And then there were five (the story)

We left this little announcement on Facebook Monday night.

Coming this winter.

The idealist in me imagined a casual family picture with the four of us smiling and holding the sonogram. We'd be sitting in the grass in a way that felt natural, not posed, and the boys would appear serene and well pressed (read: not screaming and bathed). Their faces would say "We couldn't be more excited to have another baby and give up having our own bedrooms. Family time really is the best." The setting sun would cast warm light and a vintage chalkboard would read "Coming this winter."

Then I remembered that kids taking announcement pictures (or any picture) is an enormous joke sold to us by Pinterest. The reality looks more like this.

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After many promises were made, we squeaked by with this one and called it a day. If there was sound in the picture below, you would hear my voice bribing their smiles in return for ice cream. We do what we have to do.

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Everything about the boys' pregnancies was easy. Getting pregnant, being pregnant, giving birth - I couldn't have asked for more. Last February welcomed the surprise news of a tiny girl we weren't expecting, but quickly loved. March brought the even more surprising news of her passing. Many of you, close friends and readers, lavished us with encouragement and prayer during that time. Even now, we continue to be deeply grateful for each word you whispered on our behalf.

Pregnancy after miscarriage has been a cocktail of conflicting emotions. Gratitude for new life. Grief for life gone. Fear over how fragile the whole thing is; and running through all of it is a strange awareness that this one is here because of the one who is not. From the start, it's been different than the boys.

Then one Friday night in July, I noticed vague spotting, which wouldn't have concerned me much by itself, but my gut told me something was wrong. The pregnancy symptoms I had been experiencing disappeared a few days before (which happened in March as well) and my body was still. Quiet. After what felt like a five day weekend, I called for an appointment first thing Monday morning.

As my eyes tried to make sense of the ultrasound, my midwife began to interpret. 

The baby was smaller than would be expected. The heart rate was slow. Too slow.

Blood work suggested things weren't progressing as they should and it seemed as though everything in there was slowing down. In a phone conversation with my midwife on Thursday night, she offered to meet me early Monday morning, as she felt that would have been enough time for things to take their course. I hung up the phone and cried, letting go and preparing myself for what was next.

Throughout the week, we prayed that God would breathe new life into one that appeared to be fading, and we trusted Him with the outcome regardless. There are systems of belief in the Church that would suggest we must believe God will do what we ask and that this is what it means to pray in faith. We were brought to our knees wrestling with this question, but with each pass over scripture, we felt increasing peace that to pray with expectancy is to pray with a belief in God's sovereignty - believing that He can, believing that He is good, believing that He hears us and will respond, and trusting that He holds all of it together regardless of what happens.

That week was three times as long as any other. My body had been eerily silent up to this point, with the few symptoms I initially felt vanishing the week before. But then on Friday, I woke up with morning sickness. Saturday and Sunday it even got worse. Compared to what I had felt with the boys, it was relatively mild, but it was new for this pregnancy. Hope began to take back my heart.

Monday morning was met with a community of friends and family waiting for news, phones in hand. In our eagerness for an answer, BJ and I found ourselves at the office before anyone arrived to unlock the front door, so we sat in the hall and debated the meaningless stuff you talk about when you're trying to stay distracted.

Once in the exam room, our wait was short. This was the same room we sat in last March. The same screen that we saw her on. I remembered that morning sitting in the silence.

The midwife came in quickly and jumped right to it. She would later confess that she had dreaded coming in, as she was sure she would only be confirming a miscarriage. Instead, this is what we found...

She was ecstatic. BJ cried. I exhaled for the first time in eight days. 

Repeatedly we heard her say, "I just don't understand it girlfriend. This is a miracle baby."

Another week passed and we went back for a closer look with the OB. Everything was great.

Six weeks later we finally got the picture my heart was waiting for. Baby was now even bigger than expected. Heart looked great. No concerns. I felt free to dream about the future.

God is good and kind and always faithful, and of everything I learned this summer, one of the greatest lessons was to remember that the goodness of God is not dependent on His answering my prayers the way I want them answered. He was no less faithful in March. His goodness ran as deep on the day her heart stopped as it did on the day we heard this one. The world is fractured and bleeding; but goodness, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness - these are the nature of God. Always.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." -Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." -Psalm 139:14

So here we go again!

Neglecting today in the name of tomorrow

We live in an apartment. It isn't a hipster city loft surrounded by museums or a renovated condo with a pool and private gym. It's old, simple, relatively spacious (as much as apartments are spacious when occupied by kids), and it's very affordable. We are deeply grateful for this sweet space and the home it has provided.

I'm starting to feel the tension though. It hangs around on these long, hot days when the boys want to play in the grass and I want them to play in the grass and while driving to the park is wonderful, what we are all longing for is a yard of our own. 

Then there's the host in me that loves to cook food for people and sit around a table. That part of my heart is also ready for a little more room. I'm slightly uneasy even saying that out loud though, because I LOVE the memories we have of turning our table sideways and crowding friends into our living room, passing the bread between the TV and the couch.

But it irks me to call this space "small". We have SO MUCH. Seriously.

Occupy Wall Street broke my heart, because every time I heard someone say "we are the 99%", I wanted to take their hand and walk them through the streets of Sao Paulo on the day I cried for hours after handing out food to hungry kids, knowing that there were more kids than grocery bags and I had to look at dozens of children and say, "I'm so sorry. I don't have any more milk."

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We are the 1%. Every single one of us with the ability to read this silly blog via access to the internet. We are wealthy beyond the dreams of most of the world, but oh how quickly we forget.

So I hesitate to call our apartment small. It's safe, spacious, comfortable and clean. We have a refrigerator stocked with fruit and vegetables and clean water. I won't tell you we need more space or are lacking in anything. I won't tell you that I need a private yard or that I deserve it or have to have it. I don't, which makes us even more grateful to have recently learned than sometime in the near future, we will probably be able to purchase our first house. Grateful beyonds words.

It's interesting, and disturbing, how the consumer in me brings out the especially ugly in me. Outside of our regular household purchases, we don't shop often because we don't have that type of cash flow. So when we are told by a bank, "you qualify for this much" and I start scrolling the internet to see what's out there in our price range, my definition of "enough" begins to morph rather quickly. Each time I catch a glimpse of my overwhelming hunger for more, I am reminded of how broken I am and how desperately I need life from a man who didn't have a home to call his own, and he was just fine with that.

I think I'm even more bothered by the way I allow plans for the future to cast shadows over today. Our home buying reality is that it doesn't matter how much we love that little rancher needing fresh paint. Until we come back to the table with the necessary downpayment, all we can do is window shop. We're working hard, but that piggy bank is still pretty hollow; and even though we're not going anywhere for several months, I'm already feeling "done" with our apartment. Our home. No longer wanting to fight for it, struggling to maintain it, giving up moments to enjoy it.

It's not just anticipating a move. It's a pattern.

Why do I so quickly allow the excitement of life's next thing to poison the goodness of life's current thing?

I'm not sure when the next thing will begin, but I do know that the boys aren't counting the days. We've talked about buying a house and the new things we could do there, but they aren't anxious or any less engaged while we wait for the savings account to fill up. They aren't whining about their routines or becoming lame-ducks in their play spaces. They're as content as ever. And when we pull up at their new home, whenever that is, they will be excited and celebrate and once again, be content.

How gentle of God to continuously use my children as two of my greatest teachers.

The temptation to isolate

I don't think I've ever been so happy to see August. I've made fun of this month in years past, annoyed by its peak humidity and lack of holidays or things to look forward to. This year though, it is a breath of fresh air. Every soggy, hot minute of it. 

There was anxiety on my part coming into this summer, as I added up my commitments and realized I had agreed to a lot more work than was going to be feasible. Trying to apply some sort of brakes, I turned off the writing part of my life. For some reason I thought that would be restful. Instead it was exhausting. I process out loud, understanding my thoughts best as I speak them or write them. So with a loaded schedule that removed me from the presence of friends, accompanied by a "sabbatical" from writing that was the opposite of restful, my brain grew slow and foggy. Add to that an unusually heavy and emotionally draining July, and I was an irritable, weepy woman.

August is here though! Praise! The promise of fall is beginning to flirt with those of us dreaming of orange trees and football games, and it's just a matter of time before we're pulling out boots and opening the windows. 

In the middle of last month, spurred on by Jen Hatmaker and her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I also took a little break from media. We don't have cable and we watch limited TV, so it wasn't a loss to make some space there. Cutting myself off from social media required more sacrifice though. At first it was hard. Then it was easy. Eventually, I loved it. I savored the silence and knew I wouldn't go back the same way I left.

But in the mix of that July...the difficult days, the writing hiatus, the social media withdrawal, the schedule so full I couldn't see or talk to friends...somewhere in there, I began to question my need for community. I thought about how much simpler it would be to not really know what was going on with anyone else...how low maintenance it would be to stay away. I knew that life would be flat and lacking growth, but it seemed to require less energy than the alternative.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't actually moving towards becoming some sort of a recluse. But I thought about how seemingly simple it was. I saw the problems, but I also heard this voice telling me that it was safer. Quieter. Less messy. 

I eventually pushed myself out and began to move back into the noisy warmth of community. Then I read twelve little words that captured it all so perfectly.

Ian Morgan Cron had me as a fan with Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me. He is honest, funny and kind, writing with a wisdom that gently nudges my heart back to the cross in the midst of wandering. When I started reading his latest book, Chasing Francis, my respect only grew deeper. 

In a conversation between the story's narrator and a Fransican friar, the friar explains that he was once a teacher and then a hermit. Early into his days of isolation though, he says that "the Lord Jesus told me that being a hermit was too easy." Their dialogue moves on, but my mind stayed on those words. It was "too easy".

How often do we retreat because it is easier than the work of being present? How quickly do we pull away rather than putting in the effort to have the difficult conversations and engage in the relationships we would prefer to avoid, shutting down instead of opening up?

I'm a little embarrassed to tell you how many times in a single month I have to talk myself down from the cliff of swearing off writing forever. And I'm not sure you want to hear about all the moments I walk away because silence is easier than awkward or honest conversation...easier than looking someone in the eyes.

I wonder how many mornings Jesus wanted to hide and how many days he resisted the temptation to isolate himself, because he knew how much we needed his life. We didn't need to just hear about it. We needed to experience it.

Adam had everything in the garden, except companionship, and God said it was not good. The life we find in community is messy and complicated and full of grey rather than black and white. It makes us laugh harder and mourn deeper. It is vulnerable and risky and incredibly worth it. Each step out whittles away the debris and shapes us into better versions of ourselves.

If we want to imitate Christ, we have to live in the throes of people and all that comes with them.

It's true that smaller circles and less engagement would be easier, but we were never called to the easy. We were called to something wider, borders we can only reach when attached and committed to others - the ones we love effortlessly and the ones with whom love is taxing. So here's to nudging us all out a little further this week - letting go of what's easy to take hold of something richer.

Why my phone can stay in my purse...for the next 20 years or so.

Pulling away from a stop light today, reaching down to change songs on my phone, a thought ran through my head and then quickly punched me in the stomach. I could feel the eyes of my three year old behind me and I remembered that right now, today, I am teaching him to drive. The lessons are happening every time we get in the car, not waiting to begin when he turns 15. I'm teaching him how to "safely be distracted" behind the wheel...whatever that means...and he is watching closely.

I'm also teaching him how to use technology, how to create boundaries and what it means to develop a healthy understanding of self, others and an always accessible world begging for his attention every minute of every day. 

I may worry about the friends he'll meet later and the influence they'll have over his decisions, but the truth is that the groundwork is here. I can't control what will happen the day he drives off alone, without me there to slam my foot on the imaginary passenger brake and magically protect him simply because I'm in the car. I can't control if he'll text or turn his music up to a level that makes coherent thoughts unlikely. I can't control if he'll go off to college more attached to the internet than people. But I can control what we establish as normal. I can lay a foundation for the behaviors I'd want him to follow. 

Remember when a phone was just a phone? If it wasn't ringing or being used to call out on, it was forgotten. The computer was for writing and organizing and creating projects, but it had very little to do with connecting. It wasn't a window to someplace beyond. Now everything funnels through these portals. Email, bank account, connections with people I know and people I don't, creative outlets, world news, music, camera, picture storage, work....it's all right there, just waiting to be tapped into.

One day, not too long from now, my three year old will begin to wander out into that ever expanding frontier and he'll certainly be swayed by the way his peers interact with their new freedoms, but the expectations he has going in matter. A lot. We all start life thinking that the way it's done in our house is the way it's supposed to be done everywhere. That's normal, healthy, home base. What I realized today is that I don't like the way I'm shaping that starting place in a few specific areas, and that BJ and I are setting the tone for what's to come, even though one day he'll fly out of our hands and we'll watch nervously from our little nest, wondering what he'll do next.

So I'm leaving my phone in my purse and my computer on the desk.

It isn't simply about less screen time. It's about decentralizing something that should be nowhere near the center.

It's about wanting the only association between driving and the phone to be that it stays buried under my wallet. It's about wanting the world online to seem more like a passing thought...a platform we check in with every couple days...and less like a third child or a friend who swears she loves me but actually has a tendency to make me feel pretty lousy. It's reorienting values and moving items that should be in the peripheral over to the side where they belong.

Because this kid is growing fast and he's soaking up our every move along the way.

On a side note, when the day comes that he actually does crawl into a car by himself and drive somewhere independently, will someone please send a bottle of red wine and a full pan of brownies? I'm going to be a mess.

Roadblocks to Writing (and all other forms of communication)

I'm terrible at answering some of the questions that are sent through my website and Facebook page. Specifically questions about writing or major life decisions. It isn't for lack of caring or wanting to respond, it's simply because, like many of you, my day is full of a whole lot of crazy and my email and I have a troubled relationship in the midst of all that mess. Instead, I'll try to address the writing questions here.

I'm a baby writer. I'm studying and making mistakes and listening closely to leaders I respect, trying to navigate around a world where everyone with a computer is a writer. I've learned that sometimes, the message we're trying to communicate gets lost because of a number of barriers we set up along the way. Through trial and error, I've realized that avoiding them takes work, but that it also results in a message that is honest and meaningful, leaving room for people to join.

1. "It's been said, so why bother?"

The simple truth is that yes, it's ALL already been said and yes, it needs to be said again. We are all writers and storytellers. We each represent a life that is full of complex beauty and we experience growth in the exchange of our stories. Whether that happens over coffee, around the table or on paper (I would encourage a healthy blend of all three), it's in the telling and listening that we change. Your story is meaningful and we need to hear it.

Comparison is a beast. It robs us our voice by convincing us that our words need to sound like someone else's. And if it doesn't shut us up completely, it tries to change us into a watered-down version of that person we're reflecting. The world doesn't need carbon copies of established leaders. Jesus said He was making a new thing. What is the new thing He is making in you?

2. Assuming the reader hasn't already thought about what you have to say. 

I know, didn't I just say that Jesus is doing a new thing in you and that's what you can offer the world? Yes. But He is also doing a new thing in the lives of your readers and you all share many of the same thoughts, struggles, and revelations. I try to stay open minded when it comes to articles and blogs floating around the internet, but the second a post takes on a tone of "you need to...you're missing...your problem is...", I move on. 

The reader is smart and is working through life with the same depth as the writer, figuring things out and making adjustments. The most convicting, challenging pieces I have read were not written to inform me of something, they were written as a sincere reflection on the writer's own experience. It left the door open for me to see the ways my story aligned with theirs, rather than assuming that he or she knew what I was thinking without even asking. That is invitational.

3. Speaking for the purpose of being noticed. 

The first time I wrote something that was relatively popular, I'll admit, I thought I had arrived somewhere that I now know doesn't really exist. Surely my book deal would be settled by the end of the week, my speaking schedule would take off and Christine Caine would call me up for her next podcast...or just to hang out! Ok not really, but I did think that I broke through into a place that meant something it didn't actually mean. There are three problems with writing for the sake of being noticed.

(1) It leads to bad writing. We just can't pen honest words if the goal is to create something that goes viral. People can taste it, like that slimy feeling on the roof of your mouth after eating something with fake sugar. They taste it and run. Good writing comes from someplace much more vulnerable than that, and it can't have anything to do with whether or not we are noticed. Some of the posts that meant the most to me barely showed up the radar for anyone else. But they were still words I needed to say, thoughts I needed to work through. The things I've written with the greatest buzz were never created with that in mind. This one in particular, a simple idea about how we relate to the world online, I wrote it in the car the night my grandfather began to die. It seemed silly at the time, a means of coping and processing. Some of the articles I followed it with, trying to recreate that reaction...well, I didn't publicize them for a reason :-)

(2) Easy come, easy go. Readers and followers will always flow out as quickly as they flowed in, because their worlds are unique and changing and what they want to read is going to change, so that approval...that sense of being noticed...it isn't something to cling to. Not even a little bit. 

(3) Doing anything for the sake of being noticed leaves other people feeling used, which won't help any of us as writers or as humans.

4. Not listening to what others are saying.

Everything about our writing will be better when we are reading and listening to other voices. Our vocabulary, our tone, our ideas, the posture of our hearts...it is all sharpened by taking in and learning from other people. To tune them out will only drive us further away from anyone who might read what we have to say. 

These are the roadblocks, and while each can be avoided with some intentional work, perhaps it takes something more as well. 

Maybe we set out in the right direction and are better able to maneuver around the problems when we begin from a place of humility, low to the ground, fully dependent on God, because that's where the heart change occurs and the life-giving words begin to form.


Sometimes I need to just stop thinking about things so much

I have a bad habit of being nostalgic for moments that haven't actually passed yet. Normally it strikes in the present, but I have been known to lament the end of something that hasn't even started. I know I'm not the only one who does this. I am, however, the only one in my household.

BJ has a gift for living in the now and he would probably tell you that he has room to grow in terms of thinking a little more about the future, but his ability to be present is remarkable. I don't think I've ever seen him dwell on the past, and where I experience sadness today for change coming ten years from now, he can easily say, "I'll feel that when I get there." Then there are the boys. Goodness, if there was ever a lesson for living in the present, it must be children. Now is all that exists to them. Eat now. Play now. Sleep now. My three year old's understanding of time is summed up by the stickers we put on the clock to explain when things will happen. "When this hand gets to the elephant sticker, then you will take nap. And when it gets to the balloon, then we will go outside." That's pretty much it.

Unlike the men in my home, I live in a lot of places at once. That awkward conversation I had two weeks ago when I said something I didn't mean. The good and bad and beautiful and hard of today. And the emotions I will one day have to process as these times come to pass. Just writing down that last part makes me teary.

You know those songs that sing about good times gone? I hate those songs. Especially when they sing about the younger years of marriage and the tiny years with children. Those songs are like dry wood on the open flame of my anxiety. 

This week we are on vacation.

Setting aside the stress of keeping one boy above water when he wholeheartedly believes he can swim (he can't) and keeping the other one from ingesting a quarter of the beach's total sand count, it really is lovely. 

Every time we begin to sink into one of those sweet, brief moments where everyone is happy and playing or eating or resting, I almost instantly get jerked back out by an unnecessary heaviness from knowing that one day this will be gone. First there's the knowledge that today is Tuesday and in four days we'll be driving home. But then there's the knowledge that one day the boys will be big and I won't be able to lather them up with sunscreen and wash sand out from their ears. And this heaviness that I feel both here and at home, it's weighing me down.

I don't want to look back later and be disappointed by how much energy I gave to worrying over the end.

The problem I have with this whole time thing is that it isn't fair, and no matter which way I look at it, I can't find an angle that feels better. I waited and prayed and dreamed over this season of life. It only seems fair that I should get to stay in it as long as I want...you know, like forever.

I feel the fracture that happened back in that garden. Those moments that are so precious that we want to stay in them forever, I think that's because they hint at something that resembles the peace from those early days of the world. Just a trace of the peace we were made for and the peace we were made to experience forever. So of course I want to stay in this place and yes, it isn't fair that things end. Sin sucks.

Praise God for the hope we have through Christ on the cross, that things are redeemed in a way that is eternal. Forever.

For now though, I have to stop lamenting moments that aren't actually gone. My brain can only process so much at one time and if I refuse to keep filling it with this dwelling on something as unstoppable as time and change, the space that is freed up can be used to enjoy more, think deeper, laugh harder and remember with greater joy.

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While we were walking down the beach yesterday, my oldest developed a collection of rocks to take home. No pretty sea shells for this kid. It's rocks and the bigger the better. He had two handfuls that he wanted to take back to the room and store for carrying home next week, but at a certain point he came across something that, in the moment, was more exciting - a big stick. Oh the wonder of a three year old boy! Picking it up was going to require putting the rocks down though. I reassured him we could pick up more later, but he resisted at first. How could he just leave them there? He tried to hold both, juggling his treasure in one arm and dragging the stick with the other, but eventually he let go of the rocks and was free to play, no longer held back.

I saw him spin past me with both hands on the stick, digging up sand and drawing animals and shapes. In more ways than one, I saw myself and I remembered that the weight of anxiousness over what is to come will only keep me from having open hands to enjoy today.

This misplaced nostalgia wants me to think it's my friend, that it's helping me stay present and focused. But if it was my friend, it would be life-giving...and it certainly is not life-giving. If I'm being honest and calling it what it is, it's straight up, unhealthy, joy-choking, stomach-turning anxiety. It is whispers from an enemy telling me how sad it is that this will one day be gone. It's lies suggesting that if only I remember that, somehow I can slow it all down and be more fully here. But the truth is it takes me away. It produces a fear that if I forget how fleeting the whole thing is, if I forget that we are vapors in the wind of time, then suddenly it will just be over and I will have not soaked it up. People say, "you blink and it's gone." And that's my fear. Everyday it's my fear. But fear is not from God. 

I don't have a list of steps to get to a place of more freedom. Lists feel better, but sometimes the answer to changing something is to simply decide to think differently and then to do it. Sensing my anxiety over these things, my dad sent me this text on Friday: "Live in the moment. 'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.' Matthew 6:34"

When Jesus talked about how we should pray, it was very much a prayer of the present. Gratitude and requests for today's provision. He didn't even mention tomorrow.

For those like BJ, always present and never fighting time, I admire you. For those like me, I feel it with you. Let's choose to listen to Jesus. Let's choose gratitude for those sacred spaces we find so much life in and then let's choose to enter them free of any thoughts that might detract from the joy that was intended in their gift.  Let's simply say thank you and savor it.

 

The Marks of My Children

These are my boys. They tend to leave a trail.

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You can tell where they've been by the mess floating in their wake.

There are the blueberries stuck to the TV, the stickers scattered across hardwood floors, and the assortment of crayons and markers scribbled on the couch, table, beds, windows and walls. We bought a new mattress last year and every time I strip the sheets, I spot an additional ring that didn't quite wash out. I'd like to tell you it was juice that someone spilled, but we all know what it is. Why pee or throw up in your own bed when mom and dad's room is right down the hall? Smudged fingerprints from sticky hands cover every semi-reflective surface and there are food stains in places that I never imagined could get dirty and I'm really not sure how to clean. And it doesn't matter how many times I give away the toys, they still seem to pour out of every corner of every room. I don't know who decided pillows should be loose on the couch, but whoever it was didn't have small children. Had the designer been a mother, all sofas would come equipped with pillows that are permanently attached and cannot be thrown on the floor ten times before lunch.

Then there are the residual marks, created by a lifestyle of chasing, washing, feeding and holding - bottomless laundry baskets, a home that is never actually clean, chronic sleep deprivation and a wrinkly tummy that stretched out to grow and carry babies. 

These are the marks of my children. I've spent a lot of time reorganizing over the last four days, trying to regain a tiny bit of order in the thick of chaos. But when the toys were put away and I went to the closet to pick up a bucket of paint to cover the crayon marks on the dining room wall, I paused. These are marks of my children. They are the marks of a house that is loud and busy and dirty and full of life. They remind me of a curious boy making his way and getting into trouble and hiding the evidence of his mischief under his pillow.

And one day there won't be crayons on my walls. The pillows will never be thrown off the couch and I doubt BJ will walk around putting stickers on the floor. We'll sleep 8 hours uninterrupted and the only dishes we'll wash will be from the two of us. My home will be clean, but it will also be quiet. That season will be wonderful and refreshing and full of new stories with my grown children, but it will also mean that this season is over. So I'm not just accepting the mess today, I'm loving it.

Those are the things I thought about standing in the closet, looking down at that bucket of grey paint, which is why I left it there and I left the marks on the walls. I hope that when friends come and sit around the table with us, they'll smile and maybe laugh at the crayola renderings next to them.

It's a sweet, brief time friends. And I love it so much it hurts. 

On being unable to hold anything together

This weekend, we got away.

We packed up the babies, tucked them in at my parents and headed into the mountains.

Virginia mountains may not be able to compete with the scale of other peaks, but it's hard to match their beauty. They're captivating in a confident, quiet sort of way that doesn't feel the need to announce itself, but just sits patiently and invites the rest of us to enter in.

My dad raised me in these blue hills and they feel like an extension of family, yet I'll never stop oohing and awing over them. Springs of water shooting from the rocks, deer running out of sight, wind so loud you're sure it can move buildings - it's makes us stop and admire. What strikes me is that we experience many of these things in some form here at home, yet our reaction is noticeably different there. There are creeks and lakes and animals all around Richmond, but they are mostly managed by people. There seems to be something aww inducing about that which is wild. That which is beyond our control. That which is controlled by the one Who is sovereign.

This was my view during breakfast yesterday.

Watching the shadows cast by clouds roll up and over the mountains and thinking back to the small observations we made on the drive in, I found myself thanking God that I have no real control; and I breathed fully in the freedom of knowing that He does.

I'm not someone who easily gives up control, even the illusion of it. I tend to cling to it rather desperately, hoping that if I hold on tight enough, I may actually be able to save myself. Then I take a short drive up a relatively small mountain, or I sit at a window and watch the movement of life outside and I am reminded that beyond my own actions and attitudes, I hold nothing together. And while that thought would normally cause more than a slight panic, the longer I look out this window, the more I am sincerely grateful that it isn't my job to keep the world spinning, because the story would have to become so small if it was me - and staring across those mountains, I feel how tiny and pathetic a story it would be. Instead, I get to rest in the knowledge that it is not in my hands and that the story being written is penned by One who is infinite.

It's one thing to reflect on my limitations and embrace the power of a sovereign God when life is smooth and hope seems to be a given, but my prayer is that I can remember this place when tomorrow feels less certain and songs of praise aren't flowing as naturally.

That's the challenge we all face. To rejoice on the mountaintop and sing in the valley, knowing that the One speaking life into this broken world is so very good and safe to trust.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:7-12

What would you say? (a guest post with Rachel)

I asked Rachel to think back to a time when she wished she had the perspective she has today and consider what she would say to herself then, knowing what she does now.

Taken on Rachel's last trip to Arizona

Taken on Rachel's last trip to Arizona

You were a freshman in high school. You lived in the blazing desert of Arizona, in a place you called home since you were 5 and your earliest memories began. You were deeply rooted there, in a white stucco house with a red tile roof and a pool out back that’s surrounded by cacti. You were rooted in a church you have called yours since it met in an elementary school cafeteria, a church that has now grown to what many would call a mega-church, full of people you know and love well. You were rooted in a group of friends that all go to that church—you’ve all been close for years, that mix of guys and girls and millions of memories. You were rooted. You were home. You were safe.

It happened slowly, the changes that came that year. Your dad started looking for other jobs, some in Texas, one in Colorado, some on the East coast. It was talk at first, it was looking at options, making sure there was a back-up plan just in case. But then it got serious, and the list of pros about moving grew longer than the list of cons, and it started looking more and more likely. The house went on the market. Dad moved across the country to start the new job in a state you only knew because your grandparents lived there.

Your mom, your brother and you all stayed to finish the calendar year out before making the move. It was freshman year. High school had just started for you. You were a Hamilton husky, you were an honors student, you were involved, you had new friends and still all the old ones, you probably had a boy you liked.

You had to leave it all.

You rang in the new year in a hotel room because the new house wasn’t quite ready for you yet. You watched Disney channel shows until midnight with your brother, holding a teddy bear from that boy and trying to fight back the tears of feeling so alone.

That was the start of hating New Years for you. You didn’t see any light in that dark tunnel. You only saw unknowns, shadows, worries, fear. You saw crowds of unfamiliar faces closing in on you in the hallways, preppy fashion styles you thought looked ridiculous, everyone having friends to laugh with except you.

You spent weeks crying on the couch after school, feeling hopeless and desperate and distraught. You fought battles that were big and cruel and ugly with girls who were good at their catty games. You fell in love with someone who didn’t treat your heart quite right and gave it back two years later a lot more bruised and battered. You had a hard road for those four years. Lots of voices rang around you telling you these were the best years of your life and you would miss them when they were gone, and you prayed every day that they were wrong.

Sweet, sweet girl… I’m you. I’m older now and high school (and college, too) is a thing of the past. I conquered it. I made it.

I see that girl, curled up in a ball in a big bed, crying all night long, so alone and so sad. Oh, girl. You saw the worst of the worst, and I know how hard it all was. What you couldn’t see is that you are beloved. What you didn’t see is that you are brave. What you didn’t see is that you are beautiful. You were bigger than the bad. You felt small, and the world made that worse, but you weren’t.

The ugly things hurt you. They were like burrs that got stuck in that aching heart of yours, and you couldn’t shake them free. But you were in the hands of a gentle God, and He knew every beat of that tender and hurting heart, and He was setting them to a rhythm of His perfect grace. That beat felt choppy for so long, it felt disjointed. To you, it sounded a lot like when you used to bang the piano keys in frustration as a kid.

Looking back, I hear a sweet melody as the soundtrack to those years. Yes, it’s played on a lot of minor keys, and it’s dark and deep at times, but it’s so beautiful. It’s a song of persistence, of holding on, and of strength coming from a Savior when you felt so lost. It’s a song of dips to new lows, but those lows built in you a strong foundation, a new system of even stronger roots.

You have no idea that those years of struggle are just those new roots growing through rocky soil. You broke free from those years and found a community in college you could never have imagined.

All of a sudden, your melody of lows had harmonies joining in to bring you higher. The song got sweeter, lighter, fuller. It pierced the sky with clear notes of joy and life and hope. Your roots grew deep and strong, and you grew to blossom and bloom from that foundation.

I’m singing a new song now, but every now and then, those low notes echo in my song. They bring a richness and a depth I never knew my song would have. The Composer of my song is glorious and magnificent and excellent at His work, and He’s not finished with me yet.


Rachel is a writer and gifted communicator who works full-time for UMFS, as well as contributing to Rethink Creative Group. You can learn more about Rachel at racheladawson.com or by following her on Twitter (@racheladawson).

So you're telling me, 24 hours is all I get?

I guess we learned it early on as children. There are 7 days in a week, 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour. And I guess as kids, 24 seemed like an impressive number. It was three times the number of our age! A number that large deserves at least a modicum of respect. 

Eventually we started to feel it though. The air moved faster around us and the days that once seemed limitless became hurried. Those 24 hours began to feel unforgiving and stubborn - unwilling to bend as we needed a little more here or little less there.

I'm not sure when most people begin to process these things, but as an introspective, slightly anxious little girl on the eve of her tenth birthday, I cried myself to sleep because I was turning 10...which was half of 20...which meant that soon I would be an adult and move out and have kids and then they would leave and people I loved would start dying and life would be over. And while my mom was downstairs bracing herself for the ensuing rush of third grade girls at a sleepover, I literally cried into my pillow until I fell asleep because time was moving too fast. Some might say I had a flare for the dramatic as a child.

In theory, I want more hours. Just a few more minutes to spend time with my boys, talk to my husband, tackle the insanity of working from home with small kids, or who knows...maybe with a few extra hours I would actually get around to moving the clean laundry from the dryer into the drawers. Doubtful, but hey, anything is possible.

That is what I want in theory, but like many things, what I think I want and what I actually need are not the same. I think I want more hours in a day, but my gut tells me I couldn't handle it. I feel lucky to survive the day as it is. If I can land on the couch by 8:00PM with two sleeping children that are actually staying in their beds, I count that as a victory and fight to stay awake long enough to finish my glass of wine and have a grown-up conversation with my husband. 

Which is why I'm pretty sure God knew that 24 hours was our limit as human beings. Any more and I think we'd probably break.

So if I only get 24 and 7 of those are sleeping (for those that just laughed, I'm trying to stay optimistic that one day I will sleep for 7 hours again...one day....like in 2025), then what I do with those precious waking hours matters. A lot.

Because you guys, I feel it now more than ever.

This one will have his first birthday next month...

And this one now starts sentences with words like, "hey mom, just so you know..."

And every time I see a picture of us, I realize that it isn't our wedding day anymore. And I'm surprised by how tired we look. You know the way presidents age more quickly once in office? It's the same for parents, only we don't get a make-up team and our cameras are less forgiving.

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When people tell me, "cherish every moment with them because this stage will end before you're ready," I nearly burst into tears. I know these days are long and exhausting - it's been a frequent subject for me (like here and here); but as you have probably noticed, I am painfully aware of how brief these years are. The reminder really isn't necessary. I was the kid who cried over turning ten, you can imagine the way my mind haunts me while I'm nursing the baby or holding the preschooler during the quiet hours of the night. 

This recognition of time pulls my attention away from the noise and sharpens my focus on the things that are lasting - my family and my God. This is where I'll invest my time. These are the places I'll pour my heart out for. 

There's a quote floating around that says something along the lines of "When you're hugging a child, always be the last one to let go. You never know how long they need it." 

My boys have a habit of wiggling out of my arms as soon as I started to squeeze and wax poetic about how much I love them. But I have a tendency to wiggle out as soon as I realize that our time playing Hot Potato is creeping into the time I had planned to write, clean or simply do something "more mature" than play Hot Potato.

So we're starting to stay longer. We're committing to being the last ones out. As long as they want to stay in the moment with us, we will stay in the moment with them. It means new boundaries and deeper patience and leaving our phones in the other room. It means longer bedtimes and less broadcasting and more privacy. It means refusing to distract myself from these hours that I will think back on 20, 30, 40 years from now as I sit loving the men they've become, but wishing I could kiss those round cheeks and cuddle those tiny bodies again.

Because one day my 24 hours will not be so consumed with their sleeping, playing, eating and crying. Those hours won't be divided between cleaning their clothes, washing their faces, cutting up their blueberries, or picking up their toys. I hope I'll be able to count a part of my day that is regularly theirs, but maybe not. So I count it as a gift that the majority of those 24 hours are spent keeping them alive and growing. It's my greatest responsibility and joy.

I want my children to see me use the other hours for something other than them. I want them to see me focus that time on something and Someone bigger - but because I'm not a fan of super-long blog posts, I'll turn over that thought next week. 

As for the hours that are for my children and husband, I want them to really be for my children and husband. No meaningless distractions. No useless noise. No time tossed in the shallow places of life. The time that is theirs, I want it to be fully theirs, because when our hours run out, those are the moments we're going to remember.

Do You Want to Get Well?

Let me tell you a story.

There once was a man who could not walk. For 38 years, he lay by a pool thought to have healing powers. The idea was that occasionally, the waters would stir and whoever could get into the pool would be healed. For 38 years, this man watched the sick move into the water. And for 38 years, he could not reach it.

One day, Jesus passed by this man and noticed him. When he heard how long the man had been there, he walked over to him and asked, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:1-6)

At first, the question amazes me. How could Jesus ask that? Isn’t it obvious?

In what seems like a humorous childhood memory, I recall the young girl who hoped her sore throat would still be there in the morning so she could spend one more day watching movies instead of going to school. I laugh and think, “I guess I get it.”

But then I remember myself at twenty-two. I remember sitting in a therapist’s office and talking about my eating disorder; and I remember the subtle sense of satisfaction I felt. I remember how much I hated the thought of it actually being gone one day.

I remember a hurt and angry wife; staring at her husband with tears in her eyes and knowing that no matter what he said, anger seemed to taste better than forgiveness. I remember understanding the change and sacrifice required to heal - and wishing I could just stay mad instead.

Yeah, I definitely get Jesus’ question. Join me at iBelieve to continue reading and to join the conversation about what it means to want to get well

The hottest thing I've done for my marriage

honeymoon-article-3Okay, okay...one of the hottest things. But you don't get to hear about the others : -)

I didn't expect it to mean what it did to him. I definitely didn't expect it to be attractive.

There are people who feel the need to be heard on just about everything (that would be me) and then there are people who aren't worried about being heard. They are humble and patient. They don't complain and they rarely demand things be done their way. This is my husband. He makes me better.

In our toughest moments, he has never shied away from admitting fault. He is quick to apologize with sincere kindness. I'm quite sure this quality has been what's kept us afloat on many occasions.

It's taken more than seven years for me to realize that while he is swift to say "I'm sorry," I am not. There's a pattern to the way my apologies tend to function - we have a difficult conversation...in my mind, I realize I'm wrong...I back out and try to wrap things up so we can "move on" without me fully admitting that quite yet...I come back later with a lame apology after my pride has had some time to deflate....he graciously accepts.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw it repeatedly play out in our relationship.

Personal growth is rarely, if ever, easy. It usually requires sacrifice and that can often be difficult to push through. But let's be honest, some change is easier than others. Sometimes, opportunities for growth make us feel like "the bigger person". Other times, those opportunities remind us that we originate from dirt. At times, growth can be immediately empowering. And then other times, put simply, it sucks. Sorry. That's a crude, non-poetic way of describing it. But that's the best word I have right now. Sometimes, personal growth sucks.

Growing in this area was going to be that second type of change. It was not going to leave me feeling like the wiser, more generous partner in the relationship. Because you know what? It may not be easy to forgive, but at least we feel as though we are in a position of power when someone else wrongs us and we let it go. There's no feeling of power when we look someone in the eye, in the heat of strong emotions and raging pride, and we vulnerably say, "I'm so sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me."

Nope. That's not what I call "easy growth".

Walking away to shake some pride and then return with repentance when I "felt better" was not loving to my husband. It was foolish, child-like, and self-centered.

Taking the observation to my small group, I confessed that it was sinful and damaging to my marriage, and I recognized the need for change.

God didn't wait very long to afford me the opportunity to prove it wasn't all lip-service. Later that evening, looking across from this man I love, knowing I was wrong, and sensing my desire to call it quits and return later with a weak, "I'm sorry for earlier," I chose the road less traveled (less traveled for me that is). I looked him in the eye and apologized...not just for the way I was making that night more difficult for both of us, but for my pride throughout our marriage. I told him that I knew it was unfair to refuse to speak the words he deserved to hear when he deserved to hear them on many occasions, and I promised to start doing it differently.

He smiled and exhaled. It was as if I could literally see a weight lift off his chest. "Thank you," he said. "I really appreciate that."

Then he said something I didn't expect. "I hope this isn't offensive for me to say...but that was really attractive."

We laughed and smiled together. And he explained that it was one of the most vulnerable moments of our marriage - which is really saying something considering a few specific parts of our story and then those two times he held one of my legs in the air while I pushed out a baby.

Remember what I was saying about power earlier? When we submit ourselves to another person in a moment like this, we are laying down that power for the sake of love. In a sense, we are giving that power to another person by asking them to forgive us. That is vulnerable. And beautiful. And in the context of marriage, it's hot.

I'm amazed at my reluctance to lay down pride...to let go of feeling like the one with the power...especially when I am the one who did something to hurt him. If you can relate in anyway to this tension, let me share the part that really blows my mind...

"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8).

Who am I to refuse laying down my false sense of power and control, when Christ - "being in very nature God" - willingly set His power aside and laid down His life on a cross?

I'm also amazed that the very act I have avoided turns out to be one of the most intimate and attractive things I've done in our marriage.

I can almost hear all the beautiful women who are much wiser than me nodding their heads and saying, "Ah, yes. Been there." Like everything I talk about on here, it's a process. I'm learning, making mistakes, relearning and sorting through the mess.

I'm deeply grateful for a God who lets us in on the big picture of what we actually need, what creates real intimacy, and the truth that the hottest things in our marriages don't come in little pink bags. They come from gentle vulnerability and self-sacrificing love.

Naming the daughter we never met; and how she is changing us

SDR_2010Today marks four weeks since we began to grieve this loss. Not knowing a gender, our conversations have simply referred to her as "our sweet October baby." When given the option to run genetic tests that might determine what caused her heart to stop, we gave our consent without hesitation. Grief and coping look different on each person. For BJ and me, the more we are able to know, the better we can process. And let go. The doctor couldn't promise they would be able to get us answers, but we just wanted them to try. Leaving the hospital, BJ held my hand in the car and we prayed that by God's grace and provision, their findings might give us some clarity...something a bit firmer to wrap our fingers around. I went in to see my midwife yesterday and as we discussed my fears about getting pregnant again, she offered to look up the results...to see if they found anything. The report did hold answers - as painful as it was to hear.

Our baby was a girl.

Her system just hadn't developed quite right and she was missing an X chromosome (Turner's Syndrome). It was nothing we did. My body had no role to play in the outcome. It was simply a gap in the connections early on. Completely out of our hands.

The knowledge brought new waves of grief and anger, but it also brought some sense of relief. I am all at once hardened and softened by her existence and death. One of my best friends reminded me last night that God is not overwhelmed by my anger, a truth I am grateful for. I am grateful that He meets me where I am, as difficult as that place might be.

My midwife is a beautiful, compassionate woman. She put her arms around me and let my cry. When I was ready to leave, I stepped out into the hall and was met by one of the other midwives on her way to an exam room. She hugged me and I cried again. We talked for several minutes and she let me grieve....completely undeterred by her packed schedule, my awkward sobs, my squirming children in the stroller, or the woman waiting for her at the end of the hall. {I'll take this short moment to praise midwifery practices and say that this is why I love them. I've never experienced such care from any other medical professional.}

Lily Anne Joyner - that's her name. Lily comes from the name Lilian, which represents purity and innocence...the perfect description of one who will never know anything but love (something my sister reminded me of). Love in the womb of her mother, love from the prayers and belly kisses of her father, and now love in the arms of her Creator.

We have some family plans for how we will remember her. A box to hold pictures, cards, hospital bands and letters from BJ and me. Maybe we can even get the oldest one to throw in a drawing. And by throw, I literally mean throw. If you know my son, you know what I'm talking about. And for the rest of my years, a necklace will hang from my neck with an October birthstone - a daily marker of our precious girl who went before us.

We are changed by her life. Our culture sends some mixed messages about life before birth. Miscarriage is grieved yet abortion is condoned. There is a lot to say here, and she has taught me that I need to start saying it. But for today, all I'll say is this. She was alive. Her heart was beating and her body moving. And when we had to sign a legal document at the hospital giving our permission for what should be done with her remains, we didn't sign a line that said "patient". We both signed a line that said "parent." This was our living child whom we lost. And we will remember and honor her as such.

She is changing the way I see myself as a mother, redefining how I view my purpose in bringing about life, even if I don't get to see that life on the outside. She's making me ask questions about God's design, His plans and His kingdom beyond what my eyes behold. I don't know exactly where I come out with those questions. I believe that the world is broken and hurting, full of pain and death. I believe that God is love and compassion and justice. And I believe that He hurts with us. I don't believe that it was His purpose that she die, rather that losing her is a painful effect of life in a broken world. I believe that He is in control - and that whatever happens with such a tiny soul beyond this world is good, because He is good.

As heartbroken as I am to not see her face, I am so grateful to know that I am her mother. I am grateful for the knowledge that my body conceived and grew her. And I am grateful for the ways her life is changing me.

On Monkeys, Adam, Eve and Jesus

For the past few years, I've had the honor of calling Nicole Unice a friend. Her influence and encouragement have profoundly shaped my perspective, bringing me back to cross again and again. In 2012, she released She's Got Issues and on April 1, she released Start Here with David Dwight, our senior pastor and yet another incredibly significant influence for our entire family. Many thanks to Nicole for stopping by today to chat with us about what it looks like to start a conversation with Jesus.

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It was late on a Saturday night and we were sitting at a bar. There were six of us crowded around, and conversation drifted, the men talking among themselves while the women turned to the normal topics, of marriage and mothering and work. And then she turned to me pointedly and told me about a recent conversation with her kids, about monkeys and people and evolution, and she confessed that she didn’t get it. And maybe it was because of the wine or the time of night, but she spit it out. “If the museum display says we come from monkeys, then who the (bleep) are Adam and Eve?”

That conversation is just one of many I’ve had in my ministry life, over French fries with middle school girls, over coffee with college students, and even over the crowded noise of a bar. As human beings, we’ve all been wired to pursue purpose, to satisfy the inner ache in us that wants to find real, true, full life. And I’ve become convinced that everyone has questions, no matter how far they may seem from finding God. Even if you’ve been following Jesus for years, we can find ourselves asking some of the same questions—who are we? How did we get here? What gives life meaning? It’s in these questions that we can find a common language with our friends who don’t yet know Jesus. It’s in the yearning of our own hearts that we find passion to help others find their way.

I have a friend who once taught that faith is like a treadmill. We all get on the treadmill and can be moving at different speeds and distances—but no matter where we are on the treadmill, at one point, we all have to hit the “start” button. As believers in Christ, we’ve all hit the start button—crossed over from death to life. Some of our friends might be standing on the treadmill but need to be encouraged to start. Hitting the start means going from nothing to something—even if we doubt, even if we have questions, even if we aren’t 100% sure—we can still hit “start”.

After Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman about the water—and life—she was thirsty for, she immediately went back to her town to tell everyone she knew about meeting Jesus. Did she have it all figured out? Would she have called herself a “Christian”? I have no idea—but I do know what the Bible says—“many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Before she even knew what was happening, she had hit the start button, because she started talking to Jesus and started talking about Jesus.

We can encourage our friends that they don’t have to have it all figured out before they join our bible study, come to church, or start praying. They can just hit start and we can trust that Christ will meet them there. My friend who wanted to talk evolution on that Saturday night is still seeking. And I hope I’ll be one who can help her press start, trusting that God is the author of our hearts and our faith, and He is always working to draw us to Himself.

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NicoleUnice_Webshot1_highres-1024x682Nicole Unice is on the ministry staff at Hope Church and co-author of “Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus.” Find out more at http://nicoleunice.com or http://StartHereBook.com.

What I Wish I Had Known As a New Mom

9627-young mom and newborn_edited.630w.tn-2A nurse stood at the foot of my hospital bed and smiled. “Are you ready to go home today?” I looked at her, felt every ounce of the nine-pound baby sleeping in my arms, and fought back tears as I pushed out a short, “Yeah. Absolutely.” Over the next hour, we received discharge instructions from a pediatrician, my midwife and the nurse - when to call, what to look for, what’s normal and what’s a problem, how much bleeding is too much bleeding, how often to feed and how to know if he’s getting enough, and a number to call when we eventually began to panic. We sat on the bed and held our son; and for an entire hour, I tried not to cry.

Everyone left, my husband went to drop bags off at the car, and as I rested in a chair cradling a squishy baby boy, I cried for the first time since his birth. Through quiet tears, I leaned down and whispered, “I’m sorry. I promise, we’ll be okay.”

Motherhood is unlike anything else I have known. It is beautiful, terrifying, empowering, humbling, and transformative. In that one little moment leaving the hospital, I felt love, fear, guilt and joy all at once. Everyone told me that grace abounds and that I needed to just give myself plenty of room to adjust, but showering ourselves with grace is difficult. What does it actually look like in a world of dirty diapers, leaky milk, postpartum bellies, unpredictable hormones, and maddening insomnia?

Could I walk back and sit across from myself in that hospital room, I’d want to paint a picture of what grace looks like as a new mother. (continue reading at iBelieve.com)

How We Look At It

10100215305737626 As I write this, my sister is on a plane headed to Texas, where she and my nephew will join her husband for their new life in the Air Force. I've been anticipating and grieving this day for four years and it's finally come. Through lots of tears, we said goodbye and reminded each other that her summer visit is just around the corner. And while my mind turns over each level of her move that is difficult to swallow, I am also reminded of the wise words my grandfather shared towards the end of his life. She told this story at his funeral last December - I'm sure my paraphrase will not do justice to the richness with which he spoke. Kimberly had gone to visit him and asked, "Papa, do you think I'll like being a military wife?"

She probably expected him to pull the same line most people do. They say things like, "Oh it will be such an adventure! You'll love life on the base and the places you'll see!"

In the great wisdom he earned by years of living life well, he looked at her and said, "Well, I suppose that depends entirely on how you look at it. If you think you're going to hate it, you'll hate it. If you choose to embrace it, you'll love it and have wonderful experiences."

Already resisting the day she would leave, hearing her tell this story challenged me to reconsider how I approached this new season for our family. They have a ten year commitment to the Air Force. How I process the next decade of living so far apart is going to be affected entirely my how I choose to look at it.

Thank you Papa for living with such powerful reflection and allowing us to benefit from your wisdom.

Instead of dwelling on the thoughts that bring back tears, I'm going to look forward to the trips to the airport and reunions outside terminals, cross-country trips for four+ Joyners on the way to a base, and a long exchange of texts and Skype dates that close the miles and keep relationships alive.

Have fun in Texas sweet sister! The Air Force is lucky to have you!

For The One We Lost

We talk about becoming a parent when a baby is born. We say things like, "You will be a great dad!" Or "Are you ready to be parents in a few months?" It's not true though. We become parents the moment we know there is a baby. The second that stick shows two pink lines, we are parents. Our brains switch into a new mode. For my friends who have adopted, I would imagine they share a similar experience related to the first time they saw a picture of their sweet child - or maybe even just knowing he or she was out there waiting to be found by them. For me, this has come with the knowledge of a pregnancy. We pray for that baby. Worry about its health. Dream over its future. Imagine the new personality and life it will bring into our world. We begin to sacrifice immediately, cutting expenses, giving up habits, changing our diets, rearranging our lives to make room for this new person that we already love just because they exist.

Yes, I am quite sure that we become parents the moment we are aware of our child's being.

This happened for me on May 25, 2010 when I learned I was pregnant with the oldest one. On September 6, 2012, my mind shifted into a mother-of-two role when those little lines told me the youngest was coming. And then it happened again, on February 15, 2014, when we learned that we were expecting a wonderful, welcomed surprise - baby Joyner #3.

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We laughed a lot. I freaked out and cried a little. We rearranged our plans. I knew I was a mother of three - two on the outside, one on the inside. For the last month, we told our family and friends the news as we saw them around. We adjusted plans for finances and looked for more space. And we tossed around a few different ways to tell everyone publicly using the first ultrasound, an appointment we were scheduled for yesterday, just under 10 weeks along in the pregnancy. We imagined we would be telling everyone last night.

Instead, my midwife told me in a gentle, compassionate voice, "I can't find a heartbeat." She said it looked like I was a little further along than we had suspected. And this probably happened in the last day or two. I could see my baby on that screen...a faint outline of arms, a precious round head, and a perfect little torso. I stared at the picture and knew this was as close as I was going to get to seeing his or her face and I cried. I could imagine a nose and eyes that might be similar to our boys. I wondered about the features that would be different. All I wanted to do was hold that baby and tell him or her it was okay. And I would miss them.

Tomorrow, we'll go into the hospital and when we leave, our baby will not be with us. Friends, I don't know how to do this next part. I don't know how to be pregnant, to feel sick everyday, to make plans and dreams, to no longer fit comfortably in my jeans, to share excitement with our three-year-old, and then to just not be pregnant anymore. I understand postpartum. I don't understand adjusting back to normal without a baby in my arms.

I've debated a lot about if I would write at all, and when to speak or what to say if I did. Here's what I've come to. Each of my children has been celebrated. We have proudly displayed their pictures and announced their being to the world. As a proud mama of three, I want my friends and family to know about this sweet little one. I want to celebrate this life and the love we have for this child of ours. I know the process looks different for everyone. This is just what's most natural for me.

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We grieve because this baby, this unique and beautiful person, was already so dearly loved and adored. To those that have poured out prayers, tears, letters, and phone calls - we are deeply grateful and encouraged by each of you. Thank you. The closer we get to tomorrow, the heavier this sadness becomes. We covet your prayers in the morning and in the days ahead. Thank you for circling around us and loving us so well.

As friends have heard about our loss, many have shared with us their experiences with the children they never held, or for some, those they held only a short while. Their words remind us that we are not alone, that this sadness will ease, and that its okay to always see ourselves as the parents of one who is not with us on this side of heaven.

BJ and I have dreams of a big family and I believe more little faces will fill our home in the years to come. But we will also remember this precious baby and stay forever grateful for the life that they lived. We are the parents of three now. Two here with us and one in the arms of the Creator. Perhaps the most surprising emotion I'm experiencing is gratitude. Even though it ended with a loss, I wouldn't change being pregnant for those weeks. Had I known this would be the end, I wouldn't go back and take it away. I'm grateful to have been this one's mama, a title I will proudly carry for the rest of my life.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you." Psalm 139:13-18

The Best Marriage Advice I've Ever Heard

You hear a lot of advice before you get married. "Keep a date night."

"Never go to bed angry."

"Make your relationship the first priority."

"Don't walk out during an argument."

Veteran couples further down the road look back on young newlyweds and offer insight for the challenges ahead. Of all the counsel my husband and I received leading up to our wedding day, one thought has proven to be the most challenging and transformative, and it came from my father-in-law.

A gifted pastor and teacher, he was the only person we could imagine officiating our wedding. During the final preparations for the ceremony, we sat across a table from him in a small restaurant to discuss the details: who was responsible for what, when would everyone arrive, which verses had we chosen to use and who would be reading them… Somewhere between the end of our meal and the waitress returning a receipt to be signed, we asked him what advice he had for us. He paused, smiled, and looked down for a moment to thoughtfully consider his response. His eyes shot back up and looked directly at us as he simply said, "Forgive quickly."

I had enough self-awareness on that day to know this would not come easily to me. If there were ever a place where I would feel justified to harbor bitterness and keep a tab on the ways I had been wronged, it would be within marriage. Where else would I share such a wide array of intimate moments with one person? Space, money, parenting responsibilities, highs, lows, personal time, a bed . . . Becoming "one" is about more than sex. It requires a level of vulnerability that opens the door for deep hurt; and letting go of those wounds was going to require more change than I would like to submit to...

Join me at Today's Christian Woman to finish reading!

Modern-Day Slavery By the Numbers

slavery-2One of the most appalling stretches of history saw 12 million people forced into slavery and carried across the ocean to be sold. We read their stories, watch movies about their lives and shudder at the thought that something so evil actually happened. The injustice is more than we can stomach, and somewhere along the way, we try to shake the weight of that truth by reassuring ourselves that, “times have changed.” Not only have times not changed, the problem has grown.

27 Million

There are over 27 million slaves in the world today.

Just sit with that for a minute.

In an age where the Internet serves as instant communication across borders and medical advancements explode past their limits, there are 27 million slaves.

In a world that rallies behind the shared experience of the Olympics and embraces compelling, moving works of art across mediums, there are 27 million slaves.

In a world that protests injustice and fights for human rights in the streets and online, there are more than twice the number of slaves than existed during the entire trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. And they are hidden.

Finish reading at RELEVANT Magazine