What’s in a name?

I’ve seen him before, the man in the wide-brimmed, floppy hat with the steady gait. We both like to walk around the park in our neighborhood; he travels clockwise, I go counterclockwise. We are different, the man and I. Different generations, different ethnicities. Yet, if I go for a walk mid-day, our paths will likely cross.

As we approached each other last week, I remembered that I’ve seen him before. I remembered his hat. 20 feet away, the man veered off the path to give me a wide berth. Perhaps he is concerned about contracting COVID; perhaps he was being considerate in case I am. As we pass, I smiled and called out.

“Hi. I’m Kristen.”

A slight pause. He smiled.

“I’m Tom.”

“Hi, Tom. Nice to meet you.”

He continued clockwise. I continued counterclockwise.

The next lap, I didn’t see the man in the floppy hat. I saw Tom, my neighbor. We are the same, the man and I, fellow park-walkers.

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Galatians 5:14

In recent months, following tragedies, there have been passionate calls to “Say her name!” Naming personalizes; it humanizes. But what if we didn’t wait until after? What if we were to be more intentional on a daily basis about really seeing people, saying their names, and recognizing their humanity? Would it change the way we view and treat others?

How can we better love our neighbors? Maybe we should start by saying their names. The weary store clerk who didn’t make the rules but is required to follow them has a name. The online commenter you are tempted to respond to aggressively has a name. That person down the street with the yard sign for the candidate you don’t support has a name. The man in the park with the big floppy hat has a name. Each name represents a person, made in God’s image, who is far more than what we can see.

On my final lap, Tom and I passed again.

“One more time around?” he asked, making a circle with his finger.

“Last one for me today – I’m out of water,” I replied, pointing to my empty bottle.

He gave a little shrug and nodded knowingly as if to say, “I understand.”

I smiled to myself as I walked away.

Until we meet again, Tom.

Transitioning to College: Tips for Parents

Transitioning to College: Tips for Parents

The transition from high school to college can be challenging for both students and parents. Helping a college freshman think about the changes ahead can help save time, money, and stress. Here are a few easy, but essential steps parents can take the summer before college to help prepare students for autonomy and success.

  • Remind them to check their school email daily, read everything thoroughly, and determine what needs action. Essential communication comes via email, and this typically starts as soon as the student is admitted. In the months prior to arriving on campus, students need to be looking for messages regarding tuition, class schedules, housing, placement testing, student health requirements, and more. Do not assume they are checking this or that they instinctively know what is important. They are likely used to essential details being communicated to the parent and may not realize that they need to read and respond to many communications.
  • Look on the college webpage with your student to identify what campus resources are available. Student services such as tutoring, writing center, health center, etc. will be covered for them in orientation, but it is good to talk through these ahead of time as they will be digesting a lot of information in their first few weeks.
  • Have your student purchase an academic planner and think about how to use it effectively. Help your student develop a success plan, which includes printing the syllabus for each course, writing down due dates, blocking off time to study, and backward planning for significant assignments.
  • Have your student explore the online student portal if available to identify what information they can access such as how to purchase materials/textbooks*, add/drop classes, access financial information, check grades, check their meal plan, etc. *Note, while many universities now provide digital access to texts, research shows that reading academic writing on screens typically results in lower comprehension and retention. Discuss whether renting or purchasing physical versions, if possible, might contribute to academic success.
  • Start thinking toward graduation now. Most schools offer degree plan information online that lays out what core classes should be taken and a suggested order. Thinking about a basic four-year plan (this will be adjusted with their advisor) can help avoid taking unnecessary courses or missing prerequisites – both of which can prolong college and add expense.
  • Discuss course scheduling – for some students, 15 units are manageable; for others, it might be 18. Also, help them think about what time of day is best for them to take classes, study, etc. For example, loading all courses on two days a week might be helpful for commuters, but can be challenging to manage when midterms or assignments fall on the same days.
  • Talk to your student about self-advocating. Many new students are reluctant to take advantage of office hours, reach out to professors, or seek assistance when needed. Reassure them that the professors and staff are there to help, but the student will often need to be proactive rather than passively waiting for academic feedback, assistance, information, etc.
  • Establish medical power of attorney. Students over age 18 need to designate someone (parent, family, or local friend) who can be given access to their health information if they are unable to consent. Forms for medical and mental health power of attorney can be found online and typically require notarization. It may also be helpful to have the student carry a card with contact information and a note indicating who has POA in his or her wallet.

Author: Kristen McLaren, M.Ed. is starting her 15th year in higher education and is mom to a college junior and a graduate student.

Eating Disorder, Reordered

Eating Disorder, Reordered


Five years ago, we were deep in a struggle… and it was a very dark and scary time. As a mother, one of your most basic instincts is to feed your child. So when she can’t or won’t eat it is devastating and overwhelming.  Dealing with an eating disorder is truly fighting “a monster,” but unlike many other illnesses, it is one often battled alone.

By God’s grace, her story is one of hope and renewal.  While it was most difficult, it is a time we look back at with thankfulness not only because of her healing, but because it gave us a great deal of compassion for those with battles we may not understand.

It is has been my priviledge to walk through this same struggle with other moms the way a few dear friends did for me. I’m profoundly thankful for those who walked alongside us in the darkest days and helped shoulder our tears and fears because they understood from personal experience. Their support offset comments – or worse, silence – from many that only added to our heartache. I hope that her candidly sharing her story can be an encouragment others who are struggling.

There is healing. There is hope. There is joy. 

Ryanne Molinari

In many previous blog posts, I have alluded to it. I have used it as an example of the dangers of perfectionism, as evidence of my own prideful nature, and as a point of reference to show how I’ve grown.

The “monster,” as my journal refers to it.

The eating disorder.

It’s something I can only really recognize in foresight and hindsight.

I remember Googling “symptoms of eating disorder” or “am I anorexic” as a frightened sixteen-year-old. However, while I was frightened by my sudden aversion to the healthy-sized portions of a growing teenager and by the falling number on my bathroom scale, I was also fascinated.

There is (or, at least, was) a romance to an eating disorder. It’s wrong that this is the case and I hate to think that I was not only drawn in by it, but desired it. Being thin became part of my…

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Words of wisdom from my favorite blogger.

Ryanne Molinari

I promise I’ll explain the cat sandwich in space picture in the end, so just bear with me for a few paragraphs, okay? Thanks.

I am what most would consider a perfectionist, which is in itself both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it leads me to, more often than not, accomplish my goals with a high degree of excellence. However, it also leads to misery when I meet with any outcome that I see as failure, which happens far too frequently because perfectionism’s continual lie is that if the outcome is in any way short of flawless, it might as well be a failure worth mourning.

As rough as perfectionism makes life, I am learning to move past it. I have had to logically tell myself that I probably will not earn 100% in every class (I might have to be happy with- dare I say it?- a regular A), I…

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A Europe State of Mind 

Ryanne Molinari

It has now been over a month since I returned from the trip of a lifetime: a two-and-a-half week journey through Europe with my family. When I call it the “trip of a lifetime”, I mean it! Sure, I had to punch my snoring relatives in the middle of the night once in a while, my suitcase was a pain to shut as my souvenirs accumulated, and I fear I spent my college fund on macarons and ice cream, but these are the little jests that life throws at adventurers and since every day I find myself thinking about our trip, I figured it was time for a post to summarize the top ten things I learned in Europe:

1. Everything sounds better in an accent…unless it’s German.

When I first stepped onto our British Airways flight and was called “dearie” and “love” by our oh-so-English flight attendants, I just…

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Why I Won’t Pursue a Man

Some words is a wise young woman!



Relationships and opinions about them are sticky.

People get passionate and everyone has an opinion. I think it’s something that we all work out, a choice that is ours to make. I can’t and don’t judge anyone’s personal journey, or the way they feel like God calls them to pursue romance.

As for me, I can state this (after much wrestling and questioning):

I can not and will not pursue a man.

Feminism is becoming a common doctrine of our world, and because of it, there is a question of whether or not women can approach a man in the way that they’ve been forbidden to in the past.

I’m not going to answer that for humanity. But as for me, I have one desire:

I want the (and yes, I said “the”) man that God has for me. God cares for the birds, so I believe that He intimately cares…

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Beyond Unworthy… I am Barabbas.

img_pd_110145_ep2e9oThe Gospels document the account of Good Friday.

Historians and archaeologists overwhelmingly affirm it.

But the Crucifixion is not just a story of long ago; it is the story of my heart… and yours.

Luke 23 records the scene: Having just been accused of blasphemy before the religious leaders for claiming to be the promised Messiah, Jesus was then brought before government officials, Pontius Pilate and King Herod, but they could not find any crimes.

“(Pilate) said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people.  And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us.  Look, nothing deserving of death has been done by him.  I will therefore punish and release him.‘” (23:13-16)


“they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’ – a  man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.  Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’  A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?  I have found in him no guilt deserving death.  I will therefore punish and release him.’ But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed.  So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.” (23:18-25)

Many of the very same people who had, just days before, welcomed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9) were now the same ones shouting “Crucify him!”  I have often wondered if I would have been among them, carried along by the crowd, one day praising and the next condemning. But, in truth, I am not simply one of the mocking crowd or even just of the grateful redeemed.

I am, in fact, Barabbas; the spotless Lamb of God took MY cross that day.

The guilty one was set free in exchange for the innocent Jesus.  Many believe that the two men crucified on either side of Jesus were Barabbas’ partners in crime as it was common for criminals to suffer together. The brutal, torturous death that Jesus willingly endured was designed for another, a penalty fitting for another’s crime.

The responses to Christ’s crucifixion that day are the same we see today.  First, there was indifference.  There were many curious onlookers apparently oblivious that the most significant event in history was taking place before their eyes (23:35a) while others were only focused on getting some free clothes (23:35b).

The second response was ridicule, mocking, hatred.  This attitude of rejection was blatantly and overwhelmingly demonstrated by the crowd, rulers, soldiers, and even one of the men being crucified. “‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’” (23:35-39).

There was a third response: saving faith.  “BUT the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.‘ And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.‘” (23:40-43)

In that short passage is the fullness of the Gospel and one of the clearest portions of Scripture to show that salvation is by grace though faith alone:

  • He had an attitude of reverence for God (23:40)
  • He recognized his was a sinner deserving of punishment (23:41a)
  • He recognized Christ was sinless (23:41b)
  • He believed and proclaimed that Jesus was Lord and King (23:a)
  • He acknowledged that Jesus alone had the power to save him from eternal death (23:42b)

On Good Friday, the criminal was set free and the Innocent took his place…my place  The work is done. (John 19:30) The man on the cross who believed did nothing to earn grace and neither can we!  All glory and praise to God!


Of course, the story doesn’t end there… Because of Easter, I know that my Redeemer lives!  (Luke 24)

That is why that torturous cross is most beautiful to me, why I cherish that “Old, Rugged Cross”; it should have been mine. Because of His perfect righteousness, I no longer stand condemned.

Like Barabbas, I deserved the penalty and I will be eternally thankful that the Savior took my place.



I was issued the “Thankfulness Challenge” from two friends. And I will admit, it IS a challenge for me, but not in the way you might think.  The challenge was to come up with 3 things I am thankful for every day for 7 days…That’s 21 things. (Yep, I did the math, be impressed.)  ONLY 21? THAT’S the challenge!  How do I pick ONLY 21?  Thankfully, I have much to be thankful for! (That one doesn’t count, by the way.)

The other challenging part for me would be to try to prioritize them. As a chronic editor (occupational hazard), I knew I trying to group my blessings three at a time would bring me great angst, so I’ve decided to take a little license with this challenge and list 21 here.  I hope you’ll indulge me for the sake of my sanity. The writer in me simply can’t do it any other way.

1. Grace – This has to be my number one. Without grace, I am nothing. Less than nothing. Honestly, even with grace, I’m nothing too impressive, except in God’s eyes.  To Him, I’m precious and perfect, loved and redeemed, but not because of anything I’ve done. ALL because of Grace. I blow it every day. Every hour. Every minute. We all do. That’s why we need grace! I don’t even pretend to be “good”. I have NOT kept the Commandments. I can’t; you can’t. That’s the bad news. But Jesus did! THAT’S the GOOD NEWS! The Bible tells us that “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) But, OH, AMAZING Grace, how sweet the sound! THAT saved a WRETCH like me! I could stop here – that’s all I need, really… but I did promise 21.

2. God’s Word – We live in a world of many voices. I am so thankful that there is ONE constant voice I can turn to that I know is true. Oh what a treasure trove of wisdom lies within! I have God’s infallable, complete, unchanging, Holy Word recorded and available to me 24/7. How cool is that? And I don’t need anything else besides the Bible! Nothing more, nothing less! It says so!   

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” – Romans 15:4

3. Faith – Are you sensing a trend yet? Good. Yes, I am abundantly thankful for my faith in Christ alone. He is my “rock, my strength, my shield.” But MY faith has little NOTHING to do with me. My faith is a gift – given to me, by Grace, through His Word!

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” – Romans 10:17

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  – Ephesians 2:8-9

4. Marriage – Another gift God created and has given to ME! I have had the underserved blessing to be married for over 21 years (hey… there’s that number again!) And guess what – it hasn’t always made me happy. You know why? Because we are both selfish sinners!  Yep. Every marriage has ups and downs, but we made a VOW before each other and God. We’re in this for the long haul – for better or worse. I think it’s been mostly “better”, but I don’t always bring my A-game, so we’ve had our share of “worse,” too.

5. Mike – He’s stuck with me. Not sure there are two more opposite people around. The introvert, quiet, sensible, jock accountant and the extrovert, loud, impetuous, klutzy teacher. An unlikely pair to say the least. Our common denominator? (More math! I’m out of control!) We both love Jesus. Having that at the center of our marriage has made everything better – because we both realize: it’s not about US. It’s not about our happiness. It’s about bringing Him glory in all things – today and for eternity.

6. Motherhood – Another undeserved gift.  Holy cow, I am one blessed woman!  That God would entrust me to actually raise two human beings is a little overwhelming.  Have you met me?  I can’t even keep fish alive. (Seriously, Rainbow Swimmy Longtail, I’m sorry I let you go down the sink.  But I’m NOT sorry that I hit the disposal button instead of sticking my hand down the drain to get you out, because you were a fish and fish are slimly.  Yeah. Sorry, not sorry.)  Somehow, in God’s infinite mercy, he has blessed us with two of the most amazing kids in the world and we get to love them and try to raise them in a way that is pleasing to Him!

  • Ryanne is quite simply the most diligent and disciplined kid person I’ve ever met.  It might be easy to chalk her successes up to “luck” or even “talent,” but others don’t see the HOURS of practice she puts in daily.  This teenager rarely watches t.v. or movies, instead she reads classic literature and blogs about it – all the time.  And, honestly, she was born this way.  That a disorganized, easily distracted mom would be given a kid who actually asked for a LABELER for Christmas is evidence not only of God’s unmerited favor but of His sense of humor.
  • And Seth – I know at 15 it’s not “cool” to call him sweet, but that kid has a heart of gold.  I wish I saw the world the way he does.  A friend once described him as “without guile.”  Oh, to be without guile!  To think the best of everyone and everything?  What a gift!  His accomplishments don’t always come with a blue ribbon, but he is a 1st place friend.  Loyal to the core and faithful to the end.  You seriously want Seth as your friend.  He would give you the shirt off his back, unless you want his “More Cowbell” shirt… he might keep that one.

But beyond any traits they might have or accolades they might earn, the biggest blessing is that they both love Christ and have committed to following Him and honoring Him with their lives.  That’s enough.  Anything beyond that for me is icing on the cake.  (Oh, and I’m thankful for cake!)

Okay, I’m going to pick up the pace now…

7. Family – Thankful for amazing parents and wonderful inlaws. That both Mike and I were raised in Christian homes is a blessing for which we are both grateful. We have incredible extended family, far and near, too. We love and pray for all of you regularly!

8. Our church – We may not have a building (yet), but we belong to the most amazing fellowship of believers! Thankful for a church where God’s Word is faithfully preached and imperfect people come to learn about and serve a perfect Savior! This is our forever family! Love our STBC peeps! Need a great church? Look no further than San Tan Bible!

friendship19. Friends – To have ONE friend is a blessing. To have MANY?  Oh, what a joy!  I know I’m “a bit much” at times… maybe all the time. But I’m thankful for friends who know me well… and love me all the same! My dance card is NEVER too full for another friend.  If you think of me as your friend, know that I’ve got your back!  Thanks for having mine!

10. Prayer – People, if we know Christ as our Savior, we can “boldly approach the throne of Grace!” Whoa…. We have, in Jesus, a savior,  a friend, AND the ONE high priest who intercedes on our behalf. Isn’t that AWESOME?! Seriously, I can’t even…. Can I pray for YOU? I consider it a privilege and an honor. Will you pray for me?

11. Laughter – Oh, what a gift. We MUST laugh EVERY day… not because every day is fun, but because there is always reason to rejoice. I hope I make you laugh from time to time. Laugh with me, laugh at me. I’m a dork; I own it.

12. Music – Is there anything better? From those first “Twinkle, Twinkle” notes of a budding musician to a full Beethoven symphony… it’s all glorious to me!

quotes-about-music1 13. Babies – Their smiles, their smells (the good ones), their eyes, their laughs – if only someone could figure out how to bottle baby laughter. Oh, how can you look at the face of a baby and not know that he or she was intentionally, deliberately, miraculously created by God?

14. Teaching – I just love it. The end.

15. Struggles – Wait, what? Yes. I’m thankful for struggles. You know what has grown me most? Trials. What has strengthened my faith? Hardships. What leads me to depend more on the Lord? The “bad” times. And I’m thankful for YOUR struggles, too, because they can draw you closer to Him… if you’ll let them. Just don’t waste your struggles. Use them, grow from them, share them (just don’t always do it dramatically on facebook, because that tends to just be whining. K? K.)

16.Beauty – In creation, in art, in poetry, in music… Yes, there is ugliness in the world, but there is also great beauty! Take time to look for the beauty in people and the world around you!

17. Failures – Yes, thankful for those, too. Because they keep us humble… and I’m humbled ALL the time. We can’t give up. As a wise fish once said, “Just keep swimming!” failure 18. Ice cream (which sometimes helps with failures).

19. Literature – Read. But not just anything… something GOOD! Oh, how I love a good read!

20. Technology – Admittedly, a blessing and a curse. To be able to connect with someone around the world as easily as around the corner? Priceless. Technology can make the world small. Use it wisely.

21. Grace – Oh, did I mention that already? Well, it’s worth mentioning again, because I not only am thankful that I receive it, I’m thankful that – because of Christ – I can extend it. I blow it. You blow it. Just know that if you ever blow it with me, I’ll forgive you. I’ve been forgiven so much, how could I not?  I hope you’ll extend the same to me. Grace… it’s a most wonderful thing!

Thanks for reading my thankfulness list! I’m thankful that you did!  🙂 And if you did – I challenge YOU!  Share them however you want, even if it’s just a few things.  But be thankful – in everything!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

“A kid at a time, a school at a time, a year at a time.” Yes. Just. Yes.

I am a fan of Tim Challies, am a frequent reader of his blogs, and have learned a great deal through his “Discerning Reader” site.

As a Christian family with two kids in public school, we have often found ourselves having to defend our schooling choice.  It was not a choice we made without great, ongoing consideration and we have never regretted that decision, but it is nice to have someone else articulate our position.

We have thoughtfully and deliberately placed our children in public schools.  Our oldest will graduate – strong faith firmly intact- with top academic, music, and volunteerism honors next year. Our youngest will start high school in the fall.  Yes, there have been a few bumps, but that’s a part of growing up.  We have had mostly wonderful, caring, and competent teachers – and have yet to encounter the radical “indoctrination” so often claimed to be the norm (typically) by those outside the public school system.

One of the greatest blessings we have seen is that our children are both regularly commended for their character and leadership among their peers.  They are both bothered by the hypocrisy they see among peers who claim Christ one day and deny Him with their behavior the next – some of those peers are in public schools, some attend Christian schools, and some are home schooled.

As a “retired” secondary teacher with a degree in English, a Master’s degree in curriculum design, and various specialty endorsements, I am probably well-equipped to home school, but we did not feel called to that.  However,  I have told many friends who have had a desire to home school that God always equips those He calls – rather than always calling those who feel equipped.  I wish the same grace would be extended to us.

I have always contended that the most successful kids come from loving homes with engaged, involved parents – regardless of where they learn algebra.  We know some fantastic, smart, lovely children who have been homeschooled – as well as some amazing public school kids.  We also know homeschooled kids who are arrogant and condescending as well as public school kids who are disrespectful and lazy…all products of their home environments.

Every time there is a shooting at a school, at least one homeschooling friend will typically post something like, “That’s why we home school.”  Really?  Is that also why you don’t go to malls or movies?  This infighting needs to stop.  Supporting families raising kids in the admonition of the Lord should not lead to intramural insult.

So, thank you, Tim Challies.  Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.