september 1 . 2016

I remember the soft feeling of the old fabric on the passenger seat of the Plymouth Voyager minivan. I usually leaned on the left armrest or smashed my tall frame against the window on those long drives from our home on the steep mountain down to the private Christian high school my sister and I attended. She was a pretty good driver most of the time…one just had to be sure not to distract her. Late one night after a school event – probably a soccer game – our van was full of high schoolers and she had pulled off the one-way street to fill up on gas before taking everybody home. While parked, she answered a call on her cell phone (that we *technically* shared), and then proceeded to pull back onto the road going the wrong direction. Thank God it was late enough in a small town that there was only one other car on the street and she quickly corrected after we all screamed at her.

She was always incredibly disciplined in her spiritual practice. Early in the mornings, I would often sleepily stumble downstairs in our house to pick through clean laundry to find something to wear, and I would see light in her room through the crack under her door. I could hear Christy Nockels or Hillsong playing softly and I knew she was either reading her Bible, journaling, or worshipping. She would write Bible verses on notecards and stick them to the back of her door, to the edge of her mirror, or on the dashboard of the van to help her memorize. She was a leader on our campus: student chaplain for 2 years, worship leader, Bible study initiator. Though there was temptation to feel like I was in her shadow, most of the time I adored being known as “Kaeli’s sister” because of the wonderfully faithful woman she was. She saw greatness in me early on, too – she invited me to speak at a school chapel when I was only a freshman. I’m pretty sure it was the worst message I’ve ever preached, but her faith and belief in me spoke volumes: “You have something they need to hear.”

Another drive I will never forget came after a break-up with her first boyfriend. I can’t remember where we were headed or what we were doing. All I recall is the conversation we had driving along 99W late one night. We had our ups and downs in relationship with each other – as most sisters do – and secretly I wanted her to be my best friend but didn’t know how to tell her. I didn’t end up telling her that evening, but what did occur definitely qualifies as a best-friends-moment.

She had been sharing about the issues which had ultimately caused the distance between her and her ex…how she felt like she was meant for more and shouldn’t really be distracted by a guy like him right now. She shared that a mentor had encouraged her to write down a list of things that she appreciated in men that might be good things to look for in choosing a husband someday. When thinking about the guy she was dating and looking at the list she had written, there wasn’t much overlap. And what was the point of dating someone who you knew there was no real future with?

All of a sudden she says, “I’m thirsty! Are you thirsty?”

“Um, yeah, I guess so?”

“What do you want to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

“Kaeli, it’s Newberg. I think everything is closed by now.” (It was 8pm.)

“I need something to drink. Umm…how about apple juice! Do you want apple juice?”


She turned the car around and we headed back the way we had come towards McDonalds. She bought two cartons of apple juice in the drive thru and we went on our way. After a few minutes, she offered to toast me with her carton and said, “Promise me you’ll never settle.”

“Okay. You have to promise me the same thing!”

So we toasted with our cartons of apple juice and said together, “No settling!”

There was a moment in college when I finally reckoned with the vulnerability I felt and asked her to be my best friend. She sort of laughed and said, “I thought I already was!”

She turned 30 a few days ago. She didn’t settle; she married an incredible man of God and they have 2 gorgeous babies together. She is still just as passionate – if not more – for the Kingdom of God. Her faith – the foundation of which I feel was solidified in those early mornings in her bedroom – has never wavered. She is a model that I seek to emulate. She is one of those that I follow as she follows Jesus.

Happy Birthday, K. I love you so much!

Mom still swears by these haircuts


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