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 :: day31_listen


Listen.  Unrest resides in our bones.  Listen.  Life does not have to be that way.  Listen.  Bernie, Trump, Hillary, Cruz—they don’t determine your daily decisions.  Listen.  Injustice is battled by big names and big organizations on big stages with loud speakers and fancy bills and ordinances and regulations but LISTEN: that means nothing if we do not battle injustices in the short breath of Tuesdays when kids cry and staff meetings run late with murky agendas and rain cancels practice and you see one woman passed by due to her race, her addiction, her worship, HER WHOSHEISNESS.  So listen.  Light a candle and be a candle and listen.  The shouting voices are easy to hear.  But perhaps those are not the ones we need rattling our ear drums.  Listen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:19-21

To whom are you listening?

l e n t :: day9_refuge


Perhaps my bed would seem an odd refuge as I am an extrovert and am generally rejuvenated via wine, conversation and art.  Recently, in a counseling session, I was compared to a lightning bolt.  I doubt beds are fond of lightning bolts, due to fire and whatnot.  And honestly, I somewhat despise sleep; we have love/hate relationship since I rarely snooze straight through the night, tossing with deeply personal and generally overly emotional dreams or your average check-the-clock-every-49-minutes insomnia.  With littles, at least with my littles, we’re lucky if sleep is uninterrupted once or twice a week.  But you know to whom my bed is a refuge?  My kids.  Bad dream?  Sleep with mom.  Sick?  Snuggle up with mom.  Sister won’t be quiet and go to sleep?  Go to mom.   Cold?  Mom.  Thirsty?  Mom.  Need to poddy?  Mom.  Want Mom?  Mom.  (Quick disclaimer: Jeff is an awesome,,awesome, awesome night-time Dad – well all-the-time Dad.  But let’s be honest and say that at night even though Jeff is willing and often does much of the work, the girls’ prefer Mama.  Feel free to comment if you disagree, Babe.)  Speaking of Jeff, our bed is also a refuge for Jeff.  He needs a lot of sleep to function and without ample time in those navy flannel sheets, he’s no good come the middle of the day.   He snuggles up with his three (yes, three) pillows and quickly enters ZZZZzzzzville.  I guess I’ve never stopped and thought about how much this chunk of fabric, wood and springs supports our family (pun not intended, but welcomed).  It makes me wonder, what else is an essential part of our rhythms that I take for granted?  How many people don’t have a decently new, warm and dependable place to rest their tired bodies at the end of the day?  All from a bed.

Where is your daily refuge?  What is a place of centrality for you or your family?

Able To Be Led

Today I am thinking about being led.  And how we can be led.  Or let ourselves be led.  My generation, specifically those in the Sonlight Curriculum followed by Hope College worlds (read: bubbles), has been encouraged to be leaders, changers, great thinkers, SAVE THE WORLD KID OR YOU’RE WORTHLESS kinds of individuals but at the great loss of humility and the ability to be led.  Yes, ability to be led.  Ability, by definition, is the possession of the means or skill to do something, and to be led takes means and skill.  Funny, as I thought we had to study to lead, not to be led.  I have spent my whole life learning to lead and now, I am trying to figure out how to let go of the leadership.

When I think of “being led”, my mind first goes to marriage.  At different points growing up, my parents were quite influenced by very conservative circles that taught fairly strict male headship; I can remember coming home for a visit in college, preparing to leave to spend time with high school girlfriends as my parents readied for bed.  “Do you think it’s ok for you to be going out once your father is asleep?” Mom asked.  I’m pretty certain I just laughed and said, “See you in the morning!”  So, for as old fashioned (which is a good movie by the way!) as this particular episode is, it encourages me to ponder these ideas of being led by those we love and trust most.  Before Jeff and I were engaged, I remember one of the first experiences I had in what I believe to be hearing the Lord clearly: “Follow Jeff wherever he goes.”

And then five years later...they're back!
And then five years later…they’re back!

I repeat—I was taught to be a leader!  I was taught to think, and challenge, and make strong decisions.  I did not need a husband to help with that.  But this partnership, this having someone to make decisions with, to support and be supported in times of change, has made me want to need him.  Explain that one.

This year we were invited to 14 weddings –and we are actually able to attend 12 (We love you, friends, but still.  Whew.).  Over and over I hear wedding vows and sermons about joining in this lifelong partnership and covenant with the one we love.  I instinctively cringe when someone tells the woman to follow or submit.  But why?  Why do we think that allowing someone else to lead us makes us weak?

I submit: when we allow someone else to lead us, we embrace our humanity, and in it find beauty and rest.

We felt led to be married.  Best decision I ever made—even for someone who never wanted to marry a missionary or anyone under 6ft tall.  We felt let to have children early in our marriage.  I was exhausted for nearly two years straight but I cannot begin to explain the love and gratefulness I have for my not-so-little Raena J.  I felt led to leave a work position that held much promise.  I like who I am now so much more.  We felt led to list our house and move to Indiana.  Still waiting for that verdict.

These are not decisions I would have made on my own.  In fact, these decisions challenged much of what I thought was the plan for my future, or what I thought was best.  But these times of decision making create humility.  When we invite others to lead, we create respect for the insight of others.  And allow others to speak the truth we cannot see or see

The best definition I have ever heard for humility is that God is God and I am not.  Amen.  As a believer in Christ, I am challenged to let God lead me.  To quite my own shouting of “I can do it myself!” that have echoed off the walls of my life since I was two and allow someone to sooth and push me in ways I would not have imagined in my small scope.

On the farm, high speed internet isn’t available. (Do I hear all my fellow Netflix addicts gasping?  I plan to read all the books my parents own while we live here.  Side note – Jeff checked all few hundred of the classic literature titles I read in high school to discover he had read only 14 of them.  #homeschoolwin.) Anyway, with streaming no longer an option, I have all my music on shuffle, not updated since 2007, and am bombarded by Zorac’s big head and overcome with sadness from a highschool love screaming infidelities.  But then, Chris Tomlin, albeit not my first choice of CCM, if I choose it at all, smoothly slips out the tinny speakers: “All the way my Savior leads me.”  How ironic.  He leads by still waters.  He leads in His truth.  He leads in His righteousness.  Psalm 61:2: Lord, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

And so, I begin a new kind of education that Sonlight or Hope did not teach:  I want to be able to be led. I want to possess the skills necessary to let others lead me.  I want to reach rocks higher than I.

Pictured Rocks on our honeymoon
Pictured Rocks on our honeymoon


SIDE NOTE:  Thanks to all who have been encouraging and asking me to write!  But I need a little guidance (lead me?); what would you like to see?  I can of course just spill my messy thoughts, I can share family updates, but I’ve also considered a bit of a Scripture series because there ain’t no words better than the Word.  And the current polarization of our culture is continually pushing me back to the Word as I search to understand how to live. I was given the privilege and challenge of co-preaching a few weeks ago with my mentor and I LOVED writing that sermon (you can listen here if you want).   Comment below or shoot me an email.