A girl called Tina

There are many ways my life has been shaped and changed by loss.  One of the most

tangible is my constant awareness that things around me can change at any moment.  Because one time they did and I’ll never be the same.  Hence my passion for writing letters (on real paper with a pen) to people to tell them how special they are to me and for doing crazy things like using my birthday money to take my friends out for dinner just because I want nothing more than time with their precious faces and my tendency to remember mundane little details about people because I don’t want to forget.  It could also explain why I like to step back sometimes and marvel at the big picture.

The beginning of the (very) big picture of my friendship with Tina began when we were 16.  She blew onto the youth group scene out of no where and seemed to have priorities that matched mine in many ways.  Boys and Jesus and adventure.  We were fast friends.  Her blond haired, blue eyed sparkle brought with it intoxicating energy.  I briefly entertained the notion that there really wasn’t room for the both of us in the group but quickly decided there must be.

We shared stories and laughter and trouble and boys (sometimes at the same time, that never went well).  We woke early before heading to our high schools to ‘pray’ together.  Oh what I wouldn’t give to hear one of those early morning talks!  I’m not sure but its likely there was more talk than prayer, maybe occasional gossip but two hearts who wanted so badly to follow Jesus in a way that meant something.

We raised some hell while we were trying to find our way to heaven on church retreats and camp-outs….spied on boys at night in the dark, listened to them outside their showers at the campground and did our best to rock climb, beach hike and backpack for days without a complaint.  We may or may not have attempted to join the local Search and Rescue team.  In the middle of our training weekend in the pouring cold Seattle rain, I may have feigned a terrible knee injury just so we could call it quits without looking like idiots.

After high school we went different paths and then promptly got engaged and married the same year AND started into our very young married lives in ministry at the church we’d attended for years together.  When she and her new husband were lacking proper housing we “graciously” opened our tiny condo to them for “as long as they wanted to stay”.

Good heavens, I still shudder when I think of what a miserable hostess I was for those weeks, maybe months, I’ve blocked the whole season out of my memory – honest.  I made a fuss about EXACTLY what corner shelf she could put her dishes on.  I’m pretty sure I made fusses about just about everything.  It is amazing to me she ever talked to me again after they moved out.

Ministry life seasoned us both, in different ways but we both shouldered a generous share of disappointment and disillusionment.  Motherhood seasoned us even more.  I don’t know what I expected her to be like as a mom but I do know something, the sort of mom she turned out to be was more amazing and more beautiful than I’d imagined.  The privilege of watching someone go through not one but many metamorphic changes is, I believe, one of the great things of life.

Raising babies and serving God in the ministries we’d given our all to brought deeper connections and much more genuine, grown up relationship.  We knew each others’ garbage and still stuck around.  We were so very different but so very drawn to one another in friendship.

Then in one day, everything we’d known for the past ten years came to a screeching halt.  We came to an impasse.  There were words and there was silence and there was the deepest kind of heartache.

It would be a true impossibility to explain the nuances of it all or to do any justice to how broken both of our hearts were.  Never in my life before or since have I felt exactly like that.  And I didn’t talk with her then or for the almost two years after, but I think she probably felt something similar. We walked opposite directions but in the same circles, to say it was awkward is an understatement.

I yelled (quite literally) at God.  I told Him I could not see how His gracious hand who had never been anything but faithful to me could allow such a thing.  And I told Him that He would never, could never heal this wound or restore that relationship – no matter how hard He might try.

This might be getting long and its okay if no one is still reading…I have to tell the rest because, well, it’s the best part.

Tina became more “Tina” and I became more “me “and I hope we both became more Jesus.  We lived and loved and learned how to walk out our unique and distinct calling.

Months, then years went by.  Slowly, in whisper quiet ways that only God is great at, pieces of the wall we’d both helped build were taken down.  Some didn’t hurt and some hurt a lot.  There was grace, beautiful and broken, given on both sides.  There were wise and tender husbands who had wiped so many tears whose ears had listened so faithfully to our bleeding hearts.

I don’t know why it surprised me so.  But it did.  He did just what I said He could not and in the most incredible way.  And I think He delighted in every moment of it.

Now, when we’ve just come into the lovely new space of friendship again, she is leaving. Not just any leaving but moving-to-Chile-leaving.  Which is why I did what I do and spent a great amount of time over the past couple weeks thinking about all our shared history and memories and being insanely grateful that God fixed what was broken before thousands of miles stood between us.

At that last possible moment to say goodbye yesterday before she got on a plane headed south, I whispered these words as we hugged one last time:

I’m so glad this hurts this much.  It would have been so sad if it didn’t.”

That is one of the most mystifying and complicated aspects of love.  Real, genuine, sacrificial kind of love opens up the heart to unspeakable pain and joy beyond measure.  I cried all the way home just replaying the impossible things God had done to bring my heart and hers to this sort of goodbye instead of hearing she’d left in an email from my mom or something like that.

Deeply grateful to serve a God who is all about the impossible and all about redemption.

Why mess is worth it

Ten months ago following the oh-so-sudden and tragic loss of Chris’ dad the year before, his mom moved across the country to live with his sister.  The reasons were many and they were good.  But no amount of good reasons made it easy, for her or us.

That’s the thing about change.  It hurts.  Even when you understand it and know it has to be that way.  Life has kept her there and us here over almost a year now.  And when she’d been a brief drive away for our entire marriage, that feels like an eternity some days.

Add into the mix our five kids, us moving, her getting sick and so on and so on…..it’s been hard to get a moment on the phone to catch up.  Phone time for me is scarce.  The time change is one more dynamic.  I actually set my alarm to get up an hour early today so I could call her and my grandpa back east before the kids were up.  But one quick snooze button later and I was snoring away until a little voice beckoned me for breakfast.

Usually I keep my crew of learners reigned in until they’ve completed at least some of their school work.  But I felt this burning need to have a conversation with the mother of my husband more than my duty as teacher.  So I grabbed my coffee, went somewhere quiet and talked.  To say it was what both our hearts needed is an understatement.

All that transpired elsewhere in the house and yard during that half hour seemed a pitifully small price to pay for time well spent.  Her voice was lighter when we said goodbye.

I tallied up the damage and all told, I still say it was worth it.  Sometimes that’s the nature of life and learning and love and little people…..

A huge bowl of dog food AND dog water all dumped and mixed onto the kitchen floor by a crafty one-year-old.

A little girl outside in footie jammies without boots leaving permanently mud colored feet.

A pile of puppy poo on my favorite rug.

A baby toy gnawed to bits by same puppy.

A bathroom door left open and a little boy who just can’t help but throw toys into the toilet.

The remains of my mug of coffee poured out onto white carpet AND into a box of puzzle pieces.

A box of dumped out and unattended toys.

Jelly remnants on the counter from self-serve breakfast goers.

Yes, all that.  And yes, still so totally worth it.

The best question asker

Rylee.  She is uniquely wired to ask more than the average amount of questions.  While this does pose a patience-challenge sometimes, it is a wonderful quality and I do my best to affirm it.  Every now and then I do ask for a ten minute question-asking timeout.  To which she usually asks “Why?” and I have to laugh.

This morning while we had breakfast together before church we got to talking about Finn and she was saying how he was too cute and we were gushing over him as we tend to.  We talked about how glad we were that he’d been given to our family. The lingo we use whenever we talk about children is always intentional and always positive.  So it was natural for her to frame her question the way she did, but it still surprised me:

If God gives a baby to someone and they didn’t really want to have kids, then what happens?

Um, wow.  She is only 8 and though we’ve talked abortion in broad terms I didn’t really want to go there in our short time at the breakfast table.  She actually asked the question in regards to someone we know that recently got married.  And they do want kids, I made sure she knew that.

But still, the question loomed and was such a big one.  I stumbled for words as I ate my pancakes and told her that maybe people might not think they did but once they’d been given a new life to love, they might change their minds.  This prompted a whole new thread of thought for her, and more questions. I told her:

Well, just like animals get surgery (like our cat and dog did) so that they don’t have babies, people can do the same thing.  And to be honest, after Kyler was born we thought our family was full and perfect.  We really did.  But God spoke deeply to my heart and to daddy’s.  We listened.  He told us that His plans for our family were different than ours.  If we had said ‘no thank you’ to what He was asking of us, you wouldn’t have the sister you prayed for.  And we wouldn’t have squishy, smiling Finny here today.  Can you even imagine?

She said no way!  And I agreed, I can’t imagine.  Though there are chaotic moments, the bottom line is we are abundantly grateful for the path we’re on and the way God has shaped our family.

What I wish I’d said but thought about later was the way that God grows and opens our hearts if we let Him.  I really didn’t think there was room for more little people for me to love in my very early years of mothering.  But the most amazing things happen when Love abides in an open heart.  Though I run out of love regularly, the Love Giver Himself is always overflowing with more than I could ever need.

That love is amazing, unwavering and extravagant.  And it is always, always enough.



One more reason…

…why I love my husband:

Because he spontaneously wrote this on my kitchen chalkboard when I came home with 80 pounds of peaches and 40 pounds of tomatoes to preserve.  The kitchen is a perpetual mess of fruit flies (which he hates) and sticky counters for the good part of September.  Despite all that, he writes in chalk with exclamation marks what’s on the docket ’round here.  This makes me happy.

Maybe we’re getting old…

It is a monumental task to get five kids cared for and arrange for a date night.  I know all the books say that you really need to do it every other week but for us, every other month is doing pretty good!  A few months ago we bought tickets to see our favorite musician.  It wasn’t till a month later that we figured out he was opening for another artist and wasn’t the main attraction.

That was okay with us.  His music came into our life at a critical juncture and will probably forever and always be tied in our minds with the rebuilding of our marriage and renewing of our love for one another.  So, we figured any other music that night would just be a bonus.

Last night was date night, finally.  I spent the drive there worrying about details.  Had I gone over everything, prepared it all well, forgotten any instructions?  We sat down in the theater downtown in the big city and I worried about it being earthquake safe.  I calculated how Phineas would survive without me to feed him.  I smiled nervous smiles and tried to be ‘all there’.

Then there was music.  There were words that expressed my very own heart.  My whole body could feel the sound, my whole heart could hear the words and all the worry vanished for those 45 minutes.  It was clear a large part of the crowd was there for the very young pop artist who was the ‘main event’.  We felt a bit old.  A bit over dressed.  And we were.

It’s fairly likely I was the only was with tears streaming down their face in the crowd of a couple thousand people as he sang these words:

Breathe in, breathe out,
Move on and break down,
If everyone goes away i will stay.

We push and pull,
& I fall down sometimes,
I’m not letting go,
You hold the other line.

Cause there is a light in your eyes, in your eyes.

Hold on hold tight,
From out of your sight,
If everything keeps moving on, moving on,
Hold on hold tight,
Make it through another night,
& everyday there comes a song with the dawn,
We push and pull and I fall down sometimes,
I’m not letting go,
You hold the other line.


Somehow (by Grace, really, only Grace) we’ve learned to breathe and how to hold on and how to get up.  How not to let go when one more night seems like a lot to ask.  How to love quiet and strong.  We’ve said it loud with our choices and actions, I’m not letting go.

I rested my head on his shoulder and took a deep breath.  So thankful for something to love and enjoy together.  So incredulous at the power of music and words and God to sew hearts back into one piece.

As Mat Kearney wrapped it up for the night and the next musician stepped up we were caught up in giggles watching him dance and prance and sing about butterflies and flowers and sunshine and snowflakes.  Really, snowflakes while dancing on tiptoes?  Kids around us squealed in absolute glee while we shook our heads.  After almost two songs and a whole lot of laughing, we whispered to eachother that we should go and use our time away wisely.  We found a place to sit and talk and laugh and relish the gift of time we’d been given.

And we’re learning…its the best gift.

Choosing honor

I couldn’t write about this last year around this time, it was a bit too fresh.  But as I anticipate Father’s Day again and think about ways to honor my husband for his commitment to our family I can’t help but remember.

Last year was the first year he didn’t have a dad to call or hang out with on Father’s Day.  Though no words had been spoken I knew that must hurt and that the pain ran deep.  So I intentionally, thoughtfully planned out ways we could show him how much he meant to us.  The kids and I spent a whole day working on an 8 foot drawing of an oak tree.  We cut out tiny paper acorns and wrote on each one different things we loved about him.  I printed out a poem about oak trees and how strong they are and why they can weather great storms.

You get the idea…we worked hard.  We invested a lot in making him feel blessed.  But that’s not my point.  The same day, in the afternoon, I checked our bank account and he had made a very significant purchase that day.  One that we had not entirely talked through or agreed about.  My cheeks burned red and I had a lot of things I wanted to say.  I was tempted to throw the giant tree in the trash because I was so mad.

This is the juncture that every person has found themselves in one time or another.  This is the point where a critical choice has to be made.  More often than not, its me on the other side and I’m the one in desperate need of grace.  But this time it was him.

Give grace or seek vindication?
Let love win or let anger spill?

I felt more than justified to burn with my words and trash my whole “you’re an awesome dad” night.  But God’s way won out, for once I simply bowed to what I knew was right and chose to give honor regardless of the day’s circumstances.  His choice bore no impact on if he was worthy of our special night.  I get to choose to respect who he is regardless of if I feel like he’s earned it that day or not (thank you Love and Respect book, for that wisdom!).

The way he flourishes and smiles when I opt for holding my tongue or choose to offer an affirming word never ceases to amaze me.  I really should have it down pat by now but somehow its still hard sometimes.  The patience and grace to keep learning are certainly still critical to marriage survival.  I’m fairly certain my long-time-married-incredible parents would even agree, it is a never ending process.

Like most things in life, I may not have a choice in just what happens but I get to choose how I respond.

I can choose forgiveness.
I can choose honor.
I can choose to hope.
I can choose love.

Back on the gratitude bandwagon…

#431 – silly sister moments

#432 – silly sibling moments (love the relationship these two have most days)

#433 – impromptu brother sister tea parties by candlelight (they rumaged all the snacks they could…even vitamins!)

#434 – sleep (the bits I’m getting are pretty darn sweet!)

#435 – making a CD mix for my love….my ploy to remind him of me while he spends oh-so-long days driving and working

#436 – date night – 2 1/2 hours of face to face time with no children = absolute sweetness

#437 – perfect, yummy baby skin

#438 – a hot meal, not prepared by me, and the joy of eating it all while its still hot (did I already mention date night?)

#439 – common ground, sharing dreams, having ideals

#440 – sisters (a good one of my middle sis, just so she doesn’t kill me for posting the goofy one above!)

#441 – new favorite song – Matthew West “Hold You Up” – what it is about a girls’ heart that wants to hear the words “You are worth fighting for”?

#442 – garden boxes and all the little tiny seedlings poking out of the ground despite the COLD spring!

#443 -pins and needles waiting to hear about the birth of my best friends’ SIXTH blessing!!!

#444 – how good it feels to let things go and really, truly let. them. GO.

#445 – celebrating twelve years married to the love of my life

A love like this

In cleaning a few weeks ago, I found this letter I penned just about 2 years ago.  Tumultuous would have been a mild way to describe the status of our life. We were facing huge change and loss and everything felt out of control.

I was overcome with emotion as I read.  And remembered…

My beloved.

It’s been a long year.

A longer 8 weeks.

An even longer 10 days.

I have a lot of observations and thoughts about our life together, why it has been so hard, why there has been so much pain, why we’ve had more than our share of struggle.  Those aside, I just want you to know that though the road has been bumpy and left us bruised and broken more times than we can count-I would walk through it all again to have the privilege of making this beautiful family with you and following Jesus by your side.

I believe in you.

Let me say it again, I believe in you.  I have watched you find Jesus, walk with Him, walk away from Him, make good choices, makes poor ones, thrive in your talents and gifting and falter in your weakness.  I have watched your heart break.  I have watched you rebuild and roll up your sleeves as you have relentlessly pursued healing and restoration in your life and in our marriage.

Whatever this next season looks like, wherever it is going to take place, however great the amount of change and struggle-I want you to know, I need you to know that I am in it WITH you.  I stopped wondering when we would ‘arrive’ in a place of near-perfectness and ease.  I am done waiting for a magical place of ‘easy life’.  We’ll never be there.  Ever.

But we are here.  Today.  Together.

And my heart bursts with price for who you are allowing God to mold you into, what you’ve let him do with your heart.  I am secretly excited for the way we will have to trust Him to care for us in the coming months.

Because He will.  And we will get to watch.

I love you more than I ever thought possible.  I choose you, even if I could see every hard thing we’d walk through.  I would still choose you.  I choose pushing through, working hard, letting go, dying to myself, moving forward and believing with you for great things.

My thankful list this Monday is short and all hinges of the absolute miracles God can do with the human heart.  Our life, our family, our marriage is testimony to just that.  If this “love day” finds you less than confident in love…can I just say to you today that there isn’t any heart-challenge that the redeeming love God gives can’t mend?  I used to say that because it sounded good – but now it is a resounding truth that sits deep in my soul because I’ve sat by in wonder and watched it happen.

Now to keep counting…

#372 – breaking years long destructive habits

#373 – learning over and again that incredible beauty is born out of great pain

#374 – looking back and seeing the faithfulness of God

#375 – realizing how much love is a choice not a feeling

#376 – how the “worst thing ever” can become a treasured gift

#377 – pure, unceasing, overflowing, perfect love

#378 – the fruit of saying “yes” when you want to say “enough, I’m done”

#379 – watching grace infiltrate our union

Product of grace – 11 years in

It’s been eleven years today.

Around year eight I found myself wondering how we’d even get to nine.

But here we are.

Our union a product of grace, miracles and the faithful work of the God we love.

Absolute bliss marrying my high school sweetheart.

Then absolute real life…not bad.  Just real.

Real hurt.  Real joy.  Real struggle.

Growing and changing.  Like it or not.

Life always surprises.

Babies blessed us.

They stretched us.  In every way.

Work became something difficult.

Difficult became disillusionment.

Disillusionment became distance.

Distance became two people raising a handful of children who didn’t know how to love each other anymore.

We found our way back.

We found things to enjoy together and our hearts slowly unfroze.

We changed more than we thought possible.

God changed us, He still is.  We can’t take credit for making it.  It was and is beyond our ability.

Now, driving in the car today, I heard these precious words:

Man, I sure wish dad was here in the car with us.  Want to know why?  (everyone says yes)  Because if dad were here, we could watch them play that kissing game.  I love that.  Mama, if Daddy were here, you could put your coffee cup up and hide behind it and kiss him!  Or you could use this book too…(giggling then ensued)

Not long ago, we never played that game.  They were more likely to hear harsh words than to see their parents smooching in the car.  They were more likely to see anger than tenderness.  That’s the honest truth.  Life hurt a lot and we became adept at hurting each other.

My heart smiled today as I listened to my children chatter in the van.

We are learning and growing and loving and messing up and living in grace.

More now than ever.

And there is so much more to come.

Joy intermingled

As always, when life seems to stand still in the midst of heartache and loss, it keeps on moving and there is forever joy mixed in with the pain.

For instance,  my kids have been loved on and cared for more in the last 3 days by other members of our family than me and they think it’s pretty cool.  They are aware of what has happened but cannot process much of the reality of it.

Rylee tells me “Mama, are you sure this really happened?  It doesn’t seem like it could be real. Is Grampy really gone?”

Her words take my breath away and I respond on my knees at her level…”I feel exactly the same way.”

The boys still think it’s funny when someone farts at the dinner table.

Or when Kyler comes out of the bathroom having taken all his clothes off.

Or when they see Audrey pick up the cat by her tail.

The smiles will return for us.  The laughter that fills this home will come again.

But for the moment grief lives here and I know that is okay.

I thought I would faint with heartbreak as I watched my mother-in-law wring out and hang her her husbands clothing on the line to dry.

We don’t know how to walk this road.

How does one summarize the life of someone so dear in a couple of paragraphs?

Aren’t we too young to know how to do this?

Are we ever old enough to know how to do this?

Probably not.

The news that long time friends of my parents after 12 years of trying to get pregnant and two successful adoptions, are pregnant brought joy-filled tears today.

Finding an appropriate dress to wear to a funeral in a few short minutes of looking off the clearance rack  was one pleasant little gift of the day.

Abundant food, enough to cover our kitchen counters and table and two chairs left me sobbing in the kitchen yesterday.  I’m pretty sure food=love.  In a very complicated way actually, that food was like a piece of healing to my heart.  After a less than wonderful departure from our 10 years in ministry at church last fall, it was hands from that community that brought food to nourish us on this incredibly painful road.  It is so like God to bring things full circle….and rarely in the way I expect.

Although I missed the girls getaway with 3 of my best friends in Denver this weekend, I was blessed beyond measure to know that many there including my favorite author Sally Clarkson (who put on the conference) were praying for our family to get through these days.  Sally even sent me her latest book, signed by herself, which again was a sweet gift in the midst of it all.

God is good, all the time.  There is a constant swirling together of joy and pain.  In these moments of deep sadness its easy under the weight of it all to miss the good.

But it is here.