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 ~

Signature

Brave Trust: Stay Soft {One Word for 2016}

2015 gave the word brave and it had its own anthem:

I stand before You now
The greatness of your renown
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
Your grace

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Bethel Music – You Make Me Brave

And that theme carried me through the year as God called me out into the water and the unknown again and again and again.  And in November I began to get a feeling for what His word for me would be for 2016.  It was trust but it wasn’t.  So I kept asking, seeking, praying.  And God showed me how my fear, my lack of trust, causes me now to throw up walls, to push people away, to become hardened, almost in an instant.  And then I knew, my word embodying the idea of trustand taking a cue from a friend: soft.  A softness that signifies being open, being vulnerable, being free from chains and walls and fear.

And already, only nine days into the year, it feels He’s asking too much and fear wants to wrap its ugly arms around my heart, and truth fights to keep the walls down, to keep my heart set free, and soft.  And 2016 is given an anthem as well.  A song to carry me through the unknown days and uncharted waters that lie ahead….

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So, in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation; the rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

Lauren Daigle, I Will Trust in You

“There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood”  – Whatever this year holds, He’s already been there.  Whatever tomorrow brings, He is good.

Here’s to 2016: a year of brave trust and staying soft.

For His Glory ~

Signature

Farewell, 2015 {And Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out}

It’s been a quiet year here.  This post will make seventeen for the whole year.  There was a time I would post that in a month.  And I miss this space, I miss the writing, I miss my readers.  I miss sharing and growing together.  But the words just haven’t come.  It’s been a year of quiet introspection and working things out with pen and paper and God. And it’s like my public words are locked in some great vault and they are numerous – so many things I want to say and share – but I wait for someone to come and turn the key.

But as I look back on this last day of 2015, on a year that I am more than happy to see go, on a year that has taught me more than I was ever brave enough to ask about myself, my relationships, and my Jesus, I know that I am ending the year with deeper appreciation for all three, a deeper understanding, a deeper peace in Christ than I knew to be possible twelve months ago.

Sometimes God takes us places we would never ask to go, places we think He would never ask us to go, and in those places we learn things about Him and about ourselves that we never would have known otherwise.  And we can choose to become bitter or we can choose to let Him make us better; we can choose to nurse our hurt and shut the world out or we can let Him use those places we would not go to lead us to places we’ve always wanted to be.

This is…what God desires of each of His children. He wants us to be ‘more than conquerors,’ turning storm clouds into chariots of victory. It is obvious when an army becomes ‘more than conquerors,’ for it drives its enemies from the battlefield and confiscates their food and supplies. This is exactly what this Scripture passage means. There are spoils to be taken!

Dear believer, after experiencing the terrible valley of suffering, did you depart with the spoils? When you were struck with an injury and you thought you had lost everything, did you trust in God to the point that you came out richer than you were before? Being ‘more than a conqueror’ means taking the spoils from the enemy and appropriating them for yourself. What you enemy had planned to use for your defeat, you can confiscate for your own use.

~ Streams in the Desert, December 18

Looking back on the past twelve months, fear has wanted to shut the world out but God has reminded me to be brave and so I keep tearing walls down and letting God do what He needs to do in my heart.  And looking back on the past twelve months, I see the spoils I have taken from the enemy.  What Satan had planned to use for my defeat, for my utter destruction, God has confiscated for His own glory and my good.  And He has taken this hard, dark year, and made it a thing of incredible beauty.

As we look forward to 2016 so many things feel unknown, as they should.  And my heart, even after all I’ve learned this year, my panicked, terrified heart wants to guard itself and enforce every measure of control I can imagine in my little world.  Yet, I know that’s not God’s way or God’s best.  So I keep tearing down walls, I keep being brave.  I choose to stay soft, to trust, to follow Him, wherever the next twelve months take us.  Because I know He is good.

For His Glory ~

Signature

Week in Review: 2015 {August & September}

Oh, hi there little blog.  I’ve missed you.  But it’s been good to continue to process some things alone and on paper for a while.  I hope to get back to posting soon, but for now, just a quick recap of the past two months plus pictures and some counting of the gifts, because I’m reminded how much my soul still needs that.  Daily.

August started with Grace’s birthday.  I didn’t do a post on her this year and I’m conflicted about that.  The girls don’t love our social media presence, so I tried to respect that by not doing a whole post, but it’s been tradition and a way I try to honor the girls every year, so I feel like I skipped part of the birthday experience.  She’s still one of my favorites, even if I didn’t write about her.  🙂

After that was back-to-school.  I may have had my own little temper tantrum over it all and seriously questioned our decision to keep them home again.  But then I pulled on my big-girl panties and chose to embrace it all, and so far, the year is going very well.

I started school the week after the girls.  I’m having a great time stretching my brain with Human Anatomy and Applied Behavior Analysis.  I’m still so thankful for the opportunity to take classes again.

September came with Matt’s brother getting married and Labor Day and my birthday.  Also, our 4th annual Capitol Craze run and time with friends from out of town.  The rest of the month flew by and now I find myself on October 6th drinking coffee and reflecting on the first 7 weeks of school.

Life is good.  God is good.  Even when life is hard.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

This sweet bird took refuge under Ellie’s chair at dinner after one of the owls in our backyard tried to make it his dinner.

Ellie’s depiction of Heaven based on the book of Revelation.

The throne of the River of Life.

Yep, that’s Hell. #speechless

This book, a gift from a friend.  Books that touch hearts make the very best gifts, in my opinion.

A new planner makes the idea of a new school year more bearable.  And I’m still seriously in love with this planner.

Copy all the things.  Homeschooling isn’t “green”.

Last day of summer break perfection.

And the first day of school.

Love notes to give me courage and make me laugh.

A little bit of studying.

Wondering why my human anatomy class doesn’t include making models of an osteon from food….

Product testing by the 15 year old.

Testing out the race slide.

Relaxing with Ellie while the others rock it out withe LeCrae.

Fall sunrise

This quote stays with me and I find it’s something I’m still learning….

I’d have to learn a different kind of dancing, the kind that stands still.  The kind that leans into the sure arms of a mysterious and unfathomable God and allows Him to lead, even when she doesn’t know where He is leading.  Because sometimes God fights for His girl in ways she never imagined.

Michelle Cushatt, Undone

And the gifts…..

3261.  restful weekends

3262. a fifteen year old

3263.  a school year almost ready to go

3264. messes and projects and practice seeing past them

3265. sweet middle of the night texts that encourage

3266.  taking a step back and giving thanks

3267. citronella oil and bug spray

3268. poolside date and a bottle of wine

3269. the slow winding down of summer

3270. early classes and the easing back into routine

3271. sunshine, ice cream, and pool time – end of summer break perfection

3272. beautiful Fridays

3273. a school year under way

3274. the glory that surrounds the everyday

3275. Sundays

3276. and Mondays

3277. songs that speak love and life

3278. school

3279. brisk mornings; a sweet taste of fall before summer really ends

3280. errands and good talks with #2

3281. almost-perfect weather

3282. good, normal days

3283. time to walk at the lake

3284. long weekends

3285. taking a deep breath

3286. perfect weddings

3287. birthday blessings

3288. perfect weather

3289. soft sunsets

3290. Capitol Craze #4

3291. tests to study from

3292. hard marriage weeks

3293. surgery and a recovery that doesn’t go as planned

3294. excellent care from doctor and family

3295. soup deliveries

3296. happy scores on tests

3297. slow healing

3298. disappointment and a God with a plan

As I look back on that list, I see a choosing to give thanks in the every day for the every day.  Life is not always glorious or glamorous, but it is always good.  And God is always good.  Even when life is hard.*

Happy October, friends.

For His Glory ~

Signature

 *yes, I intentionally wrote that twice in one post 😉 Because I need the reminder every day.

2015: Week in Review {June & July}

Does anyone else find it funny that I’m still calling these “Week in Review”?

The past two months have been a wonderful level of slow and uncommitted, interrupted by brief pockets of hold-onto-your-hats busy.  There have been a lot of pool days and no schedule and figuring out meals as they happen.  It’s the disconnect my soul needed.

June and July, in pictures and captions….

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

It was the gift of this Bible study this summer.  So thankful for the She Reads Truth community.

It was these two baking up something in kitchen.

It was a loooong day of clothes shopping and some very worn out girls.

It was a pair of adorable, naughty bunnies taking refuge in the bathroom.

It was a little (or a lot) too much time on screens.

It was these beauties and endless rain and flowers that are still alive on August 7th.

It was time with girls and God-glory shining everywhere.

It was a lot of this view.

It was Matt on the go-kart that wouldn’t go and the “family fun night” that was exactly what I needed that week.


It was celebrating the life and legacy of fifty years of marriage.

It was the installation of my new favorite outdoor space.

I

It was this girl turning 12.

It was the #BurritoLife #FundraiserLife #SendGraceToHaitiLife.

It was a power outage and making the best of things.

It was strolling the pet store and these puppies living the life.

It was lunch with #2 at my favorite coffee shop.

It was coping with the discovery of two dead mice in the storage closet. (Sidenote: I didn’t actually drink the whole bottle of wine….)

It was Camp Enosh for these two.

It was dinner at our favorite local burger joint.

It was burning through this book and being left really mad at the author.  I can’t take these novels with the bad endings.  😐

It was an evening in the ER with this guy.  We never really defined what happened, but all signs point to heat stroke.

It was celebrating 16 years of marriage.

It was my foodie-photographer-in-training.

And it was never getting enough of this.

And never stopping giving thanks and listing the gifts…

3225.  Summer Sizzle – year 4

3226.  getting words on paper

3227.  sunshine and humidity

3228.  flowers, birds, green trees

3229.  blue water and an open pool

3230.  words to ponder and pray over

3231. patio weather and long date nights

3232. long weeks, time by the pool, and the things that did get done

3233.  shopping days with five girls

3234.  space to clear my head

3235.  beautiful skies and time outside

3236.  two solid miles with a friend

3237.  God-glimpses into a bigger story

3238.  surviving the crazy and savoring the slow

3239.  deep words that speak truth about God – His faithfulness, HIs trustworthiness, His goodness

3240.  thunderstorm and candlelight

3241.  timely, specific, God-gift answers to prayer

3242.  time with my oldest

3243.  long date nights

3244. friendship

3245. journaling and words

3246.  summer heat waves

3247. high school missions trips

3248. my people

3249. the promise of sleep

3250. rain and thunder

3251. a chlorine reading on the pool 🙂

3252. daily notes from my beloved

3253. unconventional anniversaries

3254. Camp Enosh

3255. school ordered

3256. friendship

3257. sunshine & deck chairs

3258. cool weather, screen porch, and the oldest on her way home from Haiti

3259. a husband on the mend

3260. baby steps toward a new (school) year

May your weekend be filled with just enough sunshine, just enough shade, just enough work, just enough fun, and a whole lot of God’s goodness.

For His Glory ~

Signature

Keeping Vows

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Sixteen years ago, just babies ourselves, we took a vow and said “I do” and we promised all our tomorrows with barely any yesterdays behind us.

And we made a love and made a home and we birthed babies and birthed a business. And somewhere along the way our lives got busy. Yours with your work and your ministry. Mine with our house and our home school. And we had one of the strongest marriages I knew, yet somehow we lost ourselves and we lost us.

Then one day we both woke up and realized we were in bed with a stranger. A stranger we had been married to for a decade and a half. And we looked in the mirror and a stranger met us there too. And we searched, to find ourselves and to find each other again.

And this sixteenth anniversary feels a bit like that first year. Two people committed to life together, learning to know one another again. Two people trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in the world and in each other’s life. Two people trying to make a way together. To make a love and a life that will last.

And as we look ahead, I won’t lie, I look ahead with a little bit of fear. Because this year was a road I never expected for us and it was a year I thought “us” as we knew it might be over. And I know there is no iron-clad guarantee we won’t go there again, except grace.

But I also look forward even more with hope. Because God is a God of abundant mercy and He delivered us from that dark pit and He is doing a new thing in our marriage. And because He has called us to Himself and to each other and He will make a way. And because He has brought gifts out of that dark season, gifts we may not have received any other way.

And so I see beauty and grace rising from ashes. I see Him making a valley of suffering into a door of hope. And I see Him making two an even stronger one, all entwined in His love.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

For His Glory ~

Signature

Celebrating the Middle

She turned twelve a little over two weeks ago.  I’ve been slow to post because life has been moving fast everywhere else.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

The past year has been a bit dicey as tween-sized hormones brought tensions and mood swings and battles that are becoming old hat in this household of girls, but they’re battles just the same.  Yet underneath those battles over food and clothes and hair, that same gentle soul still lives.  She still loves all the animals and all the people.  She is still the generous servant who would give you the shirt off her back and help you put it on.  She has dreams of going to nursing or medical school and becoming a medical missionary.  She loves to run mostly, I think, because she can encourage the other runners as she goes.  She got braces this year and the long-coveted Miley Cyrus hair cut (not pictured 😉 ).  She handles life with grace and selflessness and she’s a blessing to anyone that knows her.  Miss Chandler.  My favorite middle child.

Gold

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Fifty years ago their story began in a Catholic church in northeast Kansas.  And while there are parts of their story I know they would probably rewrite or change if they could, every part of their story wrote our story. And their story has written a legacy of serving others, giving generously.  Their story has written a legacy of two children happily married, families serving Christ.  Their story is leaving a legacy of faithfulness and perseverance and hope.  Their story isn’t a fairy tale, but no true story is.  Their story is written in Christ.  And their story is redemption.

Happy 50th Anniversary to my parents.  Thank you for giving us a legacy of love.

For His Glory ~

Signature

Week in Review: 2015 {May}

I just dropped the oldest girl off at the church for a week at camp.  I wish these camps had been available when the girls were five.  Or even eight.  Because that’s when I needed them to go somewhere else for a week in the summer.  Now I’m just sad when they leave.  It’s the cruel irony of parenting.

Meanwhile, the other four are here, building Minecraft villages and swimming and I’m successfully procrastinating every responsible thing I should be doing (like laundry, or selling old school books, or planning my parents’ fiftieth anniversary party) by sitting on the deck and blogging because I have zero ambition this summer and fall is going to hit me like a ton of bricks when reality returns and I realize I accomplished absolutely nothing.  haha

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

^ Me…..this summer

So, looking back and catching up, May opened up with a few days on the beach with Matt, who has now been dubbed “The Rainmaker” because everywhere he goes, it rains.  Needless to say, our hope for sunshiney beach days turned into cloudy, windy beach days, while everyone back home enjoyed one of the warmest weeks we’d seen yet this year.  And then we came home.  And the rains followed.  We’re thinking of having Matt go out to California to test our theory, because we’ve all had plenty of rain here.  :-/

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Rain notwithstanding, we ended up having a good time away.  We connected on some things and got to enjoy a little bit of sun.  And, of course, that water.  One bonus of minimal sun was no sunburns.  Haha.

We came home and powered through the end of the school year.  The girls finished up **around** May 8 (some a little earlier, some a little later).  I wrapped up my first semester back in school as well.  We finished up the soccer season with a weekend of tournaments for four of the five girls.  We also had Ellie’s ballet recital and graduations and parties to attend.  The girls and I spent the end of May deep cleaning the house and Matt put them to work outside.

I started journaling again in May, like with paper and pen.  I’ve gone through many seasons of journaling and for a long time this blog replaced that, but I’m realizing now it shouldn’t have.  There are so many little details of life that it would be good to write down, but get missed when you only blog once a month or every few weeks.  I know why I stopped – it takes time to write every day.  And when I go several days without writing I start to feel like a failure (I clearly have too high of expectations for myself).  But it’s been somewhat cathartic and healing.  And because not everything belongs on the World Wide Webs, it’s given me a place to put those things again.

spelled right and with multiple smilies….Happy Coffee

And listing the Endless Gifts + Photos (in no particular order again)….

3185.  warm air and open windows

3186.  a text, reaching out

because I didn’t realize I was going to need a blanket for two days on the beach, so a towel had to suffice

3187.  potentially painful meetings that go well

our first to get braces

3188.  redemption being written

3189.  a marriage worth fighting for

3190.  nutrition class aced

3191.  slower pace settling in for a while

3192.  pan-fried tacos and Cafe Holliday

Ellie and her sweet ballet instructor, Miss Linda

3193.  watching Amania delight in playing soccer and even score a goal

3194.  enjoying exercise and running again

3195.  imperfect Mother’s Day and perfect grace

3196.  last class and the end of the semester

3197.  the opportunity to go back to school

3198.  an unexpected friendship beginning?

3199.  cheerful, productive children

3200.  a clean kitchen

3201.  time to write and gather thoughts

the flight we never should have made it on

3202. laughter and groceries with my Emma

green roses from Kansas City City Market

3203.  enchilada dinner prepared by Grace

3204.  a “long” run

what happens when you’re eating lunch while your flight is taking off

3205. life-giving words from my husband

3206. a God big enough to handle my doubt

3207.  sunshiney days

3208.  pink sunsets

3209.  hard, but needed words

3210.  time to write and remember

3211.  a sweet new ride and getting home safely

3212.  a sweet police officer who let me off with grace and a warning

3213.  sweet girls who work hard while I’m gone to bless me with a clean house

3214.  sunshine & garage sales

swamp pool

3215.  Ellie’s ballet recital – seeing grace, beauty, confidence

3216.  sharing my story & a post that goes wild

Coco enjoying the warmer weather

3217.  feeling raw and exposed and putting up walls again

3218.  sitting in the dark

3219.  sunshine and warmth

one of two does on my morning run

3220.  open windows and fans blowing

3221.  flowers in pots

3222.  dinners on the deck

3223.  family-friendly feel-good movies

3224.  quiet happy Sundays

That’s it for our May.  Wishing you a wonderful week friends.  One that’s as productive (or un-productive) as you need it to be.

For His Glory ~

Signature

That Duggar Post: A Follow Up

Holy cow.  You all are awesome. Your love for my post on Friday regarding the Josh Duggar situation and my personal take on it caused it to take off.  The feedback I received was filled with grace and encouragement (eh, for the most part), and I thank you all for that.  That said, I feel like I need to clarify a few things.

When I wrote that post, I knew that it would get **some** additional traffic, due to the timeliness of the material and the incredibly personal nature of it.  But I wrote it for my usual audience, most of whom know me personally and know my heart and my mind on many of these topics.  However, I had no idea how much additional traffic it would get.  Had I known that, I may have been clearer about a few more things.  And because of that, I want to be clear: in absolutely no way am I condoning Josh Duggar’s behavior or (entirely) how his parents handled the situation.  As I stated in my original post, I have not read the police report for very specific reasons, but what I have read leads me to believe that the family dealt with the situation in a way that seemed best to them at the time. Does this mean that it truly was the “best way” or that everything was done that needed to be done?  Not necessarily.  Does that mean that airing the Duggars dirty laundry on Facebook, Twitter, and all the media outlets is the best way to promote healing for a family that is deeply troubled and hurting?  Absolutely not.

And that was the point of my post.  Not that Josh didn’t do anything wrong.  He did!  And not that his parents shouldn’t have handled it differently.  Maybe they should have.  (and their health and healing today.  And my point was that we are broken, scarred people – all of us – in desperate need of grace and love from one another and in desperate need of a Savior.  Even those of us that claim the cross daily live with the consequences of our choices, big and small.  And we all make terrible, sinful choices that affect others. And others around us make choices that affect us.  Hope and healing come when we speak honestly about those things rather than masquerading perfection.  When we live real, others can find their own hope and healing too.

I know this post won’t get the traffic the other one did.  But at least it’s out there.  And maybe it clears some of the questions up, maybe it doesn’t.  But I again call for us to show grace upon grace upon grace.  To each other.  It is up to the Duggar girls whether or not they will forgive Josh and / or their parents.  It is not our sin to forgive or judge.  But we win the most when we show love.

Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.

Tim Keller

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

For His Glory ~

Signature