Garden State: A Lesson in Belonging

DSC_8528 via

The four of us piled into the car, two adults in the front with a camera between us. Two kids in the back, with a bad attitude sitting between them. We drove exactly 2.9 miles to a new-to-us botanical garden. I drive by the entrance regularly, but have never turned into the parking lot, always telling myself, I’ll get to it later. Eight years of driving by, of wondering what lay beyond the gravel drive and the high fence, and telling myself “someday“– I finally turned in.

Just beyond the gate, lay thirty-three acres of lush, natural gardens curated on the remnants of an ancient glacial rock formation. It held all the elements I love: wooden bridges, footpaths climbing through woods, wild things growing in tufts of color, and a lake, still as a mirror, to anchor it in the center. And with the exception of birdsong, it held silence. For eight years, I drove right by, never knowing a open-air house of worship sat right around the corner.

It is a well-known fact that I complain a lot about living in New Jersey. When we first moved here, the decision was entirely against my will, and I set my heart against living and loving it here. It became my own time of wandering in the wilderness, accompanied by enough murmuring and complaining to rival the Jews in Exodus. I, too, have stood at the base of the same mountain and wondered why I was given another trip around it. Examining my heart, I see that complaining only gets you another forty years of circling.

Over the years, I became so pre-occupied with what NJ was not, I refused to embrace it for what it is. While it isn’t the cultural center of London, or the stunning natural landscape of Zurich, it possesses its own quirky brand of beauty. It isn’t refined or cultured or classically beautiful. But, blocking out the highways and the strip malls, New Jersey is a four-season wonderland of everything wild and green, grasping and climbing over itself on its way to greet the ocean.

It is filled with farms and great oaks and maple trees that turn the color of sunshine in autumn. It’s where many of my best memories came to life: where I stood on a beach and said yes to the boy with the ring, where I gave birth to my last baby, where I ran loop upon loop in the neighborhood training for my first marathon, where I gathered stories to scribble on pages, where I flew into and out of my destiny from an airstrip in Newark.

A few days a week on my drive to work, after driving through a natural reserve on ancient Indian grounds, I crest the top of the hill and catch a glimpse of the New York City skyline, glittering like a jewel. New York City. Sometimes I grow giddy just knowing all the art I can consume, all the fancy dinners, and the world’s most fascinating, diverse group of people wait for me on the other side of the Hudson River. Within a thirty-mile drive, I can see it all.

Within my own backyard, I have it all. The birdsong, the garden, the friends gathered around, the kids laughing, poking, fighting in the background. New Jersey is the quiet, unsung hero in the story of my life.

It is the place I call home. Where my kids are becoming, and I am becoming too. Where I laugh and lunch my way into deeper relationships. Where my church chooses to water the soil, and saturate the state with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is where the garden meets the ocean. Where I gather stories and write my way into a lush, overgrown, landscape bursting into life.

Rather than complain and pray for deliverance (after a day on Route 22, strip mall heaven, you would too), I want to grow more deeply rooted in the place God has planted my family. As I stood in the hidden garden a few miles from my home in the Garden State, I whispered to myself, “I love living here.” After I said it, I sucked in my breath quickly, and looked around to see if anyone else heard me. I couldn’t believe those words tumbled from my own lips, but they bubbled up out of the secret place I have yet to explore–the corner of my heart that knows New Jersey and I belong together.

My home was here all along.

Every Little Thing: A Book Review


Over the last few months, I’ve had a crisis of faith. Not the kind of crisis where I question the veracity of the Bible or the existence of God or the saving power of Jesus. The Gospel is as true to me as ever, to remove the foundation of it from my life would be akin to removing my very bones. I know the gospel is truth, but lately I find myself questioning my place in it. I’ve asked myself repeatedly, what is my place within this truth? Where am I living out the call of God on my life? Is there a call on my life? The questions hang in the empty space between where I thought I was going, and where my feet are actually planted.

As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve felt a distinct silence on God’s part. A quiet that causes me to wonder if he’s actually listening. I feel like the kid in the old IKEA commercial “Mom can I have a cookie, Mom can I have a cookie, Mom can I have a cookie?” Only I want more than a cookie, I want clarity. I want conviction. I want answers.

During this time, I’ve had a number of books come my way, many of them offering this simple, but profound message, “Kimberly, embrace your smallness.” Gah. Really? This does not feel like an answer to me. I was hoping for something a little more star-studded.

My friend, Deidra Riggs wrote a new book (with a star-studded cover!) called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are, and I had the pleasure of underlining the heck out of it, while crying big, fat tears of mutual recognition. So much of Deidra’s story is about learning to follow God into the wilderness, and to stay true to the call God placed on her life, even when that call felt painfully ordinary.

What I mean to say, is that Deidra can relate to every question I’ve ever thrown God’s way, and she answers them with arrows pointing heavenward. She says this,

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not need us to make it anything more than it already is. What the gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to do is to be exactly who we are, in the places where we find ourselves, and to be infused with the salty goodness that comes when we surrender our lives and our agendas and our hopes and dreams to the power and the control of the Holy Spirit.”

Deidra puts the gospel where it belongs, and everything else finds a place on the foundation of it. My freedom is found in surrender. In the pages of Every Little Thing, I’m reminded that my job is to be salt and light right where I stand today. I am ordinary. I am small. But the gospel is so much greater, and even in my smallness, God invites me to be a part of his redemptive work right where I my feet are planted.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar place today, wondering if your everyday life makes a real difference. I encourage you to read Every Little Thing to put yourself and your purpose into perspective. Get your copy here.

On Leaving Well and the Courage to Stay


My husband left his job with the company that’s fed us and clothed us and provided everything we needed for the last seven years.  He has a new job near the City, in a new to him industry, one that will bring all sorts of challenges for that big brain of his. But first, a shed.

Between the old and the new job, he will build a shed for the lawn equipment and sports paraphenalia that seems to multiply in our garage overnight. This means, I will likely be building a shed too, or at the very least required to make decisions about door placement and siding and roofing, and hey, can you hold this 100 pound wall up while I nail it in?

With the job, everything moved at a glacial pace, and then, a crack in the ice and the water flowed and eddied and pooled very quickly. We prayed over this leaving for almost eighteen months with no definitive direction, no real options in the works. We knew it was coming, even when all evidence pointed in the opposite direction. It felt like walking over beach with a metal detector knowing, absolutely knowing, something precious was buried under the shifting sand, we only needed to discover it.

It took well over a year of digging to find the gold hidden beneath the abrasive grains. There were false alarms: this job required another move, that one didn’t pay enough, the last one never called back. And in the meantime, a weariness settled in. The current job became less and less appealing. It would’ve been easy to let things slide, to build sheds, and gardens, and castles in the mind while the body punched the clock and put in the required time.

You can usually tell when someone is fixing to leave. Whether it’s a job or a sick body or a marriage. They pull away. They offer up a turned shoulder. They show up in body, while the mind roams beaches in the spirit. It is hard to leave well, when the best parts of you walked out the door ages ago.

But my husband kept showing up, doing the work, just like he does in our marriage and with our children. He could have taken the first bit of fool’s gold, the first shiny penny, but he held out for the real thing. This new job is the real thing. This life we’re building together is too.

Because he gave his best at work, even when he felt strangled by the sameness of it, he left his job well. He left to accolades and open doors inviting him back. What more can one ask of a man? That he live well, and leave well when he hears the call to move on.

I have not always left well. I left a string of friendships to fade into the past without a fight. I left the seven jobs in five years, some within a matter of weeks. I left the husband emotionally stranded when I experienced my thirty-something crisis. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when I think of all the ways I need to live and leave better. I suppose some of learning to leave well, is actually learning how to stay. This is what I’m building while my husband hammers wood and fits windows in the side yard. I’m building friendships, a job, deep roots, and a calling in which I hammer together the courage to stay.


Where are you leaving well? Where are you finding the courage to live well and stay?

All Shall Be Well: On Parenting

OC via

When my oldest trained for her life-saving course, they required her to tread water for long minutes, and when her legs wearied with the strain of her own body weight, they handed her something heavy to hold above her head and tread some more. Jim Gaffigan likens this experience to parenting multiple children. Imagine you’re drowning, he says, then someone hands you a baby.

We’re treading water here, attempting to balance a full schedule (code for over-committed), work/life balance (doesn’t exist), and teenagers who think we’re the stupidest people alive (as evidenced by their repeated attempts to deceive and defy us). I tread water, and my own sanity weighs heavy in two tired arms stretched above my head.

I can do change and I can do hard and I can do parenting, but I do it with the grace of a drunk trying to stand upright on a moving bus. I take huge gulps of air, dip under the water, flail about, and try my best to keep a tight grip on reality. I find myself daydreaming of skipping ahead through the hard parts, or escaping into a glass of wine and a good book for the next ten years. I contemplate vague-booking, but settle instead for vague-blogging.

Can we all agree that regardless of the age or stage, parenting is hard as hell? It’s treading water with weary limbs when you feel too tired to keep going. After a particularly rough week with one of her children, a friend asked, “Is this really my life?” And to her I say, yes, this is your life. It’s the life of every parent, every wild and wonderful moment of it.

During one of my particularly long tirades about people in my house who lie straight to my face and think they can get away with it, my husband turned to me in bed and said “We have to take the good with the bad, babe. This is part of it.” He then rolled over and snored his way to sleep. I sniffled for an hour in the dark. Apparently, “the bad” has the opposite effect on husbands. But he’s right. It is good and bad, calm and rough seas. It is me holding up grace in one hand and truth in the other, treading like mad in the middle. My children will learn the hard way, as each generation learned before them.

This really is my life, and it’s likely yours too. I strap the light weight of hope to my chest as I tread, and I drown out the fear and exhaustion with these words from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Pray Like the Dying

monarch via

“I think that the dying pray at the last not “please,” but “thank you,” as a guest thanks his host at the door.” ~Annie Dillard

I think the living should pray like this too. I want to pray “thank you” like the dying, while I’m still here to thank the good earth for opening up her treasures to me. I want to thank the fellow beating hearts who carry me when my spirit fails, and thank the God who gave me breath and continues to breathe life into me day after day.

I am a “please” prayer. A “why isn’t this working out” and “can’t you just…” and “Lord, haven’t I been good enough?” prayer. I feel entitled to these words, as if somehow in my own goodness or in my own sheer luck of being born into middle class America, I’ve earned them. I wouldn’t admit this, even to myself, until the stories of others and their unwarranted pain, their unfathomable suffering, pierces through my muscled and thick heart and they unravel me.

You can’t work in a church for long before brokenness crashes like a wave in your inbox again and again. Broken families, broken bodies, broken spirits. You can’t be human and read the daily headlines, without realizing your comfortable “please” prayers sound ridiculous next to the injustice and suffering you see splayed like a body across your screen.

I need to practice the “thank you”prayers while they still drip out like honey, with pure liquid ease. I need to pray them now so that when I brush up against my own brokenness, my instinct will be to thank rather than to blame, to bless rather than always beg to receive. I have a long way to go, but today, I will pray like the dying.

Dear God,

Thank you…