A letter from a younger me

Dear Sara,

Someday you will be 40 and only weeks away from graduating that curly-haired girl you call your oldest; that girl who was just in grade school yesterday. Life is going to change a lot between now and then. You will move. You will travel. Some friendships will come to an end. New ones will begin. There will be a death to some dreams and the birth of new ones, and in between there will be a sense of loss. The isolation of homeschooling won’t be forever and you will find yourself again.

One day, though, you will be forty, and you will be filled with regret and doubt and mama-guilt, even though right now you don’t believe in any of those things. You will wonder if you made the right choices, did the right things, spent those fleeting years wisely. You will question every parenting decision you ever made and you will doubt yourself to no end.

I want to remind forty-year-old you that you did the best you could in those years. It’s easy for you to look back now and see all the things you could have done differently and better. You are older and wiser, with more tools and more resources for handling life. You are not the same person you were when they were little. When they were little you did what you could to make it through each day. Some days were better than others, but you were there. You were present. You loved them the best you could. And you learned. You did not stay the same. You grew and changed and so did they. You leaned hard on Christ and you confessed to them when you were wrong, and they saw that we all need Jesus.

And in these teenage years, you all continue to grow and change, and one day you will be fifty and the last one will be out of the house and you will still likely question everything because that is what mamas do. At forty, with five girls in the house, there are hormones and feelings and opinions; they are legion and they are strong. But you will survive. And you will all be stronger for the process.

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Persist, dear mama, never give up. Hang on by your fingernails if necessary. Fight for those girls and fight for your marriage. Fight for the life God has called you to. He is good and He is faithful. And He is more than enough, even when you feel less than enough. Especially then, in fact.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Christmas and Life – 2017 Edition

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To all our Family and Friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you! The past couple of years since our last card have been a wild ride. We love hearing from family and friends near and far, and look forward to your cards every year!

Grace is in her senior year of high school here at home and looking ahead to what she will do after graduation. She has worked at Bobo’s Drive-In as a carhop for over a year and also interned at both Golden Rule and Haiti Lifeline this past summer. Grace loves hammocking and Trader Joe’s Chai Lattes.

Emma is a sophomore at the Vincent Academy for Girls. She has been a faithful part of the Golden Rule office staff for over a year and is also thinking ahead to what she wants to do after high school. Emma loves traveling and the show Stranger Things.

Chandler is a freshman at CPLS – that’s three high schoolers! Enrolling the younger three in school has been a good change for all of us and they are all growing in their new environment. Chandler traveled on her first team to Haiti this past October and fell in love with the little island that has captured all of our hearts. Chandler loves acting and spending time with her friends.

Ellie is a 7th grader at CPLS. Ellie tried her hand at sports for the first time this year, participating in the school’s junior high volleyball program. Watching her challenge herself and grow in something that doesn’t come naturally was fun to watch. Ellie loves Harry Potter and art projects.

Amania is in 5th grade at CPLS. She continues to be a natural on the soccer field and has decided to try her hand at basketball this winter. Like Ellie, it’s fun to watch her be challenged and learn some different skills. Her persistently positive outlook on life is a gift to our family. Amania loves school and her family.

We have also had the privilege of hosting Gemima Joseph in our home part-time for the past fifteen months. Gemima is a friend from Haiti, here to attend Johnson County Community College and eventually Washburn. We have learned a lot in our time with Gemima and are thankful she is here. Gemima loves warm weather and Reeses Pieces.

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Matt celebrated his 15th year in business this past February. We continue to look back in amazement at how God has blessed our little company and we are thankful to work with the best group of people around. The company has grown significantly in the past few years and we are excited to see what the future holds. Matt loves Starbucks coffee and scaring his office-mates.

I graduated from Washburn with my Bachelor of Social Work in May. Not everyone can spend twenty years completing a four-year degree, but I managed to make it happen. The past two years have brought some big changes as I transitioned from being at home full-time to working part time in two environments that I love – as support staff at the girls’ school and as the director of the Oasis Project with Haiti Lifeline. I’m so thankful to Matt and the girls for their flexibility and support as we all navigate new roles and expectations at home. I still love writing and the beach.

We hope that your holiday season is full of joy and laughter, and if it’s not, we pray you know God’s presence in the midst of it all. He is faithful, even when we are not, and He is good, even when life is hard. May you know the fullness of His love for you this coming year.

For His Glory ~

Sara, for the Vincent Seven

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Strings

Adoption comes with strings. And those strings are often a tangled ball of yarn. Or maybe it’s more like fishing line. Strands wrapped together and around each other so tightly you cannot tell where to begin to untangle the knot.

When we picked up Amania to bring her home, the orphanage director brought her birth parents to Lifeline to meet us and to tell her goodbye. This was a hard, beautiful, terrible, wonderful gift, and we have always been thankful. And my heart stopped when I saw them.

Our girl’s mama was great with child that day.

There are no words for what I felt when I saw her.

For over a year, Matt and I would travel back and forth to Haiti on teams, fully expecting that each one would be the team when we would see Amania’s baby brother or sister at Lifeline. But s/he never arrived and we sort of moved on mentally and hoped that one day we would be able to visit her home village and meet her family and ask the questions we didn’t have the wherewithal to ask that spring day in 2013.

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And then June came. I was there with our two oldest, leading a vocational team. Out on the front porch sat a man with a small child – not an unusual sight at Lifeline. But when I stopped and took a closer look, I knew that man. And the face of that child was like my own daughter’s face staring back at me.

There are no words for what I felt when I saw them.

Amania’s father was there to drop off this, their youngest daughter – the child mama was pregnant with when we picked Amania up four years ago – into the care of Lifeline. My knees buckled and my heart gave way.

My girls and I grieved our way through that week and Matt and I talked when I got home. Haiti’s adoption policies have changed drastically from 2011 and our hands felt (and still feel) tied. We shelved the conversation and went on with life, not sure what else we could do.

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And then came today. On Facebook we saw pictures from the orphanage director of little sister at the orphanage and my heart gave way again. We talked to all the girls – Amania first and privately – about the little one. And Amania handled it with strength and grace and I marvel at how God has empowered her to so confidently roll with every wild curve life has thrown at her. She amazes me, and I’m so glad I get the privilege of raising her.

But I find myself still reeling, the wind knocked out of me. The anger, the sadness, the helplessness I feel – they all seem too big to be contained. I don’t know where we go from here, and it’s hard to see God in this.

We will travel in a few weeks. I will see her and I will hold her and I will undoubtedly cry. I will pray for her and I will pray for God to show us clearly the next right thing that we need to do. There are no easy answers: there rarely are in life, there never are in Haiti.

I will pray – as I always do when traveling to Haiti – that God will reveal Himself; that He will show Himself faithful and present in Haiti.  And I will grieve. I will grieve for this sweet girl – a poverty orphan, victim of a broken world. I will give thanks that she is at least in a place where I know she will be cared for and we can see her regularly. But I will shamelessly grieve that another child is without a family tonight because her family cannot afford to feed her.

And I resolve to continue to fight to change that in the next generation. We cannot and will not ever fix Haiti. Only God and Haitians can fix Haiti. But we can make an impact, we can change the future for at least a few. We can empower them with tools and skills and resources to care for themselves and their future families. So that maybe, one day, there won’t be poverty orphans in Haiti. Instead, boys and girls will grow up in families that love them and can provide for their daily needs and the cycle of abandonment will begin to be broken and redemption and restoration will be written all across their land. Because God is in this.

But even if the cycle of poverty never changes, even if the number of orphans never declines, He is still God and He is still good. Not because I’m sitting safe and comfortable in my home in the United States, but because He is sitting next to me tonight in my grief and He is sitting next to that little girl at Lifeline in her confusion and sorrow, and He sits every day next to each and every Haitian as they face the daily struggle that is their life. He is with us all, even when it doesn’t seem possible.

There are not enough words for His goodness.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

 

Coming Home Again

Gosh I’ve missed this space. Coming back here feels like walking into a former home, like a going back in time. I am not the same person today that I was when I was last here.

The past few years have been hard. There has been pain. And I had to go away for a while to process it all. This year has been a year of restoring, of growth, of finding our way again.

I started a new blog, thinking that was the answer to finding my words again. I posted there once. Turns out this space is still my heart, but my heart wasn’t yet ready to open up again.

It’s strange, this season of life we are in. Our kids are no longer little and the stories and the struggles aren’t always as benign and innocent anymore, so we don’t share them as publicly, to protect and honor our daughters’ personal stories that are theirs alone to tell. It’s a good and beautiful season, but it’s often a very lonely season as we try to navigate a path that is constantly changing.

And our lives are no longer as isolated and individual. I used to feel a sense of security sometimes telling a story here or there, because by the time some random reader saw one of us in real life, most likely the rawness of the moment had passed and we could talk freely about this or that. But now we are out and about with real people every day and the processing has to be done before the story is set free and that’s much harder because so much of that processing honestly happened in this space.

So it’s been a year or two of relearning.

So much has happened since I was last here consistently. Our girls have grown and changed and it’s been hard and beautiful and often surreal. Three kids are in private school. I now work outside the home. We started a new branch of the non-profit we are involved in. We bought an investment property on a nearby lake. I travel to Haiti multiple times a year. Our business has grown exponentially.

Normally these types of things happen slowly. You go along each day in life until you pause and look back and see how much things have changed. But these things all seemed to happen in a Big Bang type explosion. One day life felt normal and then the next it had been completely upended and we had to find our way again.

And sometimes we could see God there with us. And sometimes it felt like we had imagined Him because how could he be there in all that pain? But now we have enough distance to be able to look and see that He was there all along.

We have a joke we send back and forth sometimes when life seems too ridiculous: “They say God gives you only what you can handle. Apparently God thinks I’m a bad-ass.”

And sometimes it feels like that as one thing after another comes our way. But we know deep down that God keeps sending us these trials and temptations and utter ridiculousness not because He thinks we are bad-asses, but because He wants us to be daily reminded that ultimately He’s the only one who is. We can do nothing of our own strength but we sure try, so He stretches us to the end of ourselves until we have no choice but to cling to Him and let Him do the work in us and through us and for us.

Ultimately that’s what these past few years have been – God continually reminding us that we aren’t as capable as we often think we are. That we need Him daily for every breath, for every step on the path. That just when we think we’ve got life under control, He’s still the one ultimately in control, and our safest place is resting fully in Him.

So we continually to do all these things He has called us to….

because it’s all For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Uncertainty

The scary part about exploring the dark places of the soul and taking lids off of boxes long shelved is never being sure what will be found inside. We have walked some shadowy places in recent years and we have doubted everything we’ve ever believed. Is God real? And if He’s real….is He good? (Which is a far scarier question in my mind.) Is there truth? Is there black and white? Or is it all varying shades of grey? What are the absolutes and how can we be sure? Everything feels entirely upended and out of sorts.

It’s been almost two years since the winter that undid us. I don’t really remember what our marriage was like before that. I’m sure I don’t remember it correctly. We are remaking us – as individuals and as a couple. And it’s hard. It’s messy. And it’s terribly unknown.

It’s uncomfortable living in all the uncertainty. Being take-charge people who like to have a plan, a direction, these years in shadowy places – wandering, wandering, endlessly, aimlessly wandering – they make me anxious. My skin starts to feel too small and my breathing becomes rushed.

I still have no answers. We still sit in the shadows. But one thing I know – most things are only frightening in the dark. Bring them to the light and our fears become smaller. And we find we are not alone.

So that’s what I’m doing today. I’m telling you that we desperately love Jesus, but we struggle with our faith in the goodness and trustworthiness of God sometimes. And we love each other, but marriage is hard and we want to quit sometimes. And we don’t need to be preached at, but we would love to be walked with. In honesty and grace. Because I know we are not alone. There are others who wrestle with the questions every day and sleep with doubt every night.

When Matt turned thirty, his mom took him out for lunch and told him to be aware, because this was the decade when our friends would start getting divorced. And almost ten years ago, I think we found that interesting and maybe possible, but a little hard to believe. But now, at the other end of that decade, we see it. And we know the struggle and the temptation and how hard you have to fight for and work on marriage. Daily.

Something similar is true with faith. It doesn’t grow in a vacuum. It must be fed and nurtured. But God is big enough for our doubts, so we bring them freely.

The internet is a much scarier place to bring those doubts, but you all know that’s how I roll. So I bring them, and I invite you to bring yours. Let’s create a safe place to wrestle with these mid-life questions and walk in the uncertainty together.

These Disconnected Interwoven Things

She has this box she keeps locked in a closet in her heart. In it are all the hurts and pains and losses of the past thirty-something years. She used to carry them with her, as a part of herself, in a way that was healthier, more whole. Until the hurts became too heavy and she couldn’t bear up under the weight anymore. So she tucked them all haphazardly into a box and put the lid on tight. And she pushed the box into a dark corner of the closet floor, behind happier memories and lighter times.

Every once in a while the lid threatens to come off the box. A comment is made, a memory is triggered, and the lid gets tipped. But she reaches in fast and puts the lid back on. Because the risk of that lid coming off is too great. The pain stuffed inside is too deep and seems endless and she doesn’t know if she could ever find a proper home in her heart for all of it.

Yet she knows that box cannot stay there forever. Pain like that has a way of demanding to be dealt with; forcing its way into the light. But she doesn’t know where to begin. There isn’t time in each day to properly work through the pain, to walk through the memories and find a place for each of them to live in their own broken freedom. She has seen the damage hiding can do, but she sees no alternative. Showing her brokenness could break them all.

 

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Waiting.

I’m nearly forty now, neither young nor old, but I know this: I could spend my whole life obsessing over THAT THING I’m currently waiting for. Because the waiting? The searching? The wondering?

It never ends. There’s always something OUT THERE. There’s always something just beyond my grasp. Maybe this is what it means to be alive: longing. There’s always something I’m looking for, and sometimes I find it. But often I don’t.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

~ Shawn Smucker, via emilyfreeman.com

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I read Shawn’s post on waiting this morning and it resonated. And I find myself waiting to write again. Waiting for a happy ending to come out of that dark season. Waiting to be able to tell the full story. Waiting for full redemption. Waiting for all the pieces to come together.

But what if there is still a story to be told now? A story written in the waiting? The story of learning to laugh again. The story of watching God rebuild and restore my family. The story of fighting for my children and my marriage and my ministry. The story of wanting to throw in the towel but never backing down. The story of surrender and staying soft.

There is a story there. And it requires taking the lid off the box. The risk is great. But maybe the time is now.

For His Glory ~

Sara

When You Want to Go Back in Time

A friend sent me these pictures yesterday. Five years ago, when all our babies were still babies, and each of us had one more child yet to join our families.

And I had the urge to give in to the ugly cry, but I was about to walk out the door, so I had to hold myself together.

So often lately I have had an intense longing to go back. To rewind time to a simpler season. I’ve been longing for our old homes and old places in life. Our family has done some hard growing up this year and we’ve entered a new, inevitable season. It’s one we’ve been working toward and that is ultimately good, but it hasn’t come without a cost. And I think that has opened up a window in my soul that longs for the past. And even though memories can be good, an unhealthy longing for those days is not productive because the past is not where we live.

Those earlier years, five years ago, and even before, they were simpler times. Not easier. Not by a mile. Those days were hard. And, mamas, don’t ever let someone tell you otherwise. But there is a simplicity to the days of feedings and naps and early bedtimes. There is a simplicity to grade school and third grade math and schedules that can be contained. And ten years from now, I’m sure I will see that this season is its own sort of simpler time too.

I have a woman I look up to who told me once something along the lines of, “First you have babies and toddlers and it’s hard, but it’s the best thing ever. Then they get older and you have teens and it’s hard, but it’s the best thing ever. Then they grow up and go to college and get married. And they move away and you have grandbabies and it’s just you and your husband again. And it’s hard but it’s the best thing ever.”

Every stage of parenting is hard and exhausting. There’s no getting around that. Every stage also comes with abundant joys and rewards. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder for them. Life is about change; nothing stays the same. For those of us that don’t love change, that can be hard. But if we can learn to weather the storms and enjoy the beauty of each season, we just might find that change often brings the best things ever.

For His Glory ~

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When Grace Shines Through

Barely old enough to buy the champagne we toasted with, we took vows and we promised forever and I felt safe and you had hope and we walked back down that aisle with grand plans but no idea what the future held.  And a decade and a half later we woke up in the middle of our hurried thirties with five kids and a business and a million responsibilities, next to a person we thought we knew too well but maybe didn’t know at all.

And we both broke vows and we broke each other’s hearts and you lost hope and I built walls to keep myself safe.  And we almost lost it all.

But hope holds on and safety can be found when we refuse to let go.  And for a year now we have fought, often with each other, but also for each other.  And we have learned that it’s possible to fall in love with the same person over and over and over again.  We’ve learned that forgiveness comes at a cost but it is worth the price because redemption is our reward.

And on nights when I want to give up and make my own safety behind those walls, on nights when you lose hope and we wonder if we will ever be us again, God reminds me that our surrender is to Him because our trust is in Him, and we must choose to stay soft toward one another and always assume the best.  Because this love is real and true and imperfect and broken, but in all those broken places, His grace shines through.

Sometimes I wake up with the sadness
Other days it feels like madness
Oh…what would I do without you?

When colours turn to shades of grey
With the weight of the world at the end of the day
Oh…what would I do without you?

A decade goes by without a warning
And there’s still a kindness in your eyes
Amidst the questions and the worries
A peace of mind, always takes me by surprise.

I feel like I’m walking with eyes as blind
As a man without a lantern in a coal mine
Oh…what would I do without you?

My imagination gets the best of me
And I’m trying to hide lost at sea
Oh…what would I do without you?

The difference between what I’ve said and done
And you’re still standing by my side
A guilty soul and a worried mind
I will never make it, if I’m on my own

So you’ve got the morning, I’ve got midnight
You are patient, I’m always on time
Oh…what would I do without you?

You’ve got your sunshine, I’ve got rainclouds
You’ve got hope, I’ve got my doubts

Oh…what would I do without you?
Oh…what would I do without you?
Oh…what would I do without you?

~ Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Rise

I just dropped these two off for a Shadow Day at Cair Paravel.  It was possibly one of the more surreal-feeling moments of my time as a mom.  I’m sure all moms go through this when their sweet ones are five and going off to kindergarten, or sooner for preschool or day care.  I know this is a common feeling, but I also believe it’s maybe a little different, a little unique, after years of home schooling to be looking at doing something different.

A week from tomorrow I head back to Haiti.  My third trip in six months.  There are few things more uncomfortable for me than traveling to Haiti and yet God keeps sending me back.  He has a funny sense of humor.

A lot of changes have been happening in our home, a lot more are to come.  Things have been quiet here because fear has locked up my words, quieted my voice.  God has been taking me deep places; places that needed to be walked through with just Him, but now transparency feels dangerous, even though so much healing has always been found there.  Some changes are still shadowy things that can’t be shared here yet, but big things are happening and will come to light soon enough and hopefully my words will come too.

God grows us if we are willing to let Him.  For years I have written of how He has used the small and unseen things of life to stretch me and make room in my heart for more of Him.  And more recently He has begun to work in the large spaces of our family life to shape us and take us to new places.  And it seems that in each of these seasons, He works in me to make me less, to burn me down, to make something new.

The legendary phoenix is a large, grand bird, much like an eagle or peacock. It is brilliantly colored in reds, purples, and yellows, as it is associated with the rising sun and fire.  Its eyes are blue and shine like sapphires. It builds its own funeral pyre or nest, and ignites it with a single clap of its wings. After death it rises gloriously from the ashes and flies away.*

Each of my tattoos tells a story, permanent reminders of the story God is writing in my life.  At some point I will need to find a new way to write that story, or I’m going to run out of skin, but for now, these are things I want to carry with me always and they each serve as an ebenezer (a stone of help), testifying to what God has done.

hope – an anchor for the soul that gives wings to the heart

vincens – latin for overcomer

because God makes me brave  – “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” {2 Timothy 2:7}

After this past season, after being burned down to nothing a year ago, I needed to tell a big story of a big God doing a big thing.  And so I began work on a large piece.

beauty for ashes {the rest will be filled in over the next several weeks; also – it is surprisingly difficult to take a photo of your own arm with your non-dominant hand}

The story of the phoenix resonates deep within me.  Burned down to be raised again, more beautiful each time it is resurrected.  God has used many things to burn me down time and time again.  He is faithful to make me less so that He may be more.  And He is faithful to make me new each time, hopefully always more like Christ than I was before.

And so as I feel the fiery trials burning around us once again, I know that He is giving us beauty for ashes.  He is good and we will rise.

For His Glory ~

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*http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/ancient-symbolism-magical-phoenix-002020#sthash.IzgIVIcR.dpuf

A Story Without an Ending

About eight weeks ago it was the week before Christmas.  Finals were over.  Shopping was done.  The house was decorated.  And I was ready to relax and enjoy my Christmas break.

And then I got a Facebook message from my friend Connie.  It said this:

Hey Sara, this is Connie. I am looking for a speaker to join our program for the January Expresso. I apologize for the late notice, but I’m having a hard time finding the person God has for us. Maybe you? There is absolutely no pressure as i want this to be a God thing. As I was working on in, I thought since TBC sponsored Haiti Lifeline for their Christmas project maybe you sharing some of your experiences and story would be perfect. Melissa [G] is lined up to share that night and I would love it if you would give this some prayerful consideration. It is January 12th and I would be happy to help you in any way with questions, format etc. Let me know what you think {smile emoticon} Merry Christmas!!!

And I cussed in my head.  Every cuss word I could think of.  I may have even made some new ones up.  Merry Christmas, indeed.  *humph*

And though I firmly told God “no”, still I spoke. I spoke on Haiti and our involvement and those feelings I had cloaked and closeted for six years.  And I got vulnerable in ways that I desperately needed to but hadn’t in a very, very, very long time.  And God broke my heart so badly again but then He began healing me and putting those pieces together.  The balm of transparency and Christian sisterhood is like no other.  That night, as hard as it was and as hard as I tried to get out of it, was a gift.

Below is the script from what I shared that night.  For those that know me personally, the audio link can be found on my Facebook page.  This may be the one and only time you’ll hear me say that I feel like I spoke better that night than what I wrote, so listen if you have time.  But if you’re like me and would prefer to read, or don’t have access to the link, keep reading.

Good evening! This is our family. My husband Matt, myself, and our five girls.  Many of you are familiar with our family, particularly with Matt and his involvement in and leadership of Haiti Lifeline here in Topeka. I gave my testimony here at Expresso seven or eight years ago and that was hard as I shared about my history of abuse and less-than-great life choices before marriage. Then I shared a couple of years ago at iMom about modesty and that was hard because my views on that topic don’t always line up with the more conservative lines of thinking, so I was nervous to share in church. But I can honestly say that tonight’s topic has put me on my face before God more than anything I’ve shared about before. And the good news is, that means He’s still molding me and shaping me and giving me new experiences to help me grow. The bad news is, I’m really not very old yet, and I’m slightly terrified of what He might put in my life for my next Expresso topic! Haha

When Connie asked me to share tonight and she asked me to specifically share on our family’s involvement with Haiti, I laughed. Really, really hard. Then I copied the Facebook message and sent it to Matt and he laughed with me. And then I firmly told God “no” and I told Him this was too much to ask. My feelings on this topic were too fresh, too raw, and this was just too soon. I may have spent the past several weeks pouting to God that this just isn’t fair.

My story of our involvement in Haiti is uncomfortable and unexpected. And most people aren’t quite ready to hear it when I start to tell it. But Connie assured me you all could be brave with me as I unpack how God has used this ministry over the past six years to remind me again and again how desperately I need Him.

Talking about our involvement in the ministry makes me feel like this:

To give a little background for those that may not know, Haiti Lifeline Ministries began in 1999 in answer to a call to support the orphan and widow, to meet the need of the helpless and fatherless. HLM exists to provide food, shelter, education, and medical care to those in need.   We exist to share the love of Jesus with the people of Haiti, to be His hands and feet by meeting tangible needs such as food, clothing, medical care, shelter, education, and more.

Our family became actively involved in Haiti Lifeline Ministries in 2010, right after the earthquake. Matt’s brother and sister were on the ground in Haiti when the earthquake happened, six years ago today. Their team (traveling through HLM) was stuck there for two or three days as everyone in the country scrambled to find a way out and we sat at home watching the images of pain and suffering roll endlessly across our television screen. We, like many, felt driven and compelled to give, to act, to do something. So we organized a citywide garage sale with all proceeds going toward the ministry. And God showed up in amazing ways – through the use of a local church building, through more donations than we could hold, and through overwhelming community support and generosity. Upwards of $18,000 was raised that weekend and we were in awe of our very big God and His very big love for this very small nation.

Before that sale I had wanted to become involved in HLM for at least a year or two already. I wanted to travel. I wanted to go serve and get plugged in. Matt was busy with work, he didn’t have time, nor did he have a desire. He loved to give, not go. But I needed an outlet, something that got me out of stay-at-home-mom mode and made me feel like I had an identity and Matt supported my desire to go, to be involved somewhere, anywhere. I really wanted HLM to be my outlet, my “thing”.

In the days and weeks after the sale, however, others began to approach Matt about going and I would practically stand in front of him and say, “No, wait, pick me! Pick me!”, all while he stood in the back saying “No, I can’t go. Work is too busy. I’m sender, not a go-er.” Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. But it was like they never saw me. No one ever asked me to go. No one even recognized my desire.

So I stepped back. I laid that desire on the altar and began to push Matt to go. I could see that the Lord really did want him to go and that he needed to go. And so, with much reluctance and a lot of persuasion, he went on his first traveling team (along with TBC’s Tim Shultz) in January 2011. And God got a hold of his heart, like God does on trips like that. Matt came home charged up and on fire. Driven by the need they had seen and their compulsion to act, Matt and Tim and several others that were involved locally, began to meet to establish and implement new programs.   And because my gifts are administration and organization, I thought I had found my place to serve. I was going to get plugged in!

Meanwhile, we also decided to adopt after Matt’s first trip. On that trip in January, he had been texting me photos of the kids, of Haiti, of everything. And one day this tiny girl popped up on the screen of my Blackberry and I knew – KNEW – this was my child. And Matt knew it too, but neither of us said anything to each other until after he got home and we had time to debrief and download together. But we agreed and we knew that bringing her into our home was the next right step. So in addition to home schooling and assisting in the GR office, I was also now the chief executive officer of adoption paperwork and we were unknowingly beginning a two year long pregnancy.

Because of my multitude of responsibilities and being wired in such a way that I don’t often rush, I didn’t move quite fast enough for Matt and the things I was tasked with in the ministry he would usually end up doing himself. In his defense, I know he felt like he was just taking something off of my already full plate. He was never intentionally pushing me out of the ministry, but slowly that’s what happened.

I don’t know at what point exactly I began to check out of the ministry and the business. I’m sure it began when I started to realize I wasn’t really needed. Then, I came home from my first trip in February 2012 simultaneously moved and impacted and also completely disillusioned with the entire experience. Looking back, I know that my experience and take-away had more to do with how God created me and the environment that I was placed in, but at the time Satan capitalized on the opportunity to convince me it was because there was something wrong with me and doubts were planted in my mind and division was planted in our marriage. And Satan was patient to let them both grow, faithfully feeding the doubt and the division for three long years.

I would end up traveling to Haiti two more times before fully checking out. I felt an expectation – mostly from myself – to be engaged, to love this place and this ministry as much as my husband did. I felt a deep deep insecurity because we weren’t doing ministry together like we had always thought and dreamed we would, and it felt so much like we were drifting apart. But every time I returned from Haiti I became more discouraged about my role in the ministry and its place in our marriage, and to protect myself from my own sense of failure, from the discomfort that came from the disconnect, I built walls and decided I didn’t care about it. But then those walls began to expand into other areas of our marriage and relationship until we were finally living more like roommates than lovers and best friends. And there’s a certain sense of shame that comes – at least for me – when your husband, your family, sort of became the face of an organization that you care about and support and are deeply invested in, but also kind of sort of secretly wish it would just go away so you can just stop talking and hearing about it – being reminded of the mistress it has become for your husband – filling him in ways you no longer do.

During this time Matt had also hired help for the office – both the business and the ministry. And so, the small role I had in both of those arenas was now given to someone else. And these changes were needed and had (and still have) my full support. I could no longer do the amount of work that needed to be done because of the girls’ school commitments and other obligations, but I had no idea the impact relinquishing that role would have on my confidence and sense of security in our marriage.

As Matt continued to excel in both business and ministry – becoming more deeply involved in HLM’s daily operations while maintaining his growing business, I began to sink farther down. I was homeschooling our children – a calling, yes, but one that left me feeling empty, drained, and like a failure because I couldn’t meet my own expectations or the expectations I felt from the world. I felt myself becoming invisible, unseen, insignificant. It seemed that my role was to hold down the fort at home while Matt chased dream after dream in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the online world was telling me to chase MY dreams, to fulfill MY purpose. But I didn’t know what that looked like anymore or how to do that while home schooling four (and eventually five) children.

When Amania came home I once again faced the chasm between expectation and reality. Other than minor hiccups, I think most of the family, most people that know us, would say Amania fit right in like she’s always been here. Except with me. Our connection feels anything but natural and I haven’t yet experienced that “knitting together” or real sense of bondedness that is often alluded to in adoption literature. An awkward distance hangs between us, an elephant in the room that I’m sure we both recognize, and my other girls as well. And I often remind myself of that day in January 2011 when I saw that first picture and my heart and my spirit said clearly “That’s my child!”. But Satan does not fail to water those seeds of doubt and fear and failure as he tempts me to build my walls ever-higher.

The summer after she came home, we moved. Because we are crazy people. And we left the house I loved and that had been our home for nearly ten years to move to one that made a thousand percent more sense for our family, but felt nothing like home. And instead of spending that summer resting and healing and bonding as a family, we spent that summer repairing and packing and finding our way.

This was the pattern we continued in for another year or so – Matt dreaming, leading, going; me fading, dying, staying.

*****

It’s important to know that I’ve carried depression as part of my story for twenty years now, beginning with a major depressive episode when I was in high school, then settling into a predictable seasonal sadness that was manageable with supplements and essential oils and trips to the tanning bed.  But then November 2014 came and it was as if I was pushed, emotionally, off of some great cliff into a darkness that still escapes description or explanation.  And I wrestled for weeks, months, to grasp hold of something, anything to make sense of it all. The ministry had truly become Matt’s mistress and we both seemed resigned to living parallel lives, clinging to our marriage because we knew it was the right thing to do; going to bed every night with Satan whispering to us both “You should just leave. It would all be so much easier if you two were apart. Everyone would be happier.”

This continued all winter and as February wrapped up and March entered in with hope of spring and sunshine and relief for my worn out soul, every time I thought I was making progress, gaining a foothold, getting on top of the wave that was this drowning depression and dying marriage, it was as if someone would come and physically shove me back under, to the bottom.  Until I decided I was done fighting whatever, whoever, it was that was holding me under.

I felt like a pawn in someone else’s game.  I had prayed with no response.  I had asked God to show me what sin or error might have put me here.  Silence.  I asked others to pray for me.  Relief, then back under.  So finally I surrendered.  I was in a pit and I was going to sit there until God came back to get me. My faith was crumbling, but I had just enough left to believe He would.  Eventually.  Only because He had done it before.

CS Lewis writes, “It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.  All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this.  I can’t.”

So I decided I would sit.  Because I couldn’t strive anymore. But I was angry with God.  So angry.  I was empty and defeated.  I had no kind words to say to Him or about Him.  I felt completely abandoned.  I felt like He had turned His back on me.  I didn’t understand what was going on and I truly didn’t know if I could continue to trust a God who played people like chess pieces, who allowed broken hearts and broken lives.  Who allowed devastation around the world and in my own home.  It felt like too much to bear.

Ellie Holcomb wrote at Easter last spring:

“Betrayed. My stomach turns at the word. I remember vividly when someone I loved dearly and deeply turned into an enemy. There was a proverbial knife in my back and I was hurt, angry, and aching. I wonder how many of you have walked through betrayal. It is awful. You’re powerless to stop the pain and you keep wishing in vain that it could somehow be a different story.

Jesus wished it could be a different story, too. Just before this scene in Mark where He is betrayed by Judas and arrested, He was in a garden on his knees in deep distress, begging His Father to take the cup (Mark 14:35). Jesus knew what was coming and that it would feel unbearable. He’d asked His three dearest friends on earth to pray for Him, too—but three times, He comes to find them asleep. In His deepest hour of need, dreading what lies before Him, His friends can’t even keep their eyes open.

Son of Man, Son of God, Living Word—betrayed for our sake. He drinks the cup of death that we deserve, so that our cups might overflow.

He was arrested so we could be set free. 

He was deserted so we could know we’re never alone.

He was betrayed so we could be held in the arms of Love.”

While I sat in that pit, Jesus was writing a different story, a deeper story.  He was writing what He writes best – redemption.  While I wrestled and strived with God, Jesus began a miracle work of healing and restoration.  Because He knows what it is to feel as though God has turned His back on you (although we know God never truly does).  As He prayed in the Garden and all His friends slept, and then ran away.  As He hung on that cross and God turned His own broken heart away for the sin Christ bore…..Jesus knew what it was to be completely alone in the darkest place imaginable.

Sometimes we don’t understand the things that happen to us.  Sometimes the hard things in our life are part of a story God is writing in someone else’s life.  But sometimes He gives us the opportunity to choose the direction the story will go.  I thought this past winter this ministry would cost me everything – my mind, my marriage, my faith.  I had nothing to hold on to. God allowed that.  And that’s still hard to rest in nearly a year later.  But God has allowed other dark seasons in my life, seasons that I also thought would cost me everything – truly right down to my life.  But He wasn’t finished writing.  And He isn’t still.  As a writer, I understand that stories often take unexpected and painful turns, and if our characters were humans with free will, they would no doubt rail against the author in anger and confusion.  And while human authors write countless different stories with good and bad endings, my God only writes one kind of ending in the lives of His children – restoration and redemption.  Truth, beauty, and hope.  He will restore what the locust has eaten. He will redeem.  He will make all things new.

And He has, little by little. Because He is faithful, even when He makes no sense. Matt and I both began to see how we were destroying our marriage – him with his all-or-nothing drive, me by building walls and checking out. And he committed to putting some of that energy back into us. And I committed to re-engaging and tearing down walls again.

This past year has been a gradual rebuilding both of our faith and our marriage – often two steps forward, one step back. After a clear and precious sign from God that it was time for me to try again – when I who never gets letters from Haiti got a letter from Haiti the day after praying for a sign! I traveled to Haiti in November and can honestly say I still don’t “get it”, I mean, I get it, but I still don’t connect like others do, but it was the best team experience I’ve had and I will go again because it is important to my marriage and because I believe God is using it in my life in ways I still don’t understand. And I’m learning the power of being small and that it is okay to dream small dreams – like simply being a housewife and loving on and serving women in the best ways I can – through words and transparency and sharing real life. He’s teaching me to stop feeling invisible and unseen and instead recognize that I am but small and hidden in Christ. That sometimes the world needs some smaller dreams and smaller goals – people who are willing to sit in the shadows or stand on the sidelines, who will do the work that goes unseen. Because God sees. And God has purpose in it all. And I’m recognizing the life- and death-giving power of expectations and the importance of whose expectations we are living for. The world’s expectations will only wear us down and bring death. But God’s expectations, His perfect plans for us, bring life and hope and peace.

And as I look back on our past six years of ministry involvement, I can see God’s hand in many ways:

  • A child sponsorship program instituted
  • A medical clinic built and stocked
  • The involvement of more churches across the state and across the nation (including TBC)
  • Countless people involved, including dozens from TBC
  • TBC’s incredible, generous giving this past Christmas to the One Body project
  • Hearts changed and eyes opened to the deep needs in the world
  • Growing from 2 teams in 2011 to 9 this year
  • Our fifth daughter joining our family
  • Lifelong friends made through ministry and adoption
  • My children given hearts for Haiti and a vision for need around the world
  • A bigger view of God and how He rarely gives us what we think we most want, but always gives us what we most need, and how He may lead us to the bottom of the pit, but He will wait with us there and carry us back out.

God is big and mysterious and His ways are higher, and often harder, than our ways.  And sometimes that’s scary and confusing and hard to swallow.  But He is good.  And He is true.  And when I had lost almost all faith, that is what I clung to.

Restoration is not complete for me and as I met with Connie last week to talk about tonight, I told her how much I wished I could wrap this all up with a nice big bow and tell you how we’ve come full-circle and how this ministry is as fulfilling for me as it is for Matt and that I can’t wait to go back and that I see all the purpose in all the pain through all the years, but this time I can’t. This is a story in progress and God is still writing the ending. I will tell you, though, that I’ve come to believe that if we are willing to go to God with our hurt and our pain and release it all to Him, He is faithful to create glory out of it. My God, He writes redemption and He writes hope and He writes truth and goodness – even in the midst of the pain. And so I know that He is writing a good ending for this story too.

For His Glory ~

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