charlie's song


We’re Leaving Anyways

A week from now, everything we own, and everybody we have left, will be packed up in a U-haul that’s driving away from this place.  We are moving to Seattle, and with genuine excitement about the new things God has in store for our family.  It’s the getting there that’s the hard part.  These last few weeks have been filled with playdates and packing, tearful goodbyes and packing, last-time-we’ll-ever-do-this-moments and packing.  And did I mention we’re packing?

I hate packing.  Mostly because it reminds me of the last time our family was sent packing. I was so physically sick I could barely make it through the day, and in less time than that- 23 hours to be exact- we went from finding out there was toxic mold in our house- to living in a completely different one.  My last memory of “packing” was watching from a distance as some very kind college boys frantically boxed up our entire life, while I sat on the phone with my doctor determining the things we could and could not safely keep.  In the end, what we could keep was almost nothing.

What we could keep…were the memories.  Some of them sweet.  Sophie’s first steps happened in that place.  Emma’s first day of school happened in that place.  “Blue Ice Cream Day” celebrating Charlie on the way…happened in that place. Countless friends and family and college students made sweet memories with us…in that death trap we called home.  There was laughter and moments of redemption, and times where we genuinely encountered the Lord and His love for us in that place.  There were three beautiful children who lived in that home, and filled its rooms with sunshine and joy.  But most of our time there…it was the very valley of the shadow of death.  The place where three equally beautiful children died.  Like Sheol.  A place of suffocating stillness and darkness. Our life in that place was the very pit of human suffering.  The suffering of being broken people, living in a broken house that broke our bodies.  And took our hearts right along with it.

When I think of our life in the mold house- I think of tears every time.  I cried for 368 days straight in that home.  Every.  Single.  Day.  From the moment Charlie died…until the moment we fled that place.  There is actually a plot of land on this earth that symbolizes the darkest and hardest year of our life.  The year baby, after baby, after baby died.  The year God said “No” to almost every single prayer we prayed.  The year we watched our children suffer almost wordlessly…because how many words could you possibly have to describe your suffering when you’re only 1, and 3, and 5?  The year that endless sorrow reigned, and God seemed to be incredibly far away, and Satan seemed to roam on an incredibly long leash. THAT year- lived out in this town we will soon leave.  The year we will never get back.   The year that looms dark and ugly and so impossibly long, and I desperately want it back in a different and brighter version of our story.  And we’re leaving anyways.

We aren’t going to get it back.  And we aren’t going to get them back.  Our babies are dead. Buried in three separate graves around this place.  A place where our family became a family of four, and then five, and then six, and then seven, and then eight. But we will leave here as five.  And it is the one and only reason the tears fall as I keep on packing.  We are leaving behind not just “chapters of us” or “parts of us” or “memories of us” in this place.  We are actually leaving us behind.  Our very children.  Our very flesh and blood. The ones we would die for in a heartbeat. Except they died first. And it is the absolute heartbreak of our lives.  But we are leaving anyways.

We are leaving them.  And while I know with certainty that they are in heaven, that doesn’t take away the ache.  It doesn’t make it feel any better in the moments when I drive past the hospital where I gave birth to our precious Charlie.  Every day- I look up at the very room where I sat alone on the darkest night of my life, until the doctor walked in and said, “I’m sorry. Your baby died.”  Every day- we drive by the parking lot where we were forced to drive away from our baby.  And every day we have to drive past the doctors’s office where we found out two more babies had died in my body.  And any days we don’t want to drive by all that heartache, we have to get to town the only other way we can…on the road that takes us past the cemetery where our baby boy is buried.  And even though this place holds memories of more raw moments of agony and suffering than many people will face in a lifetime…we are leaving anyways.  

Because if we can’t have them…I honestly don’t need to live by their graves.  I could live by their graves, it’s not that I have to get away.  It’s just not a reason to stay. Graves are for the living.  Lest we forget.  But I know I will never, ever forget my babies.  I think about them every single day.  I guess motherhood gives you a built-in inability to ever forget those most precious to you.  It’s not a reason to stay, but it is certainly another reason to grieve. We are moving both literally and figuratively further away from the only place where our babies who are in heaven were a part of our daily story, and it makes my mama’s heart ache.  We are leaving them.  But we are leaving anyways.

I wanted them here with us, filling our house with joy and our day with crazy.  And I don’t mind living by the things that remind me of our babies, even though all those things make me sad.  I want to remember them.  What has become infinitely more difficult…is living by all the things that remind me of when we were happy.  And we were So. Very. Happy.  Right up until January 27th, 2013.  It has been incredibly difficult being reminded day after day…of our old life here during the time of happy.  The time when this sleepy little town on the Central Coast was officially named, “The Happiest Town On Earth.” And when it actually felt that way.  It hasn’t been our happiest place.  The shocking speed at which we went from being in the very “best years of our life” to the absolute worst…has left us reeling in it’s wake.  And even though our hearts are still somewhere on that journey of grief and no where near finished…we’re leaving anyways.

We are hoping that making new memories as a family in a place where we have no memories of being either devastatingly sad or deliriously happy…will be good for us in some ways.  But even as I type that, I know that something else will be lost as we drive away next week.  We can pack up our stuff…but the people we have to leave behind.  And even though this is the place where we experienced some of the most hurtful and disappointing relationships of our lives…this is also the place where God met us the very most through the literal hands and hugs and hearts of the people who make up His body. This is the very place where God loved our family through encounters with thousands of friends and strangers all over the world. This is where God decimated our bank account through suffering…and where He filled our U-haul through His body.  His kids literally packed our U-haul in this place.  And more of His kids will very literally pack our U-haul next week.  And we are leaving anyways.

We are leaving them all behind.  Not just any people.  The people who brought our family meals- our very mana on some days.  The people who babysat our kids during the deepest days of grief.  Who took the risk and said, “I know your children just buried their baby brother, but I will be a safe place for them to come and play and even grieve…I will not leave you alone in this day.”  The people who drove hundreds of miles to be by our side as we buried our baby boy.  These aren’t just friends.  These are trench-friends.  Battle friends.  Heaven friends.  Forever friends. And we are leaving anyways.

And while this isn’t the first place where Reid and I have encountered the love of God in human hearts…it is the first and only time our kids have seen that in their lives.  Because it’s the only place they’ve ever lived.  Almost all of the words ever written in the books of their lives…have been penned in this place.  And we are leaving anyways.  

The other day, Emma came up to me and said, “Mom, I’ve been working on the story of my life.  I’ve been writing some things down.  Can I read it to you?”  I left it exactly as she wrote it, spelling problems and all.

“Are Story-  And God’s Love for us. (and Animals!)

I was 6 on Valentines day and we found mold in are hous.

And mom got varee, 10,000,000 varee sick, and we moovt to Morro Bay.

And slept on air mattresses.  Until we fownd beds.

And then we had the worst day ever.  And we gave are things away.

And almost every day was Christmas! And God loved us by it.”

I’m still not sure what happened to the “God’s love for Animals” part…but as she read her life-story to me, I just wanted to weep.  I don’t want this to be her story.  I wanted this to be her happy place.  A place where she welcomed baby Charlie into our home…not sat weeping by his grave.  A place where she skipped off to school every day to learn great and mighty things…not where she lost even more by losing her school and all her friends- about six minutes into second grade.  A place where she made “core memories” filled with sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and happy.  Not the place where she also lived out the worst days of her life.  I wanted this to be everything magical and holy and protected about childhood that every parent wants for their kids, and few kids really have…and we had the extreme of not having it.  And I want to fix it even still.  Fix it quick before we leave.  And I can’t. And we’re leaving anyways.

What she will remember…is that life is incredibly hard.  And people are incredibly broken. And that many of them- are so very kind.  And the one’s who love Jesus…well, sometimes those ones see how much you are suffering and rise up and declare it’s Christmas…smack in the middle of February.  And she will remember the God who made them that way.  And that He is worth far more than this life filled with pain that He doesn’t always fix, and stories of suffering He even personally writes.  She will remember.  And she will take all of the mess and beauty of this place with her. And I have run out of time to try to fix the story He wrote that I don’t like.  It is time to move on to a new chapter.  Because like it or not, dreams fulfilled or not, unfinished prayers or not…we are leaving anyways.

I could go on forever.  When you leave a place…you leave all the good.  And all the bad. And none of the good.  And none of the bad.  You take it all with you.  In different ways, to the next place.  To a new chapter and new people.  Loving people. Trench people.  Battle people.  Heaven people.  I’m convinced they’re everywhere.  Forever friends, who you will also someday have to look at and with fresh tears say, “This has been so…EVERYTHING. But, we are leaving anyways.”  Because. That’s.  Just.  Life.

A few weeks ago, I ran into someone at Target that I didn’t really want to say goodbye to. She was across the parking lot and I just didn’t feel like making the effort of another goodbye. And I said to myself, “Oh wellwe are leaving anyways.”  And in that moment, I felt like God spoke to my heart.  Through His still-quiet voice, which always seems to reach me at Target, far more than any other place…

That…is how I want you to feel about this WHOLE Earth-place. Hold it loosely.  Even the goodbyes.  ESPECIALLY the goodbyes.  Make it count.  Make it good.  Fight to know me.  Fight to love others through Me.  Fight to love Me through others.  But in the end…you and everyone you know and love…are leaving anyways. This whole earth place is temporary. There is no such thing as a “Forever Home”…except the One that I am making.  But you had better believe it’s in the making.”

Oh, dear people.  You who have been the people who sat with us by Charlie’s grave. Who babysat our kids during the hardest days of our lives.  Who helped us buy new and exotic things like socks, and backpacks, and books, and tupper-ware during the second hardest days of our lives. Friends, this world is all so very alarmingly and comfortingly temporary.

We, each and every one of us…are leaving anyways.

Let’s fight to make it count.  In the midst of a world where we have been promised nothing but trouble.  By the One who said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”  And then added, “But take heart…I have overcome the world.”

It would be easy for me to dismiss those words, if they had been said by any one else. But they were said by HIM.  A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Who has gone to prepare a Place for us in the only place where we will never again have to unpack our bags, and then sigh and say, “Well, let’s not get too comfortable kids…we’re leaving anyways.”

Finally, there will be no more moving.  No more U-hauls.  No more goodbyes.  And no more bad tears.  Only good ones.  And then the words, “Get comfortable kids, we are staying for a very long always.  Ten thousand years.  And no less days.”





Kids Say The Deepest Things

I used to think that the best years of parenting would be the very first ones…when they were cute and tiny (and thought the world of me).  And then the later ones…when they went off to college (and once again began to think the world of me.)

But let’s be honest…most parents are so desperately sleep-deprived during those “cute and tiny” years…that they kind of miss the whole thing.  I vividly remember the very moment, several months into Freddo’s life, when I stumbled upon a Sealy mattress ad in a magazine…and started to weep.  The advertisment said something sappy like, “The people in your life depend on you to get a good night’s sleep,” and after nine straight months of waking up at least nine times a night with our acid-reflux-plagued-little-puker…oh how that ad was speaking to me.

All of THAT to say…it turns out that my theory was a little off.  Because I have found that it’s actually these floundering “elementary-school” years, when they can finally think and feel and speak and reason and relate…that have become infinitely precious to me.

But they are especially precious to me…because I will never have them with my sweet Charlie.  I feel like we have been totally robbed.  Robbed, not just of the sleepless nights I would have GIVEN ANYTHING TO HAVE HAD with our baby boy, but also robbed of these precious middle years that were coming.  If Charlie were here he would be two and half now…getting into all sorts of adorable mischief, and talking up a storm.  And. We. Missed. The. Whole. Thing.

Even two years later, it hurts so badly I physically ache.  I wanted to hear his voice.  I wanted to know each and every wild thought that came into his little mind.  And as much as I longed to hold him through those long, sleep-deprived nights and care for him as a baby…as my other little ones began to share the very depths of their souls one conversation at a time…I feel so much more deeply all that we will miss of Charlie’s life.

We will miss his every thought.  We will miss his dreams.  We will miss his fears.  His off-key songs.  His endless lists of favorite things.  His crazy-but-they-might-just-work-ideas he would have wanted to try.  We will miss every single thing that makes him laugh, and even the painful things that make him cry.  And I am finding that as I move into these “messy middle years” with Charlie’s big siblings…these years of akward, missing-teeth smiles, and the millions of wacky life-questions that fill my days…I most grief Charlie’s unlived life.

Because I know that I am not just missing out on Charlie…I have missed my opportunity to know Christ-in-Charlie.  I had wanted to know Jesus more through the joy of sharing this life…not through the suffering of being denied the whole thing.

I’d like to put a bow on that, and say something deep and holy about how great Heaven is going to be, and believe me…it is.  Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone on the planet who longs for it more than me.  But down here, stuck on this broken earth, I have found that you need to see Jesus in THIS day…and not just in the hope of the Heaven-ones coming.

And that…is why I’ve started the #kidssaythedeepestthings project.  For all of us, stuck here on this earth, whose souls groan and ache through Earth’s dark days, and yet whose lives have been made a bit brighter…by the little ones in our lives.  And honestly, that’s…everybody.  

You may have heard of the #100Dayproject.  Simply put: DO SOMETHING, anything for 100 days.11138613_10203820200125472_2719113668350978182_n

The moment I saw this on a friend’s Insta-feed I thought to myself, “What a great idea…ANYTHING is doable for 100 days!”  It’s short-enough to make it happen, and yet long enough to maybe just maybe change your life. I read somewhere once that it only takes 21 days to make a “habit” out of something.  I think of this fun fact…every time I renew my commitment to become avid about the habit of flossing.  And yet, here I am, all these years later…still standing before the principal (I mean, dentist) fudging about my flossing habits biannually.  (I’m starting to think 21 days is too short to change your life.)  But 100…?  Well, maybe just maybe.

And it got me thinking, “What could I really do for 100 days, that would create a habit that would permanently and eternally impact my life?”  My friend decided to talk to 100 people about their spiritual journey’s, and the journey has been totally amazing.  But I just don’t see all that many people in my mom-days.

And then it hit me…Who do I see every day?  Who has God called me to listen to as I go through the glamorous task of wiping the crumbs off the same 5 x 5 foot floor space three meals a day and snack times in between?

My little glories.

And as I began to think of not just the mundane, and insanity-inducing moments of our daily life…but also the holy and wholly amazing ones when the little people I live with say something that truly stops me cold by the brilliance and depth of their tiny minds…I realized how good it might be to commit to stopping and listening to them a little (read: a lot) more closely.

And so, I began to listen.  To listen to their phrases.  To listen to the conversations coming from the backseat.  To listen to their whispered words in the hushed (and sometimes NOT so hushed) moments of bedtime.  And most of all…to listen to their words when I am busy, and most prone to only pretend to be listening.  I began to listen all day long for glimpses of the incarnate Christ in my little glories…one conversation at a time. And it has been life-changing.  I haven’t even made it to the coveted 21st day, but I’m feeling pretty confident that this habit is here to stay.

Because what I’ve realized ten days into this journey…is that I just wasn’t listening very closely.  Oh, I heard them.  But I’m not sure I always saw them.  And worst of all…I’m not sure I always saw Him in them.  Weekly?  For sure.  But hourly?  Hardly. But now that I’m searching for hidden treasure in the simple words my kids speak…I am amazed at the radiant display of God they are showing me daily…through their simple and child-like lives.  In the last ten days alone, of really truly listening, my children have deeply challenged me in the ways they both encounter and reveal the living Christ.

I know so many moms who fear that life and ministry are kind of “over” when they have a child.  Friends, I will die on this hill…being a mama is the best ministry you will ever be invited to, because it is the one, and perhaps the only one…where you cannot hide.  You actually literally cannot hide.  (Believe me, I know.  I found myself in the hall closet one day, and thought to myself, “This is ridiculous.  Eventually, they are going to FIND me…and think this is a rad game of hide-and-go-seek.”)

And you figuratively cannot hide.  They are around you so much, and in so many behind-closed-doors moments, that it is unavoidable friends: by the time they get to college, if you were even half honest about your sins and struggles in this life…your kids will be utterly convinced that you’re one hot mess and not the chief of saints.  They just will.  Believe me, I know…I’m in college ministry.  You simply cannot escape.

But in that not escaping, you might be their very best glimpse…of someone who desperately needs a Savior…and has found one by His grace.  Every single time I yell at my kids too loudly, or drop a colorful word I wish they hadn’t heard me say…I think to myself, “There it is again:  My front-row, moving picture, Film-festival worthy display…of my need for Someone more holy than me.”  But the same is true for the flip-side.  If Jesus is in you, you will also be one of your children’s clearest pictures of Christ-in-you, the true hope of glory. Because being someone’s mama is a Colossians 1:27-kind of ministry.

“To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…” (Colossians 1:27.)

No one will think it’s a bigger and more glorious mystery that Christ is in YOU…than your kids.  They who get to see the “real” you on display day after day.  And no one has the opportunity to see Jesus more clearly than they will…through your broken and redeemed life. I’ve always thought this…and been both terrified and excited about this reality.  But in these last few years, as we have suffered beyond our wildest imagination, and been forced to do real life together in even deeper ways- a new reality has hit me.  That same hope of glory is also for ME to see…through the great mystery of Christ-in-their-lives.

Believe me, I know that I’m raising a bunch of little sinners.  That’s usually my first proclamation when my husband calmly strolls in the door at closing time each day.  But lately especially, as I’ve begun to really listen to the little things they say, I have become awe-strikingly aware that we are also raising a bunch of saints.  I have 90 days to go…but even 10 days into #my100dayproject…my kid’s have downright shocked me with their own radiant displays of “Christ-in-me” the hope of glory.

And so…I wanted to invite you to be a part of this journey.  You could take part, by simply listening alongside me as my kids show me Jesus one conversation at a time.  The hashtag is #kidsaythedeepestthings.  (I forgot the “s” so plan accordingly.) Or, even better…you could JOIN me.  And post your own Colossians 1:27 moments with the communal hashtag #kidsSaythedeepestthings.  I would SO love to hear how the little people in your life…be they grandkids, or nieces and nephews, or the kids you nanny, or your very own little glories…are showing you the very heart of Jesus, one conversation at a time.

Now I know that when they are young…the verdict is still out on how the little ones in our lives will walk with Jesus through the upcoming “Wonder Years” of middle school, high school, and college.  But I also know that the Jesus our kid’s reflect to us each day, had some really strong words about the preciousness of kids, and how MUCH they reveal to us of the King.  He was crystal clear: “The Kingdom of Heaven BELONGS to such as these.”  Belongs.  I love that word.  We humans spend our whole lives longing for belonging, and here we are…surrounded by short people who belong to Him in a really special way.

So…Will you join me?  Will you commit to truly listen to your littles, and the big and glorious things they say?  I have a dream that someday, when we big people are gone, our little people will be able to look back and see that we knew that each one of them had something deeply precious and holy to speak into this life.

The other day, I made an “Earth Day” lunch for the kids.  The sandwiches were a little too “earthy” for their liking so I added the last of our watermelon to each plate.  Two minutes later, I came back into the kitchen, and found 3 plates, with 3 Earth sandwiches on them, and 3 slices of water melon…nibbled right down to the rinds. I looked up at Freddo, his soft, sweet cheeks dripping with watermelon juice and said, “Umm, Fred…what happened to the watermelon?”  He dropped his head and said to me, “I ate them.  All of them.  I was so hungry and that watermelon tasted sooooo juicy.”

Well, one Time-out and two apologies later, and I was back from the store with more watermelon for the sisters who hadn’t gotten any.  I thought nothing of it, as I cut three more juicy slices and plunked them on the plates.  And in that moment, Freddo looked up at me and said softly, “Mommy, thanks for giving me grace and letting me have more watermelon.  It makes me so happy.”

Um…did he just say, “grace.”  In it’s proper context?  Like someone who actually gets that big and glorious word?  And feels unworthy of it and grateful for it just the same?

Yes.  He.  Did.

And I realized in that moment, that this little man who is only five years into this life filled with endless opportunities for God-sized grace, is indeed learning about it…one watermelon slice at a time.  And as I sliced him another big piece, I had to stop and ask myself, “How often do I stop and THANK GOD…for endless moments of grace in my own life?” Not enough. Not nearly.

And so, I am stopping and saying it for the next 100 days.  In honor of all six of my little glories- who are the greatest reminder of God’s undeserved grace I will ever encounter in this life.  In honor of the three who are in Heaven waiting for me. And in honor of the three who are on Earth…waiting for me.

Waiting for me to hear them, and see them, and know them more and more each day. And even more…to know better the God of all grace, through the simple experience of listening to their hearts as they chatter through our days. The King who ordained long ago, when He set up a world where we start as little-people, that they would teach us so much. He, who knew full well, far better than we, that #kidsSaythedeepestthings.

And why?  Well, because Grace…is so very sweet.1743463_10152730430125863_4720193356260092646_n


The Damn Yes Fight

We call it our “Damn Yes” Fight.  It was a fight about a great many things, but at its core…it was fight about the question of the ages, the question that hangs in the air between every couple from here to Beijing… Do You Really Love Me?

The fight happened early on in our engagement, on a balmy night in Daytona Beach, right outside an ugly-green hotel called “The El Caribe.” (If you’re thinking of putting it on your Bucket List…no need.)

As pretty much all fights go, it was really about me asking, “Do you cherish me?”  and him asking, “Do you respect me?”  But for the sake of deduction…the fight was more specifically about “spiritual leadership.”  I don’t remember how it began.  I don’t even remember how it ended.  All I remember is the crucial middle part.  That point in the fight where you both snap, and finally say what you actually mean.

I remember saying that I wanted him to “lead me spiritually.”  I wanted him to initiate quiet times together, and prayer times together, and to help encourage me in my walk with the Lord in really specific ways.  It probably didn’t help that I had recently graduated from the Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Bible and Theology.  Or that my “idea” of what a godly husband looked like, bore an awfully strong resemblance to the perfect blend of John Piper and Chuck Swindoll.  I don’t even remember exactly how I explained my expectations for “spiritual leadership” in marriage, but I do remember the moment when he stopped right there in the middle of that dark street and yelled, “You mean you expect me to lead you in a Bible devotional every morning!?”

I also vividly remember my response.

I remember feeling angry.  And frustrated.  And disappointed.

And I clearly remember shouting back, “DAMN YES!”

And do you know what he did?  My thoughtful, tender husband, who has more emotional awareness and emotional maturity at thirty-four than most men will acquire in a lifetime…HE LAUGHED AT ME.

Yep.  Right there on the street.  As I poured out my deepest frustration about not being “led better spiritually” to The Throne Room of the KING OF KINGS…he laughed at me.

“First,” he said, “We need to teach you how to swear.  Because your first attempt just went so badly.  And second, you’re crazy if you think THAT is what spiritual leadership is going to look like.”

“Fine!” I shouted back.  “Teach me how to swear!”

Just kidding.  What I actually said was, “Fine!  What DOES it look like?”

And that my friends, is the million dollar question.  What DOES it look like for a man to love and lead his family?  We talk about a man “leading his family spiritually”  All.  Of.  The.  Time.  And I’m sure many a book has been written on the subject.  But I have yet to read one I truly like.  Because they all seem vaguely out of touch with the reality I see all around me as we do ministry, and especially as we minister to couples who are at the very beginning of their marriage.

And as I think of the those couples, and of my friends and their marriages, I can honestly say…I don’t have a single friend who kicks off every married morning with a husband-initiated Quiet Time.  They.  Just.  Don’t.  And I’ve got some very godly friends.

Please hear me.  I am not saying it is bad to spend time together in the Word, and it is certainly not bad for a husband to initiate time in the Word or prayer with his wife.  Most wives I know would drop the laundry, the dirty dish, or the crying baby still in their arms at any moment…if their husband initiated such a thing.  But I am saying that I don’t think that alone is the measure of a man, and whether or not he is truly leading his family spiritually.

So, what is?

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and share what I have personally experienced spiritual leadership to be.  One, because it’s Valentines week, and there’s a lot of red hearts flying around, and an equal number of expectations on love flying right along with them. And more importantly, because after a decade of ministry to college students, which has created an almost permanent revolving door of newly married or almost married people in our lives, I am convinced that when we say “leading someone spiritually” there are an awful lot of couples stuck in the “Damn Yes” Fight.

And deep down, I think that the Church is full of way too many wives who are discouraged and disappointed…and way too many husbands who are weary.  Weary, and feeling like they are failing, no matter how hard they try.

And deep down, I think Satan likes it this way.  I think he likes to keep things “vague,” so that we performance-oriented American Christians can feel beaten-up and battered over things we don’t even clearly define.  I think he strokes his evil chin and says, “Yes, let’s keep ’em guessing. Let’s dangle the golden carrot of “leading spiritually” out there long enough to make them want it, but keep it vague enough that everyone will just feel pretty fed up with the whole thing.”

Which is pretty much exactly where we were at on that fateful night by the El Caribe.  And it wasn’t the first time we were having that fight.  We’d already had it many times, packaged up in different ways.  But that was the best part about the “Damn Yes” night.  We were both finally discouraged enough to begin asking people we trusted what they thought “spiritual leadership” looked like.

And let me tell you, the answers were both surprising and convicting.

First, we asked the pastor who was going to marry us.  The man who had led us through an exegetical study on the book of Romans, which was then and probably always will be…the best Bible Study of our entire lives.  The pastor of a large church whose own wife learned Greek and Hebrew too, just so they could study the Bible together in its original language.  He wasn’t exactly a “spiritual slouch” and yet…his answer totally surprised me.

He didn’t even hesitate.

“You know, at the end of the day, I really believe that spiritual leadership is getting out of bed every morning and going to work to provide for your family.  Day, after day.  Because, it’s just…not…easy.”

I was shocked.  I wanted it to be, “Lead your family in the Word.”  “Pray for everyone at sunrise, noon, and midnight.”  “Fast weekly.”

But no.

Go to work?  How could that be?

Well, let me tell you, after the two hardest years of our lives…I now get it in ways I never did before.  I now understand that it is no small thing that, in the midst of all of our suffering, Reid has loved our family by getting out of bed and going to work for our bread and butter and bacon EVERY DAY.

He does it because it’s his job…here in 21st century times.  And he does it even more, because it’s his curse…from all the way back in Garden times.  Adam sinned, so Reid goes to work.  Tilling the soil of hard and broken hearts, just like farmers and bankers and candle-shop makers till the hard soil of this cursed earth in their own ways.   And though simply “going to work” isn’t glamorous, or particularly “deep”,,,it is a deeply spiritual thing because God made it that way.  And if your husband gets up morning after morning to painfully toil over the “soil” of this world, I truly encourage you to sit in the weight of that for a moment and bask in how amazing it actually is that you have been loved so extravagantly.

Reid works for our family.  He also works for the glory of God, and the eternal impact his life’s labor will have on the lives of college students.  But let’s get real here…at the end of the day, I have a pillow under my head and food in my fridge, because my husband fights against the curse every day and works with his hands FOR OUR family.  It is a burden I don’t even fully comprehend as a wife.  But one I am blessed by every single day.

Last night, my loving husband led our family so well by driving all the way home from campus to help me with the dreaded Bedtime, just to turn around and go back to campus for a leadership meeting he got home from at midnight.  Right now Reid is doing his job, and because I’m so very sick…he is also doing so much of mine.  He works the soil all day, and then does our laundry all night.  And he does it, because he truly believes…

Spiritual leadership is providing for your family.

Please hear me, I know there are about as many unique situations as there are human beings, and if your husband cannot work, or if you both work, that does not mean that this is the only way to lead your family spiritually.  But I am convinced that this is a very big, deeply underestimated reality that I think millions of godly men are under-appreciated in EVERY SINGLE DAY.  And I’d bet if you polled a group of men, and asked them if it is a significant and weighty burden on their hearts to live in Adam’s dread curse, and to care for and provide for their family…most would probably give you a rather resounding, “Damn Yes.”

And it makes sense.  Because Jesus also cares for and lovingly provides for His Bride.  Every.  Day. Despite our ingratitude.

But wait, there’s more.

Because even after we said “I Do,” and I really began to internalize the idea that Reid was loving me and leading me in ways “Beyond the Quiet Time”…I found myself with new expectations.  (Read: we found ourselves in new fights.)

I truly believe that fighting is a VERY important, and healthy part of any good marriage.  I hold to the old adage, “If you never of you is not representing.”  And I really believe that the most cleansing, soul-bonding moments of our marriage have been in times of conflict, and the healing conversations that came after it.  But…how you fight, and how you pursue one another towards resolution in a fight, is an equally crucial thing.

And to be honest, for the first few years of our marriage, I did most of the pursuing.  Until one day I snapped.  Actually, lots of days.  We would have conflict and I would feel hurt, and vulnerable and misunderstood, and I would really want him to reach down into the mire of my ugly, wounded heart…and pursue me.  And I would feel so angry that I was the one doing the pursuing.

For those of you who know Reid, you know that he is so gentle and compassionate, that you probably can’t even imagine him fighting with anybody.  Well, he does.  Me.  Just me.  And early on in our marriage I began to accept the fact that we would work through the conflict when I pursued him.  I was discouraged about it, but certainly not willing to let the sun go down on my anger day after day…just to prove a point.

And then…enter outside counsel via podcast.  I don’t remember the name of the talk, probably because I never even heard it.  But I distinctly remember the night Reid came home and said to me, “Hey, I was listening to a sermon today from John Piper.  And he said that when a husband and a wife are in a fight and it is the husband’s fault…it is the HUSBAND’S job to pursue the wife.  And when you are in a fight and it’s the wife’s fault…it is the HUSBAND’S job to pursue the wife.  And I am so sorry that it has not been that way in our marriage.”

And that was it.  One of those classic moments in life when someone hears something from the person they needed to hear it from…and it sticks.  And it changes your life.  And quite honestly…it changed our marriage.  To know that Reid would pursue me and fight for me no matter what, and no matter when…even in the ugliest fights…was an enormous comfort to me.

It doesn’t mean that I never pursue Reid when we are in conflict, but the idea that Jesus pursued His bride when she as far off and it was ALL HER FAULT…and that He keeps on relentlessly fighting for us in all our wretched ugly…has changed what conflict looks like in our marriage.  It has meant the world to me that Reid truly believes and lives out the wisdom of Piper’s admonition that…

Spiritual leadership is being the pursuer in every fight.

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  And I could go on forever, about the ways that Reid has loved and led me spiritually in ways that do not show up in classic “Spiritual Leadership” books.

But, this last one is most precious to me.

When we were engaged we heard the story of a pastor who officiated his son’s wedding.  Mid-wedding, he made his son turn to his bride and said to him, “Now, repeat after me:  “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…leave you.”  And then he made the bride do the same.

On our wedding day, after we said our vows and exchanged rings, we moved to the “Candle Lighting Ceremony.”  I know it’s symbolic and all, but that’s an awfully long time to just sit there and stare at a candle, while everyone’s staring at your backsides, so Reid and I planned on sharing something special during that time.  And in that moment he turned to me and said, “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…leave you.”

I am crying even as I type.

Not so much because of the promise.  But because he’s kept it.

Through hell, he has kept it.

I don’t even have to give you the “statistics” for couples who’ve buried a child, or lost all their worldly possessions, or suffered complete financial decimation, or live daily with debilitating chronic pain.  And in the last two years, we’ve experienced all of these.  It was a year ago this Valentine’s, when our doctor called us with the news that we had indeed been exposed to toxic mold, and we would have to get rid of literally everything.  These are absolutely the moments that destroy marriages.  When the crushing pressure of death and loss and suffering and hardship bear down until you can no longer breathe, let alone treasure and love and care for another rather sinful and equally devastated human being.

And he did not leave.

And though my body is broken, and I can’t feel my legs or arms when I go to sleep, and he has to give me a back-rub every night and I’m too weak to ever give one back…

He does not leave.

And though my soul is broken, and I scream horrible things at the sky, and sound dangerously similar to Job’s wife because I am so completely sick of being the people who people think of when they read the book of Job for their Quiet Times…

He does not leave.

He does not lead me in our “Morning Devos.”  He might not even pray for me every night.  But he loves me.  He fights for me.  He pursues me.  He speaks the truth of God’s love for me and care for us in the midst of these endless storms every day as he speaks the Word of God into my life.

And as this boat rocks on and on and on, and we are pounded by endless wave after wave of suffering…

He does not leave.

Because spiritual leadership is never, ever leaving.

Just like the One who once promised us, “I will never forsake you, I will never leave.”

And spiritual leadership is more than just not leaving…it’s loving in a way that shows them that the real you…is there to love the real them…until your dying day.

He has seen me, the real me.  And he has accepted and held unto the real me.  He has held me by our babies graves.  He has held me after every fight.  He has held me when I screamed in anger over the absolute misery of our lives.  He has stayed.

And as we prepare to celebrate another Valentine’s day, and I see junior high boys scrambling around the grocery story trying to buy flowers for the girls they “love,” I can only smile.

Because love…is not about flowers, or chocolate, or words on heart-shaped Valentines…and it’s not even about how well you “lead” someone through truly optional, albeit wonderful spiritually-healthy routines…love is staying.

Love is being, what is simple, and yet so incredibly hard to be.  A provider.  A pursuer.  And someone who stays.  And every man who is and does those things…has given his wife a far greater gift than anything that could ever be packaged on an arbitrary day.

If your husband has been these things you are the luckiest woman in the world.  Because while you may not have been through all that we’ve been through- the curse is over all the earth, and as I look around at this broken world…none of this is easy.  We are all knee-deep in this cursed soil, struggling desperately to believe that we are loved in a world so broken and still breaking.

But is this broken heart…deeply grateful for the equally broken man who is beside me?

Umm…damn yes.


If I Were Writing This Story

This morning I woke up, body tired and heart heavy.  I spent most of last night laying awake in bed, battling neuropathy…my current and least favorite symptom of mold poisoning.  I spent most of last night staring at the ceiling, and thinking of that other night two years ago…when we did not even sleep.  The longest night of our lives.

Waiting for him to come.

Knowing he was already gone.

Today, is Charlie’s birthday.  Tomorrow, is Fred’s.  He would have been two.  He will be five. And they would have been “birthday twins,” celebrating the endless fun and excitement of the most awesome birthday week to ever grace a family’s January...if I were writing this story.

And it would actually be the most awesome week of January…if I were writing this story.   

His precious, perfect cheeks would be covered in chocolate frosting right now.  His nut brown hair would be sticking up in all directions under his little party hat.  And his beautiful eyes would be dancing with excitement as his big siblings took it upon themselves to blow out the candles on his birthday cake…if I were writing this story.

But that is not our day.  Because we did not get our story.

And tomorrow, as we celebrate our sweet Freddo’s life and hug him extra tight, it will not be the day I had wanted it to be…because I never, ever would have written that we would have to spend one day at a cemetery and the next day at Chuck-e-Cheese for as long as we all shall live…if I were writing this story.

And this, the hardest week of our lives…is only the worst reminder of the reality of every single breathing moment of our lives…that we live in the valley of the shadow of death, and I wouldn’t have chosen to write us within ten billion miles of this dark and desolate valley…if I were writing this story.

I feel it every Christmas…as we try to decide what to do about the “Christmas Card.”  That proverbial, annual send-out that supposed to capture “Another Great Year” for a “Growing Family.”  But Charlie isn’t growing.  His soft cheeks, and knobby little knees, and tender little heart are not growing where I wanted them to be.  They are not growing in my home, near my heart, and with his siblings.   And they never, ever will be.  And I ache in places I can’t even articulate trying to figure out how to capture our “family”…when half of my children are stuck on earth and the other half are somewhere a billion light years away.

I don’t want a happy, smiley picture of the five of us at the beach…because it isn’t our family.  And it certainly isn’t the picture I would have drawn beside our lives…if I were writing this story.

If I were illustrating our story…I’d have Charlie and Fred side by side, in matching Christmas plaid, and Charlie’s little eyes would be looking up at Fred, making sure he was doing the picture “just right,” just like Sophie does with Emma every moment of every day.

If I were illustrating our story…I’d have young souls staring back at the camera instead of the broken ones I see.  My heart would be thirty-three, with all that thirty-three-year-olds are supposed to have suffered and experienced by this point.  And even more…my little ones souls would be three, and five, and seven.  Not eighty.  Because in the midst of all of the child-like moments our kids still bring to the dinner table each night, there are so very many times when I look and listen and live in the soul-moments of each day, and realize once again that there is nothing child-like about their lives.

And in that…I see something that I absolutely know I would not have seen…if I were writing this story.  

I see Christ.

And His Sovereign plan over the horrendous pages that have become the ink of our lives.

And His grace in each and every dark and tear-stained line.

And as I think of today, the anniversary of the absolute darkest moment of my life, and sadly, the one and only day I got to hold and kiss and love and treasure my sweet baby Charlie…I can think of absolutely no better way to honor the memory of his short but immeasurably valuable life…than to share what has happened in our hearts only because I did not get my wayand am clearly not writing this story.  

Things…only God could write.

And so, as the neuropathy rages on and my fingers struggle to even work well enough to type…I am going to love him and remember him in the only way I can…by sharing how very different we all are now…because of his life.

My deepest heartache over Charlie’s death, is that our sweet Freddo lost his very best buddy.  I see Fred’s tears when he feels excluded from his sisters, I see his exasperation when he throws up his hands and says, “This is such a GIRL house,” and I see his deep soul-ache when sometimes, I hear him whisper ever so quietly from the back of the car, “Mommy, I miss Charlie.”  These are the moments when I want to rage.  To scream at the sky.  To shatter a few more of our dinner plates.  To pack up my heart and permanently walk away from this life of blind and unyielding faith in a God who seems absolutely disinterested in every suggestion I ever have for how I would write this story.

But then, there are times when I am stopped cold in my angry tracks…by the One who actually did write this story.

About a million years ago, back when Fred was two…we would have many a conversation about what it looked like to be a “Prince among Ladies.”  Every.  Day.  Same conversation on repeat.  “Freddo, I saw you hit your sister.  Let’s review this again…What are those strong muscles for?”  And then he would mumble, “For protecting the ladies.” And I’d inevitably walk away feeling awfully proud of my parenting finesse. Convinced that I was deftly raising a real man of God who’d be ever-quick to protect and defend a kingdoms’ worth of ladies. And then, a day or two would pass, and we would be back where we began with Fred and his fists.

Enter, two years ago this very day.  January 28th, 2013.  And the most painful moment of my life.  The moment when suddenly, every grandiose parenting notion I’d ever held, took a very back seat to the hellish throes of grief.  I was fighting for my life.  And for my faith. And for every breath I took because, suddenly, even breathing was an enormous fight. And in that moment, I couldn’t have cared less if Freddo was beating up the ladies.

But somewhere in these last two years…as I grieved my baby’s death, and buried two more babies, and got sick enough to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars at countless unhelpful doctors, and then found out about the mold and lost literally every single thing we had…somewhere in the heinous suffering that became our life on every line of every page…something else was happening that would not have happened…if I were writing this story.

Freddo, my sweet Freddo, who is solid as an ox and can pack quite a punch…learned how to protect the ladies.  And he learned it from the One who is writing this story.

I see it.  Every single day.  Things I simply did not teach him…that suffering did.

I see it…when he takes Sophie’s hand as she walks down the stairs, just because he worries about her slipping on those socks of hers that always seem extra slippery.   I see it…when he takes on kids twice his size at the playground…in defense of our very tender-hearted Emma Leigh.  And I saw it the other day, when we were walking along the bay and he said to me, “If you fall…just grab my hand and I’ll catch you Mom.  Actually, maybe you should just grab it now for safe keeping.”

And I know why he does it…because each and every one of his ladies are more fragile and broken and in need of care and love and protection than I will ever be comfortable with, and ever would have allowed myself to be…if I were writing this story.  

I don’t want to be so sick and frail that my little boy actually feels the need to look out for me…but he does.  And that IS our story.

Deep down, I don’t really need Fred’s pint-sized muscles to save me from falling.  I’m frail. But most days I’m not quite that frail.

What I need…is grace.  And a tender-heart that understands compassion and suffering and the deep reality that every human being walks around with broken and bleeding hearts that are more fragile and frightened than any of us would like.

But how do you build that into a little boy?  How do you keep him from being shallow and thoughtless and insensitive and mean?

You don’t.  Or at least I myself most certainly didn’t.  God did.  While I was busy simply trying to survive this horrible story.

The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult.  I have been in excruciating and debilitating pain.  My neuropathy symptoms are at all-time low, and I have felt so deeply weary on the nights when I can no longer even use my hands or feel my feet.  Sometimes I wonder if I am going to eventually need Fred’s little arms to catch me.

And on top of it all, my soul is bone weary.  The process of starting a new school we don’t like, and saying goodbye to an old school we loved…has been so deeply painful for me.  I had thought that we had lost all that one family could possibly lose…but watching our kids lose their friends and their teachers and a school that they adored was deeply breaking for me.

I wanted to fix it.  And since I couldn’t fix it…I desperately wanted to control the only part I could…I wanted The Perfect Goodbye.  And I thought I’d found that in the school’s “Caroling Field Trip” to the local nursing home.  I had it all planned out.  We would meet up with the school, sing a few rounds of “Jingle Bells” with the octogenarians, and say goodbye to all of the most precious people in their lives over some punch and cookies.

But, of course, it didn’t work that way.  We had to be at Emma’s new school at the exact same time as the field trip, and so we got there late.  Actually, “late” is an understatement.  We got there as the whole school was filing out the door, and I was devastated.  Our kids had been so excited to finally see their best friends, and there they were…literally in the doorway of this random nursing home, giving awkward side-hugs, and issuing two-second goodbyes.

About three-seconds after we got there…it was over.  The school had to get back for lunchtime, so there our little family stood…alone outside the nursing home, completely dazed and dizzy from such an abrupt and messy end to such a precious chapter in their lives.  And something deep broke in me.

I made it all the way to the car…and then I sat right down on the curb and began to weep. And weep.  And weep.  I couldn’t stop weeping.  I wept because I am sick and tired of being the people in excruciating pain.  I wept because I am absolutely fed up that our kids have to be the ones to say goodbye to literally everything…friends and teachers and every one of their worldly possessions, and most of all…their baby siblings.  And I wept because I would never ever even make our kids leave a place they love, and I certainly would have at least planned a better goodbye…if I were writing this story.

I wept because I hate our story.  And I’m tired of being the people bleeding and limping through every tear-stained page.

And even though I felt miserable crying hysterically in front of our kids, the dam had finally broke…and I sat down right there on that crazy busy street corner, in a town where we know literally everybody, and wept over our nursing home-goodbye.

Finally, after I got it all out, I got back in our car.  Our very quiet car.  And it was there, where God cut through the silence with words that I’ll never forget, no matter how many pages are left in this truly miserable story.  Because in the quiet of the car, I heard Freddo’s four-year-old voice echo the wisdom of a very long life when he said softly,“It’s ok Mommy.  I care way more about you…than I do about caroling.”

And in that very moment…I saw the legacy of our baby Charlie’s life.

He has made us tender.

Each and every one of us.  Most days, I don’t see it in myself.  Most days (ok, most every day) I see absolutely NOTHING good that has been born in my soul out of what has become page after page of suffering.  I do not feel closer to and more in love with the Author of our story.  I do not feel like I am better able to love others, and especially my kids…in a deep and meaningful way.  I feel broken.  Not beauty-broken. Ugly-broken.  Limited-broken.  Barely-hanging on to my sanity and my faith-broken. Damaged-broken.  And there are many, many days when I wonder if God is ever going to make anything beautiful out of the dust of any of these pages of this story I now hate.

But in that moment, in the quietness of our car, quiet simply because I don’t think anyone knew quite what to do with Mommy’s-Nursing-Home-Meltdown…I saw beauty.

The beauty born out of suffering.  The unsurpassing gift of seeing that my Freddo is being made into the image of Christ…one jot and tittle at a the One who is writing this story.  

I want to put a bow on this.  To say that that moment in the car was a real “break through.” To say that I am “ok” with Charlie’s death, because something so eternally good is being born out of all of this bad…something big enough, good ENOUGH…that it is worth all of the pain of this story.  But there is nothing, absolutely nothing that would EVER make this worth it to me.  Nothing that would ever make me think, “Charlie’s death is worth it for God to be THIS MAGNIFIED.”  

I will never think that.  At least not for the next seventy years.  I wanted him.  Yes, I wanted our family to know Jesus and make Him known, but I didn’t want it to be because of our endless suffering.  I wanted it to be the way that everyone else (it seems) gets to “know Jesus and make him known”…by gradually receiving all of the wonderful things He has to give.  I wanted it to be by getting my version of the story. And His version is absolutely NOTHING like my version of the story would be.

When you set out to write a story, you write it with an end-goal in mind.  The author labors over each and every word because he wants to get it “just right.”  He wants something to be remembered.  Something to last beyond the story.  And when the quill is in your hand…the story is for the Author’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

His.  Completely and exclusively.

And if I have learned anything over these exactly two years of suffering it is this:  I am in the story.  I care deeply about the story.  I love deeply, so very many people in this story. But this…is not my story.

And it never will be.

It’s His story.  He sat down with the blank pages.  He owns oceans-worth of ink.  He writes every line on every page, and will fill them according to His intended will…each and every day.  And He will end it exactly when and how He sees fit, because it always has been and always will be…His story.  

For His purposes.  

Far beyond this life.

I can pray to Him, and pour out my dreams and hopes and longings for the story, but ultimately, that has far more influence on the relationship between the author and the character…than the lines on the page.

As I sit here today, I have no bow.  There is no place to buy literary bows, when your baby is dead and your body is broken, and your kids by default, have eighty-year-old souls because of the world-weary weight of their suffering.

But I do have one illustration for our story.  One I actually like.  One that actually captures us in a way that makes my heart happy.  One that actually does justice to our family.  Our real family…the one that no picture on earth will ever represent rightly.  One that actually captures both the beauty and the brokenness that fills to overflowing the pages of our lives.

One that gives a glimpse of both of the precious boys who have captured so very much of this Mama’s heart.  My boys.  My birthday twins who I would never, ever have chosen to celebrate like this….if I were writing this story.

So here it is.  Our Christmas picture.  Me, in my Heaven shirt. Precious Fred in his lone plaid.  And maybe just maybe, my sweet baby Charlie…looking down upon a story that he is still so very much a part of, and always will be.

Here we stand…small and frail, and hidden, of course, in the shadow of the big Rock He planted our little family by.  As we wait for Him with tears and trust and trembling.

For the day when we will finally meet and fall before…the Author of this story.



The Weary World Rejoices

I love Christmas.  I love the lights.  I love the carols.  I love the fact that billions of people the world over…have to say the name of Jesus in the kindest of terms.  I love the feeling of chill and still and calm…that covers the whole earth.  Even if for just a moment.  Yep, I’m one of those.  I.  Love.  Christmas.

Well, at least I used to.

Christmas snuck up on me last year.  Not the holiday itself per se.  I had no problem buying presents, baking cookies, and making advent calendar magic for my kids.  But the meaning of Christmas…the real meaning of Christmas…crept up on my heart last year and hit me like a ton of bricks.

Actually, it knocked me completely unconscious.

The most defining and painful moment of my existence happened on January 28th, 2013…which meant I had eleven whole months to live in the shock and sorrow of baby Charlie’s death…before I finally got to my first Christmas without him.  And after eleven straight months of doing everything possible to try to survive life with a gaping, bleeding wound for a heart…eleven longs months of avoiding being around babies, and especially baby boys, because it hurt so very much…

I was totally unprepared for the birth of the holy Son.

Jesus Christ…the real Jesus, who is alive and well right now at this very moment, that Jesus…is in heaven. Seated at the right hand of the Father.  Waiting for His glorious Kingdom to come in full.  And in the deepest throes of grief…I needed that Jesus.  I needed to know that He was still seated on the throne.  Still sovereign and powerful and kind.  All.  At.  Once.

Still sovereign…over every single jot and tittle of the story He was writing through our lives. A story I did not like.  And because I did not like it…I needed to know that these things were still true about the One who wrote it.  Still strong enough…to fight against the roaring lion ever seeking to devour us.  Still gentle enough…to weep beside me as my tears hit grave, after grave, after grave.

Three baby graves.  That’s pretty much all I remember of 2013.

And He was there.  With me.  In me.  Beside me.  And reigning powerfully over my life, as I wept beside each one.  That Jesus…well, I could handle that Jesus. Because I desperately needed that Jesus.

But the Christ of Christmas…the one we remember and celebrate every single December until Kingdom come…well that Jesus…left me laying on the ground, completely undone.  Because that Jesus, was and always will be…remembered as a cooing baby boy, tucked cozy beside his mama.

And I was a mama… missing a son.

I would find myself Christmas shopping at Target…trying desperately to make it past the suffocating smell of the baby diaper aisle (which I once loved).  Trying to avoid the endless stream of bored pregnant ladies and frazzled mothers of newborns for whom Target basically exists (and of whom I myself once was.) Trying to not think about all of the beautiful things I had bought for little Charlie and his first Christmas…that would never, ever be touched by his perfect little hands. Trying basically to entirely avoid Target, while actually still shopping there.

When really what I should have been avoiding, if I had wanted to truly protect my heart…was Christmas.  Because for all I was doing to try to avoid every incapacitating reminder that my baby boy was dead…I was totally forgetting that Christmas is entirely about one thing and one thing alone…

Christmas…is about a baby boy who isn’t.

I’d be in Target, doing my Christmas thing, and all of a sudden…BAM!…some jazzy version of “Away in the Manger” would come on.  And I would be undone.

I’d be looking at Christmas ornaments and suddenly there he was…a pudgy baby boy, laying in a manger with his bright eyes alive and open.  And my baby boy’s…were not.  And I would be undone.

I’d glance at Christmas cards and see a very pregnant Mary toiling along that winding road to Bethlehem…and I’d remember last Christmas when I too was great with child…waiting for him to come home to live with us.  But our baby boy would never, ever come.  And I would be undone.

And as wildly irrational as this may sound…I actually found myself getting really jealous of Mary.  Jealous that she was spared the agonizing pain of giving birth to a child who had already died.  Jealous she actually got to see His eyes.  Jealous of their first Christmas together.  Jealous of all thirty-three of them. When you are given only eight short months…thirty-three years together feels like an incredibly long and wonderful gift.

Basically, I was more envious of sweet Mary Mother of God…than any of my friends whose babies had lived the year that our baby didn’t.  And why?  Well, because Mary’s baby…could not be avoided.  Or ignored.  I could not close my eyes, and hope that he would grow up real quick.

Jesus was ALWAYS going to be a baby boy.  Every.  Single.  December.

That…was last Christmas.  I would see the little stocking we had bought for Charlie…and weep.  I would cry as I watched my kids standing in front of our Christmas tree, reenacting the Christmas story…reminded of how if he had lived Charlie would have been their “baby Jesus.”  And most of all…I would hear Christmas carols filled with all of the hope and promise that Christmas brings…and I would wonder if those songs were truly for all of us…or if they were only really for people whose lives were merry and bright.

Because ours…most certainly was not.

How in the world are you supposed to “do” Christmas…when all is not calm, and nothing is bright?  Is Christmas only for people whose lives still look like a warm and cozy Pottery Barn catalogue?  Are you truly invited to Christmas…when your heart is broken, your faith is shattered, and you don’t feel like you qualify for the “All-Ye-Faithful-Joyful-and-Triumphant” club?  That…was last Christmas.

As for this Christmas…well, we don’t even own Charlie’s little Christmas stocking anymore. In fact, none of us have a Christmas stocking now.  This year…we put our dirty Ugg boots under the tree and called it good.

This Christmas…our kids reenacted the Christmas story in front of our bare Christmas tree, which is outside on our porch, because Mommy is too sick to have it indoors.  The other day I caught Emma sitting in front of our “tree” staring at it sadly.  I said, “Ems, what’s wrong?”  She sighed deeply and then said to me, “I wish we had a big tree. With real ornaments.  Indoors.”  

Yeah.  Me too kid.

Last Christmas, as we celebrated our first Christmas without baby Charlie…I couldn’t breathe.  The pain was excruciating.  I also couldn’t imagine it could possibly get any worse than what we were in.  How could it get worse than the pain of being here…without him. Of him being There…without us.  I couldn’t imagine it getting worse than not only being without him…but having two more whole losses after him.  How can life get worse than loss?

More.  Loss.

And it is worse.  Our life hurts even more than 365 days ago.

Because he still isn’t here. The little person who looks exactly like the other three I love so very much…isn’t with them.  365 days have gone by since we spent our first Christmas after so much loss.  And our life is no easier.  We still have all of the pain of three precious lost lives.  And new sorrows on top of that.

Our stuff is gone.  All of it.  This sparse Christmas season has certainly been a brutal reminder of that.

My health is gone.  I’ve been to more doctors appointments and blood draws than I can even comprehend, and I am still so sick.  If you got points for trying…I would be the healthiest person I know.  But I’m not.

And now…our community is gone.  Just when I thought we could not possibly have anything more to lose…we did.  A few weeks ago we found out that our kid’s school- a place which had been a loving community and the one constant for them in our life of suffering and endless loss…is no longer safe for them.  After finding toxic mold there in October, we had no choice but to pull them out of the only place they had left from our “old life.”

This loss has struck my heart with a pain I did not think possible.  I have hurt more about our kids losing their school than I had ever thought I would or could after even greater losses.  But I’m hurting because it all feels like too much.  I see them in pain, missing their school and their teachers and their friends, and I feel hopeless and clueless as to how to help them navigate this journey of sorrow upon sorrow.  Honestly, when I see their tears, the absolute last thing in all the world that I want to do…is bust out into “Joy to the World.”

I don’t want to prepare Him room.

Where in the world would I put Him…in such a deeply shattered heart?

But tonight, as I sat on a couch that we did not own a Christmas ago, in a body that certainly worked better a year ago, and watched my kids reenact the Christmas story in front of our bare “outdoor tree”…I was struck cold by what Christmas is really, truly about.

I looked at my precious kids, more broken and beaten down than I ever would have fathomed…and I saw in them the weariness of the real Mary and Joseph of long ago.

I’ll bet they were tired too.

Tired of the long journey of getting to where they had to go.  Tired of crowds of people who filled the road…who really had absolutely no idea what they were going through. The frazzled innkeeper.  The rude centurion at the gate.  The greedy tax-collector.  

Tired of loss.  Tired of being full of fear.  Tired of being on the run. 

Tired…of all the things I too am tired of.

I truly believe that the God who could have provided the Taj Mahal of delivery rooms, but who instead chose a dumpy, moldy stable for them…has chosen each step of this journey for us.  But I am weary of our life on this long road.  I am tired of being alone in things that people absolutely cannot understand.  Tired of trying to live with a complex environmental illness.  Tired of the aching pain of losing my children.  Tired of trying to shop for new school supplies in December…because our kids can suddenly no longer go to the school they loved.  I am tired of our life, and of how lonely and misunderstood it inevitably is.

And I am tired of being on the run.  Of running from things that could hurt us, or have hurt us.  Tired of running from the very air we breathe…when you really NEED to breathe air.  I am tired of the fear of our lives.  Fear of more loss.  Fear of more exposure to mold.  Fear of having to leave more people and more places that we knew and loved.  Fear of what all of this loss is going to do to the broken, wore down, already eighty-year-old soul’s of our kids. Fear of the cancer scans I will have to get every six months for the rest of my life on this long road to Bethlehem.

Fear that we are never, ever going to get there.  

And I am sure….beyond a shadow of a doubt…that those young and scared teenagers carrying the hope of the world…felt all of this too.

Mary and Joe.

That little family…wildly misunderstood by their friends and family, who probably included a few skeptics regarding the whole “angels visiting in the night, immaculate conception, soon to be the-Savior-of-the-world’s-parental unit” bit.  I know that some people try really hard to understand our complicated situation. And I am so grateful for them.  To you, the choir I’m now preaching to…thank you.  But there will always be people in our life who can’t.  Or won’t.  And I am quite certain after our journey, that it was probably a very lonely and painful one for those weary travelers to Bethlehem.

That little family….who had to leave behind most of their worldly possessions. Who were actually given gifts of gold and precious spices from total strangers…which most likely paid for their life on the run and their long and expensive journey to Egypt. I remember what it felt like this February to get precious gifts from total strangers.  To be in great need because of our life on the run…and to see God provide when we too desperately needed gifts for our flight from one dangerous place to a new, safer one.

That little family…who had to flee a scary and complicated enemy…an evil King of this world whose power lurked everywhere, and who hunted them down with every intention to steal and kill and destroy them.  We know all about that.  We have one of those in our lives too.  And I don’t mean the mold.

That little family…who too, had so much to fear.  Who were warned that the most powerful man in their world was about to search for and destroy their child.  Who were promised by people they trusted…that a sword would pierce their very souls. Try putting that on a Christmas card.

All of this and more flashed through my mind as I watched our kids pretend to be that special little family tonight.  And though I still can’t breathe when I see little Sophie sitting in the “manger” where Charlie would have been…I now see more when I look at them. 

More than just the loss of our baby boy whom God chose to grow up in Heaven.

I see the HOPE that was given to this whole broken, bleeding world…in the gain of a baby boy whom God chose to grow up on earth.

I see the weariness in Mary and Joseph’s eyes…every time I look in the mirror at my own.  And I am comforted by their exhaustion.  And their fear.  And their loss. By their whole messy, weary, extremely un-Pottery Barn lives.

Comforted that Christmas…was for them.

They understood that the road to Bethlehem…the road to having and knowing and bearing Jesus…was filled with a whole lot of loneliness.  And weariness.  And fear.  And loss.

And when I see Mary and Joseph for who they really were…I can see myself and my story for what it really is.  At it’s core.

Christmas story

A very long and painful, lonely and most-days impossible...journey to meet Jesus.  To know Him.  To bear Him.  Until I finally see Him.  In all His glory.  And we can finally put behind us all this excruciatingly painful baby in the manger business.

Until then, I am thankful that He came into this big fat mess, and survived that cold, moldy manger, and the loss of all of his parent’s stuff and friends and hope and direction…so that he could rescue us back from all of this.

I don’t know where you are at today.  Maybe your life does look an awful lot like a Pottery Barn catalogue.  If it does, well, just enjoy it.  It will not last.  You, and every single person you know and love, stand to lose absolutely everything…including one another.  I’m not trying to be a Debbie-downer.  But I’ve read the whole Book.  And it is unavoidable…we are all putting up Christmas lights on a sinking ship.

But what I have learned as thousands of total strangers have written us letters postmarked, “The Road to Bethlehem”…is that many of those same people are writing us from their own winding road to that far away place where Love came down.

Most of life, for most of us…is full of what we seem to be permanently stuck in…Loss.  Fear.  Loneliness.  Death.

And lots and lots of being on the run.  Running from our sin.  Running from our selves.  Running from others.  Running from the damaging pain that our sin and other’s sin does to our self and others. Bethlehem.

Where we find Him.

Just like they once did.

Weary shepherds.  Exhausted wise men.  And his simple, clueless parents.

And when I think of that Jesus…the One they found on that holy night, the One we need desperately for each long and weary day…it brings new meaning to the one Christmas song that just gets richer and sweeter the worse this journey gets…

Oh holy night!  The stars are brightly shining.  It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.  Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Dear Weary World…

Rejoice!  Christmas is for you too.  

I write to you from the depths of our weariness, as we continue to deal with loss upon loss…and pray that you too will find comfort in this one unfailing promise of Christmas…

He has appeared.

As a squalling baby.

To die as a broken man.

So He can reign as a sovereign King.

Who could have skipped all of it.

And.  Didn’t.

Precious Souls,  May you feel your worth.

And skip the whole merry, little Christmas.  And have yourselves a big, holy one.











My Life on the Tea Cups

It began on January 27th 2013.  Baby Charlie had spent 37 weeks tucked beside me in my womb, and we were all so very excited to meet him in a few short weeks.  Every time two-year-old Freddo would put on his little soccer shoes he’d say to me, “Mommy, these are getting too small…soon I’m going to have to give them to Baby Charlie!”  

Anticipation was high.  And life was full of beauty.  At the time though, I thought life was actually pretty challenging.  I had three kids under six and one in my tummy…and I was exhausted beyond belief.  But I was full happy.  Life felt overwhelming and tiring and full. Full of diapers and runny noses.  Full of jelly hands and lots and lots of Why’s.  But also full of so very much hope and joy.  And we were truly happy. Eagerly awaiting, with full intention of receiving, our “new” life as SIX…with the baby boy whose tiny feet would fill big brother shoes any day.

But that day, that very day…I would meet those tiny feet.  I would hold them in my hands.  I would finally hold his perfectly formed little body, with ten small fingers and ten small toes, and the ten million big dreams I’d held for his life.  But his heart would not be beating.  And I would be forced to look down in total despair…at his perfectly formed little feet, and cheeks, and button nose…and eyes I would never, ever see.

And it would be…the worst day of my life.

The beginning of our new life.

A life I hate.

There are still, a few very precious things I love about my life.  But I absolutely hate that my baby boy lives in the ground, while everyone else’s children are running around above the ground…full of love and laughter and life.  I know in my heart that who Charlie really is…my eternal Charlie…is running around in heaven.  I know in my heart that Jesus really did turn to the thief on the cross and say to him ever so softly, “Today, you will be in Paradise with me.”  And I know that when Jesus says, “today”…He means today.  know these things.

But Jesus didn’t say all of that to the thieves’ broken Mommy, who stood there weeping next to Mary.  And He didn’t say it to me.  I am not in Paradise today.  I am stuck here in this broken world, trapped in a broken body, and my sweet baby’s life is being lived…ten million miles away from mine.

Charlie’s real life, his Forever life, gives me hope.  Real, lasting, living hope. But it isn’t my life.  It isn’t by me.  And right now, it isn’t with mine.  And the moment the doctor turned to me with tears and said, “I’m sorry, your baby is gone,” Charlie went to one place in my mind and heart, and I went to another…my new, horrible life.

This may all sound dramatic.  I’m actually struggling to find words strong enough to communicate what it is actually like.  And the only thing that’s coming to mind right now…are the Tea Cups.  Yes, those miniature Disneyland torture chambers that spin feverishly around for all good people willing to wait in an hour-long line.  The last time I went to Disneyland, I had to ride those devilish tea cups not once, but twice with my beloved little glories.  The second time, I took a picture of the blessed event.  Mostly, to show my husband (who absolutely refuses to ride the tea cups) exactly all that I was enduring for the family.  But I also took a picture of that blurry sky because I was struck cold…by how much it reminds me of my life.  

Glaring, blinding lights.  Swirling, sickening, spinning.  And absolutely no end in sight.


Most people who suffer from a serious chronic illness, could probably share the exact moment they found out about their “new life” of sickness and pain.  For some, it was in a doctor’s office.  For others, it was the moment they fell, or the moment they blacked out, or the moment the doctor called back with the bad-news test results, for which they had been anxiously waiting.  For me…it was a dark, cold, lonely hospital room on January 27th, 2013.  It was four green walls, in bad fluorescent lighting…where I sat utterly alone and listened to the doctor explain that somehow my perfectly formed, 5 lb 10 oz baby boy had suddenly and unexpectedly died in my body.

And that first moment of knowing that Charlie had died…was the moment the tea cups started spinning.  And the moment they start spinning, is the moment you start to panic.  I have to get off of here.  I do not want to be on this miserable ride.  When is it going to end?  I am going to be sick.  I can’t breathe.  Somebody, please help me.

You feel trapped.  Stuck.  Panicked.  Like your entire universe is spinning.

And it’s still spinning.  The moment Charlie died…I knew something was wrong.  I spent a year knowing something was wrong.  A year of spinning around frantically, begging God to make the ride stop, begging doctors to make the ride stop, begging Reid to make the ride stop…spending every moment of every day…trapped and clausterphobic, and paralyzed with fear.  And no matter how hard I fought it…still spinning.

And I’d look out from my swirling, sickening torture chamber…and stare in confusion at all those people in their happiest-place-on-earth-lives, strolling past the Tea Cup ride with big smiles and funnel cakes.  They were there.  Under the same blue sky.  But on the other side of the fence.  With absolutely no idea how horrific it is inside the spinning tea cup ride.  I am alone.  I am in pain.  No one understands how much this hurts.  And it is never, ever going to be the same.  That…is the cry of grief.  

And then, when another baby died in my body six months after Charlie…my worst fears became my reality.  I am not getting off of this horrific ride.  I am still spinning.  I am still suffering.  I still can’t breathe.  Only this isn’t a season…it’s my new life.

And it’s around that time when you have been on the Tea Cups long enough to wreck your soul and lose your sanity…that you start to throw desperate pleas and promises up to the sky.  won’t ask for anything else, ever again God…just please, please let me get off this horrible ride of suffering.  I will do anything, I will be anybody, please just make it stop. Please just take this away.  That…is the cry of chronic pain.

And then, last November, a year ago this very week, our dreams that the ride might finally be over were completely shattered…when yet another baby died.  This one was so tiny, barely even formed.  But Here.  Held in my hands.  As the world spun on.

And then, I started to get sick.  Sick enough to notice.  Little things at first, and then big things.  Things that even the fourteen doctors I’d been to…who had mostly made me feel crazy…began to acknowledge was something.  And I began to realize that maybe wasn’t crazy…maybe I was actually on a crazy horrible ride.

And then, God led me to a doctor who had actually been on a Tea Cup ride before. Someone who actually knew how horrific it was.  Someone who actually understood the endless, hopeless spinning that was my life.  Someone who had suffered, and also happened to be a medical doctor.  And as I sat in that doctor’s office this last February, and my scary list of symptoms finally made sense and had a name…I began to think the tea cups were slowing down.  And maybe just maybe…even stopping.  I began to dare to hope that it was finally the end of this terror ride.

And hope…is a dangerous thing.

Because the Tea Cups didn’t really stop…they just slowed down long enough to let on new passengers.  And then, they started to pick up speed, and I continued to spin violently along in my deeply broken body.  Because everything that comes in…must come back out.  And all of the toxins that ravaged my body, and wrecked my mind, and killed my womb, and devastatingly took my babies…have to come back out.  Slowly…one cell regrowth at a time.

And it has been an absolutely miserable, hell-journey along the way.  These last few weeks have been particularly horrible.  I’ve written a hundred blog posts in my head lately…and not one of them has made it to this screen.  I’ve been way too busy trying to survive this ride…to sit around and chat about it.

There have been endless blood tests and doctors appointments, and some really difficult circumstances in my little ones lives…that have made writing about this seem like a total impossibility.  Like, who honestly whips out a pen and paper in the middle of the tea cup ride, and starts waxing poetic about the crazy ride?

I’m not writing this because I have time.  Or because I am excited to talk about these things, or because I am seeing such beauty in the journey.  I’m not.  I don’t.  I won’t ever probably.  I am writing because we desperately need your prayers.

Because if this horrible ride has taught me one thing, it’s that while most people really are on the other side of the fence and haven’t the faintest idea how horrific two endless years on the Tea Cups actually are…they can still look over the fence, and into your life.  And pray for you from the other side.

And they do.  And I am so completely grateful for each and every one of you who pray for our family. Be it once, or multiple times a day.  And all I can say to you who are enjoying the other side of the fence…is please, please pray.

Because right now, we need your prayers desperately.  This is not a quiet,  “Oh pray for us” moment.  Imagine someone motion-sick, crying out to you from a violently spinning Tea Cup.  Screaming, “HELP US PLEASE!”

I went in today for another blood test.  I’ve started getting them pretty much weekly, as my kidneys and other vital organs continue to test poorly.  But my biggest concern is for my cells.  Mycotoxins affect your body at a cellular level and create cellular damage.  I have been struggling with really bad mitochondrial fatigue lately.  Basically, my limbs feel like lead every moment of the day.  Tasks like putting duvet covers on beds have become totally impossible for me.  It is difficult to drive a car, because it’s hard to lift my arms up for such a long time.  And by the time I climb the stairs in our house, my legs feel like jelly. It basically feels like you’ve just run a marathon all day long…even first thing in the morning.

Please pray for my cellular fatigue.  It takes years to rebuild a new body-worth of cells. Which probably explains why my kids are doing so much better than me.  Because their bodies are so new to the world…they reproduce cells at a rapid pace.  I am so deeply grateful for this.  And for them.  And grateful for how much their younger, newer bodies have been protected from this horrible physical journey.  But my body is old and broken, and my very cells have been destroyed, and I am at an all-time low physically.

Please pray for our environment.  The hardest part of environmental illness…is how unmanageable it is.  I am affected by the very air I breathe.  I can tell you exactly which stores and places in town have toxic mold.  And once I am exposed to a high level of bad molds, it takes me weeks and sometimes months to recover from neuropathy and mitochondrial fatigue.  As my body continues to get more reactive to bad environments…I have had to limit my exposure to new ones.  It’s not like being “allergic” to something like pollen or grass.  When my body comes into contact with the life-threatening toxins molds produce…I don’t sneeze or get a stuffy nose…my nerves and cells shut down.  I get blurred vision.  My hands and feet go numb.  My whole body turns to lead.  Basically, I go into toxic shock indefinitely.

My flesh and my heart may fail.  They certainly seem to be.  But my spirit also feels pretty weak and unwilling these days.  I know that “life is hard”…even for people on the other side of that Tea Cup fence.  I know that every life is full of sunburns, and difficult people, and cold funnel cakes, and ridiculously long lines you have to stand in with screaming toddlers sometimes.  I remember all of those burdens as real and true, even in my old life on the other side of the fence.  And it didn’t always seem so “easy.”  But now that I can see it more clearly…my old life was actually pretty easy.

I couldn’t have imagined my new life, back when I was in my old one.  And you probably can’t imagine it either.  I know you can’t really fathom how soul-sucking, and heart-breaking, and sanity-taking it is to be on a two year Tea Cup ride…unless you’ve actually been on this side and taken the ride.  But I ask you to pray for us, even in the not-knowing.  It’s not called the Mad Hatters Tea Cup Ride for nothing.  Suffering is maddening.  And confusing.  And exhausting.  And we are completely spiraling.  Over the last few weeks, some really difficult circumstances have sent us on yet another desperate spin downward, and I battle despair daily.   It’s like someone took our fragile little Tea Cup, and gave it a nice hard shove.  I cry out “Mercy.”   And there is no mercy…only the endless despair of spinning.  Depair…about the One who ultimately controls this ride.  Who alone could make it stop at any moment.  And Who hasn’t…right up to this very day.

And it’s in those moments that the Tea Party’s soundtrack of lies…gets louder in the midst of this swirling pain.  God doesn’t see my spinning.  God cannot hear my endless screams.  God will not rescue me.  I am utterly forsaken, and completely alone.  And there is no, even ETERNAL end in sight.

But even as I sit here soul-sick and dizzy, and weary beyond belief, my heart needs to put words to a life of chronic suffering.   Because deep down, in spite of all of the lies I hear that we are the only people on the planet who are suffering this deeply…I know it’s not true.  It couldn’t possibly be.  I knew it wasn’t true as I sat at the blood lab this morning, surrounded by people in pain.   I knew it as I listened to the screams of the little boy with cerebral palsy who was crying out in pain in the room next to mine.  I could feel his very soul-pain.  I could feel his mama’s soul-pain as she watched on helplessly.  I could feel the collective, aching weight of the other people in the waiting room whose lives have also spun wildly out of control, in ways they will never, ever be able to get back.  Just.  Like.  Mine.

I know deep down that the world is actually full of people whose lives are spinning to places they would never want to be.  Full of people who are on a miserable ride they never would have chosen for their lives.  Full of people who are quite certain that they are not at the “happiest place on earth” where all their “dreams come true.”  People who are deeply weary from the ride of suffering.

And to you…who may find yourself in the midst of the hellish spin of grief, or the endless whirl and twists of chronic pain, all I can say is this…I am so very sorry.

You are not alone.

There is One…and One alone…who truly understands this horrific ride called “Life.”  And He went to enormous lengths to make His understanding, a living, breathing, unmistakable reality for you and me.  He left a castle, high up in the one and only Happiest Place…and came here to subject Himself to the worst spinning, sickening, terror-ride in human history.  I think about Him.  And I feel silenced, even amidst the spinning.

And I think of those who were with Him in the darkness of those days.  I’ve been thinking about the disciples a lot lately.  I’ve felt really, really down on myself lately for my lack of faith, and hope, and love in the midst of our endless suffering.  I’ve felt guilty that I have actually seen God’s faithfulness so many times before this, and yet am struggling deeply to believe in Him all the same.   I’ve felt saddened and ashamed by my lack of trust in the One who actually promised, “in this world you will have trouble,” and my anger and despair that He who promised that…hasn’t chosen happier things for us anyways.

But when I think about who the disciples were…and all that they too had seen firsthand of His goodness and grace…I am comforted by their faith.

And even more…by their lack of faith at times.

I imagine John at the foot of the cross.  I know there was no moment in all of human history…when the world “seemed” more completely spun out of control…than at the bleeding Savior’s feet.  I picture the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” whose universe felt shattered and spinning…as he looked up at his Hero dead and crucified.

I imagine Thomas, blurting out his weak faith in front of God and everybody, “Jesus, I will ONLY believe this horrible ride is over…IF You show me what I WANT to see.”  Thomas definitely reminds me of somebody.

And most of all, I picture Peter…running on fear, and standing alone in the middle of a cold, dark courtyard…during the worst moment of his entire life.  Saying the worst possible things you could ever say.

Because these last two years…have been the absolute worst of mine.  And I have said…the absolute worst things you could ever say.  And I feel as messy and broken and utterly hopeless…as those who have gone before me.

And yet sometimes, even as my body continues its downward spiral, and my soul staggers in the blinding misery of a life I hate…I look up.  Sometimes not for days or weeks at time. Sometimes only in anger and ache.

But when I DO look up…I see colorful lantern lights.

And beyond them…stars.

And beyond the galaxies…somewhere a million miles beyond my soul-sight…the One who waits for me.

Who will someday finally stop, this horrible ride that has become our lives.  Who will someday rescue all of us, once and for all, from a world that has been spinning frantically out of our control, since the very dawn of time.

The One for whom we wait.  In faith.  And sometimes, almost no-faith.

Because He came, and willingly subjected Himself to the the deepest suffering known to mankind.

That we might have a Way to see beyond all the fences and lights.

Straight into His very eyes.




It’s Who You Are

Last year, our kids attended Awana Cubbies on Tuesday nights.  Every week, the teacher would chose someone new for the high honor of bringing Cubbie bear home and, though I don’t remember much of 2013, I distinctly remember Fred’s excitement and anticipation of being the one to “win” Cubbie Bear.  When you’re an almost-three-year-old, the honor of taking home Cubbie, and spending a week doing everything together is HUGE.  And Freddo was SO ready for his day in the sun with Cubbie love.

He had waited for weeks.  Months actually.  I could see his big brown eyes fill with hope every time his Cubbie teacher would stick her hand in the big jar and swish it around to pick a winner.  (Imagine Effie Trinket pawing around in the glass bowl at the Reaping, and you’ve got the image pretty much right).  It started to feel like torture for my Mommy-heart to watch my sweet Fred have to wait week, after week, after week…for the teacher to call his name.  And the worst part…was that every time a new kid joined Cubbies their name would get thrown in the pot anew, and suddenly poor Freddo had to contend with a whole new group of little people beating him to the Cubbie punch.

I’m normally not bothered by things like this, but there was something about watching Fred’s name never ever get chosen, something about seeing the crushed and forlorn look on his face, of seeing how deflated his little soul would be on the drive home from Cubbies every week…that started to gnaw at my soul.

And then, to make matters worse…the kid’s started praying about it.  Every week on the drive to Cubbies, they would pray that Freidrich Uriah’s name would get chosen that week.  “Dear God, Please let me get Cubbie bear tonight.”  Which meant that I also had to start praying.  “Dear God, please comfort his heart if he doesn’t get chosen.  Please show Him you are kind and loving and good…even when you don’t give him exactly what he is trusting you for.  Oh, and please, please…give him Cubbie bear!”

And then it happened one night.  I watched as his teacher dug around in that big bowl, pulled out a name, and announced with all the bravado of a child-care worker, “And tonight….Cubbie bear is going home with…Uriah!”  You should have seen Freddo’s face. He lit up like a Christmas tree when he heard his obscure middle name called out! Unfortunately…so did the little boy next to him.  The new kid.  Uriah Some-thing-or-other.  Who took home Cubbie Bear.

I mean…WHAT ARE THE CHANCES!  Who name’s their kid Uriah anyways!  New kid Uriah went home with Cubbie Bear.   And our little Freidrich Uriah went home crushed once again.

And that’s when I felt the snap in my soul.  I couldn’t believe it was over something as dumb as a little brown bear that honestly, is kind of a public health hazard.  With all of the lice and germs and viruses floating around kinder-world, it’s a wonder we’re sharing bears in the first place.  But…that dumb little bear came to symbolize and prod at something much deeper in my heart…

I couldn’t draw Fred’s name.

I couldn’t GIVE Fred his much anticipated and longed for Cubbie bear.

I couldn’t give him exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it.

I couldn’t protect him from the pain.

And most crushing of all…I had to stand there and watch as the God who could… didn’t.

And then, a few weeks after that…on January 28th, 2013…life was changed forever.  And our souls were utterly decimated, when our sweet baby Charlie’s heart stopped.

We didn’t go to Cubbies that week.  Suddenly, all of the longings we had ever had about anything, seemed like nothing.

I couldn’t GIVE our kids their much anticipated and longed for baby brother.

I couldn’t give them exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.

I couldn’t protect him from the pain.

And worst of all…I had to stand there and watch as the God who could… didn’t.

And the simple lesson of “The Cubbie Bear”…became the lesson of our lives.

In all those months I had sat at Cubbies, feeling the dull ache of not being able to make my little boy “happy,” of not being able to protect him from pain, of not being able to “make God do” what I had hoped He would do and show Himself faithful in the way I had hoped and thought He should…I HAD NO IDEA, that that was about to become the story of our lives.  That we were about to be decimated utterly incomprehensible level of suffering.

And even now, almost two years later…the pain is excruciating.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting Emma’s school for a special Pie Feast her class had planned for their Mamas.  We finished the pies, and I noticed that Emma’s whole class had gathered together around her friend’s brand new baby brother.  The baby was sleeping in his little car seat, and it was so precious to watch Emma’s friends circled around the baby, marveling at how cute and sweet he was.  Her back was to me, and I could see her smiling and chatting with the other kids.  But I knew.

As I looked over at her, her shiny Mary Jane’s pointed in just a little at the toes, her tiny shoulders stooped down just ever so slightly, and I saw the weight of this entire broken, ugly, devestating world…weighing down on those precious little shoulders.  She was talking, and smiling, and doing one heck of a job being kind and affectionate and social and deeply full of graciousness.  But I knew.

And then, all of my knowing came to be…as those shiny Mary Janes spun around, and those tiny shoulders walked slowly towards Mom.  And then…I saw the tears pour down.  And she ran to me, and began to weep.  And in between sobs, she got the question out.  The one I knew that would follow.  The one that seems to follow all of my tears too.  “Why Mommy?  Why!  Why can’t WE have a baby?  Why couldn’t we keep baby Charlie?!”  

I just wanted to dig a hole, right there in the middle of the school courtyard, crawl into that big hole…and die from the pain of it.  Because I am so incredibly sick of suffering.  I am sick of being in pain.  And I am really, really sick, of seeing my children suffer.  Of seeing them have to be strong and brave and full of faith and hope and love and grace, as they have to watch literally everyone and their mom…get what God took away from them.  Get what they prayed for.  Get what they longed for, and long for still.  A healthy mommy.  A living, breathing baby sibling.  A happy, carefree life.  

They waited for eight long months for a baby brother to come home to live with them. And.  They.  Are.  Still.  Waiting.

And as I held those tiny, sobbing shoulders in my arms while her entire class looked over at her in confusion, I realized something.  The American dream isn’t so much about houses and cars and vacations and things…it’s about being happy.

Can I get what I want, when I want it?  And even more…can I give what I want to those I love most?  Can I make my kids happy?  Can I make them feel safe, and comfortable, and always loved?  Can I give them a childhood that will yield unwavering trust in the God they are learning to pray to?  Can I give them the Story I want for them?

And as I looked at my precious little girl, crying in the middle of the school courtyard, over our deeply broken life…it was like I was right back at Tuesday Night Cubbies.  Only something, much, much bigger was at stake.

And the truth hit me all over again…I can’t give them anything.

Sure, I can brush their teeth, and pack their lunch boxes, and teach them the unsurpassable value of learning how to say “I’m sorry” and actually mean it…but at the end of the day…I am in ultimate control…of absolutely nothing.

I look back on the old me standing in the back of the Cubbies room, and I realize that I used to care so very much about keeping them safe and happy and comfortable and loved.  And what I realized as I watched ALL of that slip wildly beyond my control with each new wave of loss…is that NONE of that was given to me to do.

All I can do…is sit helpless.

Like a paralyzed and mute spectator in a Potter’s shop.

Watching Him work.

He, who cares far more about who they are…than how cool their clothes, how big their smiles, how good their grades, how many their friends, how awesome their social skills, how secure their psyches, or how certain and safe their futures.  He cares about WHO THEY ARE.

He cares that Emma is being formed by Him…into a little girl who has the capacity to smile upon a friend’s baby brother…even as she grieves her own.

He cares that Emma is being formed into a little girl that doesn’t grow up with a perma-smile pasted on her face…but who actually feels things deeply, expresses them well, and loves others out of the overflow of a lifetime of sorrows.

And most of all…He cares that Emma grows to know her Potter…as more than just a vending machine to order around…but the very Lover and Shaper of her Soul.  Who happens to be smack in the middle of a very big Redemptive story, which most definitely includes her.

Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if she has the happy childhood I had wanted for her, filled with endless smiles and every heart desire met the way she wanted…

If she misses out on WHO HE IS.

And as I watched my little girl, bearing this ugly, dark, scary, aching, and deeply unfair world…on her tiny, slumped shoulders, I knew that for all that He has taken away…there is much that He has given.  He gave me a little girl who walked right over to me in a moment of deep, deep pain, and said, “Mommy, can we go visit Charlie’s grave today?  I want to remember him, and talk to God there together.”

We wept all the way there.  I thought my heart would break from the pain of it.

And then the song came on.  The one that stops me in my tracks every time, even on my maddest of days.  The days when I feel so deeply crushed that this is the story God chose for us.  The days when I am honestly not sure I am going to make it.  When I am not sure I am going to walk with Him all the way through this broken story He is busy scribbling away on.   Not sure I even want to anymore.

God our Father, Lord of all
Great Creator, You hear my call
God our Healer, God our Strength
Loving kindness is Your embrace
It’s who You are

Jesus, Friend above all friends
Laid down Your life that I might live
Faithful Shepherd of my soul
Savior, You have made me whole
It’s who You are

Holy Spirit, Comforter
Your eyes are filled with laughter
You are wisdom, You are life
My every need You supply
It’s who You are

Every time this song from Bethel Worship comes on in our carpre, I feel undone.  It is so simple.  It’s just a list of who He is.  Who He is…as our Father.  Who He is…as the Son. Who He the Spirit who lives in us.  But it is unapologetic in it’s simplicity.

This…is who You are.

It.  Just.  Is.

And I’m going to worship You for it.

It’s so easy to believe these things about Him, when life is good and you’ve gotten everything you’ve ever wanted, and all of your babies are alive, and you are healthy, and all is well.

But it is so very, very hard to believe it…when you are watching your broken-hearted child, watch everyone else get what she most wanted.

It’s hard to believe it in a graveyard.

And it’s really hard to believe it…when you look down in the graveyard, and see that broken-hearted little girl’s Mary Jane’s standing there too.  If I had my way…I would have written this whole thing different.  Our life would have been a beautiful song, filled with joy and laughter.

And only the good notes.

But I am quite certain of one thing and one thing alone.  It’s when it’s hardest to believe it…that you need to believe it the most.  

To cling to the promise that the Father who created all I see…and all I’ve lost…hears my call.

That Jesus IS a friend above all friends, and the faithful Shepherd of my soul…even though most days I have absolutely no idea where in the world He is shepherding us to.

And that somehow…though it is so incredibly hard for me to believe this in our life filled with so much sorrow….the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me has eyes filled with laughter.  Laughter?  Honestly?

But I think here in America, where people absolutely stink at dealing with grief, and where we are utterly obsessed with our own security and happiness and health…we perhaps need to hear this the most.

God, the real one…cares more about WHO YOU ARE…than what you have or do.

And that same God…is calling forth worshippers.  Ones, dare I say, like little Emma…who look up at Him even as the tears pour down on the grave of a baby brother so desperately wanted.  And who say,

“I will love you and I will worship you.  EVEN now.  Because It’s who You Are.”

It is my prayer that her faith will challenge you.  She who has lost so very much.  She whose many prayers have been left unanswered.  She who has lived a lifetime of pain, in her seven short years.

Because she challenges mine.  So.  Very.  Much.

It has been hard to write this post.  To share a very unfinished and deeply broken part of our life, with so many total strangers.  I don’t even know most of the people who read this blog anymore.  But I have been reminded a lot lately through Emma’s deep and child-like faith, that one of the first things the American Dream strips us of…is our willingness to be bold.  To risk much.  For the love of God and others.

But my precious kids…help shatter that dream.  And invite me to one far better.

As were were driving away from the cemetery that day Emma said to me, “Mommy, I would like to tell my class why I was crying at the Pie Feast.  I want them to know.  And I think that my friend in my class whose Mommy died…well, I think she is pretty sad too.  And maybe it will help her share that she is sad…if I share that too.”

I was speechless.  And all I could say, as I sat mute…watching who the Potter is making her through this endless song filled with so very many bad notes is,

“Yes Emma, I think you should do that.  Because it’s who you are.”