saying goodbye when you haven’t said hello in years ::: a tribute to Ben

It’s funny how someone’s dying can bring such rekindling; how our memory of them can initiate and ignite fires you forgot were once lit—are even capable of being lit. A sweet heaviness that clings to the moments and releases nostalgia and passion for things of the past.

With Ben Caldwell though, his whole life did that: he lit fires wherever he went, powered by Holy Spirit gasoline, God the Father steady thick wood, and Jesus Christ forgiveness-filled oxygen.

I remember when I met Ben on the streets of downtown Holland. He and Kelsie had just returned from a season with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) and they were VERY ready to light fires. Jeff had known them before they left and, as we walked away, I remember Jeff saying what a difference he saw in them. We didn’t know then that the two of them, albeit for a short time, would with such passion guide the next year or two of our young adult lives. Together we did fun and crazy things and together we met on Tuesday nights, fueled by SO MUCH Misty Edwards and a passion for evangelism. I was so outside my comfort zone—not outgoing enough and not passionate enough—but sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing, I guess. I remember sharing in my ministry minor capstone class, surrounded by young men and women with a calling and an intellectual pursuit of God, probably in not the most grace-filled way, that maybe we had it wrong and Ben had it right: following God was more about passion and the extravagant “doing” than the head-led pursuit and straight-laced Sunday mornings. I see now the value of both…but thanks to Ben, among others, for inviting me to diverse ways.

Now Ben wasn’t JUST about Jesus, although that relationship guided him strongly. He was also a mean and entertaining sand volleyball player (and sometimes I’d get to play with him), a fairly hilarious youth leader, and somewhat absent-minded dweller (like that one time he forgot we were holding hands while praying and he had some adjustments to make…). And these are just a couple observations from a short, short season of my life and Ben’s where our paths not only crossed but blazed ahead together.

When I think of that season, if I choose one word to describe what changed down in my soul, it’s this: grace. I encountered a whole new understanding of faith, of relationship, of ministry. Before Chimamanda Adichie’s sharing became a TedTalk Select, I was learning that the limitations of letting a single story define a person hinders not just that person’s place in your heart but your heart in and of itself. I once had to seriously apologize to Ben (not an uncommon theme of that season, and honestly, I can’t recall for what); I remember sitting across the table from him outside Jimmy Johns and he just poured forgiveness over me like he had an unending ocean of grace inside his soul. He probably did. And I sunk deep.

And so, I’m unendingly grateful for Ben, the whole Caldwell family, the entire Without Walls community (and Philip Yancey), for inviting me in to a different way of community and expectation and spirituality. For encouraging me into something wider. Last week we said our earthen goodbye to Ben, nearly three years since the last time I told him hello, but I greet daily the opportunity to remember his legacy of passion and grace, of setting fires for God, and forging a story of continued forgiveness.


::: Benjamin David Caldwell passed away on September 20, 2017, just barely a month after his 28th birthday. If for you, as it once was for me, the reality of heroin and meth addiction exists only in news stories and movie plots, educate and introduce yourself. Ben spent the last season of his life fighting for and sharing hope for people lost in a painful world of darkness. If people you know struggle with substance abuse or addiction, don’t let that single story deprive you of knowing the many facets of their being. Be FOR the families of people hurting and fighting for truth and care to help set their loved one free. And if addiction is a part of your story, seek help and real community. For more info on addiction recovery and to join in the continued work close to Ben’s heart, visit :::

“Not a bad way to start a day. When you know the Son it gives a lot more beauty to the sun.”                       posted by Benjamin David Caldwell : August 26, 2017

l e n t :: a hallelujah recap

Hallelujah!  Happy Easter!  He is Risen!

Lent has come to a close and thus ended my daily blogging adventure.  I had never before made such an intense Lenten commitment – not only did I spend nearly an hour a day above my normal activities taking photos and writing about them, I also abstained, most of the time, from dairy and grains (I of course had homemade deep dish Chicago style pizza with my extended family last night.  Can I get an amen?!).  Nonetheless, a dedicated and difficult season.

I have my favorites of the photos (you can see them below).  I also have the thoughts that have stayed echoing in my mind – opening our house to those in need, continuing on my journey away from a lifestyle dedicated to materialism and comfort, being more aware and intentional with those in my immediately family, knowing that I DO have time to set aside and BE with God (I just proved it to myself nearly every day for 6 weeks).  So rejuvenating and encouraging and exciting!

Honestly, my favorite part of the process was how each post seemed to initiate conversations with someone – a family member, an old old friend, an acquaintance.   Writing has been enjoyable, a great practice, but more than anything I desire the intimate dialogue between a few people.  Thank you to those who responded, who reached out, who challenged, who encouraged, who prayed, and who participated.  I learned from you.

Saturday night, Jeff and I participated in the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.  I’ll admit I was not necessarily excited about what was to come, still a bit baffled that we’re participating in the faith family at St. Johns, wondering how our recent, beloved time in a Vineyard community would be followed with life there.   Then the Easter Vigil hit me not like a brick wall but like a spray of Easter lilies, literally, engulfing me in beauty and sensory sublimity.   My godparents, who’ve loved me well since day one, finally got to stand behind me as a sponsor, hands on my shoulders, praying for the Holy Spirit to fill me and guide me.  The people in the church sang their little hearts out in a way I have never experienced at St. John’s—so beautiful and strong!  And literally the aroma of the rows of Easter lilies…so good.  I am thankful that (and I stand corrected as) God continued to reveal Himself that night, and not just in the Sacrament.

Lent.  What an awesome time to step deeper and deeper into God and God’s calling.  To ask questions and explore creation, beauty, the sublime, the ugly, the unknown and the unseen.  And to think…all this time we spend ends in death-a dark, gruesome, heavy death, but a death only to be trampled over and over and over again by Light and Life.  Can I get a real Amen?


My favorite of the season.
My favorite of the season.

l e n t :: day43_need


Do you know how many needs there are in the world?  I’m not talking about new shoes for your Easter dress or a replacement for your lumpy couch but needs for basic human rights – for food, for freedom, for physical health.   Did you know there are 600,000 unused, frozen embryos in the US alone that currently have no designated womb for their continued growth?  That’s about the same number of orphans and family-less kids in the US!  Blows my mind -the number of children in the US alone who have yet a need for a welcoming home.   Come on, land of plenty.  Approximately 1.6 billion people in the world don’t have adequate housing.  About 21,000 people day EACH DAY die from hunger and related issues.    27-30 million people lack personal freedom, caught in modern slavery.

The number of needs is incredible, in the true sense of the word.

You know what we need?  Jesus.  A whole lot more Jesus.  And then the humility and willingness and courage and boldness to live a life worthy of the calling of JESUS.

Tomorrow, we remember how Christ died, surrendering His life for our NEED for grace and salvation.  Look around you, at those you love and are yet to love: what will you surrender for their needs?


l e n t :: day42_rejection

Raena asked to draw Jesus on her Palm Sunday cross made by Pops.

An interesting juxtaposition of thoughts today: the word (rejection) with the topic of IF:Gathering’s I Believe study of the Nicene Creed (the Trinity).  Here are my thoughts shared on the IF:Gathering App this morning:

“My first theology class in college was Intro to Biblical Literature – read the whole Bible in a semester, plus write paper and ace exams, of course.  Even with the overload of out of class expectations, I still consider it one of my favorite college classes and it was (and still is) extremely influential in at least starting many discussion of belief.  One in particular…the Trinity.  I love a phrase my professor used: reciprocal relationships.  God in Himself IS a reciprocal relationship: the working together of this three-ness (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to have this ultimate, life-giving, life-saving, life-sustaining Oneness.  And then the Bible reveals to us that God made us in His image, reflecting back the innate relationship.  He desires from us not mindless acceptance and obedience as if following a dictator, but rather a relationship of trust, service, regular interaction.  Reciprocal relationship.  So this concept, this doctrine, this crazy unexplainable thing called the Trinity just make God more approachable, more loving, more intimate, to me.”

The connection to rejection, while admittedly a possible stretch, culminates in processing what happens when we reject someone: they no longer live, or, in one word, death.  To thrive, like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do as GOD, one cannot reject another.  Cannot leave off, insult, discard another.  Think of how you feel at a point of rejection for a job or a romantic relationship: a bit of you falls and, for at least a moment, you know little of your next steps.  You often wallow and you become stagnate.  Sure, alive, but not living.

So I ask, do you want to be a person who spreads rejection or a person who lives reciprocal relationships?    Who leaves off a major part of yourself or discards another human being for any reason, or an individual who thrives internally and in community?

But you, my dear friend, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as your wait the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Jude 20-21

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25


l e n t :: day40_thanks


Today’s thoughts are simple, short and sweet.  I have not felt well since late Thursday night and accomplishing daily tasks has been difficult.  I walked back over to our house today at noon after working on miscellaneous farm projects to find ALL the rags I’d left in the dryer FOLDED by the girl’s sitter. Once again, we’ve struck gold with an amazing young woman who shares her heart with my little hearts.  And not only that, she unexpectedly folded a basket of laundry for me on the most needed day.

Thanks Abby.  You’re great.  So glad you’re in our life!

Who do you need to thank today?

l e n t :: day38_have


I have quite a bit.  A lot.  Extravagente.   Let alone our paid-for cars, the home we live in on my Grandma’s farm, the softest furniture (Jeff’s only home décor stipulation – plus not too many flowers), and abundant food – we have more clothes than needed donned in a week, technology beyond usefulness to entertainment, and more blankets than we could use in a January power-outage.  And that’s only the material side of life!  I have a committed, loving husband (who has spent the last 24 hours doing all the kid care and food care as I lay on the couch coughing up a storm and aching with fever), two beautiful little ladies who like to laugh, cousins, friends, mentors, and acquaintances who encourage me in parenting, writing, speaking, teaching, and just plain old living.  My life, in any standards, is good.

So I’m drawn to Mark 10 when I think of all I have:

Mark 10:17-31 (NIV)

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him.

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

So how does this story equate to life today?  Should I become the next Shane ClaiborneMother Theresa?  I think the answer to that for many of us could be yes, but, once again, it boils down to our daily decisions: where do I focus my extra?  Do I tithe?  On my gross or my net?  Do I support, in prayer and/or finances, those who are giving it all away to serve in the darkest corners of the world, be that India, south Chicago, or rural Nepal?  Do I allow myself all my splurge purchases, big and small, without stopping to realize what a privilege it is to even HAVE the option of a splurge purchase?  On what is my heart and mind focused?  Are my hands open, closed, too full?  If you have an open bed in your house, have you considered joining in to end the need for orphanages in the world by adopting or fostering?

I’m a big fan of the Raffi song:

All I Really Need 500px
Check out!

So, I obviously think a little mention of the Triune God would be good but the essence is there.  The essentials of life are there.  Joy in salvation, physical sustenance and safety, and familial love.  I wrote a few weeks ago on love and I do believe there is true love abundant in my immediately family.  Sure, we fight and disagree and carry wounds, but our heart is to love.  Nobody has to be perfect.  Nobody does everything right – remember that thing called grace?  But when we look at our essentials and view the haves as sharable, our lifestyle drastically changes, our community drastically changes, and your heart…my heart…drastically changes.

What do you have that you can share?



l e n t :: day37_beloved


… so, yeah, parenting is hard & beautiful,
and very, very hard & very, very beautiful,
and sometimes you just get down on the floor & weep
& there’s no shame in it — tears just saying we’re loving deep.
Parenting is hard, not because we’re getting it wrong, but because we’re getting to do holy work — holy work *is* hard work.
That’s the miracle of parenting:
labor never stops & we never stop having to remember to breathe.
Parenting’s this way of bending over in humility
to help the scraped child up
because we know it takes a lifetime
to learn how to walk with Him.

And all the parents exhaled… and our every breath calls for You to come, Lord, please come — Come help us to labor over these beloved children, that they’d deliver into the wide expanse of Your fulfilling grace —
& never forget their name: Beloved.

Ann Voskamp

l e n t :: day36_restore


I’ve pondered the word restore today–finding synonymous definition in healing, reconciliation, rejuvenation even.  In the death of winter and the birth of spring.  In the chill of fever and the breaking into the damp skin and wet hair of health.  In the pain of the dark night of the soul and the relief of joy’s new morning.  Restore is spring’s mantra.  We see green pop out of dust and people pop out of doors, both hungry for sun and soil and socializing.  We all long to be restored–restored to the person we felt we were as children or perhaps as the person we prayerfully hope is promised.  We desire our families to be whole and reconciled.  We desire our churches and our nations to be wrecked  by mercy and justice instead of pain and discrimination.  We try and try and try to achieve these thing but they aren’t like trophies given to the most successful but gifts given to the most humble and faithful.

So today, let us be faithful to God’s promise of reconciliation and wholeness.  Let us not ignore the pain of today but usher in those thin small threads of grace that lead us to that golden rope of salvation.

How can you assist in restoration?  In what ways do you need to surrender to God’s work of eternal reconciliation?

l e n t :: day35_people


I was trying to experiment tonight, with some superimposing magic-ness.  I’m not ready for that.  But while fiddling Jeff asked what my word was.  “People.”  “Well, I’m your every day people aren’t I?”

I enjoy a beautiful house and we both like to practice hospitality on at least a weekly basis.  I would have loved posting a picture of our living room full of people.  But tonight I have my every day people and he often gets sidelined for every week people I unfortunately deem more important.  Tonight, I sign off quickly to invest in my every day person.  A needed lesson and certainly needed time.

Who are your every day people?  How are you investing in them?

l e n t :: day34_remember


I can’t help but hear the echoing voice of Mufasa in that epic scene from The Lion King: “Remembaaah!  Remembaaah!”   Oh, James Earl Jones.  Every time.  Simba chases after the quickly vanishing vision of his father but he can’t catch a memory.

Yesterday I was talking with Jeff and my parents a bit about my Grandpa.  Richard C. Ripberger and I were very close, you see.  My childhood partner in crime, Thomas, my eleven-days-older-than-me cousin, and I would go wherever and do whatever Grandpa wanted us to do.  That Jeff never knew Grandpa has been a strange and difficult reality.  He’s but a memory to me and a legend to Jeff.

The specific memory we shared last night was a time when Thomas and I, at maybe seven years old, literally pushed R.C. by his butt up the stairs in what is now my parents’ house to his then apartment/man cave.  Grandpa had a rare form of muscular dystrophy paired with repercussions from a massive stroke; these combined made walking and stair-climbing rather daunting tasks at times, and by his last years, Grandpa was wheelchair bound.  We were reprimanded for our valiant display of strength and service of course—what if he had started to fall on the way up?  We all could have been seriously hurt!  Thomas and I had originally hesitated at his first request for help but Grandpa was a business man with a woo that could make the pope wear nothing but gym shorts to Mass: he won.

I miss that man incredibly.  And I miss those silly, fun days with Tom.  I hope to always remember them.

Imagine what the disciples must have felt when Jesus was no longer with them.  For three days, confused and hurt, they were at a standstill—what just happened?  Consider how they may have dwelt in memories of weddings, and miracles, and feasts, and reprimands, and invitations.  My Grandpa was just a man, a flawed man, but for them, Jesus!  Their Messiah!  The promised One!  Gone!  Few of us have never experienced the death of a loved one; most know the pain of those first few days of loss and acceptance.  I wonder what the disciples remembered most clearly.  I wonder what they shared as consolation in time together.  I wonder if they, like Simba, tried chasing after an old vision, their eyes off the calling and anticipation of reconciliation.

He may have promised His rebuilding of the Temple, His trampling over death, but did they get it?  I would bet that Easter hallelujah wasn’t even yet on their sorrowful radar.

What remembrance do you regularly step into?   Does it guide you to a truer future or leave you alone in the meadow?
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