Layla’s 7th Birthday Letter

Can you believe we’re on birthday letter number SEVEN?! It’s a month early but we’ll be busy come June so I wanted to get it done!

My dear Layla-

     There are so many things I love about your soon-to-be-seven self. I love your laugh and the way you throw your head back while you do it. I love the way you show affection to your brother and sister. I love your awesome ability to use your words and tell me what you’re thinking and feeling. I love that you insist on a hug and kiss at the end of the night no matter how our day has gone. I love the look on your face when I catch you awake way past your bedtime because you’re reading your Bible….I mean, how could I be mad about that?! I love the way your curly hair gets at the end of the day…wild, big and free…just like you! I love your confidence. I love the way you share your relationship with Jesus with others. I love the way you talk to me about what you’re learning in church and at school.
      Lately Layla, when I look into your eyes, I feel the most intense combination of joy and sadness. Sadness because it’s harder and harder for me to see the baby you once were. Joy because it’s easier and easier for me to see the beautiful woman you will become…I’m so blessed to be your Mommy.
     By nature I am introverted and a rule follower. It takes intentional effort for me to start a conversation and although I love people dearly, I’m not what you would call a people person. But you, my Layla…you couldn’t be more different. And oh the wonder of raising a child who is the direct opposite of everything you’re comfortable with! You have made me grow in so many ways just by being who you are. You are loud and energetic in the very best way. You can talk to anyone…you can carry a conversation seamlessly. In the world of Layla, everyone, from the new student at school to the barista at Starbucks, is a potential new best friend.
     With your boldness, comes a desire to challenge the rules and to forge your own path. And that, my dear, finds you in trouble from time to time. While I’m the one who is doling out the consequences, I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m glad you seek to understand the rules instead of blindly following them. I’m glad you understand standing up for what you believe is right. As you mature, that boldness is going to serve you well. You have come leaps and bounds with respect and obedience at home and we will be consistent in insisting you continue to learn those things, but I think your desire to march to the beat of your own drum is going to make you quite the leader some day, sweet girl.
     Layla, on your 7th birthday I want to tell you that I see who you are and what God is doing in your life and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Being your Mommy is a joyful challenge and I know that whatever the Lord has in store for our family, it will always be an adventure with you as a daughter. I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea, Layla Jean! Happy Birthday!

When Crisis Strikes

Earlier this year there was a women’s conference that I was unable to attend. I remember feeling such a need to watch online. It was difficult and I felt a tiny bit guilty about it because all 3 kiddos were home. I basically banished them to the playroom so I could focus, In retrospect, it needed to happen.

One woman shared a story that has literally played on repeat in my head the last few weeks. She spoke of one day having “that” conversation. You know the one. The one where you discuss what you could NEVER do. Something you just couldn’t handle. I think we’ve probably all had a similar one. I remember before Kevin and I were married saying that I could never move away from my family because we’re so close. And yet somehow here I am, and actually happy to be here. Here happens to be 1,000 miles from my extended family even though I once said I could NEVER.

The woman who shared her story, lost her two sweet boys in a tornado. Here are some of her words:

My husband and I were at a cemetery placing flowers on his grandparents’ grave. He had not been there in 10 years and we drove by it every day. We stopped for the first time. After planting flowers, we noticed there was a grave behind his grandparents of a little boy and a mother. It was not taken care of and the grass was growing everywhere and toy trucks were strewn around. My husband said to me, “Let’s clean it up.” It was a great idea. On our hands and knees, we cleaned this stranger’s grave. I will never forget that time. I looked up at him with tears in my eyes and said, “if anything ever happened to our boys I would die.” My husband agreed and said the same thing. Little did I know that four days later they would be gone. Immediately, God picked me up after crying out and carried me through, and He still is carrying me. -April Smith

I know it is more comfortable to do hard things when we are excited about the journey. When God called us to serve with Safe Families, I was all in. God has given me a heart for the hurting. I love to serve. It is hard but rewarding. We have had so many difficult moments but it has been worth it. We have walked on with determination because we are passionate. This doesn’t make the journey easy-but since it is a journey that I want to travel, that I’m happy to travel, the roadblocks aren’t so overwhelming.

But what happens when God calls you on a journey that you don’t want to go on? What if, like April Smith, the next season is one of loss or grief? What if you aren’t passionate about this part of your walk? We are afraid to talk about those seasons, but we need to. Because they come. For all of us. It is my nature to pray against those seasons because I don’t want to be in them. But I am learning that obedience means moving forward no matter the season.

If your current season is one of hard things, I’d like to confess that I’m in that season, too. Not to diminish your struggle, but to walk alongside you and remind you that you aren’t alone. Here are some things that I am learning in this season and I hope they will help you, too.

Gratitude. It’s so important. Every day there is something to be thankful for. Feel that gratitude with your whole heart. Thank God for how richly blessed you already are. I find myself so grateful for my amazing husband, my sweet children, my supportive church. On the worst days, I can still find something to be grateful for. Salvation. A God who knows the end of the story. The promise that one day He will wipe every tear from our eyes and death shall be no more, neither sorrow. Friends-there is always SOMETHING to be thankful for. With gratitude comes joy. And joy in the middle of the storm is that much more rich.

Surrender. This is where we let God be God. Where we recognize that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. This is where we relinquish our grip on the illusion of control. This is where we get to show Him that we mean it when we say we trust Him. This is the beautiful place we can reach where we discover peace in saying “I don’t know how this story ends, I don’t know what each day holds, but I know that You’re going to be enough.” In surrender, there is contentment.

Community. This is a hard one for me. But it might be one of the most important. I can’t tell you the fulfillment I have found in serving the broken. But when I’m broken-my gut instinct is to pull away until I can get myself together. That’s not how God created us to operate. Especially as Christians. We are part of a body. When we hide difficult times and pull away from that body, we do not only ourselves a disservice, but we do the people in our lives a disservice, too. There are lessons in humility for you to learn in your transparency with others. There are lessons in diligence and servant hood for those around you to learn. And when God does come through, no matter how it looks, you won’t be the only one rejoicing. The people who walked every ugly step with you will be able to be rejoice, too. They will come to know God more because you allowed them to share in your struggle. We may be robbing others of their blessing by choosing to walk a hard season in solitude. We aren’t meant to walk alone.

Maybe you aren’t in a season of struggle. Maybe this time in your life is fantastic and everything is going smoothly and you are looking for ways to serve someone else. I have had many family members and friends tell me recently that they struggle with what to do when crisis happens in the life of someone they love. Here are some ideas:

-Pray. And share that you’re praying. If you woke up at a certain time and had on your heart to pray for that person, tell them that you did. You would be surprised at how many times someone has told me that they prayed for me and it was at a moment that I specifically needed it. It was such a precious reminder that God’s got this.

-Take action. Don’t say “Tell me what you need and I’ll do it.” When crisis strikes, it can feel overwhelming to hear many people request that you think of something that they can do to help. It’s so kind, but the person struggling likely won’t take you up on your offer. Think about how you’d like to help and be specific. Say “let me know when I can watch the kids so you can take care of things.” or “I’d like to order dinner for you this week, what day would be best?” Drop off coffee. Send an encouraging card in the mail. Text scripture with no expectation of hearing a response. Take the burden off of the person struggling to figure out what they need and who can do it. Instead, be intentional when you notice a need and fill it if you can. If you can’t, be confident that your prayers will be enough. Because they will!

-Be the friend you’ve always been. Don’t ask for the gory details, but let them know you’re there to listen. It may be a day that they need to talk, or it may be a day where they are longing for some normalcy. Offer them that option.

We’ve all been on both sides of this story-the helper and the one who needs help. The one in the season of pain and the one in the season of prosperity. That’s life. May we learn to embrace the journey in both seasons.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Wordless What?

Remember when for like 3 solid weeks I stuck to my “Wordless Wednesday” blogs? Sorry, y’all! Sometimes I forget that there are family members who read this blog, too. And my family loves pictures! But this season of our lives happens to be pretty intense so I’m awful at taking pictures “just for fun” right now. I did finally make time to take some pictures of the kids because it’s been way too long. I thought I’d share a couple as my official apology for being less than diligent with my Wordless Wednesdays. So for your viewing pleasure on a Tuesday…

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Embracing Suffering

One of my favorite people to read about in the Bible is David. Mostly because he was a hot mess just like me. In one chapter of Psalms he is on top of the world, rejoicing in God’s faithfulness. And then a second later he is frustrated and broken and saying to God “How long will you hide your face from me?” In other words…where’d you go God? Psalms has taught me a lot about God’s nature. David was more transparent with God than a lot of us are willing to be, openly sharing his questions, his anger, his sadness with the One who knew his heart anyway. And, as we know, David was referred to as “A man after God’s own heart.” So basically, God can handle my big feelings. And God can handle your big feelings, too. He created us with human emotions and He’s not surprised when we have them.

My youngest daughter will be starting Kindergarten in the Fall. I can’t even. It’s hard for me to believe that she’s nearly five. But just yesterday (I’m serious…there is no WAY that it was years ago!) she was a toddler. And she was one of the most pleasant toddlers I have ever known. I am not over-exaggerating you guys. She didn’t do the temper tantrums or terrible twos. She was a happy little girl. That is, until she was up past her bedtime. Baby girl needed her sleep. And if she was overtired she would cry and yell and be impossible to manage…all while she rubbed her red tired eyes. And you know what I didn’t think? “What a bad girl. I’m putting her in timeout for her terrible disobedience.” You know what I did think? “She is done, poor baby. We need to get her ready for bed. She’s had all she can handle today and now she needs to rest.” I felt sympathy for her. Two year old’s don’t have the capacity to understand that they’ve had more they can take and it’s just time to lay down. But as an adult, I understood. And God is a good father. So when we unravel after we’ve been hit by hard thing after hard thing in our life, do you think he gets mad at us for crying or being upset? No! He’s our father. He understands our big feelings. He gets that we are limited in our human capacity to understand things and we’ve had just about all we can take by our own strength. So He encourages us to rest in Him. Isn’t that beautiful? We don’t have to attempt to be superhuman. It is in our weakness that He is strong…which implies that YES we will be weak. And it also implies that God will always be enough to bridge that gap between the insufficient strength we have and what we need to get through.

When one day everything is going smoothly in your life and then the next day, “BAM!” everything falls apart (and that’s almost always the way it happens, right?) perspective is KEY. We can view the difficult season as a curse. Or we can view it as a blessing. When God permits something difficult in your life, he permits it for a specific purpose. Believe that your season of pain is assigned for a great purpose. Seek after ways to bring God glory right where you’re at and you will make the most of your earthly pain until heaven-where there is no more pain. We sometimes do ourselves a disservice by rebuking a difficult season in our lives as something evil when there is in fact an intentional purpose for us humbly walking through it.

Blessing doesn’t always come in the form of God giving us something we want. Sometimes, the blessing is in the way God works through us amidst the trials in our lives. Sometimes the blessing is not that he makes the storm stop, but that he sustains us and gives us unwavering peace to get through the storm. David understood this. He said:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Ps. 23:4)

He didn’t say “Lord, I claim that I will not have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” but instead humbly submitted to that difficult walk and was grateful for God’s presence on the journey. He understood what we struggle to understand. That our hope is secure. Not because of anything we are promised on earth. But because of heaven. He understood that God Himself is enough. Even when our heart and flesh fails. May we fight to understand the same.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Her Call

The guttural voice she pushed out between sobs will stay with me forever. Her words echoing in my mind throughout the day. I will be changing his diaper or carrying him on my hip and I will hear it again. “Please….please, just take care of my son.” So much finality in her words. The heaviness is not lost on me.

I am thankful that I get to surrender these heavy burdens to Jesus. I will have comfort. I will have hope. I will have joy in the midst of all of this sorrow. I will be equipped to do what I need to do. I have everything that I need. My heart is so grateful for that. But I hate knowing that for now, she is still trying to carry all of her burdens. She gathers them all up and grips them tightly. She won’t let go. She is lost in her mental illness. She is still defined by the trauma that she’s both received and given in abundance. I pray she can somehow see Jesus in me. Hear Him in my words. I know that I’m not enough and that I can’t save her. But I know the one who can. And  I pray that she will someday come to know Him… to know that He has said that we can come to Him when we are weary and heavy-laden. To know what it means to experience His kind of rest.

We have spoken to a lot of families in crisis over the years. Cried lots of tears with Mommies who had collapsed beneath their burdens. But I have never heard so much desperation, so much sadness. It felt wrong to listen to such a young voice with that much pain. All I can hear is a broken child and it makes my soul ache.

Remember when I talked about the importance of me being willing to let my heart break for the sake of these children that come in and out of my home? What is more overwhelming is the way you grow to love these children’s mommies. The fierce longing you feel to protect them. The way you have to keep yourself from trying to “fix” them. The way you have to remind yourself that your job is to walk alongside these women (or girls) and not push them in the direction you think is best. The way you realize how much you don’t know…how much you don’t understand. The way you grieve for them and care for them. When we started this work I thought it was all about the children. It’s been so much more about the mothers than I could have imagined.

I had every intention of posting today about a series I’m working on for Good Friday. I’m really excited to share it with you guys. But for now, this is more important. Will you join me in praying for this precious young Mommy in her time of need? Thank you so much!

But isn’t it hard to let them go?!

This Summer will mark 2 years since we started our journey with Safe Families. There’s a folder on my computer full of pictures of the little faces that have come and gone. From time to time, I’ll open that folder and pray for those little faces. Some of them I will likely never hear from again. Others are like family to us now. In that folder is evidence of beauty in the middle of ugly. Peace in the middle of chaos. Joy in the middle of pain.

We have met Moms working so hard to do right by their children and Moms who have had no desire to do any sort of work at all. We have learned to love both. With each hosting we are reminded not to focus on the future outcome, but to simply embrace the journey. Loving and serving with our whole hearts. Not when someone is “deserving” of it, but simply whenever we can.

Not that we’ve got this serving thing all figured out. We fall short over and over again and watch God come to the rescue in all the areas we lack. Believe me when I say there are plenty of moments in which I’d love to scream to a mom: “WHY do you continue to set yourself up for failure?! Why won’t you just- go to rehab, search for work, take your meds, stay away from the abusive man” (or whatever else I presume is best for whatever Mom in whatever moment). However, I have made this choice to serve these families. And that service is not contingent on whether I think they are doing the right thing. You know that whole “while we were yet sinners” part of scripture about the way God loves us? That’s how we want to love others.

Over these 2 years we’ve grown thicker skin. We’ve had to. Because everyone has an opinion and most everyone is eager to share it. “Do you think you’re enabling the mother?”  “What about YOUR kids? Do you feel like they suffer being around all the chaos?”  “Aren’t you worried about your family’s safety?” Most of these questions have become routine. We have grown accustomed to giving the same answers over and over. We even look forward to the opportunity to point people back to Jesus when it comes down to things like safety or worry.

There is one thing that feels frustrating to hear over and over again though. And if you’ve said it, please don’t be offended when I say it’s frustrating. It’s nothing personal. In fact, had God not called us to this kind of work, I may have asked the same question to someone in my shoes. So no judgement. I know it comes from a good place, a curious place. I’d rather you ask questions than make assumptions. It’s just a tougher question to answer. “Isn’t it hard to let the kids go? Doesn’t it break your heart? How do you say goodbye? I could NEVER do that! It would be too hard emotionally.”

There was a little guy who stayed for a month in 2013 and changed our lives. We had a really rough start with him. He didn’t sleep, he screamed and cursed. He hit and bit and kicked. He didn’t know how to be held and didn’t want to be touched. There were so many tears…on his end and on mine. But we pressed in, because it is always our goal not to treat these children like we are glorified babysitters, but to see them as family. To love them and parent them and care for them as if they were never going to leave. If they are with us for a few days, a few weeks or a few months, our goal is for them to experience what “home” feels like. In time that little guy flourished. He got in a routine, he slept well, he ate well. No more cursing, no more hitting. He became the ultimate cuddler. We loved him like a son. And when his Mom abruptly called, ready to end the hosting sooner than expected…of COURSE our hearts were broken. But we are equipped to deal with pain. We know the Comforter, we have a strong support system in place, we have the emotional skills to cope with sadness in appropriate ways. So why would we be scared of a little suffering? Especially when the families that come in and out of our lives through Safe Families deal with more suffering than we can comprehend? Do we just say “Sorry your lives are hard and you need help…but I can’t be the one to help because I’m worried about feeling sad?”

There is a little guy with us now who has been with us once before. There has been no real stability for him in his entire 18 months of living. And in the nearly 3 weeks that he’s been with us, we have already seen big changes. So much progress. So much joy growing in his little heart. It is so incredible to watch. The other night I was rocking him to sleep and I had that familiar knot form in my stomach. The one that reminded me that, because I love him, it will be hard to let him go. We have no idea how long he will be with us and experience has taught us not to make plans. We know it could be many months from now. We also know it could end abruptly again. It may be a happy story of reconciliation in which Mom has gained stability…but she also may not. We have to accept that. So we’ve loved him hard since the moment he got here, trying our best not to waste a moment that he’s here. And just as quickly as I felt that moment of dread as he quietly drifted to sleep in my arms, a peaceful reminder washed over me…almost as if God himself was whispering in my ear the same words I have had to hold on to in times before: “You worry about loving him wholeheartedly, and I will worry about mending your broken heart when the time comes.”

And He does. Over and over again.

He fills us with so much love and joy and peace so that we can empty all those things out to others. He gives strength in abundance so that we can spend it all on behalf of the hurting. We put our hearts out there, in the position of being broken but then He heals our broken hearts so we can continue to love well. So yes…it is hard to let them go. But it would be harder to miss out on all these opportunities to love others the way we have been loved. To play a small part in their rescue, because we have been rescued. The real tragedy would be for us to not share the grace and mercy that has been so generously given to us simply because we valued comfort and feared suffering. That would be more heartbreaking.