ShipOfFools_web_10042015And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matt 6:13 ESV)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Albany was a place where I learned to ride in a bright red wagon.
We lived on a hill and I dreamed of riding my wagon down it.
Someone told me it was a bad idea.
Someone dared me to do it.
So I rode down the hill steering with the handle.
Until I got to the corner.
where the wagon turned over and threw me out.
I scraped my knee but good.
I cried and cried.
And Mom put a bandaid on it.

Our house had a bathroom with a big tumb.
I loved to run the water and run my electric speedboat in it.
But my sister would always come running and want to play too.
I hated to share my boat—the batteries would run down and
I would not get new ones til Christmas.
So I told her what fun it was to put soap in your eyes—
She cried and cried.
And Mom came running.

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My Name


You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
for the LORD will not hold him guiltless
who takes his name in vain.
(Exod 20:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is a name? Is it a blessing, a curse, or prophesy?

My first name, Stephen, is a bit of each. The name, Stephen, comes from the Greek word for crown (στέφανος) [1]. The biblical story of Stephen describes him as: “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He was one of the first persons chosen to serve as a deacon in the church. He succeeded in his work “doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He also persuasively argued the faith attracting enemies who, unable to debate him, instigated false charges against him (Acts 6:10-11). Guided by the Holy Spirit, Stephen was stoned and martyred [2]. Stephen’s story speaks to me.

Stephen is a family name in my father’s mother’s family. Her name was Gertrude DeKock. When I was born, she insisted that I be named Stephen after her grandfather, Stephanus DeKock, like my dad. Stephanus was born in the Netherlands (Herwijnen) and immigrated to Pella, Iowa with his parents in 1856 at the age of 17. In August 1862, Stephanus volunteered for the Union Army and served in the 22rd Iowa Infantry (DeCook).

Stephanus was not the first Stephen in the DeKock family. The oldest known, Stephen, in the family was Stephanie, the wife of Philip of Naples in twelfth century France. Her son, Rudolf Chatillon, received the title of Count LeCocq from the King of France because he reported early every day for battle—like a rooster (le Cocq). Later (around 1200) he received a grant of land in Gelderland, The Netherlands and the title, Le Cocq, was translated into DeKock (DeCook).

In keeping with the DeKock family tradition, Gertrude used to vacuum my bedroom at seven o’clock in the morning.

The Hiemstra influence was more subtle.

The family originates in Dokkum which is a Frisian city alone the North Sea in the Netherlands. The Frisians have their own distinctive language which, unlike other dialects, shares little in common with German and Dutch. The Frisians kept their independence from surrounding nations until the Dutch revolt against Spain in 1568—a political manifestation of the reformation [3].

The name, Hiemstra, divides into two parts: hiem and stra. A Frisian friend of mine, who I met as a student in Germay, informed me years ago that “hiem” means home while the “stra” indicates a Frisian origin. My grandfather, Frank Henry Hiemstra, spoke Frisian along with Dutch but he never taught his sons. Instead, he insisted on raising them as Americans speaking English. According to my father, the family move away from Pella to Oskaloosa and attendance at Central Reformed Church in Oskaloosa served to separate the family from daily ethnic Dutch influences—a very Frisian idea!

Frank’s identity remained in Christ. Frank left behind no autobiography or list of accomplishments. Instead, he composed a short piece entitled: Grandpa’s Favorite Bible Verses and Quotations (1998) which starts with:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Further on he writes about prayer and concludes that: “the purpose of prayer [is] to glorify the name of God”.

Frank was subtle; he left room in his life for God.


[1] (BDAG 6819). στέφανος means: “a wreath made of foliage or designed to resemble foliage and worn by one of high status or held in high regard, wreath, crown.”

[2] The charge against Stephen was twofold:

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:13-14)

Stephen never disputed the charge and offered no defense. Instead, he accused the Jews of false worship and not keeping the law (Acts 7:48, 53) effectively validating their charges. What drove them crazy, however, was when he reminded them of Jesus’ words during his trial:

“But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt 26:64)

Jesus was paraphrasing Daniel 7:13. This was clear a claim of divinity. Stephen’s stoning was spontaneous and illegal under Roman law (John 18:31).



Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v .9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

DeCook, Stephen and JoAnn. 1999. “DeKock, DeCook Ancestry”. July. Also manuscript “The DeKock Group” (both unpublished).


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Pammel Court, Dog, and Yellow Wax Beans

What are you doing here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:13 ESV)

Pammel Court

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I ran, ran, ran.
Mom was in the other room and the door was open.
So I ran, ran, ran.

I ran around the buildings—
The corrugated alleys [1] that I had played in many times.
Around and around.

I found an open door and in I ran.
There was a bulletin board in front of the counter.
And pool tables everywhere.
And Mom came to pick me up.


In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
(Ps 22:4 ESV)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The apartments were a playground—
A guinea pig lived underneath the recreation center that was across the street and down a ways
Behind the recreation center was a baseball field and then a creek with soft black mud which disappeared in a tunnel under the road.

The creek was mysterious.
I remember being tempted there—a friend dared me to step into the water deeper and deeper.
I remember he left pictures of a woman without any clothes—down in the creek.
She must have been really poor…

Among the apartments, not down so far, was a tree that I used to climb.
It wasn’t very tall and I could not climb it very high.
But a mad dog chased me there one day and I climbed that tree.
That dog bit a girl I knew and she had to have stomach shots.


For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21 ESV)

Yellow Wax Beans

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I like yellow wax beans.
They are easy to weed
and grow in all kinds of different soil.

Grandma packed them in plastic containers every summer
and put them in the freezer
and we ate them all year.

Apples make good sauce
and peaches require canning.
Chickens require cleaning.

But I always went for the yellow wax beans
when Grandma sent me to the basement to grab something for dinner.

[1] The quonset huts in Pammel court were built during the second world war by the military.

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ShipOfFools_web_10042015And if in spite of this you will not listen to me,
then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins,
and I will break the pride of your power …
And your strength shall be spent in vain (Lev 26:18-19 ESV).


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I loved to stand in the back seat of my Dad’s lime green 1953 Chrysler
and look over his shoulder as he drove.
I could see everything!
As a I stood there, I imagined driving my own car—
not a bicycle or a vespa or a pickup
but a great big powerful car, with a shinny hood ornament, white-walled tires,
and plenty of head room for my fedora—just like Dad’s.

But sometimes Fords are good too—Grandpa drove a Ford.

Chrysler’s don’t like hills and rural route 2 outside Osky is mostly gravel and hills.
I saw everything.
Dad drove up the hill; then, he rolled back down.
Dad drove up the hill; then, he rolled back down again.
Then, he just parked the car next to the post box and walked up the hill in the snow.
I offered to come along but he told me to wait in the car and take care of my Mom and sister.
I thought it was odd that our great big powerful Chrysler would be bothered by a little hill.

After a bit, Grandpa drove down the hill with his Ford 2N.
Dad saw everything
looking over his shoulder
while he stood on the swinging drawbar in the back.
They hooked up the car to the tractor with a chain and towed it up the hill to the house.

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Ever Present, Snow, and Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

ShipOfFools_web_10042015The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Ps 23:1 ESV)

Ever Present

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Time awake. No tomorrow; no yesterday. A continuous present.

Every waking hour is new; Mom is there.

I am happy or alone. Loneliness is being in bed looking out over the covers.

The alligator under my bed comes out at night after the records play.
The alligator chases me around the room and runs away when Dad comes.


And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Gen 3:21 ESV)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Snow is for jumping in and for making into balls and throwing.

Mom, why do I need a jumpsuit, a knit cap, and mittens?

… Because the porch is cold and it is even colder outside.

But I don’t like mittens. Why can’t I wear gloves like you and Dad?

… These mittens were a gift made for you by your grandmother—see she made attached them together with a string so that you won’t loose them. When you get older, we will get you some gloves—gloves are made from leather and you can’t use them to make snowballs without ruining them. So for now, you need to use mittens!

Mom, I can put my shoes on myself! …


Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and
your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
(Gen 12:1 ESV)

Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

Wandering up and down the aisles on the California Zephyr. People asked me and I told them—

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

From Emeryville to Ottumwa. Snow on the Rockies; the deep ravines; the scary dark tunnel. But mostly, I remembered that—

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

Why did people always lean forward in their seats to ask me—where y’a going?—and smile when I tell them?

Why did I always smile in thinking about it?

Maybe it was the cats. Married student housing did not allow pets. Besides, cats got to have birds and mice and wild stuff to eat…

Maybe it was the mulberry trees. Berry trees are special and especially hard to find in the city. Somehow, I don’t think city folks even know about mulberries—they seem more like blueberry people.

Maybe it was Grandma’s chicken and noodles or the box of chocolate chip cookies in the fridge. Mom fixed some great macaroni and cheese, but store-bought cookies are always dry and crunchy.

I smile thinking on the farm, ‘cause there were pumps to pump; snow drifts to jump in; relatives to visit; Christmas church services to dress up for. Everyday was an adventure on the farm, but the reason I smile is because on the farm I felt special.

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.


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Christian Memoir: Looking Back

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christian Memoir: Looking Back

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the ironies of life is that we are naturally strangers to ourselves. Our desires, motivations, and purposes lie behind a veil that we dare not pull back for fear of what might lie beyond. This fear cloaks our shadow side in mystery. It also limits our potential, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God. Pulling back the veil accordingly offers the hope that we realize our potential, become comfortable in the presence of others, and welcome God more fully into our life. My purpose in composing a Christian memoir is to lift this veil.

Role of Time

We experience life through the experience of time. The Greeks experienced time in two primary dimensions. The first dimension, chronos time (χρόνος), is measured in equal units: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and centuries. The second dimension, chairos time (καιρός), is a decision moment or crisis[1]. When we look at our wristwatches or calendar, we experience chronos time. When we crash our car or meet God, we experience chairos time. We normally think and move through chronos time. We normally feel and remember chairos time. This book is organized around chronos time, but the memories that fill it are mostly kairos moments.

I remember my early years in vignettes. These vignettes appear like electronic photographs without a time and date stamp. The stories that I tell about those vignettes are mostly the spin that came later reflecting on them. For this reason, these vignettes are best expressed in poetic form. Here we find kairos moments of a child who has not yet learned the discipline of chronos time. Objective thought, which requires some distance between the object and the thought, is also mostly absent and unlearned. Chairos time is chaotic, messy, embarassing. In a word, it is subjective. If the subject is your dark side, then you expect to find dark things. Honesty in this terriority is aspirational. Poetry helps overcome obvious tensions.


One area where I cannot be entirely straightforward is in revealing personal details about the people around me. I can sign onto the journey of self-revelation. I cannot presume that my family and friends share my objectives in this respect. Their roles in this narrative will either be cloaked or absent. Please understand. This autobiography is not an exposé.

Four Big Questions

In my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, I examined four questions in the context of the traditional teaching of the church:

1. Who is God?
2. Who are we?
3. What do we do about it?
4. How do we know?

The objective in that text was especially to explore the first question: Who is God? My second book, Life in Tension, likewise has that focus. This book focuses on the second question: Who are we? While this book focuses on my history, I am, in part, a stand in for the reader. It is my hope that in telling my own story that I will also help you tell yours.

[1] Both words appear in the Greek in this verse: “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 ESV)

[2] My thanks to Kreeft (2007) for highlighting these four questions.


Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2014. A Christian Guide to Spirituality. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine’s Press.


Also see:


Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

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