Love.

By now you’ve seen the news. Yesterday’s shooting in Dallas was the deadliest day for law enforcement since September 11, 2001. And we know that darkness does not drive out darkness and hate does not drive out hate but for some reason these things still happen.

With swollen eyes and heavy heart I keep thinking about my children and how to talk to them about all of this. And then I think about all of the children who had daddies a couple days ago and now do not. I am undone.

We say we will teach our children that love is the answer. And it is. But one day our children will come to understand that love for others comes at a great cost. That love is sometimes met with hate, with pain, with anger and we are charged to love anyway. They will come to realize that sometimes unconditional love will mean being misunderstood or despised or rejected. That sometimes a person who loves well is not met with love in return and that it is solely because of skin color or economic status or career choice. That sometimes a group of cops show up to a protest to protect and serve and not to hate or hurt and yet they are not met with gratitude but with gunfire. And all that hate leaves nothing but widows and fatherless children and fear and brokenness.

One day our children will realize that our Savior, in the name of love, laid down his life at the cross and it was bloody and ugly and hard but it was love. And if we are really loving well, we will find ourselves laying down our own wants, needs, desires-our very lives to spend ourselves on behalf of others. Because that’s what Jesus did for us and because it’s the only way.

Love is action, love is sacrifice, love is forgiveness and service and all of those hard things that don’t come naturally to our flesh. But love is a miracle and it will win out in the end. That is what my kids will hear. I will not stop longing or praying for a world that does not repay evil for evil. A world that chooses forgiveness over bitterness. A world where the church would be the great equalizer- known for its peacemaking and unity and its leadership in loving well. I will not stop teaching my kids love-no matter the cost.

Even when we are full of fear, we will choose love. And love will cast out fear.

Dear North American Church

Your silence is deafening today.

I am not so much admonishing (I have no place to) as I am begging. I am a part of your body and I am for you, Church. I love and accept you, flaws and all, and you have embraced me from the time I walked into your doors as a child. Sure we made each other uncomfortable at times, but that’s just family. You are my family. So today I am asking you to help.

Our brothers and sisters scream injustice. With tears and anger and fear they declare that they are abused and discriminated against and that their burden here in the United States is heavy. And we, North American church….we are silent.

We do not say “Come!! We are for you! We are with you! Our God is love! The One we serve says that you can leave Him your heavy burdens and that He will give you rest! Let us show you how! Let us go with you!”

We are silent.

And let me tell you what our silence means…

  • We will ignore our God’s command to mourn with those who mourn if we don’t yet have all the evidence.
  • We will not affirm you or your feelings because it might be viewed as anti-police.
  • Your burdens don’t qualify because you have a criminal record, because you have a foul mouth, because your son resisted arrest. We aren’t sure you’re entitled to your feelings.

Have we forgotten the Jesus who saved the woman who was about to be stoned to death by her accusers? Have we forgotten that what he DIDN’T say was “Look, you screwed this one up….it would be awkward for me to defend you now…I mean, your character is questionable…”? Have we forgotten that the cross is full on evidence that sometimes society doesn’t get it right? That sometimes we punish in the name of justice when it is in fact anything but? Have we forgotten that we ourselves are saved by grace, deserving to be cast off and forsaken but instead met with love and mercy? How did we get to this place?

North American Church-one day God will sit on His throne of judgement and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. But right now-He sits on a mercy seat, wanting no man to perish.

Are we reflecting that? Or are we just keeping our mouths shut? Worse-are we requiring people to qualify their pain? Are we saying that their pain doesn’t matter if we cannot relate to it?

Can we stop being silent? Can we be a safe place for the weary to come and lay their heavy burdens? Even the weary black woman who lost her son violently? Even the weary police officer unsure of where they stand? Even the weary felon? Even the weary single mother? Even if you disagree with them? Even if they are messy?

Please?

 

 

 

 

 

Layla’s 8th Birthday Letter

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I know I say it every year, but I cannot believe it’s already time to write another birthday letter. The days REALLY are long but the years REALLY are short. Miss Layla will turn 8 on June 26th…this is her EIGHTH birthday letter, you guys. I’m not old enough to have an eight year old! Just, whatever!! It’s not even right!

 

 

 

Sweet Layla-

What a year this has been! We have watched you grow in so many ways! You are reading at a 4th grade level and have a passion for books. You love coming home from school with facts and will gladly share all the details of your day. You are inquisitive and have a healthy hunger for learning new things. I hope you will always love to learn. Where it is a challenge for you to keep focus and stay calm, you have a determination that more than makes up for it. Math was tough for you this year. As soon as you got a hold on one topic, it was time to move on to the next and you spent many nights frustrated. But you did. not. give. up. And your hard work paid off when you brought home an award for making straight A’s the last 9 weeks. Can I let you in on a secret though? Had you brought home straight C’s this year, Daddy and I STILL would have been proud because we watched how hard you worked. It will always be effort over achievement. Remember that.

Your school accomplishments are great, but what means more is the personal growth you have made. You made the big decision to be baptized and bravely stood before the church and told of your love for Jesus. You have learned to manage some of your fears and anxieties through prayer and through worship. It makes my heart so happy to see who you are becoming. We have challenged you by sharing some of the hard things that are happening and you have impressed us over and over again with your bravery, and with your joy. Your resilience so beautifully reflects your big faith in God.

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Layla, at 8-years-old you are old enough to figure out when things aren’t quite right, but still young enough that you’re not always able to figure out WHY things aren’t right. I know that gets confusing. It won’t always be that way. And when you ARE always able to discern what’s going on there will be a part of Mommy that’s relieved and a part of Mommy that is super sad that I can’t protect you from how dark the world gets sometimes. But I know you’ll be able to handle it. I know God will equip you.

There is a quote that says “A small light can do a great deal in a dark place.” Layla baby, YOU are that small light.

You know how you can light birthday candles with all the lights on in the kitchen and it really doesn’t look like much? But then you shut off all the lights and those little tiny flames are enough to make the whole room glow? Like the candles are at their best when it’s darkest? Sweetheart, you are JUST like that. When the world is at it’s darkest your joy is that much more beautiful. Your shine is that much more intense, that much more needed, that much more appreciated. Always, always be that light. Because it’s a dark world sometimes. There are hard things happening all around us. But you keep choosing love. Keep choosing joy. Be the light our world so badly needs. It might seem small, but it is enough. And it is beautiful. You, my love, are so, SO beautiful.

Layla, on your 8th birthday I want you to know I see you. I see the way you love Jesus and the way you love others. I see your diligence. I see your joy. And I am SO proud of what I see. I love you very much and am more grateful every single day that God let me be your Mommy. Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

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On falling short, hating our sin and knowing we are loved.

When Bryson was a baby, his heart broke if he sensed disappointment. I cannot explain it. I have two wild child, passionate, dramatic little girls (who, don’t get me wrong, I love for their spirit) that spent their toddlerhood doing all the things and just not giving a rip if you did not like it.But even a pleasant and calm “No, no bubba! You may not put that in your mouth” would evoke sobs. This was long before he was walking….even before he had words. His kinder teacher once confided in me that she hated when he would have to pull a stick (the classroom’s discipline technique which worked like a charm for our sweet boy) because she KNEW the sorrow that would follow. Today my handsome 7 1/2 year old who is looking more like a man-child every day still hates to fall short.

 

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ughhhh….I told you! He’s SO big now!

 

 

 

 

 

As most of you know we have been hotel-living for nearly a month as our home is repaired after a hailstorm. And even though we are incredibly grateful for the way God has provided; even though we are well aware that we are not alone in this as evidenced by the multiple families also in this hotel until their homes are repaired- we are still at the point where we are getting a little stir crazy. We have tried increasing outdoor time so the kids can get our their manic energy but they are missing the space in our home and I have had to make very clear that we can have “no more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

Tonight Bryson forgot said rule and I found him hopping away on the fold out couch.

“Bryson Alexander! Are you allowed to jump on the bed?”

His face shot towards me as his body froze and it was obvious he was overcome with guilt. “No ma’am, I’m sorry.” he said. He laid down, tried to stick his face in the pillow without me noticing and quietly cried. And not even in a grandstanding, “I’m so upset with myself that you aren’t allowed to also be upset with me” type of way (that’s something one of my spicy little girls would think of for sure though, hehe!). I call for him to come to me and he hangs his head down and says “I don’t want to make mistakes!”

He is his mother’s child. I lost sleep as a kid over guilt when I messed up. Sometimes I still do. While I don’t want Bryson to be complacent about his shortcomings, I long for him to know grace.

I picked that big boy up and sat him on my lap. I shouldn’t have. He is almost bigger than me now and he doesn’t actually fit on my lap. But I did it anyway. I love him. I whispered into his ear.

“Bryson, it is not okay that you didn’t follow our rules. We have rules to protect you. You have to trust that when we tell you to obey us it’s not because we want to boss you. It’s because we have a reason. Listen closely because I want you to hear this with more than your ears…I want you to know it in your mind and in your heart and in your soul. You WILL fall short. You will not stop making mistakes. Mommy makes mistakes. Daddy makes mistakes. That’s why we need Jesus. He doesn’t make mistakes and He will forgive ours. You accept responsibility when you mess up, you take the consequence, you make it right by asking for forgiveness from the one that you wronged, but baby….then you accept grace. I forgive you. If you never made mistakes that wouldn’t make me love you more and when you do make mistakes that doesn’t make me love you less.”

As he nodded and wiped his tears it surprised me once again (it happens so much!) the way being a parent reflects our own relationship with our heavenly father.

May we not stop hating our sin. We cannot be complacent. But God’s not in heaven waiting for us to mess up so he can smite us and we don’t have Biblical guidelines just because He felt like “bossing us.” He loves us. And His great love for us should change our hearts in such a way that we long for nothing more than to push forward and finish the race. But when we fall short (and we will) may we find grace in the forgiveness He so generously offers. Because he will continually fill the great gap between who we are and who we need to be.

Tonight, if you have wrapped up this week knowing you “jumped on the bed when you weren’t supposed to again” then own up. Accept responsibility. But know that you are loved and know that God’s great love for you is not contingent on your actions. May you know grace tonight. May that love and grace change everything for you. Goodnight, friends.

He Knows

Once upon a time there was a two week old baby girl who Kevin and I wept for and prayed over while pregnant with our son. We loved her fiercely and longed to provide for her the stability that we knew she needed. “Lord, show us what you want us to do and make a way for us to do it.”

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And He did show us. He did make a way. Because He knew. He knew Layla while she was in her birthmother’s womb. Long before Kevin and I dreamed about building a family, God knew what our family would look like. He knew he would prepare our hearts to be her parents. He knew that, though our abilities were limited, our faith in Him was big and none of what would come after that would ever, ever surprise him.

 

Once God did open the door for us to adopt Layla, it was time for us to take action. We had to step out in faith that He would provide. That He had prepared us. That He would continue to guide us. It was one of the best yeses we have ever said.

That same baby that we wept over and prayed for made her own decision today. Like the decision we made to take a leap of faith and say yes, Layla took a leap of faith and said yes to Jesus. She took action and we are so proud of her.

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I’ll be honest, when Layla told us she wanted to be baptized, I was hesitant. Although I was the same age as Layla when I was baptized, it was different. My family had gone from not serving the Lord to finding Jesus and it changed everything. There was a clear line between before we were saved and after. We were baptized at the same time, shortly after accepting Jesus and it was easy to understand because I knew what it was like to not know Jesus. But from the day Layla came to stay we have told her about who Jesus is to us. How we believe he had perfect plans that lead her to us. Layla doesn’t know that clear before and clear after. Her Mommy and Daddy have known Jesus much longer than she has been alive. She didn’t get to see the way that God changed our lives when we accepted him. I was afraid that because of that, she wouldn’t fully understand what she was doing. And I didn’t want her to make the choice to be baptized simply to please us.

My fears were all for nothing. That sweet girl loves Jesus for herself. She started telling me about how hard it gets when her brain goes too fast and she feels like she needs to calm down and that she talks to Jesus and He always calms her down. She told me how she sings to him in her room at night because she just loves him so much. She has her very own relationship with God. And while I hope we have modeled it well, I am confident that we have not forced it. Today Layla said her very own yes. She was just a tiny baby in need of stability and now she is a big girl making her very own choice to follow Jesus. And I can’t even explain how beautiful it was to watch her Daddy, who became her Daddy because of adoption, participate in Layla’s baptism symbolizing that she is adopted into the family of Christ. Wow.

Recently a hailstorm ripped through our small town leaving softball sized holes in roofs and windows. Our home is not livable and we’ve lost a lot of our belongings. We are in an extended stay for what we hope will only be a month. It has been a roller coaster. But all I can think about is the way heaven is rejoicing today. Nothing else matters in comparison. All I can think about is how important it is to live this way:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

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God knew her. And God knows us. He knew that the vivacious little girl who grew in our hearts instead of my tummy would make the big choice to follow Him and He knows the plans He has for her. He also knew exactly where my family would be on this day. He knows all about our current trials and current victories.He knows what is coming next. As we continue to strive to store up our treasures in heaven, as we continue to walk alongside our kiddos showing them that God is always, always enough, we find peace in the promise that He knows. Nothing surprises Him. And He is good.

The One Year Mark

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There are these defining moments that happen in life. You don’t have any say over when or how they come. The only thing you can control is your perspective on them. These defining moments change everything and suddenly your life becomes divided into two categories: before this moment and after this moment.

Exactly one year ago today, our family experienced one of those moments.

I sat in the Suburban waiting to pick Layla and Bryson up from school. Jordyn hadn’t yet started school and so her and one of our little Safe Families friends napped in the back. I remember everything. The sky was bright blue and absent of clouds. It was warm until you hit the shade and then there was a tiny chill. The breeze was strong and cool, but the sun shining brightly meant Spring. I was parked in front of the church and waiting for dismissal. There was an extra pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment that I would be extremely relieved to find once the tears started falling. But before the tears, everything was normal. Then my phone rang. It was my sister.

Gynafer and I had a habit of sending each other pins from Pinterest. Sometimes they were silly. Sometimes ridiculously sarcastic. Sometimes mildly inappropriate…sorry….we just think we’re funny. But they were always entertaining. Like this:

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You may not laugh so hard you cry when you read this like my sister and I did. You could be thinking that this just isn’t that funny. But you would be wrong. Gynafer and I wheezed over the phone together with no words exchanged for at least five minutes upon sharing this pin. Just laughter. Pain in your gut, breathtaking, body shaking laughter. Because sisters.

 

 

Obviously when her number flashed across my phone I just knew that she was calling to laugh about the most recent pins exchanged. But that wasn’t what this call was about. This was one of those moments.

Before there were sleepless nights in prayer for Dad or lunches in the hospital. Before oncologists and radiologists. Before HulkStrong hashtags and Faith Over Fear fundraisers. Before all of that, there was the call from my sister. Boom. My life was split between life before that call and life after that call.

I couldn’t will myself back to normalcy. I couldn’t claim my father’s cancer into nonexistence. I couldn’t talk my way or write my way out of this season. Like I said before, you don’t get to choose when or how these life altering moments happen. But you DO get to choose your perspective.

And the perspective that I’m choosing is joy.

One year ago today everything changed. And I am not the same person. I don’t think any of us are. But serving a God who NEVER changes (who is never unprepared or caught off guard) means that, no matter the outcome, it is well. I know this to be true when not an inch of my flesh is in agreement with me.

I have learned so much this year about living in the present and about how there is always something to be grateful for. I’ve learned about God’s sufficiency and life’s fragility. But mostly I have learned that joy isn’t contingent on circumstances. That you can choose joy even in the midst of your deepest sorrows. That joy can exist right in the center of your immense grief.  God has been so generous with joy in this season. He has been so faithful and so near. In this entire year there has not been one moment that He has abandoned us or forsaken us. And for that reason, it’s been a very good year.

It has been exactly one year since that defining moment. I am grateful for every single one of the days that happened between then and now. And I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But I guess the point of all of this is just to say that I know WHO holds tomorrow. And He is good. Whatever our lot, I am more confident than ever that He is good.

 

The Slow Work

Last week a great woman went to be with Jesus. It always amazes me how we are able to feel such conflicting feelings at the same time. So much joy in the thought that she is in the presence of Jesus. Excitement at the thought that she has reunited with the son she lost many years ago. Sadness that the world lost such an authentic and kind person. Grief because for some reason it never stops shocking me that this life is so temporary and goes so quickly. I’m a thinker and I spent the majority of the evening she passed trying to sort through all those thoughts. Mostly I just thought about Chris and the impact she had on our family. And I felt grateful.

There were many dinners, many nights out for ice cream after church, many afternoons at Chris and Danny’s house when I was growing up. We shared a vacation in Daytona and had all sorts of adventures at Busch Gardens and Sea World. Chris was intentional. “Let’s get together soon!” were not empty words she just threw around like most of us do. When I was a senior in high school, Chris and Danny didn’t just show up to graduation, they were at the Baccalaureate service that happened the week before (which, let’s be honest, is totally one of those boring obligatory family-only events). Family. Because they chose to be. Chris was like a sister to my mom because she put in the time and the effort to slowly build a relationship.

Long after graduating high school Chris continued to be intentional. She let me drive her minivan because she knew driving made me nervous and said getting comfortable in a big vehicle would help me feel more confident in a smaller vehicle. She picked me up from the University of South Florida my first week there and took me to Target to buy dorm essentials. She gave me plenty of babysitting jobs so I’d have a little extra spending money. When Kevin and I got married she made all of the food for our reception brunch. She surprised us at the very last second and told us we didn’t owe her anything. Being young poor college students, that was a huge deal. When word got around that we were adopting Layla while pregnant with Bryson there were certainly some raised eyebrows and questions about whether or not we actually knew what we were doing (we didn’t by the way….but it was okay because God did.) Chris didn’t have time for any judgement nonsense though. She called me and said “I have a double stroller for you! Come get it! You guys are gonna do awesome!”

When we picked up that double stroller Chris didn’t say the new parenting clichés like “sleep when babies are sleeping!” or “get them on a schedule!” She had two pieces of advice that stayed with me. First was, just relax. You were made to do this. Second was “As hard as it may be to believe, one day your kid is going to throw a temper tantrum in a Walmart. When that time comes you’re going to tell them that if they don’t stop you’re leaving. You HAVE to be willing to follow through. You have to be ready to leave your groceries behind and go home. Because if you don’t follow through, they will notice.”  It was so easy to take her advice because of the years and years of her being intentional with our family. Even after we moved to Texas she was still sending great tools in the mail to help us in our parenting journey. In fact, sitting next to me right now is a stack of “Story Keepers” DVDs she sent for us to use to share the Bible with our kids.

I am just one person who was impacted by Chris. There are so many others with similar experiences. Chris knew how to do the slow work of building trust and respect. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot since she left this world. We live in such a fast moving society. We look for instant gratification. If we don’t see immediate results, we are often just on to the next thing. I think we’re getting it wrong when we do that. It’s about the slow work. The seeds you sow that you may not even be around to watch bloom could very well be the most important ones. Jesus himself did slow work. Yes, he went from town to town teaching. But he had his disciples. He poured into them intentionally. He took time to know them and to be known by them. Because of the love that was slowly built in those relationships, the disciples went on to do great things long after Jesus’ time on earth was through. I want to emulate that in my life. May we each find ways to do the slow work of discipleship, of relationships, of making a difference even if the results are slow to come. May we sow into people’s lives and not need a pat on the back or an “attaboy” to continue the slow work of being intentional. Just like Chris did.

Until the next blog…be blessed!