charlie's song


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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.”

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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


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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 fight..one 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.


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Fountain Drinks

Exactly five months ago today we found out that toxic black mold was slowly and systematically destroying our bodies.  Five months ago today marks the last day of our season of not knowing and it also marks the first day of this season of knowing.  

Both were miserable, each in their own way.  But I think the hardest part…was the day in between. Finally, we knew. We knew why we were so incredibly sick. We knew why our precious Charlie’s perfectly healthy body died inside of mine. We knew why we continued to experience loss upon loss.

But we also suddenly sat in the overwhelming knowing…of knowing that we couldn’t keep any of our things from our old lives.  Because we also now knew that everything we owned was continuing to poison our bodies.

We were neither Here…where we are now. Nor there…in that former land of Unknowing. And as miserable as There was, at least it was familiar. And I longed for anything familiar at that point.

I’d like to say that five months ago today I was full of faith and hope in the God who had finally had mercy on us and told us why.  But I wasn’t.

I was a wreck.  On multiple levels.  I was so incredibly sick that I could barely walk…let alone rent a U-haul, and make the four-hour pilgrimage to the nearest Ikea to buy a whole new life.

But by this point, our kids had already spent two weeks sleeping on the floor of our new house, and we needed to buy them beds.  And sheets.  And pillows. And Ikea puppies.  They had just found out they they could no longer keep a single thing they had owned in the only life they’d ever known….surely they needed at least one Ikea puppy.

It took about five minutes of Ikea to seriously question if it was worth the trip for those puppies.  It was a long day at Ikea.  Ikea’s hard to take on a good day. But a crazy-busy, packed-out Ikea on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a body that was completely wrecked and three very weary kids…well, that’s like an Ikea torture chamber.  By the time we left Ikea, I was a puddle of misery. I was exhausted, and hungry, and totally overwhelmed that we had just had to buy a new couch, and a new feather duster, and a new tea kettle, and a new…everything.

And I was limping physically.  I couldn’t breathe because of the infection in my lungs.  I couldn’t think because of the mycotoxins ravaging my brain.  I couldn’t even walk because of the inflammation in my legs.

And worst of all by far…I was limping spiritually.  I couldn’t even pray my heart hurt so badly.  WHERE ARE YOU GOD!?  We have just spent the last of our life saving’s buying a couple of things at Ikea…how are we going to pay for an entirely new life?   We have six doctor appointments lined up…and we’ve already given all that we had left to the fourteen doctors before this.. I kept looking back at the three little buddles knocked out from exhaustion in the back seat, and thinking, How are we ever going to provide for these precious lives?

Wherever He was...I was quite certain God was a million miles from wherever we were.  And as we drove home from Ikea, I started to weep.  Weeping for my lost babies who died because of a house.  Weeping because of the three babies He had kept in our care who needed new socks and new toothbrushes and new blankies, and I had no idea how we were going to give them all of those things. Weeping because I had absolutely nothing left to give on this horrific journey through suffering…and we were actually not at the end of it, but had rather just turned the corner into a whole new valley.

Picture Katniss Everdeen the moment she found out she had to go back into the Arena.  Minus the booze.  That…was me.

And if there is one thing I have learned on this endless journey of suffering…it’s that you do NOT get a break from the lies and the fears and the struggles and insecurities you have always carried…just because you’re suffering.  They come along for the ride.

And for the most part…they just intensify.  It felt like every lie I’ve ever heard and believed about the Lord’s lack of love and care for our family poured down on my heart during that long drive home from Ikea that night.  He doesn’t see how much we are hurting.  He doesn’t see our suffering.  He doesn’t love us as much as all of the people whose lives He has made so ridiculously easy.  He doesn’t hear my endless cries for mercy.  He doesn’t even SEE.  

Picture Hagar the moment she landed in the desert and sent Ishamel off to die. Minus the empty water jug.  That…was me.

On our way home from Ikea we stopped at Chipotle to get something to eat.  I felt far more like eating dust and ash…than a burrito, but I’m sure even Job eventually had to eat.  I ordered my water cup, paid for my burrito, and walked away.

And somewhere between that moment at the register and the moment I reached the soda fountain…something deep snapped in me.  I.  Had.  Had.  It.  I was tired of being the people God forgot about.  I was tired of being the family who lived in a cemetery.  And an oncologist office.  And now a forced trip to Ikea because we could no longer keep a single thing from our old life.  I was tired of being forced to walk into places of pain that I had never, ever wanted to go.  And I was really tired of trusting God to provide, and only losing more and more with each new twist in the journey.  And I lost it.

In a totally climactic moment of defiance, I walked right up to that soda fountain dispenser with my plastic water cup…and I poured myself a Coke.  I’ve never done something like this.  But I wanted a Coke.  And I was too tired and weary and broken to go back and pay for it.  A part of me didn’t want to anyways.  Because I just didn’t care anymore about, well, anything.  I peeked over my shoulder thinking the Fountain Drink Police might take me down right then and there.  But nope.   Nothing.  I had pulled off an uncharacteristic fountain Coke heist.  And.  I.  Didn’t.  Care.

As you read this, one of two things are probably going through your mind. You’re either 1)  Totally appalled that I would do such a thing, and even more appalled that I would confess such a grave transgression in such a public place. Or 2) Rolling your eyes, because in the grand scheme of things…what’s a $1.60 Chipotle drink?  And which camp you’re in is probably more of an indication of your heart in this moment, than mine in that one.

The point…is that as I stood there in that moment in Chipotle I finally admitted that I no longer believed that God would take care of me.  I no longer believed that He saw and cared how broken my body was.  How broken our hearts where.  How literally broke our family was.  And how completely shattered our hope had become.

The bottom line…is that I no longer believed His love.  And I was so convinced that we could no longer trust Him to love us and care for us and provide for our needs…that I was going to take matters into my own hands.  One Chipotle drink at a time.

Two days later, I wrote a blog post to our friends.  I had finally had enough time to wrap my mind around the reality of our incredibly difficult situation and the mountain that loomed before us, and I felt so desperate for prayer.  So incredibly desperate that I didn’t even care if I was asking people to talk to the God I was barely speaking to.  I needed them to talk to Him anyways.

Picture that father broken and weary, crying out on behalf of his hurting son, “I believe, but help my unbelief!”  (Emphasis on the unbelief.)  That…was me.

I wrote that blog entry.  And headed to the oncologist.

And the rest, as they say…is history.

I had no idea that thousands upon thousands of total strangers were about to read this blog.  And I really had no idea that those same strangers were about to respond by giving of their time, their treasures, and their talents…so that God might literally help our unbelief.  But that is exactly what happened. One miracle at a time.

Five months later, I wish I could say that my faith was surging…just like I wish I could say that my stack of “Thank You’s” was dwindling.  But it’s not.  I have had lots of time on my hands this summer, but I have been so incredibly sick that I haven’t gotten to the 1,300 “Thank You’s” I have wanted to write.  I don’t feel obligated to do it.  Believe me, I am WAY past obligations these days.

But I have genuinely wanted to write those notes…so deep is our gratitude for each and every person who has loved on our family during these last five months of life.  It’s probably not going to happen.  I have really struggled to find 1,300 total strangers addresses anyways.  But I really want you to know my heart.

Because I know my heart.  I know how deeply weary I had become by the time I got to that moment in Chipotle.  I know how many lies about the Lord and His love I was actually hearing and truly believing.  My heart needed God to speak.

And He did.  With the voice of His body.  Each and every one of you.  He spoke to us of His great provision in the face of the greatest need of our lives.

And He continues to speak.

A few weeks ago I experienced my most terrifying neurological symptom to date.  I was inadvertently reexposed to mycotoxins this summer while we were traveling, and was struck with a horrible case of neuropathy. Neuropathy is a common symptom of toxic mold posioning, but one that is totally new to me.  It is also terrifying. The toxins begin to attack your central nervous system, and you slowly watch your nerves begin to shut down.

First, it was the nerves in my legs and toes.  I could move them, but I could no longer feel them.  Then it was my arms and hands.  I could no longer pick up a fork.

And then it was my face.  It eventually got to the point where I could no longer read the kids their bedtime stories because my words would slur together like I had just had a stroke. I felt immobilized and unable to speak, and then my vision started to blur.  It. Was. Terrifying.  And there have been so many moments of despair and panic.

And as I watched my body literally shutting down, any doubts that I had harbored about the serious effects of toxic mold poisoning completely left me. People have experienced permanent nerve damage from these toxins. People have even gone blind. And suddenly I found myself in a place that made that horrible Ikea trip look like a Sunday picnic.

Will I be paralyzed by the end of this journey? Am I going to go blind?  Am I no longer going to be able to speak or read stories to my precious babies?  Does God even care how scared I am?  Where ARE you God?!  Do.  You.  Even.  SEE?

And I found myself back there again.  Back in the place I had been five months ago that long night in Chipotle.  Terrified.  Overwhelmed.  And believing so very many lies.

And in that moment, in that incredibly dark and scary and lonely moment…we got a text from our friends saying that they’d finished the “Thank You” video they had offered to make for our family.

They had started it months ago…but of course that day was the day it was finished.  And as I watched the video I was struck all over again by the incredible journey God took our family on this Spring.  The journey of seeing His response to our great need.  His response to all of the fears and lies and overwhelm we have had to face every day on this long road of suffering. His response then…to the things we still face daily.

What we have been through is not just horrific…it is also incredibly lonely.  I don’t know a single soul who has endured the loss of a full term, healthy baby boy, and then the loss of two subsequent pregnancies, and then the loss of health, and then the threat of cancer and organ damage, and then the loss of every book, every sock, every picture, every… everything.

It’s our story.  And it’s honestly so lonely that it’s only our story.  There is no one I can look to who has been through all of this…and survived.  And more importantly, no one I can look to who has been through these exact sorrows…and whose faith has survived.  On the worst days I wish there was…simply so I knew it could be done.

But isn’t that true for all of us?  No one, not one person in all the world…has your exact story either.  No one has had your exact challenges, your sorrows, your moments of terror, your battle with Satan’s lies…or your exact joys.

And that too, can be incredibly lonely.

But perhaps the greatest thing I have learned over the last five months is that all we can really offer one another, we whose stories are as beautiful and cold and unique as that proverbial frozen snowflake, is moments like the one you gave our family a little less than five months ago this week.

And all the moments since then where your love has reminded us that we are not alone.  That you are with us.  That you do see our pain.

And even more…that God is with us.  That God does see.  That God does rise up and fight for our broken, aching, deeply weary family.  And that God does provide.  And not just books and socks and new family pictures…but the faith and hope and love that we need to make it through this very long life.

Thank you to our friends Andre and Charles for all of the love and time you spent on this incredibly thoughtful video.

For all of you whose addresses I will never be able to find…please accept this video as our deepest, though insufficent thanks.

Thank you to each one of you, for being such a tangible reminder of the Lord and His provision and love over these last five months of our lives.

We are not home.  But we are slowly moving on a journey towards there.  And we are still, by the grace of God, deeply longing to get there and eager to see His face.

With love, the Zeller family

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/97899302″>zeller project</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user5426652″>Charles Rumble</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


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Cell Phones and Subtexts

Growing up, I often joked that my parents were “The Flintstones.”  We even dressed like them one year.  Fred.  Wilma.  And Pebbles.  All I have to say about THAT is…it is NOT easy keeping a dog bone in your hair.

However, being the “hip” technological family that we weren’t…I actually did have a cell phone in high school.  It was so huge and awkward that my friend dubbed it, “The Bible Cell Phone.”  It seemed to have been manufactured at least that far back.  But since I was the only kid I knew who had a cell phone at the time, everyone thought I was “Cool Beans.”  Just imagine… Zack Morris, chatting it up as he walked the halls of Bayside High…and you’ve probably got the mental image pretty much down.

I had that cell phone for three years of high school…and used it once.  One time.  One fateful morning I was driving to school, and had to use the phone to call my mom.  The strange screeching sound coming from the back tires, and the thick smoke, and smell of burning rubber permeating the air…was an indication to even my 16-year-old girl brain that clearly something had gone awry with my hot wheels.

But other than that…I never, ever used it.  Because honestly, who needed a cell phone in 1997?

I feel like I am talking about a ancient bygone era, but in a way…I am.  Because todaywell, do you know anyone who doesn’t have a cell phone?  They have become such an intregal part of the communication of our culture, that we can’t even function without them.

And to the little people in our lives…who can’t even remember life without iPhones, because they have always been there…life without cell phones is inconceivable.  That iPhone was in their hospital birth room…one of the first to greet them into this brave new world.  Mommy was holding that cell phone…while she nursed them through their first earthly dinner.  Daddy was feverishly texting family and friends the important stats….while the doctor was giving them a once over inspection.  That trusty cell phone even documented baby’s first drive home…and it has been an integral part of their lives ever since.

It’s no wonder our kids scurry around the house looking for our lost cell phone and then proudly present it to us like they’ve just discovered our desperately needed breathing apparatus.

They have.

All of that being said.  I’m taking a break.  Signing off.  Going dark.  Revisiting the stone age, if you will.

Today…starting now.

Just as soon as I check my texts, and take one last long look at Instagram…and finish this blog.  And, and…and.

But it’s got to be done.

Because.  I.  Am.  So.  Very.  Tired.

Our ministry has given us a sabbatical for the summer, and I’m not going to lie…I am counting down the minutes until it starts.  I’ve actually got a mental paper chain strung up in my head…counting down to the the end of the longest year and half of our lives.

Because I have never, ever been this exhausted.  Ever since January 27th, 2013 our life has felt like a long journey through a dark and twisted valley filled with land mines of every possible shape and sorrow.  And my soul is at a breaking point after all that we have been through.  We need a Sabbatical.  A genuine Sabbath rest from not just our ministry, but our whole life as we know it.

We desperately need to do the things we don’t normally do.  Rest.  Reflect.  Process.  Vacate.  Sleep in.  

Breathe, even perhaps.

But even more…I think we need to not do all of the things we normally do.  We need rest from our life as it is now.  The one full of suffering…that happened to us against our will.  And also…the one filled with things we’ve chosen.

And one of the biggest things we need a break from…is the technological world.  We have had thousands upon thousands of people reach out to us in the last year and a half as we have journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death.  Through the loss of three precious babies, our health, and literally everything we own…social media and technology have provided the most incredible avenue for our family to be loved on and supported by the Body of Christ.  I honestly cannot imagine our lives without it.

But therein lies the problem…I cannot imagine our lives without it. And though I am so deeply grateful for the outpouring of love God has lavished on us through something so base as pixels on a computer and iPhones in our hand…we need a break from all of it.

And so…starting today…I’m “throwing my cell phone in the ocean,” if you will. There will be no cell phone, except for 911 calls.  No emails or texts, except for emergency contacts.  No Facebook checks.  No blogs.  And no Instagram posts.

I told my friend this weekend that we were “going dark,” and she seemed kind of frantic about it.  She said, “But how will I contact you!  Telegraph?!”  

Honestly, I don’t know.  Maybe send me a letter.  Or a passenger pigeon.  I’m not sure.  We’ll work something out.  And as they always say during dramatic breakups… “Truly…It’s me.  It’s NOT you.”  It’s not that I need a break from you. I need a rest from the ways and means and dependency my heart has to be connected to you.

For two big reasons…

1.  I need to do this…because I need to see my kids eyes.  It’s not that I spend hours all day long glued to my iPhone.  I don’t.  I spend minutes all day long looking at my phone.  And all those minutes…add up.

I’m actually someone who has serious trouble, and I mean serious trouble, keeping track of my phone.  And even when I do know where it is…it is rarely charged, much to my husbands dismay. But when it isn’t buried under blankets, or hiding at the bottom of the dangerous chasm that has become my purse…I am on it.

And then they come in.  Those precious glories whom I love more than anything in the world…the needy little bundles that they are.

“Mommy, I need a drink.”  “Mommy, I have a runny nose!”  “Mommy, Emma is going to BITE ME!!!!!”  

“Hmm…what’s that dear…Emma would never bite you.   Oh wait…there was that one time…”  

And there we are…in a distracted three way conversation:  me, my needy little kid of the moment….and my cell phone.   I have gotten adept at having whole conversations with them, without ever even looking up.

It’s not that I do that all of the time.

It’s that I do it at all.

Because…I don’t want to.  I don’t want to appear so “busy” with email, and Instagram, and texting…that I can’t even stop what I am doing and look up into those beautiful eyes that are growing older by the day.  But I do.

And so do you.

And the subtext that we are communicating to them, without ever using such harsh words is…“Mommy is really busy.  Mommy is really important.  Mommy has something really important to take care of right now.  And it’s not…you.”

It’s like we should all just run around town with Taylor Swift-like T-shirts that say, “I’ve got a lot going on right now.”  Because we moms at least seem so very busy to our kids…with all those “important” things we need to see and do.

We are busy in the grocery store line…checking Instagram.  We are busy at the park…Pinning our next dinner.  We are busy at bath time….getting one last work email done.  And while none of those things are inherently bad in and of themselves…they add up to a LOT of precious moments lost.  Moments when we are looking at a screen…and not looking at them.  And I can’t take it any more.

I need a break from all of it.  I need to see their eyes for the next forty days. And though it may very well feel like a wilderness experience at times…I am praying and hoping that by the end of it…I will know the heart behind each one of those precious eyes a little better.

And praying that the forty days after the technology fast…will be better than the forty days that led up to it.

Which brings me to reason number 2.

2.  I need to do this…because I’ve seen things creep up in my heart that make this seem like a necessary intervention.

A few weeks ago I heard from a friend about their feelings on the “discrepancy” between our life on our blog…and our life on Instagram.  Those of you who have read our story here…have probably gathered that our life has been really, really hard.  And it has.  I have many, many flaws, but disingenuousness…is not one of them.  This blog is my authentic journey through suffering, and I have meant every word.  It is the real deal.

At the same time, if you saw my pictures on Instagram…you may perhaps think that we’ve got the dream life.  Yes, we do eat beautiful food.  I am a firm believer that if you have to eat three squares a day for 80 plus years…they should at least look and taste really good.

And yes, we do go on awesome adventures.  There’s two schools of thought on parenting a gaggle of little geese.  One school says, “Hunker down in the house and try to just take deep breaths for the next ten years.”  The other school says, “Try to get out and have as much fun together as you possibly can…it will help Mommy not lose her mind, and there will be less biting in the long run.”  I’m in the second school.

And so….I post pictures of the fun things we eat and the fun things my cute kids do.

Because let’s be brutally honest here…the subtext of all things social media is, “Look at my life…well, at least the best parts of it.”  That’s just the reality of this new social media world that has crept up all around us.

So, which one is my real life?

Both.

And neither.

If people can’t handle the vast chasm created between my blog…where I literally bled my heart out on every page…and my Instagram posts…where I show the best parts of our day…well then, they just haven’t figured out how social media really works yet.

could show the awesome blood draws I get every week, and my beat up arms that get punctured multiple times every visit…but I don’t want to.  I could show the hours a day I spend laying back on the bed so the mold medicine can seep into my brain and pull the toxins out…but honestly, who wants to see that?

I show the best parts of my life over social media…and so do you.

And what terrifies me, as I stand at the edge of the Technology Wilderness I am about to enter…Is what will happen without that?  What will happen…if no one sees Emma’s awesome birthday surprise I have planned?  What will happen…if no one sees my new Liege Waffle recipe I’ve been cooking up?  What will happen if no ones sees a picture of us on our anniversary?

And the answer is…NOTHING.  

We will enjoy Emma’s special day with reckless abandon.  We will eat those delicious waffles with relish.  And we will celebrate all eight years we have survived together with the best that is in us.

And you won’t be there for any of it.  We will enjoy it alone.  And that…is ok.

But it’s also scary and unknown.  Because I think that, especially for those of us who are moms, and who are relegated by default the the land of “being home a lot alone,” we have come to depend on social media as a way to stay connected to one another.

And it really DOES keep us connected.  I honestly can’t even remember the names of some of my best friend’s kids…because they are not on social media.  I never see pictures of them, I never hear about the funny things they say and do, and I sadly feel no real connection to their lives.

I love seeing pictures of my friend’s kids.  I love seeing what people I love who live all over the world are up to.  And I love sharing our life with them.

But would I be OK…without it?  

Would I feel too broken, too disconnected, too alone…without it?  

Will they still pray for us?  Will they still remember us?  Will they still care about us…if they don’t see our lives?

Those are the real questions.  Those are the real subtexts that we adults hear…every morning when we wake up and check our cell phones…before our feet even hit the floor.

And those are the real things I am hoping to wrestle through over the next fourty days…as I take a genuine break from all of it.

Please pray for our family.  My greatest fear is that we will be forgotten, as we lose our only real connections to so many of you.  And we really do, desperately need the connection of your prayers.  We are not doing well.  We are so very tired, and I, in particular feel deeply broken and weary right now.

And I am afraid that disconnecting from all of these means of connection will make us even more alone in this spiritual battle…than we already are.

I so wish that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder and lived in the same small town as all of the people who love me best and most.  But I don’t.  None of my best friends and family live within an hour of where I live…and many live thousands of miles from here.  I am thankful for how Instagram and Facebook and Email and Texts…help make this big world a little smaller.  And I am so deeply grateful for how God has used these things to help us feel loved by a worldwide system of people we both know and don’t know.

But it has come at a high price.  And it has created subtexts that I never, ever wanted to communicate to the ones I love the most.

And so, beginning now…I want to write some new subtexts.

Mommy, loves you.  You are the most important thing in my universe.

I am so excited to see that beautiful picture you just drew…that looks strangely familiar to the five you drew just before that.  

I would love to cuddle with you and read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” AGAIN.  I have nothing else to look at right now.  Nothing else to do.  

I am all here for you.  

And your eyes…are so very beautiful.

And so it begins.

If you need to contact me…send me a passenger pigeon.  Or a letter in a bottle.

I don’t know.  We’ll figure something out.  Or…we’ll connect in forty days.

Ciao, world.

 

ds


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Eight and Eighty

He was 103.  She was 101.  And they were celebrating 80 years of marriage when I found them.  EIGHTY.  YEARS.

I never even met them.  But I will never, ever forget them.

I was home from college, and happened to be listening to the Christian radio station. The station was interviewing a couple who had been married for eighty years, and to my college brain where even thirty was old…one hundred seemed downright ancient.  I couldn’t believe that a couple had even lived that long.  And I was very interested in their love advice because of it.

I was not married at the time.  I didn’t even know if Reid existed.  I did not know the beautiful love story God had planned…or all of the suffering and sorrow He had planned for it.

All I knew is that I very much wanted to be in love someday, and I really wanted that love to last.

And when a very old man, who had walked with God, and the same woman for eighty years of life, began to share words of wisdom… I.  Was.  All.  Ears.

He had three pieces of advice.  Perhaps because when you’re eighty, you don’t need to be long-winded.  There are very few people left who you actually care to impress.  You know who you are.  You know what you bring.  And you bring the best of that.

Here was his best…

 

Marriage is hard.  And God is good.   I will say only this…

1.  “I’m sorry,”  are the most important words you could ever say or hear.

2.  “Yes Dear,” goes a very, very long way.

3.  And…always go to bed holding hands.

 

And that was it.  The wisdom of the ages.

Sweet.  Simple.  And deeply important.  Especially in a culture where we value “youth,” and “personal freedom,” and “finding oneself,” and “being true to your feelings”…above all else.

I am not certain if these are the exact words the old gentleman used.  I didn’t write them down.  I don’t even know his name.  What I do know…is that these were his three pieces of marriage advice.  And that this advice was very good.

Because we’ve lived it.

In a few days Reid and I will celebrate eight years of marriage.  Eight years filled with more adventures, more beauty, more joy…and infinitely more sorrow and suffering than I had ever imagined.

It has not been an easy eight years…especially the last two.  And it is deeply sobering to think back on the many trials we have endured together.  It is sobering knowing that our marriage truly has been through more sorrows and stresses and struggles in the last eight years than many couples will face in a lifetime together.  I used to feel “dramatic” when I would say things like that…but I realize now that it’s actually reasonable to say that our life has been uncharacteristically difficult, and eerily Job-like…because it just plain has.

But that does not mean that it has not been good.  And it does not mean that our marriage has not been unspeakably wonderful…in the midst of a love story with so very much stacked against it.  Because it has.

It has not, however, been easy.  Which isn’t really a surprise, seeing as my relationship with the God Himself hasn’t been very easy as of late…and He’s at least perfect, and loves me with an unconditional love.

Reid however…doesn’t.  His love is broken, and borne out of a broken, sinful heart.

Just like mine is.

And that, perhaps, is why that old man’s love advice from long ago…has meant so very much to us.  Because, though I do not know the storms that his marriage endured, and they were probably very different than ours, I do know this…eighty years is a very long time to walk the road of life with someone. And I am certain that in a life and love story that long…there were storms.

Unless that sweet couple lived to be 115 and 113…they are probably no longer even here on this earth.  And yet, their advice has outlived their love.  Because of this, and because Reid and I are watching the final pages being written on the eighth year of our love story…I want to share the pearls of that marriage advice tried and tested over our 8 and their 80 years.

“I’m sorry.”  Are the most important words ever.

Reid and I decided long ago that we were going to the “real deal.”  That, in spite of a world full of “best foot forward” insincere relationships…we were going to commit to bring our true selves to one another.  It seemed like a big risk, seeing as our true selves… are messy and broken and deeply depraved.  But I don’t think love is worth much…if it’s not real deal love.  I wanted to know that I had shown Reid the absolute worst of who I was…and seen the absolute worst in him…and still..after all of that…there was grace and truth and love.  Because that…is the Gospel.

How else could you possibly know, and I mean really know,  if anyone truly loves you…if they haven’t seen you.  The real you.  The one you know…and are embarrassed, shocked, overwhelmed, disappointed, and ashamed of.  The YOU you brought to God….when you realized you needed salvation.  The YOU you needed saving from.  The YOU Jesus loves.

And so…from the very beginning…we committed to bring that person to one another.  We both had lots of shiny, cordial relationships in our lives…what we needed was at least one relationship in all the world…that was completely the real deal.

And we found that in each other.  Not…after our first year of marriage…when everything usually hits the fan.  Not…a few weeks before we got married…when last minute things are revealed.  We started there.  

And it was messy, and hard, scary…but it was also so very good.

That is not to say that it was not terrifying to our twenty-something hearts.  I vividly remember one day a few months after we were dating, when Reid (who is not generally a fighter I might add) drove off with tires squealing, after a big fight we’d had.  I was terrified that he was going to get in a reckless driving car accident, and I would never get to tell him how much I loved him.  I was also…relieved.  Relieved that at least, no matter what happened to either one of us, or to “us” as a couple...if we were going to be together…the real Reid and the real Misty were going to show up.

Now, eight years later, there are less tire-squealing fights, and we are pros at “healthy conflict” resolution.  Literally, pros.  (We actually give seminars on it, and focus heavily on this during our pre-martially counseling sessions we do with young couples.)

That isn’t to say that we always live it.  But we are definitely not where we once were.   We still fight.  Man, do we fight.  And I am convinced that that is so very important for a healthy marriage.  Convinced that if you don’t fight…well then, one or both of you have just stopped bringing your real self.  Because every person, who makes up every marriage…is one big, fat, sinful mess.  I will die on this hill, people.

I am a mess.  Reid is a mess.  And you are a mess.  And the most beautiful part of any marriage…is that you have found someone, and you have made promises to someone…to always bring the mess.  To always love the mess.  And to always forgive the mess.  No matter what.  

Because that…is the Gospel.  The Gospel is bringing your messy, broken self (who can really only promise more mess and brokenness to come)…into a perfect relationship with a Husband who is never broken, and never a mess. You offer that.  And He offers you back, “I will love you no matter what.  Because I love you in my Son.”

And marriage…the best marriages…are a picture of that.

That is why “I’m Sorry,” are two of the shortest and most important words in the English language.  I have done, and especially said, so many horrible things to Reid.  And at the end of every one of my wretched moments, all I could really offer is, “I am so very sorry,” from a truly sorry heart.  And that’s all he could offer back.  That is not to say that we do not seek God’s Spirit for help to grow, and for strength and humility to love better and deeper the next time around.

But having just finished our eighth year of marriage…I cannot say that we LOVE one another better.  We forgive better.  We hurt more when we hurt the other person.  And we probably mean it more when we say, “I forgive you,” than we once did.

We also, let a lot more go…than we did in those first few years.

Which brings me to his next piece of advice.  The “Yes Dear” moments.Honestly, Reid is waaaaaaaaaay better at this.  I am not just saying this because I’m his wife, but because I’m his wife, I get to see it the most.  Reid is one of the most humble, tender-hearted, unassuming people I have ever met.  That doesn’t mean that he just “Yes Dear’s” my every wish and whim.  He doesn’t.  At.  All. And even less so…as the years go by.  But the heart behind this isn’t obligatory compliance.  It’s preference.  It’s a Corinthians 13 “Love does not demand it’s own way,” and Roman’s 12:10 “preferring one another in love” -kind of love.

I keep thinking of this couple in their hundreds…who spent EIGHTY years of life together.  That’s eighty Christmases, eighty tax-days, and eighty Spring-Cleaning-The-Garage sessions.  And I think to myself, “How in the world did they not fight through 80 attempts to clean the garage?”  

The reality is…they probably did.  There were probably a lot of “I’m Sorry’s” spoken in their garage as they packed and sorted.  And there were probably a lot of “Yes, Dear” moments where they preferred one another, out of love.  

“Yes Dear, I will help you clean the garage even though it’s a beautiful day and the waves are head high, and I would rather be pretty much ANYWHERE but here.”

Or, “Yes Dear, you can keep those golf clubs you never ever use, even though I trip over them ALL OF THE TIME, and then say bad words that our kids have an untimely way of repeating afterwards.”

(I’m not saying these are real conversations that have taken place in a real garage, like say, ours…I’m just giving food for thought here.)

Which brings me to his final piece of love advice.  Sometimes, you haven’t even made up from the garage fight yet…and it’s time to go to bed.  Don’t.  Just, Don’t.  Don’t let Satan win like that.  Not when something as precious as your marriage is at stake.  Don’t wait to make up.  Don’t “sleep on it.”  Because you’re not really sleeping on it, you’re sleeping with it.  Don’t.

Sit up all night long, staring at each other silently on the couch if you have to…but don’t let the sun go down on that anger.  Not when your spouse means so very much.  I’ve heard people say, “But I’m just better after a good night of rest.” You’re probably not.  And even if you are…your spouse will have had 8 solid hours to sit in their hurt and anger and the lies that come with it. Don’t wait.  Don’t let those lies set in.  Fight back.  All night long if you have to.

I hope this doesn’t sound bossy.  I hope I don’t come across as having the perfect marriage.  I don’t.  And I’m not generally a bossy person.  I am, however, someone who is in the middle of the biggest storm of my entire life.  I am someone who is deeply storm battered and weary.  And…strapped to my life-boat is the man of my dreams who is as equally weary and battered as I am. And…I love him a billion times more than the day I married him.  In a world where almost no couple makes it after the death of a child…we still love one another so very much.  This is all God.

And I am convinced that it is because we are, both of us, deeply and equally committed to these three things.

And…to the God…who alone can move us to them.

Were it not for God…we could never say, “I’m sorry” as often as we do.  Were it not for His Spirit…I don’t think I’d feel sorry.  I definitely wouldn’t have the humility to say it.

Were it not for God….we would never “prefer one another in love.”  It’s His command.  And, as generally goes with the things He has called us to…they are hard enough to do that only He can do them.  Through us.  One shaky step at a time.  In the garage.  Or the parking lot of church.  Or on our way to a date night.  One shaking step at a time.  Each time letting go of sin, and self, and pride, and self-absorption…to prefer the other person out of Cross-like love.

And were it not for God…I know that all of those very important, very healing, very Gospel-defining conflicts that Reid and I have had…would not have ended at three in the morning with two very broken, humbled sinners…holding hands. They did not all end that way.  But I’m so very grateful that most of them did.

Eight years…is a big one.  One one hand, it feels like no time at all compared to Eighty.  But the reality is, that we live in a world filled with worldly people who rant about “The Eighty Year Itch.” And “The Seven Year Itch.”  And whatever other man-made, self-serving, arbitrary “Itch” date our world has designed to tell themselves, “Those vows no longer matter because this year…well, this year is special.  This year is the year you have permission to give up.”

Years seven and eight were special.  But not like the world imagined it.  They were special…because we stayed together.  Through so very much soul-pain that the other person didn’t even cause.  They were special because when it was harder than ever before…we said, “I’m sorry.”  And preferred one another out of deep, reverent love for the God who loved us first.   And went to bed holding hands.

After buring three precious children we desperately wanted.  After dealing with astronomical medical debt.  After losing literally everything we owned.  After dealing with endless sickness, and cancer scans, and significant neurological poisoning from  toxic black mold.  And, perhaps hardest of all…after living with little sinners, and being big sinners who taught them everything we know.

And yet…we made it.  We have been through a lifetime of pain and suffering in these eight short years.

And a lifetime of love.

I want to dedicate this post to my amazing husband.  It’s one thing to agree with these noble ideas when you’re listening to the radio, as a bright-eyed college student who hasn’t even met the man of your dreams.

Its another thing entirely to live them out…when you have.

When you’re eight years in.  Some of the worst eight years that many couples will ever have to go through, and many couples will never have to go through.

And we did.

Because of a lot of, “Yes, Dear’s.”  And even more, “I’m Sorry’s.”  And many, many broken, tear-filled nights…where we still, by God’s grace…went to bed holding hands.

I love you Reid Zeller.  And whether this is our last year of life together, or God grants us 80 more…I am so deeply grateful that the person I have “been given to get through this life with…”

…is YOU.

Happy Almost Eight.

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Walking Alongside Those Who Suffer

This last fall, a friend of Emma’s lost her mommy to cancer.  Little Jasmine was only five years old, and she had to bury the most important person in her universe.  There were many tears in our home that day, and Emma asked if she could give her friend a sympathy card.  It seemed like an important card so I asked her, “Would you like me to help you?”  Without a moment’s hesitation she looked up at me and said, “Mom.  Don’t worry….I KNOW what to write.”

And of course, she did.

"Dear Jasmine,   I am sorry.  I am so very sad.  I love you.  Heart, Emma."

And that…was it.

And that…was everything.

Because she gave what she had.  And she said everything that mattered.

Sometimes I wish that Emma didn’t know exactly the right thing to say in a sympathy card.  Sometimes I wish that she didn’t know how to hold someone tenderly while they are grieving…and I especially wish that I was never the person she had to hold.

And at the same time…we have completely failed as parents if we raise kids who are cool, and fun, and popular, and interesting…if they are not kind. Because if they’re not kind…if they’re not deep and thoughtful people who have the soul-capacity to weep with others, and if they’re not people who can truly walk alongside those who are hurting all around them…then what in the world are they going to have to offer?

What in the world are our kids going to bring that actually matters…to a world that is bleeding out literally everywhere…if they do not know how to help when others hurt?

Because our kids live in a world where every single person they meet…is going to die at some point.  And most of them…are probably going to suffer long before they get there.  Sadly, little Jasmine is probably not going to be the last of my kid’s friends who has to suffer through the heart-wrenching loss of a parent.

I don’t want to be melodramatic, but this one of the hardest realities of life that every single one of us…is destined to suffer.  At the end, for sure.  And many of us, along the road that takes us there.

This is the deal.  This is the deal we made, when we joined this hurting and broken world.

This was the deal made for us…in the Garden long ago.

A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of the arduous task of scrubbing Emma’s head with our “Mold Shampoo.”  The shampoo is a thick, black, sticky-goo, literally made out of charcoal, and it’s basically a wonderful way to have conflict at bath time.  (And who in the world isn’t looking for a little more of that?)  As I wrestled the shampoo into her hair, Emma suddenly burst out, “I hate this mom!  Why do we even have to live in a world where there is mold!”  

I then explained once again about Adam and Eve, and the snake and the garden, and sin and salvation, and the Gospel and God.  I was feeling pretty good about my theological conclusions when I suddenly looked down at those big brown eyes, surrounded by thick, black charcoal suds, and slowly filling with tears.  And then she said, with all the quiet vengeance of a woman scorned, “That Adam and Eve…they ruined EVERYTHING for us.”

You could have heard a sud drop.

Because there it was.  Gospel truth. Right there in the bathtub.

I’m sure that if any one of us had been given 24 hours in that Garden…we probably would have landed ourselves in the same big mess.  But what a mess it is.  We live in a deeply painful world where children get sick from neurological toxins, and babies die in their mommies wombs, and little girls have to stand alone by the gravesides of their mamas.  And though it is sometimes filled with beauty…this world is also filled with an astronomical amount of suffering and sorrow.

And because that is true, it’s critical that we who are His actually know what to do when we are sitting in funeral homes and hospitals, and staring at broken hearts and blank sympathy cards.

A number of people have asked me to share ideas on how to come alongside those who are suffering around them and I have two thoughts on this…

1.  What to do.

2.  And why to do it.

Whether a person is suffering from a broken body or a broken heart, I think the ways that they need to be loved are often very similar.  Because whether you are suffering from grief or struggling through chronic pain…you suddenly find yourself in a foreign land.  You went to bed one night in a bright, happy, hopeful place…and woke up the next morning in a strange land full of aching pain and dark shadows.

And you, quite possibly…are never going back.

I never realized how much chronic pain is actually similar to grief…until I went through both.  At the same time.

Both, are the shadowlands.

Both, force you to live in one world…while everyone around you, seems to skip merrily along…in your old world full of life and hope.

And both…are a death.  A death of dreams.  A death of plans.  A death of capacity.  A death of relationships.  And a death of faith…at least faith as you once knew it.

I remember laying in bed the first day after Charlie’s death and thinking, “Nothing, nothing, nothing…will ever be the same.”  And it wasn’t.

Every single one of my dreams for Charlie’s life…was over in one single heartbeat.

But what I didn’t realize in that moment…is that so many of my dreams for my other kid’s lives…were gone forever as well.

My sweet Freddo turned 3 years old…the very next day after his baby brother died.  Which means that in the brief 365 days between his 3rd birthday, and his fourth…Freddo attended the funeral of the brother who was going to be his forever bud, experienced the total soul-incapacitation of both of his parents, watched us bury two more babies that same year, and saw his mommy get so sick with toxic mold poisioning that she couldn’t even get out of bed for far more days than I can count.

And then…he turned four.  And the day after his fourth birthday…we found out we were being slowly poisoned by toxic mold, and had to get rid of almost every thing we owned.  All of those beautiful new birthday presents Freddo had just gotten the day before…went right back out the front door.  And that…was basically Freddo’s third year of life.

But the worst part, is that that was Freddo’s only third year of life.  And Sophie’s only first year of life.  And Emma’s only fifth year.

And you can buy a bunch of new stuff…but you can never, ever…buy back a year.  It is just plain gone.

And I know that so many people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, or who have walked through chronic pain with a house full of small children, feel exactly as I do.  Something deeply precious was lost…TIME was lost…and you don’t get it back.

You may get new days…but you will never again get those days.

And it hurts so incredibly much.

And so…my first piece of advice on how to come alongside others who are suffering is…

Help multiply the time they do have.

*Babysit their kids.

*Wash their car.

*Buy their groceries.

*Run to the bank for them.

*Clean their house.

When you are so sick you can barely move, or when your heart is so broken you can barely function…you don’t want to be cleaning your tub with bleach.  Clean it for them.  I have a memory from my childhood of going to a woman’s house whom I had never met before, and helping my mom clean her dirty bathrooms.  She was dying of emphysema and in so very much pain, and all I kept thinking as I scrubbed this strangers bathroom, and listened to her hacking cough was, “I’m so very glad that I am doing this…and she isn’t.” 

The same is true for errands.  When you are sick, and I mean paralyzingly sick, and have been given no promise that it is ever going to end…the last thing you want to do is spend the little strength you have…on grocery shopping.  I hated going grocery shopping after Charlie died.  Grocery shopping is a remarkably social endeavor, that someone may simply not have the emotional or physical energy for when they are in chronic pain or the deepest months of grief.  And they still have to do it, because you have to eat to live.   Shop for them.  Tell them, “I want you to make me a list.  I will pick out only the juiciest oranges, and the crispest apples, and I’m going shopping for you Tuesday, and you can’t say no.”

It doesn’t even matter what you do…just take something off of their plate for them.

Because their plate is FULL.  Full to the brim with a bunch of truly miserable things…that yours most likely isn’t filled with.  Doctors appointments…grief-counseling appointments…hours laying in bed in either physical agony or deep soul anguish…hours spent weeping on the floor.  Every one of the those words…pretty much describes so many of my days for the last year and a half.

And through it all, I still had three small children who needed baths, and prayers, and help with their homework.  My life was full of things from the land of shadows, and I didn’t have much left in me for my “old life” I still had responsibilities in.  That is why it meant the absolute world to us…when people offered to babysit.  There really should be a sixth love language entitled “Free Babysitting for Those Who Need It.”  (And that, by the way, is literally EVERY parent I know.)  I am crying even now, as I think of the incredible friends, and family, and college students who have babysat for our family over this last year.

Two weeks after Charlie died, Reid had to go back to work and I vividly remember thinking, “I can’t even function I am in so much pain…and I have to take care of three little people.”  And grief, much like chronic pain…cannot be scheduled.  It.  Just.  Happens.    And one day, it happened to hit hard.   Sophie really needed a nap, and was clinging to me like a tiny koala with sharp claws.  And I could not stop the tears.  I remember being so desperate for just five minutes ALONE to cry…that I literally escorted Sophie to the far corner of the house, got her distracted with a toy, and then ran as fast as I could to the other side of the house, slammed the door and locked it…just so I could cry for five whole minutes alone.

I got about four.  And then, I heard her pudgy little fists pounding on the door.  “Mommy!!! Let me in!  Mommy I found you.  Let me INNNNNNN!”

That…is when you call the babysitter.

And I did.  And she came. And she gave us hope…hope that we could at least get through one more day of the Shadowlands we now found ourselves in.  Babysit for them.  You’ve probably got far more energy for their kids…than they do.  And it will mean the world to them to have a break from their normal life so they can focus on their side job of suffering and sorrow.

I don’t want to paint this picture that we have tons of babysitters floating around our house…because we don’t.  We have a babysitter for date night, and sometimes on Tuesday mornings.  And they are an incredible gift to us.  But what mattered most…especially in the most painful, early days of grief, and the worst days of mold poisioning…is that we had people who were willing and able…to come when we needed them most. 

And they made it easy for us.  And this is critical.  Hundreds of people have offered to help our family through what has become our life of one catastrophic loss after another.  But the MOST helpful things…the things that actually panned out, and really, truly made a difference…happened when people made it easy for us to have their help.

Our friends who gave us a gift card for a date night after Charlie died…and then actually came over with their kids and babysat ours.

Our friends who offered to start a “Meal Train”…and then made it easy by sending us the completed list of who was coming and when.

My parents who offered to clean our whole house with ammonia until their noses literally bled from all the toxins…and then actually did it.

Our friends who literally brought over pillows, and blankets, and a change of clothes the night we found out that everything we owned had to go…without us even asking them to.

That…was helpful. 

My point…is that offering to help…is not helpful.  HELPING is helpful.  Saying you’re going to do it, and then saying, “I’m putting it on the calendar,” or “This is when I’m coming,” or “I”m really wanting to take your kids for you, will next Tuesday or next Thursday work better?”

Words…are simply not enough.

There were so many times when people would offer to help and I would think, “If I have to HELP YOU HELP ME…this isn’t going to be very helpful.”

What you do…probably doesn’t even matter.  Just DO something.  

This is especially important…after significant time has gone by.  Your friends who perhaps most need your help right now…are not the ones who just found out they have cancer.  It’s the one’s who’ve had cancer for months.  And everyone else’s life has moved on from the shock of their diagnosis…and their’s hasn’t.  They are still in the shadowlands.  They still have cancer.  Their organs are still shutting down.  And they are still weary, and exhausted, and overwhelmed, and in an incredible amount of physical pain and soul despair.  And it will still mean the world to them…for you to bring them a meal, or buy their groceries, or take their kids to the park.

I can tell you that this matters…because it still matters to us.  We are not longer completely broken, and bleeding, and laying on the floor…but we are also not exactly thriving.  We are in that middle, no-man’s land…where we are not “there”…and we are not “better.”  And even now, as I type, an amazing college student is watching my precious ones so I can sit at this coffee shop, and write this blog, and figure out our medical bills, and connect with the Lord.  So that when I get home…

I can be all there.

And that, is my point.  Because when you experience the loss of someone you deeply loved, especially the loss of child…you are simply no longer all there.  You, whether you like it or not, have been called to grieve and called to suffer, and it takes an incredible amount out of you.  A part of your heart…has permanently left.  Left for the land of Shadows.  And you cannot avoid that journey…because grief forces you there.

But also, a huge part of me…has moved to heaven.  My heart moved to heaven when Charlie died last year.  And I bought a house there when his little sibling died in June.  And built a playground in the backyard when the next baby died.  And in February, when I got so sick that I couldn’t even function anymore…some days I would just lay in bed and cry out, “Jesus, please just take me Home NOW!”

Because grief and suffering took me to a place I had never wanted to go before. It took me to the land of, “Please God,  Anywhere…But Here.”  And when Charlie died, for the first time in my life, my immediate longing for Heaven…completely surpassed my appreciation of earth.

I want to be clear…I did not want to take my life.  I just no longer wanted to live.

And if that sounds crazy to you…well then, you’ve just never been in so much physical, or spiritual, or soul pain that you’ve gotten there…yet.

But you may.

And even if you don’t, I am quite certain of this…

There was once a beautiful garden.  And it was filled with beautiful, but fragile people.  And a lovely tree, and an ugly snake, and a world of trouble.  And we’ve been in trouble ever since.

And if you live long enough, and love deep enough, your life will soon be filled with beautiful, and yet broken and fragile people who are suffering deeply under that wretched curse from long ago.

And you…have been given the power to help.

In fact, if you are His…you have been given Help Himself.  Because He lives in you.  And that same Spirit who Jesus promised to be a “Comforter,” and an “Encourager,” and a “Friend,” will be those to someone else…every time He moves your limbs to clean their house.  And every time He moves your car to drive to Trader Joe’s so they don’t have to.  And every time He gives you the joy of babysitting their sweet kids.  And every time He moves your heart to write that note.

And all of these “things to do” are so important.  They are love in action.  

But we have also been deeply encouraged by people who live thousands of miles and even continents away from us…who took the time to love us with words.  You don’t need lots of eloquent words.  You don’t need a little sermonette filled with Bible verses and profound theological thoughts…in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.

You just need to tell them how you feel.

Tell them, “I feel so angry that this is happening to you.”  Tell them, “I feel so very sad, I cried all morning for you.”  Tell them, “I love you and I wish so much that this wasn’t your life, and that I could take this all away from you.”  Tell them all of THAT…because they FEEL those very things too.  And you’re saying it…will make them feel less alone.

And that is ALL you can do.

Because you can’t take this away.  You can get sad, and angry, and devastated, and discouraged that this is happening to them…just like they do.  And you should.  Because that stupid curse has made this, for the most part, one miserable world to have to suffer through.  But all you can do is be there with them in it.

And that…is enough.

Because Someone else has promised to someday end this suffering once and for all.

And until then, He has a plan to make Himself known through every single pain and every single sorrow and every single grave and every single tear.  He will not waste a single one.  I have cried so very many…and I am clinging to the promise that He doesn’t waste our tears.  And I am banking on the promise that He doesn’t waste our wounds.

He uses them.  He glorifies Himself through them.  He calls us to them.  Sometimes He even calls us out of them.

And sometimes He calls us to live in them.  For some of us…He calls us to Suffer.  And for those all around us…He calls us to Help.  And we will all, sadly, take turns in these roles, many many times over.

And if right now you are one of the people who are being called to Suffer for the glory of God…ask people to pray for you.  And then ask HOW they are praying for you.  And to never STOP praying for you.

And ask people to help. Send them to this blog, and tell them I told you to ask others to do these things for you.  Because you are precious to Him.  Especially in your pain and your brokenness and your suffering…you are so very precious to Him.  And He has not forgotten you.  And He had made the Body of Christ…to be His most poignant reminder of that fact.

And if right now you are not one of those who are being called to suffer…then you are being called to Help those who are.  Not because you have the gift of “mercy,” but because you have the gift of His Holy Spirit.

Close your eyes, spin around three times, open them, and point.  I am SURE you will find someone within the hour who desperately needs your help, your encouragement, and your prayers.

Or maybe even just a note.

And don’t worry about what to say.  Just trust Emma on this one…

"I am sorry.  I am so very sad.  I love you.  Heart."

It’s just twelve little words.  And yet the very heart of walking alongside those who suffer.