Bryson’s 8th Birthday Letter

Oh Bryson. How did this happen?! You’re so big now!

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I can’t even stand it! In one week you’ll be an 8-year-old and you are growing at a rate that far exceeds my ability to memorize every moment. But I wish I could. Because every moment with you is a gift. You are a gift, bud. Here are some things I want to make sure I don’t forget about your almost 8-year-old self:

-Fridays are your favorite day of the week. Mostly because of your love for video games. You aren’t allowed to play video games on school nights. But on “Fun Fridays” as we’ve begun to call them, we pick up a fun treat on the way home for school and then you get to turn on your Xbox and have at it! It makes you so happy. You’re very gracious about explaining how to play when Mommy grabs a controller and you are good at sharing the games with your sisters, too. You’ve even beat Daddy a couple times! And not even because he let you! You’re just getting really good!

-You like to protect people. Your big sister has come home from school a few times this year feeling frustrated. When you hear that someone has hurt Layla’s feelings, it is unacceptable to you. You say encouraging things to her and then every. single. time. you tell her you want to talk to the people giving her trouble. She gets flustered and says “Bryson, relax, I’ve got  this!” and you say “I’m your brother. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. You tell me if they don’t stop and I’m going to talk to them, Layla!” You are gentle with Jordyn because you recognize she is smaller than you. You use your quiet happy voice when we are taking care of babies. When we cross the street you put your hand on my back and say you’re “keeping an eye” on me.  It comes naturally to you to look after others. That makes my heart so full. The world needs more compassion and compassion just flows out of you. I pray that trait will strengthen and grow the older you get.

-You are brave. When I was your age, I would get nervous when I had to talk to adults.  Daddy was the same way. But not you. The other day at Target you realized someone dropped an ID card on the floor. I told you we should turn it in. You said “I’ll take care of it!” and then walked right up to the woman working in the pharmacy and said “Excuse me, ma’am. I found this card on the floor. Someone lost it. May I give it to you?” and she chuckled at such grown up words coming out of such a little boy. I admire your confidence.

-You are bright. Sometimes you tell me about stories in the Bible that I had no idea you had even read. You come home from school and complete your homework with ease. You race through your work because it all seems to click so well and we are constantly reminding you to slow down when your brain works faster than your pencil. You are learning so much and starting to have your own ideas and thoughts. Never stop sharing them with me. I love listening to you.

-You are still my baby. And I’m thankful for that. You still love hugs and kisses. You aren’t yet awkward about showing affection in front of your friends. I know that won’t last forever, so I am savoring it. A couple of months ago I told you that when you were a baby there was a song that would put you to sleep if I rocked you and sang it quietly. So now, at bedtime, you’ll occasionally ask me if I can sing it to you again. I kneel down at your bed and you grab my hand and put it on your head. I pet your hair and sing you the same song I sang all those years ago. Without fail your eyes get heavy and your arms go limp. If I look hard enough, I can still see the little baby boy I rocked in my arms in the sleepy face of the great big boy that you’ve become. I treasure that.

-You have big dreams. You don’t just say you want to be a Pastor when you grow up. You talk about how your church will have a Lego center for the kids to build anything they want. And there will be a wrestling center close by so that you can still find time to be a pro-wrestler on the side. And if someone needs a place to stay, they can sleep at your church. And you will feed them. And no one will be allowed to say mean things to each other. Those are awesome dreams to have, sweetheart.

Bryson, I love you. But I also like you so, so much. Of course as your Mommy I’m proud of your achievements, but that pride dims in comparison to what I feel when I think about your character and who you are becoming as a person. I pray that more than being bright or successful or safe in your life choices that you will be brave. That you will do bold things without fear. That you will continue to stand up for what is right. That you will always remember that you are so richly blessed so that you may richly bless others in return. That you will love and serve others even when it comes at a high cost. And listen, I realize I’m asking you to live a sacrificial life when as your Mommy my gut instinct is to want to beg God to give you all the things and make your life easy and safe. But the narrow way is better, bud. Trust me on this one. And I promise you’ll never walk it alone. I will never stop being overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to walk with you. Daddy and I love you so much, Bryson. Happy Birthday!

Another 1st day of school!

Tomorrow I will drop a 1st grader, 2nd grader and 3rd grader off for their first day of school. That doesn’t even make sense to my heart. In my heart they are babies. Just little, tiny babies. Every season of their lives I find that there are things that get dramatically easier (they all wipe their own bottoms, y’all! That is a serious Mom win!) and other things that get more complicated and difficult.

The questions used to be “Is she nursing long enough?” “Is it normal that he isn’t fully potty trained?” “When will I be able to pee alone?!!!” and now it’s “How can I make sure they are kind?” “How do I effectively build their confidence without causing them to be self-centered?” “What if kids bully them….or what if THEY bully someone else?!”

It’s never ending. And so I beg God to help me reflect Him in my role as a mother. And I ask Him to do so much more than just protecting them…I ask Him to make them brave, to help them do the right thing even if it’s hard or unpopular, to show them how to value character above achievement.

The kids and I had a conversation this week that went something like this:

“You guys are going into 3rd, 2nd and 1st grade! And that’s crazy to me because I remember being that age! When I was in 2nd grade there was a girl in my class that didn’t fit in very well..and I don’t know her whole story but I know that she got teased a lot. I wasn’t teasing her, so I figured I was doing the right thing. One night there was a school event and Grandma noticed that the little girl was by herself. And since Grandma is my Mom, she did what a good Mommy should do and told me that if there is someone who needs a friend, I should try to be that friend. Even if my peers thought it was weird. And I’m so happy Grandma did that. Because now that I’m a grown up I understand that being silent when someone is being picked on or left out isn’t the right thing to do. God asks us to be helpers. Grandma was able to teach me to pay attention to those around me and to notice if they are hurting. That doesn’t come naturally to us-by nature we are selfish. But we can try really hard to keep our eyes open and trust God to show us if someone could use a little help. ”

And then the kids shared story after story of times they noticed someone was sad and offered comfort, times someone was being teased and they spoke up, times someone needed a friend and so they tried to be that friend. And we spent even more time talking about ways we could look for opportunities in our lives to help instead of hurt. I walked away from that conversation so impressed with the character God is helping to build in Layla, Bryson and Jordyn.

I share all of that to say that for every question I have about motherhood, for every fear I have about who my children will become-nothing that has happened or will happen in my sweet kiddos’ lives surprises God-and He’s got all of it. He more than makes up for all of my insufficiency and I can trust Him to do the work on my children’s hearts that I can’t do myself. I can go to Him with all of my questions and worries and He will not ignore me. Because he’s a parent, too….He gets it.

 

 

 

It is Well

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Before I knew what a broken heart was, before I was old enough to understand the concept of death, before I was aware of injustice-before any of that, I knew the words to the old hymn, “It is Well.” I am so thankful that the lyrics to that song were hidden in my heart at such a young age, because they wake me up in dark times when I’m prone to lean into sadness instead of hope.

The man who penned the words that are still being sung today knew about dark times. In fact, as he wrote the words that would eventually turn into lyrics, his circumstances were anything but well.

Horatio Spafford was a very successful lawyer and investor. He had a beautiful family, a great home and was a devout Christian. I’m sure there is someone who pops up in your head when you think of the type of person that just “has it all together.” That was Horatio. Easily an enviable life.

And then, as it inevitably does, stuff hit the fan.

Horatio’s son suffered an untimely death due to scarlet fever. Not long after that, a fire destroyed nearly every investment property Horatio had, leaving his wealthy family in financial ruin.

In 1873, after so many hard times, Horatio planned a family trip to Europe in which his wife and remaining children (four daughters) would sail to Paris where he would meet them up soon after. The trip began as planned until the luxury steamer his wife and daughters were on sunk. All 4 girls died. Horatio’s wife was rescued while unconscious. After docking in Wales, she sent a telegram to her husband that said, “Saved alone…what shall I do.”

Saved alone.

Horatio left right away on a ship to bring his wife home. The captain pointed out to Horatio that they were passing the area where the ship that his family was on had sunk. He knew his daughters were at the bottom of that very part of the ocean. And that was when he wrote the powerful lyrics to “It is Well.”

When he wrote, “…When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul…” he was not using hyperbole. He literally watched sea billows roll in the ocean that served as a grave for his children. And nothing in his life was right. Or fair. Or okay. But it was still well with his soul.

For every time a Christian falls short in reflecting Jesus, for every time a person uses the Bible as a tool to hurt instead of help, for every time our humanity has caused us to misrepresent Christianity-I still can’t help but think that there is nothing more appealing than a God that can cause our souls to say “It is well” even in circumstances like Horatio’s. A God who still causes us to say “It is well” today-even when all of the worst case scenarios play out in our lives over and over again. God is enough. So it is well. What audacious hope we have in Him.

 

Jordyn’s 6th Birthday Letter

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Sweet Jordyn-

In one week you are turning 6. That means this is the 6th time I’ve sat at the computer to write a birthday letter for you. The 6th time I’ve sat in silence and thought about another year that has quickly gone by. I also have 8 birthday letters for your sister and 7 birthday letters for your brother under my belt. Sometimes I get nervous I will sound repetitive. When these letters are printed and bound for you to keep, will they all sound the same?

I know I go on and on about my love for you, but I just love you so very much. I write a lot about how quickly you are growing and how much you have changed. That’s a common theme. But baby, it’s every Mommy’s common theme. The days are long, the years are short. Don’t blink. Time flies. Every tired mama with bags under her eyes and fierce love bursting in her heart knows these things. Feels these things. So you’ll hear them from me now and one day, Lord willing, I will get to hear you repeat these same motherhood mantras when you are a mommy. Some day, a long time from now, you will hold your crying baby close against your chest and rock back and forth in a foggy haze from sleep deprivation. Your hair will be unwashed and your shirt covered in spit up and I am certain I will think that you have never been more beautiful. When I watch you I will close my eyes and remember the days that I held you just the same. You will cry because it is so hard and smile because it is so incredible and then you will understand exactly how I feel about you.

Joyful- that’s the word I think of when I consider who you are becoming. I’ve told you many stories about what a happy baby you were. You are still so happy. What I love most about jordy (6)your joy is that you so freely share it with others. You go out of your way to make people feel the joy that you feel. Your laughter is contagious. Your smile starts on the inside of your sweet self and it radiates, making everything brighter. What I admire most about your joy is that it exists even alongside other feelings. It’s not that you’re never afraid. You openly share that sometimes things make you feel scared. But you trust us. And you trust God. And that makes you brave. It’s not that you’re unaware that the world can be hard. You’ve learned this year that sometimes cancer gets worse instead of better, that sometimes bad things happen to people even if they are kind or helpful. You have grieved those truths that are new to you in all the ways a child grieves. I have held you while you cried and cried along with you because I can’t protect you from sadness. But you have not allowed anything to steal your joy. And you are a reminder to Mommy that we can be sad about hard things and still laugh and play and enjoy the beauty that exists all around us. You are so good at finding beauty everywhere. It’s part of what makes YOU so beautiful. Sweet girl, the joy of the Lord is our strength. It is what keeps us moving forward when the world gets dark. And you have so much joy. So you are strong. Don’t forget that.

Jordyn, on your 6th birthday I want you to know that I love you. That I’m so proud of who you are becoming. And even though you are getting older and I can’t shield you from the difficult things that you used to be too young to understand, I am in your corner. I am for you. I am always praying for you, I am always ready to listen. And if you ever need reminding-I am here to assure you that the joy you possess is beautiful and strong and brave. And it is worth fighting to hold on to. I thank God for the joy He has given you and I thank Him for the joy I have simply because I get to be your Mommy. Daddy and I love you so much, our unicorn loving-belly laughing-ballerina spinning-sweet, sweet girl.

Love, Mommy

 

 

 

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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