by Jim Killam | 7-minute read


As the weather slowly turns warmer, First Free Kids Director Kari Heckler walks her neighborhood more.

“I used to run, and then it turned into walking after I blew out my Achilles tendon a few years ago,” she says. “That was so symbolic in my life, because it forced me to slow down and walk instead of run. The difference that I find, especially right now when we are really slowed down, is that I look around when I’m walking.”

Lately, she notices hearts in windows — symbols of hope amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Trees are blooming. She sees things she would have run past before with scarcely a glance.

Most days Kari takes a similar route. Last week, needing a change, she walked through a cemetery. She read the headstones, symbolic of life and death. Someone had left a wristwatch atop one, perhaps in memory of a grandfather.

Another stone simply said “Baby” and then the family’s last name. She thought of how that family must have grieved.

“And then I thought of all that we are going through right now, how people are losing people.”

Kari and her family lived in New York for a few years, and she’s been in touch with some of those friends who are in the midst of pain, grief and fear.

The headstones also got her thinking: Rocks are used so much in the Bible. She remembered Psalm 62. Verses 5-8 (NIV) say:

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God[c];
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

“That’s what I need right now, because I am like everybody else,” she says. “I do OK, and then I slow down and get really anxious about everything.

“I think of stones so much right now. The Israelites obeyed Joshua and put those stones down to hold the water of the Jordan back, so they could cross. And Jesus is our rock. What is he holding back for us now?

“Stones are used for shelter all over the Bible. In Job it talks about hugging a rock for shelter. And that’s what I need to do. This symbolizes a lot to me.”

On her walk through the cemetery, Kari picked up a small stone. Now it rests on her desk. She plans to keep it there as a reminder of this strange, sad, uncertain time.

“I don’t want this to be like 9/11, where everybody goes back to normal,” she says. “I don’t want to go back to normal. Because I have slowed down spiritually even more than I did with my Achilles. I used to rush through my devotions a little more than I should have. I didn’t really look for what God was doing in every moment, like I am having to do now because I have had to slow down and look around more.”


More from our conversation with Kari:

Kari Heckler Avatar

Kari Heckler, Director of Kids Ministries at First Free Rockford

What’s happening with Kids ministry now?

(First Free Kids staff) Janel Palmer, Teresa Hubbard and myself are calling, emailing and messaging parents, trying to check on all of them, just to make sure they’re OK and to let them know we know they’re there and to pray for them. Also I’ve been sending out emails with attachments to lessons. It started with the ones we were doing on Sunday mornings, and then it gravitated more toward lessons aimed for home.

What do those lessons look like?

We are trying to line up more than ever with the sermon series on Sunday mornings. I am encouraging the kids to be watching the sermons with their families in their living rooms, and we have been sending them sermon note-takers for kids. I’m hoping to gravitate toward the Sunday School lesson and the sermon going together more. That’s always been our goal, for that family conversation to get going and be stronger and weave together better.

What are you seeing that makes you glad?

The best thing I have seen out of our families is that I know they are getting outside with their kids and just slowing down. There is so much you can learn about God’s creation by just getting outside of the house. I love that families are going on walks every day.

Some families are actually starting their day off with Bible study — maybe the lessons we’ve sent or something on their own — where it used to be they might have just had to get in the car quickly, go go go. I hope this is a change that will stick.

We’re past this idea that we all have to be relentlessly upbeat, right?

I’m not trying to be Miss Got-It-Together. No, I am right there. That’s the beauty in this, too. We all are hanging onto the rock together. That’s what I hope that we will get from this — that we’ll pick up our stone, whatever that is, and we won’t put it back down and forget about it when this is over. What has changed for the best in this? Do we do better at calling our grandparents? Are we doing better with our kids? Are we realizing that we don’t have to be at everything that comes up on the schedule?

I think another beautiful thing is that we can just learn to be real with each other better. Just to be up in the morning and not worry so much about what we look like. I cut my own bangs this week, and they are crooked. And I don’t even care.

What advice would you have especially for younger parents?

My (six) kids were young so long ago, yet so recently. It seems like just yesterday. You hear it all the time, but it’s so true and I feel it right now. It goes by like the snap of my fingers. So, the parents who are stuck in their homes with their kids, I just hope they see the beauty in that and enjoy it. Because this is a season. It might feel like forever when they are in it, but it will pass.

What’s happening with Summerama?

Everybody is asking that. It’s hard, because this is a time where we are normally ramping up for Summerama. We have hired our staff. They’re all looking forward to it. We had one training meeting. And now we have no idea. (We’ll make the decision soon.)

This is a hard place for me to be. When you are the type of person who is used to being in a leadership role, and now you can’t make a decision and it is out of your control, it’s really hard. I have to go back to hanging onto that rock.

How can we as a church family pray for you and your family?

Pray for covering, the safety of my kids who are out there. Especially our daughter Shaylee, who is a nurse and working with the COVID-19 patients in Chicago. She has asthma, and that’s why we are pretty concerned about her.

We have all these pictures along our stairway going from the entryway to upstairs, of the kids when they were little. There’s one that really captures my heart. A couple of them were sitting on my husband Chris’s back.

So I am thinking, this is where the rubber meets the road. We dedicated each of our kids to the Lord when they were babies. They belong to him, not us. That’s where with my kids, I just have to let go and let God. It’s a cliche saying, but it is so true.



0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Jeffery
Chris Jeffery
April 16, 2020 11:26 am

I love Kari’s honesty. And her heart. Seeing God as our Rock in this time of crisis is so inspiring and should give us courage to depend on the Lord in what He is doing behind the adversity. Your narrative is a blessing.