I could not send her

“I love Ava so much, mom. I just couldn’t do it…”

Ava's bornMelissa, our very close friend (really more family member than friend) had her first baby in August and we have all been over the moon in love since. We’ve loved Melissa for many years, my kids consider her more of a sister/aunt/friend. When she and I try to describe our relationship its like friend/sister/daughter. When she met her husband we felt like we all had to approve (and we did!) and when Melissa became pregnant we all knew something special was going to take our relationship to a new place. And she did – Ava arrived and we all flocked to the hospital to meet her, with Kevin even driving 90 minutes to come meet the little bundle of love within hours of her arrival.

Erin & AvaWe’ve had the joy of seeing Ava a lot since she was born and we have all fallen so in love with her. A few weeks ago Erin was rocking Ava and talking about loving her so much. She went on to talk about God loving Jesus even more. She looked at Ava and said “I love her too much, I couldn’t send her to earth to live, suffer and die that way. Even to save all mankind. I just couldn’t do it.”

So we talked about how much God must love us to have sent His son, the One He loves, to earth ~ knowing that many would reject him, that for some this suffering and death would be meaningless. Which took us back to looking at Ava…if you knew EVERYONE would come to the saving grace of Jesus, then could you do it? She still wasn’t sure. What about knowing for many her suffering and violent death would be meaningless. No, we were confident we couldn’t send her. It’s a love we cannot comprehend.

Nativity AvaA few weeks ago our church put on Breakfast in Bethlehem – it was beautiful, stirring, joyful and brought Christmas close. And guess who was baby Jesus? Yep…Ava. When Mary, holding Ava baby Jesus, and Joseph walked in the room and down the isle with their donkey, tears quickly dropped from my eyes…”This is a taste of it.” I thought. So innocent. Just a baby, here to save mankind. Then Erin, who was a tall shepherd tending to a little shepherd walked down the isle. When she stopped to bow and worship baby Jesus I was again overcome with a tiny morsel of the real story ~ just that week Erin had changed “baby Jesus” diaper, now she was bowing to “him” as her Lord.Shepherds Are these some of the things Mary pondered in her heart?

The Christmas story got real close and personal to us this year. Our hearts literally not comprehending this amazing love that cost so much. I’ve found myself seeking more the real meaning of Christmas and resting more in the peace of it all instead of the lists that I tend to create. None of that will make it Christmas ~ it’s a pure and simple scene I am gravitating toward. The story that makes Christmas real and has the potential to bring us all up real close and real personal to our Savior. Merry Christmas to you all.

Some of these photos were taken by myself, Melissa and Keepsake Portraits & Design

Holiness at the Sink

It takes strength to be humble, which sounds so weird – and opposite. But I believe it takes strength to lay down our self-sufficiency and our independence and allow someone to serve us. It doesn’t come naturally – that’s for sure. But when we do just that, when we allow someone in closer than we are comfortable with, I believe we experience something holy.

It is one o’clock in the afternoon and I am still walking in the holiness of a moment from this morning.

A very good, strong-willed, independent, caring, super self-sufficient, energetic, loving, serving friend of mine experienced a medical emergency last week that was terrifying. After five days in the hospital and some new hardware in her body, she is back home. Home with her four girls, husband, dogs, horses and very full life ~ that is a little on hold while she spends some time in recovery mode. This morning I arrived early to drive her girls to school – she didn’t have much of a choice in receiving this because for right now she can’t drive; she was gracious and thankful. As I left the house I told her I would return after the drop offs to help with her morning routine.

This is where it got holy.

Washing her hair by herself is tricky right now so I offered to help her, and she graciously accepted. So there we stood over the sink, me washing her hair, scrubbing and massaging that scalp that I’ve never touched before. Then we went in the bathroom and between the two of us we dried her hair, laughing and talking the whole time. It felt beautiful. We had good and deep conversation that would have never happened had this not taken place.

I wanted to write about this today because I believe allowing others to serve us in very personal ways is one of the hardest, most necessary things we can do. I know, I have experienced it myself – my last pregnancy left me bedridden and hooked up to IV’s with two small children running around a very cluttered home with a very sick mom. I sobbed as I had to lay down my desire to do this by myself and not open my door to those wanting to help. I hated the first time two friends walked in to help, I was embarrassed by what they saw, and quite frankly I smelled. Showering wasn’t happening on a daily basis, I was just too sick. But I will never forget the lessons I learned while I lay on my couch being served with great love.

I continue to learn that being served isn’t just about the one on the receiving end. Even with cluttered counter-tops and a to-do list myself, I promise you there wasn’t a more significant or fulfilling place for me to be this morning than with my friend. I am full to the brim, in fact I am overflowing. She has clean hair and my soul is refreshed.

Please, please, please – if (when) you find yourself in that place of making the decision to let others in to your very real places of need, use your strength to lay down whatever you have to lay down, open the door and let them in. Trust me, I know it will be hard, but you may never know what holiness you may be inviting into those moments.

How to have a Hard Conversation

Hard conversations are exactly that – hard. I don’t know anybody who likes initiating or being invited to one…but sometimes they are necessary. If you haven’t had to have a hard conversation than it might be time to question if you’re really in authentic relationships where deep care and concern are a part of the bond. (By the way, if you’re a parent, hard conversations are in the job description.)

I didn’t always have hard conversations, what I used to have were more like reactions, or even eruptions, especially in my role as a mom, and early in my role as a wife. But those kinds of responses didn’t get me anywhere. Well, actually they did…they got me pushed away, I got walls put up in front of me, and I lost my ability to speak into or influence the situation because no one was really listening.

Below are a few things I have learned about having hard conversations ~

1) Don’t react.
A few years ago while away at college my daughter called and began the conversation with this “I have to tell you something and don’t freak out.” So I took a deep breath, sat down and listened. (A practiced response from this mom!) I’ve learned that saying something along the lines of “I need to think about that, process that, or pray about that” are all phrases that allow me to say something in the moment without reacting.

2) Take time to process.
Simply taking a day to think, feel, and think some more about the situation helps.

3) Write down your thoughts.
As I process a situation, I write down my thoughts in a simple bullet type format. This seems to allow some of the deeper thoughts to come forward as some of the more obvious ones move from my head to the paper.

4) Give it a day…or two…or three.
Ever had a conversation reaction right in the moment and then came back a few minutes later and said, “Oh yeah, and one more thing…”? And then came back even the next day and said something along the lines of “Also, I forgot to mention this…..”  I have. It’s not very gratifying to get it ALL off your chest when the other person is rolling their eyes! Taking a day, or two, or even three grants me time to gather ALL my thoughts, write them down and get some order to the strong emotions that occasionally make rational thoughts, words and tones disappear.

5) Pray.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways. Isaiah 55:8
Taking time to pray helps to bring clarity to the heart, or root, of the situation. This helps me drop the spotlight on just the one situation and illuminate the bigger picture. It also gives time for God to reveal what fears I might be experiencing that are displaying themselves in emotions. It allows the Holy Spirit time to show me something I might be missing, reveal truth and grant me grace

6) Bring your thoughts on paper when it’s time to have the hard conversation.
The first time I did this was many years ago on day three of an argument with my husband. I had sought counsel on day two from a wise, more experienced friend and she helped me understand my part in the problem. Though I wasn’t looking to understand how I was contributing to the problem, she cared enough to have a hard conversation with me. She explained the areas in which I was wrong and that I needed to apologize. (WHAT??!!) I prayed about it that afternoon and that evening I approached my husband, unfortunately I blew it. Scattered thoughts and still strong emotions got the best of me (or the worst of me!) and I began arguing with him again (go back and see point 4).

I called my friend again the next day, but this time I wrote down what she said. I prayed about it again and when I approached Kevin once more, I had my points written down and in my hand. The list of what to cover kept my thoughts together, my words focused and my emotions contained. It felt a little awkward to have a script for the conversation with my husband, but in the end there were no raised voices and that argument finally came to a close.

I do this all the time now. When I have a hard conversation, I’m always working from a list, either in my head or in my hand. When it’s with one of my kids, I remind them that when they see I have the paper it shouldn’t scare them, it should comfort them – they know I have thought about this conversation and that I won’t go on, and on, and on, or come back to them over and over adding one more thing. When it’s over, it’s over.

I still don’t like hard conversations, although I’m better at them and more confident now when I enter them. And although I’m not a fan of being on the receiving end of one of these conversations (my still heart races with my natural feeling of defensiveness), here’s the truth ~ I’ve learned much and grown the most when someone cared enough about me to have a hard conversation.

Trustworthy are the bruises of a friend; excessive are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:6

Love of Leah

This is my friend Barb. She’s with her friend Leah.
At some point Leah kind of became a 4th daughter to Barb.

When Barb and her family moved into their home several years ago, they had no idea that Leah was a part of the deal. But she was…an integral part of the deal. I’m not really sure if Barb adopted Leah, or if Leah adopted Barb, but what I do know is that they did become as intimate as family. Not neighbors, family.

Barb called last night almost unable to speak through the sobs. After a brief sickness, Leah suddenly passed away; Leah was thirty-three years old. My heart dropped to the bottom of my chest and tears formed in my eyes as I listened to my friend grieve the loss of her friend other daughter, as I sometimes referred to Leah.

Leah had Down’s Syndrome. Her speech was sometimes hard to understand. She called on the phone a lot, and she stopped over at the house even more. She ate dinners, helped sweep the floors and played games with the Freeman’s. She got in the car and went to track meets, choir concerts, volleyball games and more. She spent birthdays and holidays with her other family for years.

I hold Barb in such high esteem for so many reasons, and as I have seen her love Leah over the last several years, there has been even more cause for this esteem. Barb just loved Leah so easily. She welcomed her into her life as if she had been waiting for her. She didn’t seem to have to make room for Leah, there just was room. She had time and patience and eyes and ears and words and heart for Leah. I was almost envious of this relationship ~ in this way ~ I wondered if I would have room in my life for a Leah.

Barb’s daughter is getting married this summer and Barb told me Leah was so excited for the wedding! Leah couldn’t wait to dance at the wedding and Barb had promised her they would tear up the dance floor together. Last night Barb said in her mind’s eye she didn’t picture much this summer, but she did picture her and Leah dancing at the wedding. See what I mean? Barb loved Leah so much, so generously. I always thought Leah was so blessed to have Barb in her life, but as my friend sobbed and sobbed last night I realized just how profoundly blessed Barb has been to have Leah in her’s.

Rest in peace, Leah. You made a pretty big impact here, dear one. I know you are not waiting for the wedding to dance, I  believe you are before the King and the party has already started. Dance on…..

Finding My Footing Again

This has been a hard post to start, but today I am pushing through because I think it’s important. Without going into detail, I’ve been having a tough time for a while now as I struggle  to handle (even mentally and emotionally) the many short and long term challenges that come along with adopting a 12 year old boy with a terrible past causing present behavior challenges.The issues don’t seem to be resolving, and now he’s in the teen years.

I am ever grateful to be in an amazing partnership with my husband, but that hasn’t been enough to help me navigate this journey lately. I know God has a plan for this child, and I believe we are part of that plan, so I seek His word and I pray, but lately even that hasn’t brought direction, peace or strength. So these last several days I have been leaning into what I call a small band of trustees for wisdom, truth, intercession and prayer.

Other than my husband, I have one person who I take just about everything to. I trust her implicitly. She loves me deeply, so when she tells me to buck up, stop it, or move on, I don’t take offense, I take her words to heart. The other day she gave me time, love, truth, a devotion, scripture and the promise to pray.

Earlier in the week when talking with another friend, I specifically gave her permission to speak truth to me – when we’re buried so deep in emotional turmoil I think it’s hard to have a clear perspective, or even trust our own perspective. I also called my sister and asked if she would go to God on my behalf and ask for a word from Him for me – human thoughts and insights are awesome, but I need His word right now and I am not currently discerning it. My friend spoke truth, and my sister went to God – who sent her to His word.

Being in a place where I have felt unsteady (and almost fearful) has been hard – and lonely. I didn’t want anyone to know ~ I am one people seek out for counsel, I am strong, my faith has sustained me and even others at times. But in the last few days I have taken my darkness to others who have shed light on it…and today it doesn’t feel as oppressive. I still don’t know exactly where to step next, but my legs are feeling more sturdy. I wish God would take his finger and write in the margin in my Bible exactly what we should do, that’s not likely, but I am feeling encouraged and strengthened by the verses that are coming our way.

Its funny, some of the highest statistics on this blog come when I share struggles; this is why I thought it was important to share. Not for high stats, but because of the reason for the high stats – we want to know we’re not alone. We need to know its OK to share when we can’t find our way. We need the strength of others, and sometimes we need someone else to knock on the door because all we feel we can do is stand there. Sometimes we need others to go to the Son and then shine His light.

  • Do you have a small band of trustees?
  • Are there a few someones in your life who will lovingly tell you the truth?
  • Are you strong enough to admit when you are weak?
  • Are you someone who will get in the word of God for another – immediately and earnestly?

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

A Few Days Later

“Today” (below) could not have been titled Moment. I knew the anxiety and despair I was feeling was running fairly deep. That is why I chose to write about it here, because this is where I share my tale. Like the real world, sometimes you will come to visit and my house is in order and we will talk about the funny and good stuff going on, but sometimes you will come over and my house is cluttered and there are piles on literally every surface. (Where does all this paper & clutter come from?!)

I didn’t expect anything from that post, I just wanted to be real with you. There is some good stuff going on in this journey and there are also some really hard times ~ such is each of our lives. What I received from sharing this hard part was some great encouragement. Some of you posted prayers, encouragement or even your story in comments here, some on Facebook and others via private message or email. I have read them all. Thank you.

The last few days haven’t been easy, the anxiety hasn’t disappeared (although it is more moments than complete days right now). I have been reading the Bible and praying daily. Its been interesting to see that as I pray one day, I will read verses the next day that echo my prayers from the previous day. My daughter said she believes this is God affirming that He is hearing my prayers.

Friends have been praying for us, and have shared verses and devotions with me (which has been great, God’s word is the best word right now). On Monday I was reading and Proverbs 24:16 stood out …for though the righteous fall seven times, they will rise again… I shared this with a friend and she wrote back, that she believes I will rise again, but that until I do, she will lay with me where I have fallen and pray over me. This image has been a powerful one.

My point in sharing this today is that I believe on some level its easier to not let others in when we are buried in clutter, have fallen or feel overwhelmed. We can feel embarrassed or ashamed about what that looks like. We try to protect ourselves from the judgment of others. But what I have found over the last few days is that though the situation hasn’t resolved,  (and I am seeing the therapist tomorrow and I did go to the gym today…doing what I can to be healthy in mind, body and soul) the despair is beginning to dissipate and the anxiety is more moments than days. God has been able to reach me in multiple ways using people because I let you see the mess.

If you are in a tough spot today, consider opening the door and letting someone in. Know that all of us have clutter on the counters sometimes (and the table, and dresser and washing machine). Know that when you allow others to wade through the mess with you, in turn they may allow you to lay down and pray over them when they fall.We learn we can trust each other for each other.

More Than Fun & Games

This is one of my friends, I don’t think she wants me to share her age, so I won’t. In fact, she wasn’t sure she wanted me to write about her, but eventually she agreed. She said I could use her picture, but not her name. In the end its about her inspiration….but she’s pretty so I wanted you to “meet” her.

We were at a luncheon to benefit Healthier Moms and Babies today and as we spoke, I learned she had a “small heart attack” in January. When I discovered her age (one of the details I won’t share) I asked her what she does to stay so youthful. What she said inspired me and I knew I had to write about it.

She used to be pretty active, but since the heart attack she hasn’t quite had her energy back so she works to keep her mind active. Currently, she is teaching two people how to play cribbage. I love this. She didn’t give up, she figured out what she could do and did that. She loves teaching the game because it means she has company and she gets to use her mind to stay active.

What she said next really made me smile –

“I also play Wii…to keep a little physically active.”
Smiling and with a little wonder in my voice, I asked “What do you play?
 It turns out that she bowls. So do I.
“I’m pretty good at bowling.” I tell her.
“So am I.” She said.
She asked my high score, I said I didn’t know, I just know I beat my kids at Wii bowling.
Her current high score is 260. Sometimes she bowls with her left hand to challenge herself. If she is too tired to bowl, she sits on a chair and bowls. “At least its something active.” she said.

I want to be like her when I grow into a wise woman of the ages. Actually, I want to be like her now. I want to make sure I am looking for opportunities to challenge and stretch myself. I want to think outside the box. I want to bowl a 260! 

At the end of our time together today I asked if I could take her picture and write about how inspiring I find her. She teared up.She doesn’t think she’s that inspiring. She said “I just do little things.” I told her that I believe it is the little things that make the most difference; that most of us can identify with the little things. She agreed. She hugged me and I received permission to write about a woman who I am going to invite over so we can have a bowling tournament. I’m going to try to beat her. I have a feeling I won’t.

Growing vs. Maintaining

667 miles separate me from my sister Jamie.

594 miles separate me from my sister Tracey and my sister-in-law Kalie.
1,234 miles separate Tracey and Kalie from Jamie.
There are other things that separate us as well ~ time, finances, schedules and work. So we call, text, IM, Facebook and email to stay in touch, keep current and maintain our relationships, and I appreciate ALL of this.

But a few months ago, we planned a weekend to overcome all of that and meet in Chicago for a “Wicked” Sister Weekend. Tickets were purchased, reservations made, and anticipation built. Then life happened and my sister Tracey was unable to join us. (You can read about that here.) With non-refundable expensive tickets, Kalie invited her sister-in-law, Amy, (a perfect choice) to join the “sister weekend” and off we went.
It was amazing. It was so much fun. There was so much laughter. There was a really wonderful dinner, a fantastic musical, a great bottle of champagne, a hotel in the heart of the city, valet parking, cab rides, shopping, funny, funny lines we will remember for a long time, matching sweaters (not intended – which made it even funnier), a church service, a quite dinner, popcorn, and so much more.
We created new memories with each other, we grew new connections with Amy, and we remembered that removing ourselves from our day to day lives revives us, relaxes us and energizes us. We can’t wait to do it again, and we will as soon as Tracey can join us.
I value face to face time and shared experiences. This is why I planned a beach vacation for our families, why I meet my high school friend Diane at a favorite coffee shop when I am back in my home state, and why I drive 90 miles (one way) to meet my friend Barb for lunch. I know I can maintain my relationships with phone calls, texts, IM’s, Facebook and emails, and understand how tricky it can be to plan these get-aways. But I believe it takes shared experiences to grow the relationships.
If someone has come to your mind as you have read this, consider getting some time away to connect, laugh, share and grow your relationship. Its not usually easy to do this, but then valuable, important things ~ or people ~ are worth the investment.
(I posted A True Tale of Grace here yesterday)