My son’s first sermon

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"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 3:4

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

The first time I heard the name Aaron, I turned to my husband at church and said,

“Our next son will be named Aaron.”

I loved the name Aaron for three reasons.

1. It looked cool. Two of the same letters next to each other in a name basically rocks and you know it.

2013-06-16 10.10.242. Spiritual – Though my Christian spiritual journey was evolving, I loved the idea of having kids with biblical names.

3. Professional – I had made a career throughout the country teaching presentation skills and even had my own consulting business working in the corporate world teaching executives about public speaking. The Aaron written of in the Bible was a great orator among other notable qualities.

In other words, I just had to have an Aaron!

So right there in the pew, next to my toddler Nathan and the Hubs, God delivered this name “Aaron” like a song and a promise to my soul.

Two years later, he was born. Nate called him his “miracle.” I had birthed my Aaron.

The name fits him perfectly. Aaron is a rising sophomore at Moody Bible Institute and an enthusiastic speaker, a wonderful olive shoot and a Jesus follower.

But I could never have imagined what would happen this past Father’s Day.

2013-06-16 11.03.48On Father’s Day, Aaron delivered his first sermon.

In front of our extended family, the gluten-free gf and other members of our con- gregation, the Hubs and I sat and listened to our Aaron preach.

Aaron and the gf/gf just before he got up to share the sermon

Aaron and the gf/gf just before he got up to share the sermon

His sermon was about the importance of fatherhood in the Christian home.

The Lord has blessed my ministry-minded middle with an affable personality and a comfort in front of crowds.

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Ike read the Scripture before his big brother gave the sermon. I don’t even think I owned a Bible when I was his age and if I did, I certainly never opened it. Thank you Lord for these glimpses of grace!

Of course, you know I am biased, but I would have listened to Aaron’s words even if he wasn’t my son. He delivered the message with conviction, thoughtfulness and passion.

At one point in the sermon, I turned to the gluten-free gf and felt very convicted about the message. I whispered to her, “I’m glad God didn’t make me a father. I’ll just be the mom, thank you, Lord, very much!” She smiled and agreed!

God gave the Hubs a gift on Father’s Day and He used our Aaron to deliver it. What a sweet blessing to behold and something I, this former angry agnostic, feminist, existentialist woman never would have imagined!2013-06-16 11.01.21

On Sunday morning, we saw the culmination of all the hard work my boy had poured tirelessly into his message. The hours researching, studying Scripture, praying, consulting with our pastor and seeking the Lord’s voice before he used his own were worth it.

The night before, he stayed up late going over his message with the gf/gf. I think she probably had that thing memorized.

What blessed me as a mom and as a church member was the reverence and time he gave to his message. This is not always the standard today.

I felt safe with the way he handled Scripture, Aaron’s words were measured and forceful yet he spoke humbly.  Aaron has been raised by a godly, Christian dad but he also acknowledged that he has no experience being a father.

As I listened to him speak, I recalled that Sunday morning when I first heard about an Aaron.

Now I was hearing from my own.

Wearing a new polo shirt purchased the day before, looking so handsome and adorable, full of the Spirit, oh, how could my heart contain such pride and joy!

Here is an excerpt of his sermon. I look forward to hearing many more. Don’t you just love it when your kids make you proud and do something you never imagined possible?!

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When answers are few…

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A dear friend from high school experiences a great loss and then endures another huge tragedy immediately afterward. My head is still reeling from the news of the first sadness and then, bam, another one. Someone please tell me I’m dreaming, this can’t be happening to such kind people! Why, O Lord, why???

The night before I was taking pictures of the amazing black bean quinoa burgers I made. The next morning, I'm seeking Aaron's thoughts on much deeper things. I'm blessed to have a quinoa burger, Jesus loving boy.

Saturday night I took pictures of the amazing black bean quinoa burgers I made. The next morning, I’m seeking Aaron’s thoughts on much deeper things. I’m blessed to have a black bean quinoa burger, Jesus loving boy.

I reach out to my ministry-minded olive shoot who’s a Biblical Exposition major at Moody Bible institute in Chicago.  With a semester of Bible college, surely he can explain why God would allow these things to happen.

He can’t.

Ten minutes later, the pastor is setting up for church. He’s having technical difficulties with the computer, the projector, whatnot. Thankfully we attend a very modest small church so it’s not like we’re having a huge mass of people. I almost didn’t go to church, too vulnerable, I’m too sad.

But where else should I be but among Christ followers who can pray? It is a safe place for emotions.

And I approach the pastor, explain the sorrowful details, imploring him to make sense of it all. Tears flow, it’s hard to talk. Please give me answers, while simultaneously trying to fix the audio-visual issues, because I need them. NOW.

Lord, I don't understand

Lord, I don’t understand

He can’t.

All the human, mortal, flawed people I asked, they couldn’t come up with answers. What really could they say? But they listen and their hearts break. It validates my anguish and I know they will pray for those who are deep in the valley of grief.

I know where I need to go. Before the Lord. Even though it hurts and I might not completely understand. I speak honestly with God, my perfect, trusted Friend. I reach into his Word, I find truth and blessed assurance.

HE can –

heal (Psalm 6)

comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

lighten our darkness (Psalm 18:29)

provide refuge (Psalm 57:1)

strengthen (Psalm 84:4)

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19

Please Lord, comfort those who mourn today.

Please Lord, comfort those who mourn today.

Watercolor works wonders this Christmas

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Did you give a loved one a very meaningful gift this Christmas? Isn’t it a satisfying feeling? Four of the presents I gave to loved ones fell into the category of little things that mean a lot.

This holiday season I discovered a talented watercolor artist and fellow West Point mom. I admired Janet’s beautiful work on facebook and contacted her. Upon sharing a bit, Janet agreed to the daunting task of painting (in miniature) a time this year when God literally and figuratively used the Hubs and my three olive shoots to save my life.

On Christmas day, after opening all the other presents, I stood in front of my family. With a silly clearing of my throat meant for dramatic effect and levity, I read the cards I had written. The atmosphere in the living room grew from festive to reflective as I became emotional. I’m blessed (and cursed) with very active Lacrimal glands; soon my pajamas became tear-stained.

Fog, rainbow, valley watercolor

Fog, rainbow, valley watercolor

After reading each card, I simultaneously handed the Hubs and my OS their gifts. (Nate received his gift after returning from El Salvador). There were no shrieks of delight, the kind that are often associated with Christmas; these presents summoned brief silence instead. Each painting was similar yet each had a unique touch.

I gave this watercolor to my Soldier.

I gave this watercolor to my Soldier.

Without getting too personal and making things awkward, I’ll share part of my literal journey.

Some of the dense fog I experienced.

Some of the dense fog I experienced.

In the fall, while traveling to Chicago to see my ministry-minded OS Aaron, I drove through miles and miles of hazardous fog. It was the second worst fog I’ve ever encountered. The most terrifying fog was to happen on the way HOME from this trip and it wasn’t the serene, mysterious kind either. There was nothing ethereal and lovely about it, this fog was treacherous and blindingly thick, a wrong tilt of the wheel would result in certain death. And I had precious cargo aboard in both directions – my orange hair, freckle face Ike.  There was no safe way off the highway, I just had to drive through the fog until things cleared. Anxiety still looms in me as I type these words. Had I veered off the highway, we would have plunged deep into the valley below.

Yet during this journey, Ike and I also encountered a rainbow. He saw it first and pointed it out to me. Both the fog and the rainbow are metaphors for other aspects of my life and we’ll just leave it there.

Ike became my living rainbow.

Ike became my living rainbow.

Janet was “commissioned” to combine elements of both the fog and the rainbow into a 2″ x 3″ watercolor (the Hubs’ painting is a bit larger and trust me, he deserved it!).

The Hubs promptly hung his watercolor painting in his office.

The Hubs promptly hung his watercolor painting in his office.

I love this.

I love this.

And this blessed woman unbeknownst to me at the time, not only created paintings for the Hubs and my three olive shoots; she made one for me. I now own an original watercolor which travels to different rooms in my house lest I am unable to see it.

These paintings are small but Janet rendered them magnificently. Though I fancy myself as a thoughtful gift giver, the Lord gets the credit. He provided the backdrop and graciously allowed the Hubs and my three olive shoots to bestow hope and support to me at a time when the valley was dangerously tempting. The Lord created the scenery and granted me insight. Then at just the right time, God carefully provided an artist, someone with whom I share a kindred spirit.

Psalm 31:8

and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

It was a privilege to give these gifts and I’d love to hear about a special gift you gave or received this Christmas. If you are interested in learning more about Janet, contact her at jacruick@yahoo.com.

Wonderful Winnie the Pooh

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This is me in the leading role as Winnie the Pooh getting ready to wow the crowd in my big acting debut. I’m wearing my very own Winnie the Pooh costume made by my grandma. It was quite possibly the best outfit ever made for Beebe Elementary School student and I’m sure we can all agree.

And since my grandma is gone, I have grown to love that picture even more. Today this is how I feel. I love you Grandma so very much and carry your memories with me always…

The party guest I invited

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Some of the decorations outside

Over 100 people came to my middle OS’s college send-off party.

It was a beautiful celebration and I just revelled in God’s goodness as I looked at the crowd.

I recall my high school graduation party and it was nothing like this one.

Mine had a keg of beer, Michael Jackson music and I remember my tube top falling down unexpectedly. Someone had yanked on it and whoops, there it fell right by the kitchen door leading out to the backyard.

I nearly died of embarrassment but shrugged it off because bursting into tears is just plain gauche for a burgeoning French major.

Possibly one of the sweetest sights at Aaron’s party is this one. People pausing to pray for my son. Such a tender moment, thank you precious family and friends.

Aaron’s bash was nothing of the sort…No booze, (none necessary) folk music, Christian fellowship and everyone remained fully clothed to my knowledge. 😉

Among the treasured guests were our current church family, close personal friends, extended family, pastors, friends from our old churches, some of Aaron’s former teachers and classmates that were in choir and drama together.

Our pastor spoke a beautiful prayer just before dinner which was a gift in itself.

We ate Chicago style hot dogs from Sonic, Chicago style pizza from Rosati’s and filled in with healthy food like cranberry quinoa salad, lentils and jasmine rice, marinated mozzarella, watermelon juleps and other lovely treats.

All the hard work paid off seeing the faces of people who obviously loved my olive shoot and felt cared for by him as well. Afterward, I told Aaron it was like a wedding but no wife and no sex. He wasn’t sure how to respond but appreciated the sentiment and just chalked it up to another one of Mom’s awkward sayings of which he has quite a collection.

Oh yes, knit Chicago style hot dogs and knit Chicago style pizza slices!

But in the back of my mind throughout the preparations and during the actual party, when I allowed myself to think,

I remembered that a year ago on this same day marked my grandma’s last full day on earth.

That is a very hard thing to process when one is getting ready for a party, I assure you. Myriad emotions wafted in and out.

I loved her so much, she was so dear to me.

She profoundly loved my babies.

How had I even survived this year without her?

Step right up and get your picture taken with Aaron in front of the Sears Tower!

It was a Chicago theme celebration since our ministry-minded OS is going to Moody Bible Institute in the heart of the Windy City. As many of you who have been reading my blog have noticed, I built a Sears Tower (I refuse to call it Willis Tower) in my family room.

Each guest got a picture with Aaron in front of our own homemade indoor skyscraper and I chuckled to see small lines of families getting ready for their turn in front of the impressive structure.

And in my own way, unbeknownst to most people, I secretly invited my grandma to the party.

She had to be a part of the night and oh how Grandma loved to party. The poor woman couldn’t cook worth a darn but she was an enthusiastic and memorable party guest. Young and old alike loved it when Grace was coming over. She had a way of getting a party started as many will attest.

My orange hair freckle face OS and his great grandma. She made everyone smile.

And that’s what I did.

I took her to the party.

It was hard to do but I wore her Chicago Cubs shirt to my OS’s celebration.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t especially flattering or that it slightly clashed with my skirt, I wanted my grandma there with me.

I also wore her high school necklace which rarely leaves me. And I ate some hot dogs. Grandma ate like a bird but loved hot dogs.

Grandma joined the celebration last night. She would have had a blast even if she had some Alzheimer’s, rarely wore her hearing aids and needed a cane. Heaven is the only thing that stopped her from making an appearance and if my grandma is with Jesus, I completely understand her not wanting to leave the ultimate celebration.

All of us, Nate is even in the picture. And I’m wearing my grandma’s Chicago Cubs t-shirt

As the night drew to a close and August 5th soon approached, more tears fell from my tired eyes.

The one year anniversary of my grandma’s passing had now arrived.

I saw my family’s facebook statuses change and their profile pictures show photos of them with Grandma.

I was not alone in missing her.

And those tears mingled with the tears of joy I experienced toward my treasured OS. I can scarcely take it all in today but all is well.

I miss her.

I love her.

I will miss my boy.

How many people can say they have done the YMCA at their grandma’s 80th birthday party? And how many can say that later on in the night, they danced a conga line through their aunt’s house with that same grandma? I did both and will treasure those times forever!

I love him.

I praise the Lord for all the tears, all the people, all the kindness, all the sadness, all the memories, all the love, truly I am blessed on this most notable day.

These two people were crazy about each other.

PS. In honor of my grandma who loved to party, remember to enter my give-away for a fun party gift! I’ll draw a winner tomorrow! Leave a comment on this page if you want to be entered in.

Creating unconditional love on cardboard, as if that’s possible

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Creating a senior table for him was an act of love.

Wednesday night, on the eve of high school graduation, moms and dads filled the gymnasium for a shining gesture. With Herculean effort, we decorated senior tables for our offspring. I know because I was among those parents attempting, in some impossible way to contain love on a 30″ x 30″ plot of space. Talk about pressure!

For weeks I had been staging Aaron’s table at home. With two children graduating nine days apart in two different states, I had to start early to make sure it was good.

In 2008, Nate had a senior table and Aaron deserved for me to put in the same painstaking effort. In my practice sessions, sometimes I’d tape a picture in one place on the cardboard and then move it elsewhere. A few of my table prototypes were created actually in Aaron’s room so he would see them when he came home from school. I’d anticipate the moment when Aaron would enter.

Yes, I said to myself, hopefully he will not collapse upon seeing its beauty.

Truly, I speculated, he will notice how I angled the ukelele JUST so,

put the candle HERE,

Oh how I adored seeing a classmate write encouraging words to my boy, such loving messages filled these pages.

the coffee cup THERE

and the tiny bell from Ukraine on THIS spot.

And when Aaron would walk into his room, my ear would keen for the slightest gasp of wonder. If a second passed without a response, I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Aaron, what do you think?” I’d beckon so desperate for his approval. Without exception Aaron showed his gratefulness. Whew. Other times, you know, just in case a friend stopped by and you never know when that just might happen, I would do the whole set-up in the dining room and dare I admit, I’d walk down the stairs several times just to get a glimpse afresh.

Senior pic taken by his aunt.

As the mama of three OS, for me with no other girl in my household, it was the equivalent of seeing a daughter in a wedding gown or a prom dress. Don’t laugh. I felt joy. The Hubs found other versions of the table in his office or in the hallway. Some family members were even blessed with text messages and pictures from me marking a new table development concept. A few were kind enough to acknowledge receipt of those pictures. Oh thank you if you indulged me! I sewed a swatch of remnant material from his books pants fabric. Aaron approved.

Then I stitched a coordinating rectangle of some extra fabric a friend had given me. Aaron liked the manly colors. He assisted my efforts by writing in gold a poem from his favorite author William Cowper and I trimmed the sides of the cardboard with pages from an old family Bible.

It wasn’t perfect but the time had come for the official unveiling. Insecure feelings never replaced the warm and wonderful sentiment I felt inside.

But I bet I wasn’t the only one who spent copious amounts of time on the child’s senior table project; based on what I saw, our collective souls were poured onto those hallowed folding tables.

We did not create altars for our children, I guess we just wanted our son or daughter and all who passed by to smile and either say, “Wow, I am loved” or “Awesome, someone thinks very highly of that kid.” If you think this post is stupid, then we probably couldn’t be friends. If you’ve read this far, you understand. Let’s have lunch.

Thursday arrived and tears flowed as we all beamed.

I had been crying throughout the day but vanity aside, I had to get a picture of me by Aaron’s table.

I gazed and cried stopping by many of Aaron’s friend’s tables. I noted with appreciation that none of these tables felt ostentatious as if they were trying to steal attention from someone else.

The body of Christ enveloped the mood. With our individual 7 1/2 square feet carefully crafted, the seniors marked the passage of time. I paused with gratitude over the families represented and prayed for their children’s future.

Have you ever done something like for a loved one? What special things would hallmark your “table”? I’d so enjoy hearing about it. May you all have opportunity for such a celebration of life.

After graduation, Aaron spent a long time reading the messages. What a thankful moment for all of us.

Questions: How do you handle the desire to be perfect with the reality that you’re not? What do you do when you feel competitive with other people and struggle with inadequacy?

When things change, sometimes it hurts

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It can be a strange thing when verb tenses change. Often it has been my experience that verb tense changes signify a modification in a situation or a person. I’m sure I use them all the time without a wince or a struggle and only notice when verb tenses change if something or someone’s situation is different and I wish it had not changed. Often when I do perceive this verb tense change thing, I find myself hurting because I want the verb tense to have remained the same. (Has any of this made sense???) 

Well, this week, I have experienced two significant verb changes. Something that is, isn’t. Something that was, wasn’t. Something you have, you don’t anymore.

On Monday, I lost my job. 

On Sunday, my husband lost his much loved uncle. 

After 7 1/2 years, the job I loved and poured myself into with every fiber of my being, is now gone. In a split second, after an emotional phone call from my boss, I experienced that verb tense thing I hate. I work in non-profit ministry. Correction, I worked and I was blessed to be around people I treasured.  When donations went down to an all-time low, a difficult decision was made and I, along with several other co-workers were laid off. It happened that fast. I harbor no hard feelings (at least at this point) with the decision. It’s just that I’m trying to get used to this new way of defining myself. Who am I now? 


There have been countless times when I have wanted to quit and I have dreamed of this day. When I have been overwhelmed by annoying students or heavily burdened by a teenager’s story. When a high school girl is picking her nose and eating it! the entire time we are speaking, um, yeah, I want to quit! When a skinny, pale-skinned teenager is bent on interjecting a sarcastic answer every time I speak, you bet, I want to hand in my notice! But then, there are times when a student is crying and her tears have soaked through my shirt, that I praise the Lord because I am there to encourage and love. Or the kids who write to me afterward and say we have changed their lives. Nothing can beat those moments. My job, working with teens and meeting so many in the midst of regretful choices and pain, has been exhausting on every level. Y’all, I have seen and heard more things than I ever imagined and most of it wasn’t pretty. But it was my mission field (in addition to my own OS and DH, that is).

But it’s that verb thing that is haunting. I found myself trying to figure out what verb to use today. I was talking about my boss, was he now “my former boss?” It seriously stings just to type those words. 

This is coupled with the fact that we are driving out of state for a funeral. On Sunday, my husband called to see how Uncle Bill was doing. We all knew he was seriously ill and would not survive much longer. When Aunt Emmy answered the phone, she told us his grave condition would soon end. We talked about Uncle Bill as we drove to the farmer’s market and then, about an hour later, when we were at home, Aunt Emmy called. Uncle Bill was gone. 

I began unloading the bounty from the farmer’s market and realized, crud, here goes that stupid verb tense change thing again. 

Uncle Bill was a heck of a guy. He was into everything. An avid Boy Scout leader, a researcher, very active in his church, he was a microbiology professor at Bowling Green University, he was a husband of 56 years and a father of four. And he was quirky. Like you’ll never meet another Uncle Bill. They broke the mold, as people would say. For example, he and Aunt Emmy were fascinated with Civil War medicine and attended conventions and seminars about it. Did you even know there were Civil War medicine conventions?? On their way to these conventions, they would stop by and visit. It’s there that I got to meet and love good ‘ole Uncle Bill. 

When Mark’s mom (Uncle Bill’s sister) died about 15 years ago, I gave the tearful eulogy. As I recall, he was the first person to come up to me afterward and give me a hug. I will never forget his kindness.

So in the span of 48 hours, I have reasons to weep over loss and verb tense change. We are on our way to Ohio for the services. I have Kleenex, family, memories and my Jesus to see my through.