss, deny, doubt, manipulate, and do nothing more than what benefits them. It will likely be those same type of nay-sayers who will say that there is nothing to be gained by sharing information about trauma, but friends, that is where His Words leads us when we serve Him and others. He takes us to the poor (and the word, poverty involves more than financial means), the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, those trapped in darkness (yep, that’s different from being blind), the sick, the needy, those mourning, those feeling overwhelming despair, those in prison (again, that word is more expansive than most realize). The list is long and extensive, as our world really has a never-ending need for His hope. Hence, FBF’s newest outreach–writing about Scripture that can teach us God’s perspective on hurt while also looking at the trauma information that our world is learning, so that we can live out caring with more understanding and tenderness.

For over 16 years, we have been trying to simply live out Isaiah 61:1-3.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor.

Isaiah 61:1

In this Katrina story, I had naively thought the “good news” we were sharing was that their Christmas was going to be one to celebrate and enjoy–that God had not forgotten them and had moved many hearts to remind them of His love and faithfulness during hard times. A worthy message. When I say naïve, it is because so often we want to simply “drop” off that which joyfully lifts another’s heavy heart without actually stopping and looking at the brokenness that has weighed it down in the first place. It would be like dropping off some money onto the gentleman who laid in the road in the Good Samaritan’s path, rather than stopping and tending the wounds that caused him to be stuck laying on the ground.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

Isaiah 61:1

It was dark where this woman was, but not in the physical world where she resided. The city had provided them with an apartment; organizations were trying to help where they could. Rather, it was a spiritual and emotional darkness that had heavily descended onto her world; a direct result of what she had and was still enduring. She felt alone, unseen, burdened and troubled. Responsible for souls who had boarded that bus with her; frightened by the continuous stream of unknowns that appeared at every bend. Exhausted by trying to figure out how to survive while needing to learn new ways and new paths for her future. Her heart was still invisibly bleeding, and her faith was struggling to regain its ground as doubt sought to overcome its very existence. She needed someone to see her; to listen, to hear, and to want to understand. Someone who would not judge her in her delicate time of need. She needed emotional and spiritual support as well as physical and provisional help.

You see, a hurricane with power unlike most in recent history devastated one of our large cities and moved thousands from the only homes they had known. Does that sound at all familiar in today’s headlines? (There are so many reasons and events in the world around us that are begging for us to understand how trauma will impact lives.) Looking back, trauma was written all over her story and her spirit; long before we knew much about it. When we dropped off Easter baskets that following spring, I met her in person for the first time. She was waiting for me with pictures in hand as she asked me to sit next to her. She wanted me to see the devastation to her apartment caused by other human beings and not the storm. She needed me to understand that being in need was new to her; that she had a very good life before. She longed for me to hear how hard it was to evacuate and leave everything she loved and had known. She wanted compassion for what it was like to be in a city where no one knows your name, your history or even seemed to notice your pain. Her pictures still hold a special place in my mind. The trauma she lived through she needed to share, and quite frankly, years later, I still need to think about her, from time to time, to remember why God has us doing what He does. To see that those beginning moments were steps towards what we do and know today.

Now, for those of you who have watching from behind your screens or in visits to help build baskets, set up events, drop off things to be shared, sort through items–please hit the repeat button on this kind of story for each of the last sixteen years. It is why you see databases go up, our newsletters list needs, the stories we share to inspire people to know they can do good, and the posts we share about what we are doing. We have seen and listened to many traumas. Can you now see why God has us, FBF, bringing encouragement to others? Because they have hit a rough spot in life.

While there are many different stories in descriptions and circumstances, they all stem from a wound–something scary, unsettling, painful, shocking, or life altering/ending–that has caused an injury or hurt to the body, mind or soul. Heaven knows that trauma does not require hurricanes to exist; hurt, injury and wounds are all that are necessary to create a traumatic moment or moments. Life’s hard spots are where trauma can and does develop. And much of what we do involves bringing hope and support to those tough moments and the aftermath that follows.

We have walked with trembling and bewildered souls for some time now, at varying points in their trauma processing, and we know that there are more out there than the ones we can reach. Trauma is not limited to catastrophe; in fact, it does not always heal in a chronological order like we would expect. Souls can walk a long time after an event is “over” before ever allowing others to see or know of their wounds. It is why it is so helpful to know a bit more about how trauma works, how our bodies are designed, how God would like us to be when we are with a wounded soul, and what He offers us when our own souls, minds and bodies are wounded. This understanding is at the heart of bringing encouragement and hope; it can make all the difference between dropping off only what is “needed” in a physical sense and tenderly providing comfort, inspiration and reassurance to the aid of a healing soul.

We know that not everyone will want or see this information as helpful and that is okay. Not everyone who comes to take part in a FBF event takes away the same thing. One may need a basket; another may desperately need the enjoyment and satisfaction of building one to help another. Another soul may long to ease someone’s burdens and, in the end, discover that their load has been lightened just by helping. Someone may need clothes or to give clothes, and yet find themselves leaving better clothed with support, encouragement and love from souls that genuinely care. All along God has guided us in the principal of not worrying about the numbers we may reach, but rather that we trust Him that there are others out there that need to be reached with what He nudges us to give. We pray that, in today’s world and for the days ahead, others will benefit from what we have learned (and will continue to learn) in the arena of tending wounds and encouraging faith. That is our simple hope and goal for this written outreach.

Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the Lord.”

2 Chronicles 30:22
black ball point pen on white notebook

And a highway will be there…

Waters will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah 35:6

My son was three years old when the concept of Families Building Faith (FBF) came to me. It took me
almost two more years before I became brave enough to put forward the framework of what I saw. It
is now 16 years later. We have gone through both good times and difficult ones—in society as a whole
and in our own personal journey. We have expanded, contracted and moved with the seasons of life.

As an organization, we are loosely structured on the vision of a network of souls coming together to
build faith, hope and support where and when we could. I never saw FBF as a formal “church” or a
“charity” that helps others. The closest I could come to in defining it was as a fellowship. According to Noah Webster, a “mutual association of persons on equal and friendly terms.” People who held a “joint interest” in growing stronger in their walk with God while reaching out, encouraging and reminding souls that God knows right where they are and sends help. The outreach portion of what FBF does was designed to specifically bring people together…regardless of creed or economics or age…to give souls (families, children, seniors, individuals) a chance to work for the good of others jointly.

Over the years, I found that FBF’s structure lived up to its name. There were many moments where a
kind soul came up to me to hit home that message…that their faith had been encouraged and enlarged.
From the mom who was overwhelmed and tired of the commercialization of Christmas only to leave
refreshed, encouraged and filled with a hope she couldn’t wait to share to the young teen who wanted
to make sure I understood just how much she needed to know that the world wasn’t as full of hate as it
seemed. The young heart just needed to cross over our threshold to experience the hope and joy of
serving God together in diversity. To the very souls who received others’ kindness and whose hearts
grew because of the love that many had generously shared with their time and/or belongings.

Because of God’s good nature and glory, FBF began around 2005. It was 2007 when the reverberations
of the Great Recession began to unfold and cascade into the years following. I had no idea when I
envisioned and started FBF that an economic downturn of that scale was imminently close, but God
knew. We rode out those years learning of more and more souls going without Christmas, Easter
baskets, meals over the summer, without warm coats in the winter, lacking school supplies in the
autumn and spring, and so on. It was during those years, that we, those willing, learned that serving
God was not about proving that we had faith, but rather, it was about following Him even when it was
hard, scary or a bit unclear (hence, when we really needed to have faith in Him and not ourselves) as to
what the benefits or impact would be.

The questions of how were often quieted by the assurance of faith that if God was asking us to do it, we
could trust in Him to bring what was needed…whether it was materials, items, people, time, or
transportation. Over, and over again, He asked us to walk by faith and not by sight. The instructions
frequently were limited to seeing a need and trusting Him that we could somehow meet it. Amid that
growth came the need to communicate. By word of mouth and our newsletter, FBF’s existence and
outreaches grew. People started asking if they could help and the network of willing souls working
together expanded. Kind people from all different backgrounds, with many traversing a good distance,
came together in a myriad of ways to encourage others who were struggling. We developed our
Facebook page, keeping it quiet and simple most of the time with posting only as needed. We built a
website. Through those mechanisms, and in my own personal life, there has been several who have
shared with me the impact that my writing has had on their faith and lives. Struggling to hear that, I
often shook it off choosing to believe my doubt and fear more than the message they were trying to
convey: my writing was another outreach that God was using to encourage and help souls.

So, I currently sit at a crossroads with this pandemic, limited in what we can physically do. I would
better describe it like Jacob in the desert wrestling with an angel. On a journey to a new place, a new
destination, an angel came to him one night and they wrestled until morning. The pandemic came
about 18 months ago. If we count when it began in other parts of the world, we are quickly approaching
two years. For FBF, and the safety of all involved, we prayerfully halted much of what we do in
gathering others together, while quietly maintaining emotional and physical support when needed to
those we normally come alongside. We strove to create programs to maintain contact, but also took
this time to reflect, contemplate and wrestle about what to do next.

I say “next” as if I have been humbly waiting for instructions. Those that know me well know that I have
been sitting on a set of instructions for some time. Wrestling with those instructions and my lack of
faith, taking one step forward every now and again with three steps back. Life in its crazy ability to
interrupt the best of intentions has left me with easy excuses for veering away from what God
repeatedly has nudged me to do: write.

I took off the months of July and August. After a harrowing year personally, with hard experiences
befalling those I love and painful difficulties and uncertainties unfolding for some that I have prayed
about for a long time, I needed some time to recharge and rest. After working with tragedy and trauma
for a long time now, there was a natural buildup of those stories and their hurts in my heart, body and
soul. Late last year, and with plentiful reminders this year, it had become abundantly clear to me and
those closest to me that God has been building–for some time–a deeper purpose to FBF in helping
those who souls have experienced trauma. What many don’t realize is that most walk with a hurt that is
deep within the soul and often unknown to most. Much of my time spent in our outreaches is time
spent tending to those hurts with the information God has given us. Sometimes it is just a sliver of
information the person needs to free themselves from the shackles they are weighed down by, and
other times, it is a bit more…

As my summer and time of rest closes, the numbers for Covid are going up again. The news and
information from around the world are indicating that gathering indoors is not wise. Our indoor
outreaches will likely be unable to happen. At the same time, we are seeing so much pain and anger in
our world. It has become clearer that maybe the writing I have long put off, besides in spurts of here
and there, holds an opportunity to strengthen and tend to more souls right now than we can in-person.
As I put what He has long been teaching us into words, I pray that they will inspire others, open their
eyes and ears to what God needs us to see and hear, and strengthen the walks of those wanting to grow
their faith.

“Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.’”

Isaiah 35:3-4

Fear has a subtle way of creeping into our walks and sapping our strength. It is something that I have
frequently touched on in past writing, and a topic that has besieged our world. People are fearful of this
virus; others are fearful that they are losing their freedoms. Both have valid components to their
reasoning, though they often do not see where fear holds them captive and connects them in opposition
to each other. Because they cannot see the commonality between them, they cannot respect each
other’s concern. There is fear rising around the globe with much of it wielded as a tool of oppression in
the vast array of relationships that compose society and families. The sooner we see that God can be
trusted more than our fears, the better our world will be become. He tells us to be strong, to not
engage fear, for a reason. The things we are afraid of can lie in the bushes of our lives, much like a jackal
hiding there and cackling to our horror, only to find that those haunts—those bushes–can hold a vastly
different and beautiful potential once those fears are driven out.

While we will continue to do what we can to strengthen and steady souls with encouragement and hope
within the limitations we are facing in this pandemic, addressing fear—speaking to hearts with
encouragement to be strong and trust in God—will need to come through words as well. Our
newsletter will be back online monthly throughout most of the year, and we will be re-introducing
Unfolding God’s Word. From there, we will see where God leads. My guess and hope are that you will
see more words come to the spaces that house FBF’s ability to network.

Please join me in prayer that my commitment to writing become solidified. May it bring forth words
that are nurturing and cleansing, much like the water that God brings to refresh weary souls who may
be caught in the wilderness of life or in the desert of hard times or in the bleakness of waiting. May my
faith to trust Him with this task become like it did when I took a leap of faith and followed Him 18 years
ago in beginning to develop FBF. May His will be done, and glory brought to His Name as we continue to
move as He directs and expand FBF’s outreach to include encouragement and change through the realm
of writing.

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped. Then the lame leap
like a deer, and the mute tongue will be shout for joy. Waters will gush forth in the wilderness and
streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the
haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.”

Isaiah 35: 5-6
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FBF’s Virtual Calendar

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Introducing FBF’s new virtual calendar. It is where you will find many of our events, drop offs, and new virtual activities.

So how do you access it? First step is to go to our home page. You can get there by clicking in the menu bar on the word “home” that is circled in blue. Second step is to then find the yellow box that says, “See Upcoming Events”, and click on it.

Once you have clicked on the yellow button box, you will be taken directly to FBF’s virtual calendar. Here’s a sample of what it looks like!

Let’s take apart the colored notations. Underlined in blue, you will see what month you are in with the corresponding date right below. Additionally, circled in blue is the actual meeting time. Most of the time, you will only see one or two events on any given day, but if you were to go to this date, you will actually see three events. Hence, why it is important to take a look to make sure you have the right time.

Circled in the green, at the top of the calendar, is a search bar. You can enter a date or event name, and then click on “Find Events”. It should take you to what you are looking for. Next to that blue box, is also three different ways you can look at the calendar: by list, by month, or by day. The calendar is automatically set to list upcoming events, but play around and see what might work best for you.

Circled in pink is the link to this event. Click on it, and it will expand the details regarding this event on this date and time. It will look something like this:

One of the changes that we are most excited about is our new virtual events. We know that it is likely that there will be more times of uncertainty and isolation over the winter months, and so we are hoping to facilitate and build connections that will bring some brightness to those potentially dark days. And we know from experience that good connections are what shine hope, encouragement and love into lives.

Highlighted above with blue circles are two things. One, up in the top corner, is the indication that the event will be virtual. If that is not noted there, then it will likely be a drop off or reminder. Make sure to note. Second, the blue circle, on lower part of the page, surrounds a button that says, “Join us”. Once you register, which is circled in green, you should be able to click on the Join Us button–at the start time. It will then usher you into a waiting room to be admitted once the meeting has started.

Please understand that some of our events are limited in accessibility and/or require registration. Please make sure to be registered, both through the website and any corresponding Sign Up Genius databases. Registration is simple, but is a necessary step.

Lastly, this screen shot is of the bottom of that page. We enlarged it so you could see it better, as it contains some key information. We will provide the link to any corresponding Sign Up Genius page. You can see it circled in dark blue. You should be able to click directly on that to be taken to the database. Highlighted in teal is the type of event we are hosting, and lastly, circled in purple is an email if you have any questions ahead of time. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of any event on the calendar to see what information is listed.

If there is a corresponding Sign Up Genius page, you will find an additional meeting link there. You can utilize either link for the meeting time, and we provide this extra connection in case there are any problems with one of them. In the Sign Up Genius database, it will look something like this:

The Zoom link is provided upon signing up through FBF’s Sign Up Genius databases, and a confirmation email will also provide more information. You will begin to see more Zoom options as we go virtual with our assemblies this fall and holidays.

We hope you will find this calendar an asset as we forge ahead with the changes we are creating! We are super excited about continuing to serve, grow and build faith in the days, weeks and months ahead.

I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.

Ecclesiastes 3:12

Hello again

Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.

Nehemiah 13:14

Changes to this space

We were in the midst of FBF’s Easter Basket Collection, and parallel assemblies, when Covid-19 came onto the scene. In fact, we started screening volunteers and making changes to our local monthly outreach in February as we could see the writing on the wall. Despite those changes, and the hope that we had more time to get through to Easter, FBF’s activities–and much of the rest of the world–came to a screeching halt by mid-March.

I’ll be honest. It was heart breaking. Though I was deeply grateful that we were able to reach some, my heart broke at the many we could not reach. The week before Easter, as we distributed the last of what we could locally, and carefully, the visions of thousands of baskets and broken hearts left me shedding quiet tears for the children and adults who would not receive the embrace of love that is transferred through those creations.

A pause for all.

I am a history major through my undergraduate degree. As my family and I took refuge in our home, along with the rest of Michigan and much of the world, I watched events unfold that I understood were history making. Never in recorded history had the majority of societies, countries, and economies shut down on such a grand level. The magnitude was not lost on me as I knew the history books of the future will record how unparalleled those moments were.

The shut down went on for longer than most expected. It had to. And in the breadth of that time and space, a pause developed. For many, there were transitions never experienced before: working at home, managing a child’s school day, unprecedented time together, and equally shocking was the time alone or unconnected from the things that give life meaning.

While we did what we could when called upon, things paused, in essence, for Families Building Faith too. First, by necessity. Then, by the scope of change occurring across many landscapes. A collective hesitation to re-engage ushered in by the uncertainty of how to proceed and towards what. In the midst of much prayer, quietness and contemplation was a God-inspired nudge to wait.


The scope of what FBF does, and what I do personally, is broader than most realize. It is not just outreach that we do. It is not just encouragement that we give. When you walk away and we shut the door to our gatherings or assemblies, that is not the end of what God has asked us to do.

Early on, I noticed a familiar pattern in many. The ability to endure quickly faded in patience and willingness. People began, and still are, engaging anger and rebellion (through risk taking) as a way to combat this virus. Anger at the need for change that it is requiring of society, and the proclamation of an absence of fear to “fight” accepting the impact the virus may have on the existence of life for some.

Long ago, in this journey of creating FBF running along the parallel of my own life experiences, I learned that anger and denial (couched usually in terms of refusal) are responses to fighting the need to mourn loss. Within weeks, I was hearing all sorts of souls turn to these emotions, or lack thereof, to try to retain some sense of normalcy and control. Mourning these sudden societal changes was not what many wanted to do or see. Yet, the process is fundamentally tied to our ability to correctly assess our circumstances, and accept and come to terms with our new reality. People fight the hard work of processing through grief of loss, not realizing that they are pushing off the peace that comes with acceptance.

For me, I spent the better part of the early months of summer wrestling with myself and God about loss, change and where things could head. It took me until May to allow my heart to share the pain of what we could not do. It took time and vulnerability to hand God my sense of failure and hurt. It took putting down my pride to ask what is next? What can we do now? And how? As things just cannot go forward in the same manner. It took multiple discussions and prayer to find the humility and willingness to say, “Okay, let’s put aside what we have always done and figure out what You need done in these times.”

Moving out of the pause.

God has long encouraged me to write. I have long been resistant. As it became clear that I needed to move past the pause, I struggled to know how or what to start with. I literally could not think of much to say for a newsletter, besides “hello”. As I persevered with pen and paper in hand, I reflected back on what past newsletters had been about. Again, those pages were often full of things that we would be doing together. Covid made that seem daunting to think about.

So I thought of what had always been essential to FBF. It was our study time together in God’s Word. Grasping to that, and the longing to return to some way to engage, inspiration flooded over me. All of a sudden, I could see–off in the distance–a way. Excitedly, I wrote notes, did some research and began to talk with others about what I could see.

I took a step forward, and began moving out in faith again.

In the distance, a new structure was coming into view. Not entirely unknown, as we are still FBF, but new in ways to bring us together again…

Welcome to FBF’s new gathering place.

Yep, you read that right.


In this space.

We hope to gather. We hope to inspire. We hope to connect. And we hope to serve.

Take some time to explore this new website. We’ll introduce each wing of this new shared space. Spaces will be noticeably familiar to how you engaged us before, but more accessible here while Covid remains out there.

We are excited to move into the autumn, holidays and new year with the potential this space holds. We pray it brings growth, strength, encouragement, and connection to help with that longing we all experienced this year.

Let us value the importance of connection, even as the world’s ability to safely interact changes right before our eyes…

Celebratory beans

…these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer…” Isaiah 56:7

She was rather quiet. She had come with her older sister, mother and father.  Her sister had visited us multiple times before with her Girl Scout troop.  I quickly greeted them and encouraged the eldest to go ahead and teach her family how to build a basket. I knew she had built them well in the past, and was confident she would do a great job in instructing them.

IMG_8013The rule goes that before candy is placed in a basket, I take a quick look to make sure nothing more is needed.  That way, the candy does not fall to the bottom when, and if, adjustments are made.  And that is when I met her.  She promptly, and rather quickly, appeared with a basket ready to be checked.  Quiet and hesitant she waited for my approval.  I checked a few things and off she went to get the candy.

IMG_8007Hardly saying a word, another basket appeared. Then another. She had gotten the hang of it and was eagerly building at a pace that was quick and steady. Each time I snapped a photo of her finished basket, she would quietly take it back into her hands and smile a little smile. Because she was so quiet, I wasn’t 100% sure how she felt about building. Most kids love to tell me all their thinking that went into the basket’s creation, but this young lady did not. And that was more than okay as each personality is its own.

IMG_7993It was later in the session when I saw the mom and two daughters with their baskets lined up by each other’s.  They were putting their candy in them and admiring each other’s work. All of sudden I saw it. The magic and delight that normally bubbles out of a soul building a basket.

You see, we have the great wall of candy in our basement. It is an awe inspiring thing to see in person, not that the pictures aren’t cool! And though, it is this immense amount of chocolate, sweet and savory bits of delight, it is not for the builders tIMG_7799o eat. In fact, we have a sign made up telling them why it is not okay to eat the candy that is donated. And most don’t. But we know how hard it is to work alongside a bunch of candy and never eat any so we place little bowls of jelly beans on our tables that the builders can munch on.

It was there that I saw a spoon rise in the air in a grand, waving-like gesture and heard her words right out happily, “A celebratory bean for finishing!” She gracefully offered one to her mom and sister with a slight giggle and a bright-eyed smile on her face. They each partook of her offer with more laughter and smiles.

I, too, had to chuckle. Utter delight and brilliant satisfaction at a job well done. Excitement and a beautiful desire to share with those we love all wrapped up in the pleasure of a simple jelly bean. The topping to a wonderful evening that had clearly filled her heart with overflowing joy!

Celebratory beans, indeed!

…for My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7




Dream big

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”  Joel 2:28

It just so happened that I had a quick moment to check his basket. When our builders arrive, I give those who are new a tour and then teach them how to build a basket. The builders who have built before get to skip the instructional and begin building as soon as they arrive. This young man had done just that. He was waiting patiently for me, as I finished, to check his basket to see if he could get candy for it.

As I moved a few things around and told him how much I loved the items he had picked out for the boy, age 11-12, he started talking. With a great amount of excitement and pleasure, he said, “Do you want to know what my theme is for this basket? Well, I am going to tell you about the theme that helped me build this basket.”  He was so proud of what he had come up with: “Dream big! I just think if we are going to dream, we should dream big, and I want him to know that!”  He then explained almost every detail to the basket.  Why he had picked the toys and how they represented his theme.  Then he moved onto the books, how he had read them and had enjoyed them so much.  Each element he joyfully pointed to with a quick explanation as to its relevance; all of them supporting the idea to dream wonderfully big dreams.

It was a tad bit ironic that this young man was speaking to me about dreaming big because I had just read an interesting devotional. In it, it spoke of how God had promised to give the Israelites whatever land their feet walked upon, back in the days before entering the promised land. The devotional pointed out that God’s intention was to give them the breadth and scope of where they were willing to walk, but the promise was dependent on their willingness to actually take the necessary steps. Consequently, they were limited to where their feet were willing to go. It turns out that they never took the full breadth and scope of what was available to them. Where they failed to step, they did not receive. I remember being intrigued by the idea that we may–often limited by fears–take less than God actually intends for us to receive.

As fate would have it, without even looking for it, I came across that Scripture just a few days later.  It was in the book of Joshua.

Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”  Joshua 1:3

You see, it was already given to them ahead of time, it was just that they had to take possession of it. They were not even in the land that was promised to them when God gave this assurance to Joshua. Instead, God was encouraging them before hand–about a place that was only a dream in their hearts at that moment–with the divine support that every place you will tread, I have already planned to give to you. Imagine that! God wants us to dream big and trust bigger. Getting to a land of their own was a dream come true. Being free from bondage and oppression was almost too much to believe in. But there is a simple truth locked up in those words God gave to Joshua: for dreams to become a reality, a step (or leap) of faith is required. Most dreams stay dreams because the person never makes an advancement or movement towards bringing them into fruition.

And that, my friends, has pretty much been how this outreach has evolved. On Monday night, a pair of moms were placing candy in their well-designed baskets when one spoke up and said, “I think I need to up my game with my own baskets.  My baskets get a few pieces of candy tossed in there haphazardly.”  We all laughed, and I reassured her that I have heard that several times before from other parents. I believe that it is good for others to be inspired to make something they can give even more delightful. Most people see the detail, the fullness, and the beauty of these baskets. By them, they can see the goodness of God and are inspired by our initial dream of providing help to another parent and child that might not have anything on Easter morning. A dream that seemed impossible because we had very little concrete funds and no real way to generate them. But all along, God has said, “Don’t worry about numbers. Don’t worry about giving less or having enough. Dream big and take the necessary steps forward. I will meet you there. Do as I ask and I will provide in ways that you cannot imagine.”

We did and He has. A small group of moms and families who reached out, in the beginning, to other moms, families and individuals, who were so glad to spread the word. We searched out our closets, basements and homes for things that we could easily give to bring another joy while not necessarily costing us anything out of pocket. God taught and instilled in us a desire to bless another with the blessings He had already given us that we were no longer using. We prayed asking God to fill in where we could not, and He has faithfully done so in support of this dream. And yes, in ways we could not have even imagined in those first steps forward…

Funny thing is, it is not just our dream.  There are parents laying awake at night–this very night–wondering how they can possibly bring together some semblance of a basket for their child who is dreaming of Easter in the other room. There are lonely hearts of adults and teens dreaming that they might somehow, someway be special to another. There are children, who have met us before, hoping in their dreams to see us again this season. A land of dreams God is so willing to reach out and fulfill if only we are willing to step out and do what we can to build these baskets…

As the young man continued to espouse why he believed it was so important to dream big, I smiled and said, from the depth of my soul, I truly understood the message he hoped to convey…

“Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”  Joshua 1:2

Stories to share


“Praise the Lord, all nations!  Extol Him, all peoples!  For great is His steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” Psalm 117

Throughout the Easter building season, we are frequently assessing and adjusting how the system works.  We pray asking God to inspire our minds, open our eyes and show us where things can get better.  We also ask God to help us see and hear the stories that show His grace, His mercy, His movement, His instruction and His way during this outreach that He has called us to do. May you, too, be blessed by what we see and hear.

A new way to store.

“You have loosed my bonds.”  Psalm 116:16

Most of our toys come with parts and pieces. Over the years, we have employed the use of Ziplocs to contain a toy and its pieces together. Placed inside the appropriate sized Ziploc, the zipper is sealed shut and the toy goes into its respective toy bin so that it may be selected by a builder for a basket. The general rule is that the toys come out of those well-used and quite ugly little bags before the toy goes into the Easter basket. The bag is then deposited on a table to be moved later into a storage container that allows it to be reused. While practical, there are times when it would be nice to store some of the parts in something that looks nicer and can be left in the baskets. Sometimes we are blessed with over-sized plastic eggs, but often times, the awkward shape prevents us from using them.

Over the summer, my neighbor, who helps build baskets frequently during the building season, mentioned to me an idea that was brewing in her mind.  One that she was sure I could relate to. You see, her sons had outgrown their Legos. She, in turn, had tons of them. In her mind, she could see young boys being thrilled to receive Legos, but wasn’t so sure how to package them as the packaging had long been discarded. I nodded my head. My son, too, had outgrown his beloved Legos and I had a room full of them that I no longer knew what to do with. I acknowledged that it would be a great idea for the baskets if we could just find some way to contain them nicely. Her words were, “Let me think about it!”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, during one of our builds, my neighbor came in carrying a large container.  As she opened it, there sat all these beautiful packages of Legos. They looked like they had come from the Lego store.  Nicely packaged in clear cellophane that was sealed shut.  There were close to 100 of these little bags.  I took one in my hand and stood there in awe as she explained that she had found the bags on Amazon and had spent her evenings with a cup in hand IMG_7798filling each bag as she watched her television shows.  She would add a Lego guy and fold over the self-seal on the bag, and there you go, an awesome way to contain Legos.

Within an instant, I could see how many other things could fit in those little bags. Before the day was done, I had ordered some. Now some of the loose puzzles (that have all their pieces) no longer have to be stored in torn boxes or bags. A young man found a toy with extra balls that belonged with it, and out came a clear, self-sealing bag to hold them together in the basket. All of a sudden, the gently-used toys were looking excitingly refreshed. And all from the inspiration of a mom trying to find a way to bless others with what they are no longer using!

A way to honor.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15

Because life involves change, it is not uncommon for us to meet new people who are in the midst of a major, life-shifting transition.  Grief, from the passing of a loved one, is something we see frequently. Mostly in subtle references and a tenderness that alerts us to the presence of a loss.

Helping another is often balm for an aching soul.  I believe it is, in part, what draws others to what we do. An ointment of good will, kindness and purpose gently soothes the ache of a broken heart.  Even if only for a few moments, the distraction of aiding another can refresh the eyes and ears and mind to the idea that life can involve good even in the midst of great pain.

So it was when I met this volunteer earlier this season. She came alongside us to help in any way she could. In fact, that is what I heard her say the most, “Any way that I can help.” She has helped sort. She has grassed baskets. She has done an assortment of things that we have needed.

And one evening she came to build baskets for teens and adults with her daughter.  As they were leaving, she held a box of Girl Scout cookies in her hands while we chatted. Her daughter explained that her mom had intended to use them to build a basket for her husband. He had passed away unexpectedly just a few months before. The cookies were his favorite. As they shared, smiles returned to their faces as they reminisced about his favorite things including the things he could no longer have because of his health concerns.

As the mom left, she waved the box and said she’d be back to make him a basket. Two nights later, she returned. It turned out, as God would have it, that it was just her and her daughter building in that area. While I was working in the basement, the daughter joined our build down there and I asked about her mom. She said that she was finishing up her dad’s basket.

It was later that night after everyone left that I looked for his basket. I knew it would have a box of Girl Scout cookies in it, thus, making it easy to spot. Sure enough it did, but I was also surpriseIMG_7476d to see so much more. There were quite a few goodies tucked into this basket; my guess all of them being his favorites or what she felt represented his presence in her life. Goodies that we didn’t have and she must have gone out shopping to get.

I find it interesting the diversity by which God uses this outreach to touch hearts. Some are moved because of the magnitude of what they see and the little bit by which they can explain it. Others are touched because they, too, were once in need and know just how much help can mean to another soul down on their luck. Some just want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves; something that impacts their community. Still others come, torn by despair and hurt, because they realize that hope is one of the most powerful tools of encouragement this world holds. And then there are those whose grief guides them towards trying to stop the pain in another even though they cannot stop the pain within themselves. Each of them tended to by our Shepherd’s loving hand, brought for a different purpose, but no less important than the next.

It was over that basket that I smiled and prayed a little wish…that it touch the soul of the one receiving as much as it has already touched the soul of her husband in heaven.


“Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.'” Psalm 118:3

I hear this comment quite frequently though it comes in different forms. No matter the form of how it is stated, it represents the same thing: a simple longing.

On one Wednesday evening, not too long ago, we had an assembly that was a little less than half full of builders.  While a fully loaded assembly yields lots of baskets, a smaller one gives me a little more one-on-one contact with the builders. A time to hear a little more of their stories.

In this session, there was a mom who brought three older boys. All of them were at an age where they could build independent of her guidance, and each embarked on building their own baskets.  I checked in frequently with her youngest son as the others built.  Before any basket gets candy in it, I take a peek at it to make sure–as best as I can–that it has all that it needs from our system. That gateway measure before the candy goes in applies to all those building, not just the young. Adults too, as most of us have imperfect memories.

IMG_7490And so, the mom offered me her first basket to check.  A beautiful pink one with some very cute stuffed animals. She was giddy over it. The second one, too, had a lot of pink and sweet items for a little girl.  By the third one, she exclaimed, “I can’t help myself.  I have to make girl baskets because I have all boys!!  It is my way of living vicariously through these baskets in having a girl!” I know she thought I had marked her as crazy, but I understood.  Being in a house with all boys; the ache that sometimes occurs for a little girl. Not that I don’t love my boys, I do. Nor would I trade a single one of them for a girl, I wouldn’t. But sometimes, in those dreams we conjure up in our heads, there are visions of a pink little world of sweetness…which leads me to my last story.

A shelf and a half high.

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.” Psalm 116:5

Not too long before my son was born, we were blessed with nieces. Actually it was the great delight of my first niece that inspired my husband and I to have a child. It was the amazing love we felt for her that coaxed us into the idea of having one of our own, and it is a choice we are so glad that we made.

On my side of the family, most of the children are in close proximity of age. A few years ago, as the children all began to span into the teens, my brother had his son. A new baby in the family where the baby stage had long passed. We all cooed and cuddled him as best as we could. And then much to everyone’s one shock, a few years later, my sister and her husband found out that they were expecting.

Not too long ago, a sweet little girl came into our lives. One whose eyes sparkle with delight, one whose mind is constantly thinking, and one who I knew would not sit still when she could finally move those hands and feet! She has been a bundle of love and sweetness since the moment of her birth, and the same delight–that has rushed over us with all the others–has returned again.

And so on Friday night of this last week, my sister and her family came down to help wrap baskets during our assemblies. Her little one is now fully mobile. She’s about a shelf and a half high. As this young age so often does, she tends to forget that the basement door, on the main level of our house, is the gateway to all the fun. So I have been slowly teaching her that the door IMG_7799leads to a place of wonder. Once on the ground in the basement, she literally runs from one end to the other. She stops at the candy shelves enthralled, not so much by the candy, but by all of the colors and shapes.  She loves the Easter eggs, though we gently remind her that you cannot throw them. How could she not think those semi-ball shaped, multi-colored, just-in-her reach, eggs were not meant to be tossed for someone to fetch? And how cool is it that they spring open upon hitting the ground to release a bunch of smaller little balls (jelly beans) that are hurriedly being picked up by all the adults??

From there, she runs past all of the stuffed animals that are right at eye level for her, occasionally picking out one to hold. Often, she will find Mark or I and throw her arms up in the air to be lifted high and hugged. Then down she goes as she is off to see more of this great adventure land. And when the time comes to rest for a few moments, we take a toy out of the toy bin for her to sit and play with. She can make just about anyone smile and laugh with her adorable cuteness.

As the evening moved along, she began to rub her tired eyes. Still hurrying around, and venturing between upstairs and down, she was soaking in the all excitement of an assembly. When her mom told her that it was time to go, I asked for a hug from the bottom of the stairs. She leaned over her mom’s shoulder as far as she could, and I took her into my arms and carried her up the rest of the way.

When we got to the top of the stairs, her mom brought her coat to wrap her in and my niece turned away.  It just so happened that, at the same time with her in my arms, I was shutting the door to the basement when she clearly stated, “No!” and reached for the door handle to open it back up. From there, she began to cry in utter dismay at the idea of leaving. While my heart felt for my sister having to endure a melt down, I must admit I found great encouragement in the sheer joy she was having, such that she hated to leave.

Later the next day, my sister texted that she stopped crying once in the car. Much to both of our surprise, she didn’t fall asleep on the hour long car ride home. She chatted excitedly the whole way. From what I have heard from so many of our volunteers whose children can’t stop talking about building baskets, I imagine she was telling them–in her own little language–just how much fun she had that night while we built baskets.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 118:1

What counts at this time of year…

“And they answered Joshua, ‘All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.'”  Joshua 1:16

img_3549As this season moves on, seeing the sea of billowing baskets growing can be an overwhelming experience. Shiny cellophane encapsulating beautiful pieces of love built by human hands. Piles steadily rising in every space possible. It is often astonishing to the heart and the mind. In amazement, it literally causes many to gasp or exclaim excitedly their awe.

It was after the first season of building, when we had decided to make collecting items and assembling baskets a yearly outreach, that some people became insistent that we should be counting the number of baskets being built. Their logic seemed reasonable, and so that season I put out a pad of paper, near what was then our wrapping area, for people to jot down how many baskets they had wrapped.

It failed miserably. We would get busy building and wrapping, and the next thing we would know, none of us could remember whether we had counted baskets, where it had left off, or who had left a check mark. I tried moving the pad around to other spots, but it just didn’t work. Plus something didn’t feel right.

Yet the chorus grew: “You have to know!  You should want to know!!  It is crucial in knowing; it will help you to go further.” But I started to ask, “Is it really that important? Would it really aid us, and if so, how?” What was the purpose of having to know, especially since a final goal has never really been a part of what we do anyways? God has always led us to hearts in need as this outreach has expanded. Our goal has simply been to make them as well as possible, and when that possibility stops, we stop.

So, I took away the note pad. I found the courage to say, “It just doesn’t work to count.  We don’t.” And I left it at that. Following the nudge in my heart, I became okay with defending the idea, though I couldn’t explain it, that we don’t count baskets as we make them.

Then one day, as I was pondering the never-ending cry to count baskets that I was hearing, I opened my Bible to a story that I had heard of but hadn’t thought of in quite some time. It was King David. Before him had been a time of many victories, and yet, David decided to count his army. His top adviser had warned him of the sin in doing so, but David did not listen. His pride had gotten the best of him. He wanted to know just how great his army was (his “pile” of soldiers) and insisted it be done. But understand, he didn’t need to know…for his victories were never dependent on his numbers but rather God being with him.

God’s initial instructions to the Israelites were that they rely upon Him. Not their numbers, not their chariots, not their horses. It wasn’t the size of the army they had, for Gideon was able to defeat their enemies with just 300 men–after dismissing thousands who were unwilling to take a stand. David knew this, and so, when he found himself enticed with the desire to know just how great his army was, he was no longer following God to His glory, but focusing on his own.

img_4251It was at that moment that I found myself deeply humbled and thanking God for thwarting our ability to count and giving me the courage to turn away from what everyone else was demanding.  I understood more clearly that if we focused on counting the number of baskets we built, numbers would become the almighty goal. We would grow prideful in our strength and less acknowledging of God’s. Rather, by not counting, we were driven to trust Him and build with love instead of in pride.

That is what I tell those that come.  Those who see those massive piles of shimmering baskets that excite the eyes. While it looks like a lot, and is, there is no pressure to build as many as possible. If they take the whole ninety minutes to build just one, that is okay because we trust there is a reason that basket (and soul receiving) needs so much time, attention and love. Hence, we encourage the basket builders to take their time and build with as much love and detail as they can. And that is where we often see a light bulb go off and shoulders relax.  The pressure is off to individually add another foot to the Easter basket pile.

And so it was with a mom and friend who came to build one afternoon. Being of an organized and efficient background, she was ready to get on task and build as many as possible. You know, really be “helpful” to our outreach!  As I gave them a tour and gently explained the story of why we don’t count, she listened but said little.  When we began to build, she became enthralled with doing so. Her baskets turned out over-the-top beautiful!

When the time drew to a close, she shared that hearing the message that she didn’t need to worry about the numbers she could build had released her from feeling the img_7185pressure to produce. Without the pressure, she was able to truly focus on searching for what might be inspiring to another. Before she knew it, she was loving the whole experience.

In great joy, she exclaimed, “I hope they love these baskets as much as I have loved putting them together!” I smiled and shared that I had no doubt they would. It was in that moment, some nine years later, that I saw the seed of that message really hit home in releasing the pressure of doing the most and replacing it with just the simple and wonderful delight of being able to build. That serving God shouldn’t be about numbers and self-glory, but rather driven by love, kindness, excitement, prudence, diligence and doing the best that you can with what He brings. Allowing happiness and contentment to reign over the desire to compete and do more. Focusing with humble amazement on the beauty of what is before you, rather than running after what may, or may not, lie ahead.

As I sat there, many years ago, looking at David’s story, I decided to look up the word “count” just to see if there was something more than what I understood on its face. Much to my surprise and relief, I learned that the antonym to count is “estimate”. It was what we have been doing since I have taken away the note pad…estimating. I remember feeling a sigh of relief and a newfound dose of courage. Estimating allows us to have an idea of what we have so that we can reach out to others as a season develops. Yet, it keeps us from becoming focused on what our hands, what our “numbers”, can accomplish. It leads us back, time and again, to relying on God rather than ourselves. It quietly holds the numbers in the background and directs the goal to being about what is inside those baskets rather than how tall the shiny pile of cellophane becomes.

Less pressure to build the “most”, we have learned, brings the greatest joy to the soul serving as well as the one receiving…

“Be strong and courageous, for you will cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers to give them.”  Joshua 1: 6img_4898