Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Happy 12th Birthday, Breanna!

Dear Breanna,

I cannot believe you're 12. I'm too young to have a 12 year old!  And, seriously, how is it even possible that you've been on this planet that long?

I remember so vividly our first few hours together after you were born. 

Waives of love washed over me like I'd never experienced before. 

I remember looking at your tiny hands and noticing how they looked like mine. 

You were the sweetest, easiest baby. 

I was, and have always been, so proud to be your mommy. 

Those first few months until now feel like just a few moments. 

And now, you're 12. 

I think this feels so significant because 12 wasn't a good year for me, but it's also the first year of my life that I remember extremely well. 

That's the year my whole life fell apart. 

Starting with my parent's marriage. I'd never even heard them have an argument, yet, very suddenly they were on the verge of divorce. 

People who should've never lied to me, lied. 

There was gossip and lots of betrayal... All from adults. 

I was so sad. 
And I couldn't tell anyone why. 

I know I'm no where near a perfect Mom, but please know that your dad and I are so committed to protecting you from a level of hurt and uncertainty that no child your age should ever know. 

In just a few short years you'll graduate from high school. And some day, you'll move away. (Which is very rude, by the way).  And maybe eventually you'll even have a little baby girl of your own. 

So, before I blink and you're my age, there are a few things I want you to know... First,

You are loved. 



More than you can imagine. 

No matter what. 

Yes, by your dad and me, but most importantly by God. 

He loves you perfectly, unlike we do. He never says the wrong thing or has to say He's sorry. And because of Jesus, HE IS NEVER MAD AT YOU. 



It's taken me my whole life to get that. Actually, I'm still getting it. I pray you don't ever doubt God's overwhelming, never ending, over-the-top love for you. 

It changes everything. 

Second on my list - 

You're enough. 

There's something in our souls that seems to question this...

Am I pretty enough? 
Smart enough? 
Talented enough? 
Likable enough?

The answer is YES. 

You are an image-bearer of THE God of the universe, a daughter of the King. 

He made You in His image, for His Purpose, His glory, His delight. 

No human will ever convince you of this. We have to take God at His word, but I pray that you'll fight to believe this everyday of your precious life. 

Lastly, I want you to always remember...

I'm so grateful for you. 

Not everyone gets to be a mom. And even fewer get to have a daughter. But I'm the ONLY mom EVER who has the honor of calling YOU their daughter. 

You are all together lovely -- most importantly inside, but also on the outside. 

You have a grateful heart. 

You're funny and smart. 

You have a beautiful singing voice.

You're fun to be around. 

You are a great shopping buddy. 

You like the same movies as me. 

But, I'm most thankful for the way I see God working inside of you. This past year, you've grown more and more Christlike. I thank God for this...

You're not perfect. But, you don't have to be!  God is gracious!  He made a way through Christ...

Thanks for making me a Mommy. And for just being you

Let's be friends forever, OKAY??!!  




Just kidding... Sorta. 

Okay, but seriously... 

I love you, Breanna!!  

Happy birthday!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Abundant Life...

Yesterday we celebrated my amazing Grandma's life -- 97 years of life that was fully lived to her very last breath.  Yes, we are heartbroken and many tears were shed, but her funeral was so uplifting and inspiring.  I wrote the following words the day she went to heaven and was able to share them at her funeral.  Although it's just a small taste of the remarkable woman she was, I hope those who read it catch a glimpse of the power of living a truly Christ-centered life.

My grandma was born the ninth of ten children, and apparently by the time she showed up, my great-grandparents were running low on names.  They only gave her one, and it suited her perfectly – Mabel, which means lovable.  And, she was loved by many, but only a select few had the privilege of calling her Grandma.

My childhood memories are filled to the brim with my grandma. Countless sleepovers.  Homemade, iron skillet breakfasts.  Sunday dinners.  DAILY phone calls.  Hers was the first number I’d ever memorized. 

I adored her.

I remember being pressed up against her terrycloth apron as she cut cantaloupe with her antiquated, black-bladed knife. 

I remember leaning on her hip as she loudly sang, Oh Victory in Jesus and Love Lifted Me in the pews of this very church. 

I remember chewing Freedent gum with her, her favorite because it didn’t stick to her dental work. 

I remember her silver thimbles and watching her meticulously craft her needlework.

I remember she only had one children’s book in her house, Mercer Meyer’s Just for You.  She read me that book every time I asked her to, most often as I was snuggled next to her silk nightgown before bed. 

I remember telling my mother that Grandma was my favorite person…

Many of you know that I was adopted into this family as an infant.  All adoptees have moments when they silently question if they are truly loved and accepted by their family. But I never once questioned that with my grandparents and certainly not with my grandma.  I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she loved me as much, if not a smidge more, than her biological grandkids. 

She only confirmed this to me on multiple occasions throughout my life.  When I had my daughter, we were discussing who she may have gotten her curly hair from.  As my grandma started listing off her relatives, I interrupted, “Grandma, I’m adopted!”  She laughed as she said, “You know, I don’t even think about that.  You’re just like us. Personality, your coloring, height… circumference.”  We both laughed and laughed.  God made me to be her granddaughter.  We were perfectly compatible in every way.

I was in kindergarten when my grandma embarked on her first missionary journey to American Samoa.  She was 70. 

I vividly remember weeping, no wailing, at the airport as we saw her off.  I’m sure I made quite a scene.  My heart was broken.  Grandma was such a huge part of my daily life that I just couldn’t handle the thought of her being that far away for so many months.  While in Samoa she taught school and shared the love of Christ with children there, who by her description, were underprivileged, under-loved, and many, physically abused. 

She loved teaching.  As I pursued my degree in elementary education, we spent hours talking over every detail of what I was learning, what my lessons were, classroom management… You name it.  Her soul lit up as she shared countless stories with me about her decades in the classroom.  I loved every minute of it.

She was born to teach and God used her gift for decades, and in numerous countries.  Her passion for Christ and for teaching consumed the next 10 years of her life following that tearful day at the airport, and we had to share Grandma with the world.  And I mean that.  Literally, the world…  Samoa, Thailand, China, Harlingen, TX and even Latvia.  We hated not having her near everyday, but gosh, were we proud of her.  And even though she traveled as much as she did, I still feel like she was always near.  I don’t know how else to explain it, but she just was…

My life changed dramatically when I was 12 as my parents’ marriage disintegrated.  It was a horrible, drawn out, devastation for my whole family, including my Grandma.  And she was so strong for me.  A pillar of stability, bringing peace to my turbulent world.

Grandma was no stranger to hardship.  I’ve always loved and revered my grandma but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve grown in my respect for her.  She was a working mom before that was even a thing.  She earned her degree while teaching full time and carrying the full weight of all the household duties and care for her children.  I honestly don’t know how she kept so many balls in the air – parenting, cooking, cleaning, teaching, college, all while being an active member of her church and maintaining close relationships with her dearly loved siblings.  And she did it all with excellence.

Another aspect of my grandma that I’ve grown to respect more and more over time was the grief and loss she’d endured.  She gave birth to four children within about as many years.  Her first daughter died before birth, but late enough in the pregnancy that my grandma had to deliver and bury her. Her oldest son, John, died in a motorcycle accident when he was just 16. And, my grandfather passed away months after I was born…  I knew all of these things my whole life, but the gravity of them didn’t sink in until I had a family of my own.  So much loss yielded so much strength and depth of character.

Until her dying day, she was so smart.  Sharper mentally than I’ll ever be.  A prolific reader.  Over the last decade, she gradually lost her eyesight to macular degeneration.  She had a machine that magnified her books so she could continue to read and must have spent a thousand hours in front of that screen.  Reading was a part of who she was.  After my beloved maternal grandfather, who’d suffered severe hearing loss, passed away last year, Grandma told me, “Joe is hearing with his own ears right now.  When I get to heaven, I’m going to read with my own eyes.”  And, I know she is!

Grandma is the last of my grandparents to go to heaven.  I don’t take for granted how blessed I am to have enjoyed my grandma for the past 33½ years.  I truly believe that my grandparents’ love was the closest I’ll know of God’s love in this life.  Recklessly unconditional.  Overwhelmingly abundant.  Full of delight.

Grandma, you lived a quiet life that loudly displayed the glory of God.  You weren’t perfect.  You never claimed to be. 

But you were wonderful and fiercely loyal. 
Intelligent and opinionated. 
Passionate and so gifted. 
A woman of conviction.
One of a kind… My Grandma.

I thank God for you. 

Your life has made me, and God only knows how many others, love Him more. 

Welcome Home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Messy Christmas...

Can I be honest?  2014 has been horrible.  Actually, it's been worse than horrible, but I feel that the appropriate vulgarities to describe this year would offend...

On second thought, not all of this year has been awful.  There was a small part of it that was wonderful.  This spring, Sammy and I were absolutely thrilled to learn that I was pregnant.  For a very short time, our third child brought my family more joy than I can put into words.

Then, on May 7th, at a routine doctor's appointment, it became clear that our baby's life had abruptly ended not long after it had begun.

I cannot communicate the devastation that has followed. 
Even now, I cannot understand why...

Since that horrific day, along with our grief we've had one hard circumstance after another...  The death of our dog of almost 12 years....  A totaled car...  Fraudulent charges on our bank account... I could go on...

I've cried more this year than I thought possible.  I'm tired.  Grief is an incredibly lonely place.  Shockingly lonely.

I wonder how many of you are suffering this Christmas, too?

Friend, I want to tell you, it's okay to be sad this Christmas.  And, it's okay to be honest about your sorrow...

I think back to a young, first-time mom in a crisis of her own some 2000 years ago.  A very pregnant Mary rode to Bethlehem... On a donkey.   I feel certain that the preceding months had been almost as miserable as that donkey ride.  A virgin explaining to her betrothed and family that she had been visited by an angel...  That the baby within her was the Son of God.  The Messiah.

Mary welcomed the Christ-child in a stable.  Next to a goat.  She didn't even have a blanket.  Welcome to our mess, Son...

But isn't that His way?

Jesus isn't the one who expects Christmas to be picture perfect.  Only smiles and made from scratch hot chocolate as you celebrate My birth, please.  

No, I feel certain that Jesus is very aware of the true state of my heart this year and that He is happy to enter into my mess just like He entered into Mary's.

Jesus, this Christmas, I invite You to enter my messy, painful, sorrow-filled life.  Please come and rebuild these ruins.

Praying that God is nearer to you and your family than ever before this Christmas and in the year that follows...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Worst Day of my Life

 I was ten weeks pregnant.

The doctor had a handheld ultrasound machine and was checking the baby...  No heartbeat.

She asked who was there with me.

No one.

She sent me to ultrasound.

I was surrounded by happy couples, excitedly waiting to see their babies.

I tried to hide my tears with my sweater.

I knew.

I drove home weeping.

I told my husband. He wept. We told our children. They wept.

Over a month later, grief continues to wash over me like an overwhelming, unexpected, uncontrollable wave, taking me under, leaving me gasping for air.

I hate this. 

I miss my baby. My very prayed for, hoped for, very loved baby. The baby I won't hold until heaven. 

It's okay to grieve. I know it probably makes you feel uncomfortable. That's okay, too. 

To anyone who's lost a child, I'm so sincerely sorry.  My heart is broken for you...

For anyone who's been through this more than once... I literally have no words, only tears. 

As a child, I was taught to hide my pain.  When my parent's marriage was disintegrating, we were to tell NO ONE for the first year. I became very good at pulling myself together even when everything was falling apart. 

This "habit" has carried on into adulthood. Though I do try to live an authentic life, it doesn't come naturally to me, especially when life is painful. 

Now, my grief and pain are so deep I can't hide it.  It's difficult, awkward, and frankly, terrifying for me to live in such constant rawness and vulnerability. 

You don't have to keep your good news from me...  I can be happy for you and sad for me at the exact same time. But please continue to acknowledge my pain. I'm not willing or even capable of pretending that it's not there.

This is the only picture I'll ever have of my third child. It's now framed and in my living room. We love you, Little One...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Trying not to Try

I'm an achiever.  A recovering people pleaser.  If I do something, I want to do it 100%.  I want to be the BEST.

Being a hard worker is certainly not a bad thing.  We are told to do ALL things as if unto the Lord (Col. 3:23).  But, achieving, pleasing, being the BEST...  I don't think it's what is at the heart of this verse.  In fact, I know it's not.

For the past year-and-a-half, I've been on an intense intentional journey with the specific purpose of ridding myself of a long lasting sin cycle so that I could finally achieve the "results" that I'd failed miserably to achieve for so many years.  I now realize the ultimate goal of my heart was to achieve acceptance...  From God, from family, from friends, from acquaintances, from strangers, from myself.

Through this journey, I had more success than ever in my adult life.  I found a "system".  It worked.  People noticed the obvious transformation.

Funny, but as much as I thought I wanted all of this...  I HATED IT.  I was miserable for many reasons, but primarily because I was following a very rigid, ungracious, no fail "system" that frankly made me feel in control, which I love.  If I did everything right, I could finally achieve what I'd been striving for all these years.

Once again, a season of "victory" was followed by a season of defeat that is also very noticeable. And I hate it.  And, I hate me.  And, once again, I wanted to hide. From my family, my friends, my church, and God.

As painful and heartbreaking as many aspects of the last year have been, God has used it to show me my GLARING legalism.  That's right.  L-E-G-A-L-I-S-M.

Um, I HATE legalism!  In so many ways, I fight for grace -- Mainly for other people, though.  So, it is taking time for me to understand how I'm choosing to live under law instead of grace.

Through this agonizing struggle, and about a million other things God has faithfully placed in my path for the last year or so, He has made it clear that my heart believes a lot of lies and that these beliefs are so deeply ingrained into my very soul, that I wasn't even aware of their existence.

My head knows that God is merciful, more gracious than I can comprehend.  He knows our weaknesses.  Christ paid the debt 100% and I have a completely clean slate.  It doesn't rely on me.

My heart obviously believes something completely different.  Because, we live what we believe.

And I live the life of a girl who believes that God is as mad and disappointed in me as I am.

About a month ago, on a Friday afternoon in September, a friend said to me, "Ask God to show you where you are living under law rather than grace."

I did.

He showed me.

He is still showing me.

The next morning, I went to the Beth Moore simulcast with my older sister.  Please look at the two signs on the stage:

How kind of God to prepare my heart to begin to understand how I was living under law.  I was simultaneously shocked and relieved --  What a lifted burden!  I'm still digesting so many truths that were shared that day.

A few weeks later, I was telling that same friend about how God had been showing me ways I was living under the law since we last spoke.  As I mentioned before, these core beliefs that my head knew were untrue and false were so deeply a part of my very core values, I didn't know how to stop living this way.  My wise friend said:  

Maybe you need to stop trying.

Just come to God.  Stop trying to get it right.  Focus on your relationship with Him.  Be still.  Hear Him. 

Again, two completely different yet simultaneous gut responses:

Huh?! and YAAAASSSSSS!!!!

I'm learning that my intense compulsion to achieve, to please, and to be the BEST has actually created a prison where I am shackled so tightly that I can't even move.

My fear of failing to achieve, to please, and to be the BEST (perfectionism) has created an all or nothing mentality.  Because I'm afraid to fail,  I'm afraid to try.

Many times I'm forced to risk failure.  I'm an adult with many responsibilities.  Other times, God gives me enough hope to try something "optional".  

In both scenarios 10 times out of 10, I fail in some (or several) ways.  Because I'm human.  God is okay with this.  I am not.  And in my core, I obviously believe He isn't either because I find myself creating distance with God as a result of my failures.  See, legalism.

This is a very painful process and one that I believe is so common, especially amongst my generation.  We feel like failures because we believe that our friends' Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds accurately portray their lives.

Their house is perfectly decorated and always clean.  Why isn't mine?

They have the most romantic marriage.  Why don't I?

Their kids are so godly and obedient.  They seem to have the most Christlike family.  Why can't we?

She ALWAYS posts about exercising.  I haven't exercised in a week month.  Why am I such a loser?

What's wrong with me?  

Bad mom.  
Bad wife.  
Bad friend.
Bad Christian.




Because this is what we tell ourselves, day in and day out, we get tired of trying.  I believe we get to the point where we literally can't take feeling the stress and disappointment anymore.  For me, and I believe for most, we find a way to cope.

We think that we can't turn to God...  He's disappointed in us.  And we can't talk to our friends, family, and DEFINITELY not our pastors or their wives about this.  Too humiliating.  Plus, according to social media, they are all perfect and wouldn't understand anyway.

So, we isolate.  We can't have anyone over because our house isn't Pinterest perfect.  We don't want to go to church because we feel like a failure.  We don't want to read our bibles or pray because we don't comprehend God's true nature and His immense, unfathomable grace and believe He isn't going to help us until we get it together.

Isolation makes us feel lonely.  

And we HATE feeling lonely. 

So, we numb ourselves with excess.

Excessive amounts of technology, entertainment, social media, comfort, etc.  

We distract ourselves...

With dumb games. (I know, NO ONE plays these games, yet somehow Candy Crush Saga earns over $800,000 daily.  And IT'S A FREE APP!!!)

With celebrity gossip.

With hundreds of TV channels.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Keek, Vimeo, blogs...

IT NEVER ends.  And that's just technology.

We also numb our aching, disappointed, hopeless hearts with a variety of obsessions...


And, the excess continues...

This is how I know I'm not the only one. So many options. Most of these are not necessarily bad.  But it is the excess that is literally killing our souls.  We were made for more.

At the end of the day, with all of our effort, all of our achievement, all of our excess...  What do we have to show for it?  

God is gracious to not allow our coping mechanisms to be successful for long.  Eventually, we just can't shut down our heart's true desire anymore.  We want more.

Jesus said: The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

For as long as I can remember I've been begging God for this abundant life and for change in me, in my life.  But, He is showing me, I just wanted the results.  The easiest and fastest possible solution.  And, it feels like God hasn't heard me.  

Slowly, I'm beginning to understand...

While I've been pleading for changed circumstances, God has been patiently orchestrating a changed heart.

Have you ever been around someone who has undergone heart surgery?  The more invasive the surgery, the more painful, the more difficult, and the slower the recovery.  The same is true as God works to change my heart.  To heal it of its bad theology.  It is not a fast process.  It's so painful.  It's miserable.  

And like most heart patients, I think there is a period of grief for the life we once lived.  As much as we hate the sin-cycle, we also love it.  Because we feel in control.  And if there is one thing a heart patient knows for sure, it is that we are not in control, God is.  We hate that. 

I don't want to post this blog post.  And if I do, I REALLY don't want to publicize it.  But, I believe with my whole heart that I am not alone in this struggle. 

Friend, you are not alone.  Please forgive me for caring more about what you thought about me than I cared about you.  Please forgive me for being so blinded by my own insecurities, my own pain, my own fears, that I failed to see yours.

The road of redemption is not a straight line.  It has its ups and downs.  Some of our struggles are more visible than others.  But, let's we stop pretending they're not there and actually live like we believe God when He says:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”