Image by Nicole Pierce via Flickr
It was five years ago that I invited my dear hubby on a date.  

To his slight dismay at the time, our date included dinner followed by coffee at a coffee shop and a "State-of-the-Household" meeting. 

Yep, it's as bad as it sounds. I took my sweetheart out for coffee and a year-end review of our family's progress, just like the yearly speeches given by the President, the Governor, and the Mayor.

Happy Monday! Thanks for being here for Make A Difference Monday, a place to get intentional about starting our week focused on the positive and dream up ways we can make a difference in the world. Kendra, Julie, and I are excited to continue co-hosting MADM for the next few weeks, and hope you'll join us!

As the final days of December wind down, we wanted to take a look back at this year's Advent Acts of Kindness. We hope you were able to follow along with us via Facebook or Twitter and join in the fun!

"The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" is one of my all-time favorite movies. I love how he starts out so cold and bitter about Christmas, is a bit mischievous in his attempts to foil Christmas for Whoville, and then, once he realizes the true meaning of Christmas, has his heart grow three times. That’s a simplistic synopsis of the movie, but I’ve realized how much like the Grinch I can become.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all that goes on around the world. The coldness, and even the ugliness, is effortless to find. It’s enough to make me want to tuck my head down and walk hurriedly through life, attending to my needs and my family's needs, building walls around our hearts and shutting the world out.

And it’s in this place that I can often find myself at the beginning of each December. Ready to dive in to the Christmas season by focusing on family and gifts, goodies and parties -- yet Advent Acts forces us to stop, to notice strangers, and to offer kindness to others.

And as each day passes, I’ve noticed that just like the Grinch, MY heart has begun to grow.

Muscle shirts, athletic pants and picture day. 
On the morning of Picture Day, I found myself standing over my son as he lay sprawled across the carpet in utter despair.

You see, I had suggested he wear his blue checked button down shirt with the coordinating puffy vest. He looks so very dapper, so handsome, so like a mini-model from JCrew in that outfit -- except he didn't agree with my assessment, at least not that morning.

In between sobs, he informed me that he had already picked out his outfit.

My eyes narrowed as I carefully weighed my strategy.

Knowing that I already had some beautiful photos of him from an afternoon this fall and that I had purchased the very smallest package of school photos possible, I decided this was a battle I need not fight and squatted next to him on the living room carpet.

"What outfit would make you feel the most handsome today, Jon?" I asked gently. In between hiccuping breaths, I heard the whispered words that made me cringe slightly inside: "My pocketless pants and my sleeveless shirt."

Happy Monday! Thanks for being here for Make A Difference Mondays, a place to get intentional about starting our weeks focused on the positive and put our heads together to dream up ways we can make a difference in this world!


That word is no stranger to my husband and I.

We know full well the fear, the anxiety, the arduous  journey represented by that word I hate with all of my heart.

Our family's experience with cancer is filled with tears and anger and mourning.  But it is also filled with memories of God's provision during the darkest moments and with answered prayers - small and large. Despite the dark road, it is filled with faith, courage, and love.

Our family's experience with cancer is also filled with the kindness and love of complete strangers, people who went out of their way in that fleeting moment of connection to encourage and to love our loved ones.  

You would think that after several years of marriage, the luster would wear a bit thin on love.

And if I’m honest, there are days when it does. 

My sweet family -- living proof that Love Wins
Days when we’ve stepped on one too many tiaras in the living room or Noelle is waving scissors suspiciously close to Elise’s eyes or both girls have seemingly forgotten how to do anything but whine piteously. Days like this past Friday, when we’re scrambling to rid the Hoarders-like mess from our mudroom in preparation for a party and Tim tells me, “That’s it! No more online shopping! We have TOO MUCH MAIL!”

But in a lot of ways, I’m more comfortable at 31 than I ever was at 22, the age I was when Tim and I first met. 

Image by Lori Joan via Flicker
Peering into the mailbox, my eyes sought out the object that was wedged just a little too tightly to slide out without a serious tug.

A children's book. As I wriggled it free, my eyes teared up. It was the last book my newly-minted five-year-old would receive from the United Way's Imagination Library program. He received his first book this month five years ago and had continued to receive a book every month thereafter.

And here I stood, holding The Last Book in my hands. Tears glistened as I faced yet another "last" during his birthday week.
Happy Monday! Thanks for being here for Make A Difference Mondays, a place to get intentional about starting our week focused on the positive as well as put our heads together to dream up ways we can make a difference in this world! Julie, Kristin, and I are excited to be filling in for the next couple months as co-hosts for MADM!

Necklace from ViBella
This past October my sister Kristin and I had the privilege of attending Allume, a blogging
conference in South Carolina. Among the amazing speakers and sessions were some incredible organizations that work to better the lives of people around the world. Three of these organizations sell jewelry made by women and men around the world, offering a fair wage to people who would otherwise be living in poverty and providing the opportunity for them to support their families.

We were so blessed and encouraged by each of these organizations (and bought jewelry from all of them!) that we wanted to share each of these companies with you, our reader, in their own words.

My daughters love to get “stuff.” It doesn’t matter what that “stuff” is—one child ran out of her room this morning, thrilled because she found a blue “fuzzy” (aka lint) in her room, and wasn’t it so soft?—but regardless, their penchant for wanting more runs high. 

Even though we do Advent Acts of Kindness each year, the idea of Christ-centered giving to others during the Christmas season is still something we’ve struggled to foster in our daughters. 

On the other hand, they love to be “helpers.” So this year, I’ve decided to start incorporating the “stuff” and the “helping” together. Each day during the month of December, I’ve planned out an activity for us to do together. Some days, we’ll do something fun together, and look for spontaneous ways to give to others (i.e. take a trip to an indoor playground and leave quarters on a vending machine). Other days, the day's activity will center around giving to others (i.e. making Christmas cookies or baskets of goodies to give away). 

Chris and Steph Wolf and their children Sally, Claire, and Elijah
This week I'm so excited to share a dear friend's story about international adoption. Steph and I connected in college, and although we no longer live close to each other, I love seeing the way God is moving in her life. A couple of years ago, she and her husband Chris adopted their son, Elijah, from Uganda. Here's their story:
Meeting their son in Uganda
God began stirring my heart for adoption at a young age. I remember my Cabbage Patch doll having an “adoption certificate” and being fascinated by that. As a college student, I babysat often for a family who had brought their daughter home from China. As a mom, one of my best friends is a foster mom that loves on many kids that stay for various lengths of time. I can look back now and see that these were all threads that God wove into the story of my life as a way to prepare me to be an adoptive mom.

Christmas. This word, this season, so easily becomes overwhelmed with thoughts of the baking, the card-making, the gift-giving, all of the hustle and bustle of too much busyness packed into the mad rush of weeks from the day after Thanksgiving until December 26th. And while no one thing is “bad” or “wrong” in itself, when all piled one on top of the other, I find myself scarcely able to breathe.

Every December, I struggle with how to refocus my family’s attention on Christ, on giving, on thinking of something or someone other than ourselves. I feel like my little light upon the hill begins to waver and weaken rather than shining brighter and stronger during the season of the birth of my Savior.

Until two years ago, when two friends and I decided to fight back against the holiday insanity and joined forces for our first Advent Acts of Kindness. 

This month we've been sharing a post every Monday about adoption. As we were talking about it as a family, my son Donnie, who turns 13 this week, asked if I would interview him. Of course I agreed. In our home, we try to be as open and honest with our children as possible. Donnie came to us from the foster care system when he was eight years old. Prior to that time, he had been living with both his biological parents. Over the next couple of years, attempts to unify his family were unsuccessful. Donnie was adopted by our family in 2012 but was still able to have visitation with his biological mother. Both of his biological parents are now deceased, but Donnie is still able to see his older brother on a regular basis. Here is his perspective on adoption.
Donnie during a BMX race

What did you think about foster care at first? It was hard. And boring at first. You didn't know what to do. The rules were different. And you couldn't see your parents everyday.

What do you think about adoption? It changes your life. 

What did you think when you heard you were going to be adopted? I was excited to get adopted and be a part of the family.

Were there things that were hard or sad about  being adopted? It changes your life. You have another family and you don't see your other family as much. 

This past week I came across a Facebook post from a dear friend sharing about all the trouble her son has experienced as of late. Things beyond his control -- hospital stays, medical bills, and stolen vehicles -- all within a couple months' time. She ended by saying they are just "done."

And I paused, stopped scrolling. Taking in the gravity of what it must be like to experience all those troubles so close together. I know I want to help.

I copy her status and send it to the elders of my church, asking if we can help.

We’re a small group, meeting on Sunday mornings in a local school with nothing about us that would appear flashy or showy. But we’ve committed to giving away 50 percent of everything that comes in each week to meet the needs of our community, and I know this is another way we may be able to help.

Over the past couple of years, I have loved being a part of this small community of believers. We’ve been able to help the homeless through serving meals and volunteering at local shelters. We’ve painted schools and planted trees, given money to help missionaries working with abused girls, given funds to people when their house burned down and paid for single moms to attend a retreat just for them, among many other things.

Eleanor and I with a check for strangers we've never met
And it isn’t too long before I get a reply back, Yes, we’d like to help. Of course we’ll give. How does $5,000 sound?

And I can’t help but smile. SO thankful to be part of this community. No red tape. No bureaucracy. No one wondering what they’ll give back to us or how we’ll see a return on the money.

Just a simple Yes, we’ll help.

I message my friend, wondering if I can meet her the next day to give her a small gift from Kyle and I for her son. She agrees and we plan to meet at her place of work.

The next day, as I come in the front door, I’m greeted warmly with a hello and a hug. My friend and I spend the next little while talking about life, catching up. I realize it’s been too long since I’ve seen her.

Kathy with her parents
and older brother Glenn
at her three-week-old placement
Today, I’m interviewing my mother-in-love (don’t you just love that?!) Kathy, who was adopted by her parents as an infant. I wanted to share her story because from the very beginning of meeting
Kathy she has exuded love and exuberance for adoption. There was no one who was more excited (or could relate better!) to the adoption of our first daughter, Jasmine. And when I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story, she did not hesitate to say yes. Here is her story (in her own words):

Kathy's brother Glenn in 1975,
serving in the Air Force
I was adopted at 3 weeks old. My parents couldn't have children so they adopted a son and me. My brother was 3 years older. Back then they were on probation for one year. My legal adoption was Sept. 20, 1955. I had a great family, with very loving parents. I always knew from little on that I was a chosen child; that's what my parents would always call me. I learned the word adoption probably when I was old enough to know what it means, about five or six. 

“What’s so bad about your life, anyway?” he spat at me. 

I recoiled from the tone – and the truth – of his words. Though our argument was resolved within the next ten minutes, the words remained, beating within my head, resonating in my heart. 

Because the truth is – nothing. There’s nothing truly "bad" about my life. My family is in relatively good health. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, financial stability. I have the freedom to be flexible with work and the jobs I take on. I’m blessed with supportive friends. I love our church. I work with great ministry organizations. 

On the surface, life looks good. So why do his words ring true

Oh, this is my sweet Jazzer girl!
How can you not smile at her cute little self!?
There are very few topics that I get excited about as much as orphan care and adoption. Maybe it’s because two of my kids are adopted, but I just love the idea of taking care of kids that need a home. With November being National Adoption Month, we thought it’d be the perfect time to talk about adoption -- so this month, every Monday, we will be sharing about different aspects of adoption.

Today, we'll start by talking about orphan care and what you can do to help children in need, even if you don’t feel called to adopt a child.

Five ways to support orphans other than through adoption:

Image via Hobvlas Sudonelghm on Flickr
It's early morning as I write these words, far too early for most of humanity on this side of the hemisphere to be up and stumbling about their kitchen, searching for coffee.  

To-do lists are swirling in my brain, and my fingers are itching to set ideas to paper, to stop the swirling, to make sure nothing gets forgotten in a week that will prove to be busier than the last. I love the feeling as ink flows over paper, as ideas and tasks and requirements pour forth, putting order to the chaos -- giving me perceived control over my day, my week, my month. 

Even better is that satisfying feeling as I carefully start striking off each item, showing that my day had worth (that I have worth) as revealed by accomplished tasks and goals and small steps on larger projects. 

I speak of my days based upon my to-do lists; I am either successful or unsuccessful based upon that tiny scrap of paper torn from my grocery store receipt with script only I can read scribbled in numbered order on the back.   

I have been known to wail in frustration that "I got NOTHING done today!" - meaning that my day was filled with intrusions and interruptions, leaving my to-do list intact, unchecked and unaccomplished. 

I have a tendency to measure my importance by the length of my to-do list and to measure my value by the number of items checked off my list before my head meets my pillow at the end of the day.

When I found out I was pregnant with our first child in 2009, my heart felt so full. I sat on the stairs in our house, waiting for my husband to get home from work.

When he arrived, I ran down the steps.

“Let’s go out for dinner to celebrate!” I said, grabbing his arms.

“Okay – um, what are we celebrating?” he asked.

“We’re having a baby!” I said. Our Mexican feast at La Casita that night had never tasted so good.

But just a few weeks later, my joy turned to dismay. During a work meeting on a Friday, I felt a whoosh and just knew that something was wrong. In the emergency room, I tried be brave while we endured tests and were told that there was no heartbeat.

Community. We find it in lots of places, all different ways. Whether at work, through a faith or civic community, school, parenting, marriage or singleness, there are places we belong. People with which we find a common bond.
Photo Courtesy of David Marcu

And I have found many of these communities helpful, jumped in with both feet proudly proclaiming myself a social worker, married person, or parent.

But there is one title I have yet to say. One title I have in the back of my mind, something I'm still too afraid to claim. I wasn’t really expecting it, and maybe it’s because I am not trained in this area, I have no education or degree to stand on -- just my own life experience, along with the desire to do it.

Maybe it’s because I don’t get a paycheck (as if money is the only validation for a task well done we can receive).

What I am too timid to say, to admit to others in conversation?

My tiny, divine appointment at last fall's BTG conference.
The countdown is on: we are only two days away from Bridging the Gap's fall conference!

Dozens of women have been hard at work for months: planning, praying, pulling speakers and music and all of the details together.  

As final preparations are made, as the leadership groups pulls together with hopes and dreams of how God will show up and how he will change lives, I cannot help but be reminded of all the big and little ways God uses us, when we leave space in our busy lives to respond.  

If you live in Minnesota, if you happen to have Friday and Saturday available, we invite you to join us.  You can find all of the information here. You won't leave disappointed, I promise.

And, I leave you with a re-post of my experience from last year's fall conference, because I still need this message, this lesson and can't say it any better than I said it last fall. Sometimes God chooses to use us in the small, quiet things - in ways no one but He will ever see.  
I had the honor of spending part of last weekend serving at a women's conference. I was so excited -- my fellow website writers and I had put together a devotional given to each attender, we were working at the Resource Table, and we were part of the conference team. Yay! It felt so wonderful to be on the team and on the mission with so many other amazing women. I just knew BIG things were going to happen, and I was excited to be in the middle of it!

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about my difficulties getting pregnant, how I was having a hard time curbing my own impatience and the increasing bitterness I felt at a situation that made me feel helpless and out of control. 

The positive response I received was so humbling, the many “me too” comments so comforting, that for me it was a chance to both purge and heal. For too long, I had denied my hurt over the situation, and being vulnerable enough to recognize and admit it was restorative. 

Here’s the thing: Even as I wrote my post this summer about not being pregnant, I actually was pregnant. I just didn’t know it yet. Isn’t that just like God? It wasn't until I found myself at the end of my own strength that I realized he had already done it. 

Jasmine's first day with us.
Our daughter came to us through tumultuous circumstances. My husband and I had only been licensed foster parents for a month when we got the call to take a sweet baby girl, just three months old. She was physically healthy, in an emergency home for the time being, but they wondered: Would we be interested in taking her?

With nary a thought of consulting my husband, the words tumbled out before the social worker could even finish, “Yes! We’d love to take her.” 

I remember that long holiday weekend spent going home to paint with my husband the room she’d be sleeping in and setting up a borrowed crib. Praying for the weekend to pass quickly, afraid the emergency home might decide she was too precious and want to keep her, anxiously awaiting her arrival that Tuesday afternoon. 
My sisters and our cousin Amber at Delpha's
Taking the gravel cut-across on the way to my Uncle Doug’s memorial service, rocks bounce and skid as I maneuver the hills and valleys of the road, autumn trees crowned with red and orange arching overhead. As a child, I loved that rollercoaster road. Located miles from any town, my radio service bleeds in and out as I travel the road that leads back to a part of my childhood I hold dear. 

Pulling into the driveway behind several vehicles already parked at my Aunt Delpha’s cozy home, I greet those outside and head inside where the smell of coffee and the warmth of the wooded interior belies the blustery wind and clouds scudding across the northern Minnesota sky.

Looking around, I'm surrounded by cousins and second cousins and almost-cousins, the landscape changing yet feeling unchanged. We talk about babies, and health problems, and what jams we’re canning this year. I meet my uncle's daughter, Erin, and feel an instant kinship with a "new" cousin previously fostered only through Facebook and email. 

Image by Kelly Sue DeConnick via Flickr
Friends!  For those of you who find us via Facebook, you may remember a plea that went out a week ago.  Our page "likes" had been stubbornly stuck at 498 for some time, and we promised virtual cupcakes to anyone willing help out our OCD and get that number to 500.  Well, we made it and are now making good on our promise!

I was the first to discover that the Facebook odometer had ticked over to 500, and while my inner prankster found it delightful to text Kendra and Kristen at an inappropriately early hour with the happy news, it didn't make any of us feel any different.  

The lesson we've learned time and again is that God so often works in the single digits, the one-on-one, the relationship of you and me.  And, so...meh.  Numbers are just numbers. Whatever, Facebook. 

Image by Lisa via Flickr
We celebrate today for a different reason: you. We love blogging, sharing stories, nudging people toward action, and watching as God works in the lives of so many around us. 

We love the virtual friendships we've developed through TRE: both the brand new friendships flung all across the world, and renewed friendships with those in our somewhat distant pasts who have rejoined us with comments and emails and interactions. 

We love the community we have with all of you.

So, actually, these virtual cupcakes are a celebration of our 500 relationships -- the old ones, the new ones, the close ones, the soon-to-be close ones.  

Plus, it's Wednesday.  We all can use a cupcake on Wednesday.  So, enjoy!  And thank you for being part of our community!

They pull up in the drive, tumbling out of the van while my kids run inside, yelling, “They’re here!” I finish the quick 10-minute clean-up of my house and head outside to greet Breann and her two littles. It’s been a long time, too long, since I’ve seen this friend. We go inside just as Jamie and her daughter pull up, another round of hugs and hellos. Gathering in the house, the doorbell rings one final time as Sarah comes through, rounding out our group. We settle in the living room to visit while the children run rampant through the house chattering about LEGOs and dress-up clothes. We talk of babies and wedding themes, pregnancy and jobs.
Image by Juliette Culver via Flickr

After a bit, I invite the women into my kitchen, pulling up chairs at the table while I make dinner for our crew. I pour margaritas for them, and as I warm pulled pork on the stove and take out buns, watermelon, and chips, we continue to talk about what’s happening in our lives right now. Of houses and moving, parenting and schools. 

As we feed the kids and send them outside to eat, we take our plates and sit at the table. We laugh about old memories and silly kid stories, just enjoying the time together. And as we slowly begin to end the night, we talk of the next time we’ll gather, this time without kids. As we stand at the door I hug each woman, each dear friend, goodbye.

Since July, I've been working on a new devotional book for Bridging the Gap, a women's ministry organization that Kendra, Julie, and I work closely with throughout the year. We've worked on two other books with them, both 31-day devotionals that included some of my favorite writers: Jen Hatmaker, Susie Larson, Michaela Evanow.

Despite the mad rush of emails and submissions and endless editing, I love the privilege -- and challenge -- of glimpsing the hearts of women who are brave enough to share their stories with others.

Here's a devotional I personally wrote for the Flourish devotional, privately published this past spring:

I’m someone who constantly wonders if I’m doing enough. Not that I’m losing sleep over it, but there’s always an underlying, nagging sense of wondering if what I’m doing matters or if I should be doing more

And although it's not bad to want to make a difference, this part of me has sometimes led me to overextend myself beyond my energy and even my ability. This past spring, it came to a head. My saying "yes" to a number of things within a short time span led to a very frank conversation with my husband about all that I was doing. And then I asked: What made him proud of me? Because stepping down or saying no sometimes makes me think I’m not doing enough or  I’m letting others down, or bottom line: that my life really doesn’t matter without something I can point to as an accomplishment.

His response was very telling. He sighed and simply said, I don’t mind all the things you do -- but Kendra, I am most proud that you are my wife and the mother of my children.

In all honesty, this is not what I wanted to hear at the time. I wanted to know that the laundry list of things I had done and taken on was worthwhile. Look at all that I’ve accomplished!? I wanted to respond. Instead, I just sat and thought about what he said. Because Kyle knows me and he knows my heart, he understands that often I'll say yes to please other people or make myself feel good. When in fact, he (and God, really) are already pleased with WHO I am, not what I've accomplished. And if I could fully grasp that, I think I'd find more peace. As I was discussing this with my sister Kristin, she told me her pastor recently said something that stuck with her on a Sunday morning: Every "yes" to something is a "no" to something else.

And as I continued to think about Kyle's words and my conversation with Kristin, I thought about other people I respect from afar who have cut back on their travels, their speaking engagements and such. And for what? To spend time with those closest to them. To get back to what truly matters: family, their community, a sense of belonging right where you’re at.

As I read Ann Voskamp’s timely post on declining an invitation to speak from Max Lucado, I was struck by his wise words spoken in response:  “Ann, we have the option of hundreds of speakers. Your kids only have the option of one mom.”

My kids only have one mom.

Each year when I see my doctor for my routine appointment, it comes up. Usually with a nurse, someone who is kind but impersonal, working their way through the checkboxes marking my family medical history, glossing over my paternal grandmother’s stroke and my mom’s diabetes, smoothly scrolling down until they pause on my siblings.

“And you have a sister who is deceased?” she asks me today, like I knew she would. On her screen, I can see the mouse hovering over the electronic record. In a small box, the brief details: Breast cancer diagnosed at age 23, died at 28.
I sigh as I stand in front of the mirror, not exactly thrilled by what I see. These last few (okay, several!) pesky pounds of baby weight are enough for clothes to feel a little tight and a swimsuit that just doesn’t give me the look I’d hoped for.

But, encouraged by others I’ve read this summer to enjoy life with my kids and family right now, I have determined to just get over myself and have fun. And because of it, I’ve been in my swimsuit more this summer than the past several years combined.

I head out to the pool and decide to show my kids how a cannonball is truly done. Over the next hour we play tag, see who can swim the farthest without touching bottom, and take turns on the floaties. And as I throw my son in the air for what feels like the 100th time (something that never gets old to him) he giggles with laughter and then exclaims, “Mom, you’re so cute!”

Ah, Kindergarten. It feels like such a huge step wrought with roller-coaster emotions -- happy, sad,
Image by Daman Galdal via Flickr
anxiety, excitement, all rolled into one.  I wish I could write a note to myself at this moment last year, standing on what felt like a precipice, wondering how it would go, what it would look like, wondering about how my independent, adventure-loving daughter would fare.  

Because my husband and I have decided to send our children to a public school, there are a few things I would do differently, and I few things I stumbled into quite by accident that I am so glad I did.  For those of you standing on the verge of this grand adventure, here the things I wish I had known as I fought back tears while waving to my precious daughter as she rode away on that first morning's bus. 

This week I had the honor of guest posting for my friend Sybil at She Lives Free for Make a Difference Monday about a Sole Hope Shoe Making Party I hosted last week! Here's what I shared:

I first heard about Sole Hope when I read a blog post written by Logan Wolfram chronicling her experience while on a missions trip to Africa with the organization. The pictures of her holding children as they cried out in pain while jiggers were being removed from their little feet was enough to make me search a little farther to see what Sole Hope was all about.

What I found was an organization that started because Dru and Asher Collie saw a need and decided to fill it. Jiggers (a parasite that burrows into your feet and lays eggs) causes infection, pain, and -- if left untreated -- can leave people susceptible to other diseases such as tetanus and gangrene.

But there is a simple solution to the problem: Shoes.

While many of us don’t give a second thought to the shoes we put on each day, in Uganda, shoes are a luxury and many of the children Sole Hope helps have never owned a single pair of shoes.

So how can we help?

To read the rest of this post, stop over at She Lives Free!

Tim and I were on a walk the other night and he mentioned Robin Williams' death. Yesterday, details on his suicide, his struggle with depression and substance abuse bounced around the Web like so many mismatched marbles, opinions thrown around without thought to their effect on his family or on others who have experienced depression. And then I read this comment from someone on Facebook:
I have actually shed real, mourning tears today. Such a fixture in my life, and whose stand up comedy literally kept my husband alive during his own debilitating depression. I wish that knowing how much people loved him would have been enough to keep him going one more day.
And I thought -- thank you for speaking to the heart of why this hurts. 

Because it hurts to know that people who are desperately loved feel anything but loved.

Because even though I've never struggled with depression, I've watched loved ones walk through agonies I've never encountered.

This morning, as I thought about Robin Williams and his death, and the deaths of so many others from suicide, my grief feels almost overwhelmed by my anger. And I found myself crying angry tears over a man I've never met.

Not because of the choice that he made, but at the lies he believed that led him to that place of despair.

I don't mean to take away from the impact of mental illness; I'm not saying the lies he believed didn't have a stronger pull than they may have on others -- and yet I know that I've sometimes found myself smothered and silenced by lies that feel true, even when I know they're not. And don't we all believe those lies, some days? Maybe on a smaller scale -- but don't they, nonetheless, often define our life? Determine our attitude, our actions?

If I smile enough, people won't notice that I'm empty inside.
I would have better relationships with others if I were thinner or better looking.
If I could just make $_____ in my career, I would be happy.
Someone else could parent my children better than I can.
If I spend enough on my clothes, people won't notice my lack of confidence.
I've lost my identity so much that I feel like my only value is found in my role as a spouse/parent. 

If you're struggling to overcome the lies in your life -- no matter what you might think or feel -- please know that you are loved by the God of the universe, and by those you've touched with your life. You matter.

That doesn't diminish the pain you feel and the struggles you face, but my prayer is that the truth of it will sink in until you feel overwhelmed by the sheer extravagance of the abundant love of Jesus.

"The thief’s [Satan's] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." John 10:10 (NLT)

If you struggle with depression, this post from Sarah Bessey really touched my heart today, as I hope it does yours. You are so, so, so loved.

We're also linking up with Holley Gerth today.
When Kristin, Julie, and I started blogging two years ago, I never thought about how it was going to change our writing and, really, our lives. We were in the throes of finishing our first book and thought adding a blog would help us hone our writing skills as well as let others know we were actually writers! (Kristin is really the only true literary among us.)
Summer 2012 - The start of it all!
We did not realize that starting this blog would create and develop some amazing relationships with other women, forging friendships that were not only appreciated, but found to be oh, so necessary.

We've met women online and in real life who are making a difference, sharing honestly and courageously, joining forces with others, and just overall making the world a better place.

This past week I was "tagged" by my blogging bestie friend Sybil from She Lives Free for a blog hop on writing and my writing process, so here goes:

Why do I write what I write?

Our BTG writers meeting this past week!
Oh my. This is a loaded question. The first reason I write is to be honest about who I am and were I am. In all truthfulness, I find healing for myself through writing. Telling my own story allows for openness with those around me. It has been so encouraging to hear other people respond to our posts, understanding where we are, and realizing we’re all in this together! Life is not meant to be lived alone and sharing stories is one of the best ways I’ve found to join with others! 

The other reason I like to write is to remember: what has happened, where I’ve been, and what God has done. I’ve realized just how important story is and passing them on to my family and children is vital to who we are now. It’s what knits us together across time and distance, bringing us close, when we remember our story. To me, remembering is priceless.

“What would you like to wear today?” I asked my four-year-old daughter as I opened her closet doors. Bouncing over, she announced: “Something pink!” 

A few minutes later, I heard her rummaging through her underwear drawer. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked. 

“I need pink panties!” she exclaimed. “Mom, I can’t find them!” 

Sighing, I walked over to look. I had returned from vacation only to find my typically rough-and-tumble daughter had entered a new phase. 

I sit down while smiling at the other ladies around the table, fumbling to put down my baby’s car seat, diaper bag, and favorite toy. I let out an audible sigh. I'm glad to see these lovely women, looking forward to a night of planning for an upcoming conference.
Exuberant Eleanor

Eleanor is a wonderful baby, but at seven months old, she is not quite a sweet, sleeping infant anymore. She loves to move. And although she hasn’t figured out how to crawl just yet, she finds ways to get around a room.

As we order our meals, Eleanor shows everyone at the table her two new tricks, spitting and screaming loudly. After each outburst, she smiles exuberantly at me, like she’s just done something spectacular. I instinctively tell her to “shhh” (ridiculous, I know), as I attempt to hear the conversation.

I collect my thoughts to add to the dialogue and feel something warm on my leg. Looking down, I see leftovers from Eleanor’s dinner — green beans — now spewed all over the clean jeans I threw on before heading out the door. I quickly grab my napkin to cover the mess, trying to keep my thoughts — and dignity — intact. As the meals come and we continue to plan while we eat, Eleanor does not want to sit in her car seat, and so she wiggles and squeals all through the meal, juggled on one of my arms while I try to eat with the other. As dinner comes to an end, Eleanor is getting more and more fidgety. Nothing will please her: not a bottle, her favorite toy, not even me holding her.

And just as I’m trying to think of what new thing I can pull out of my bag of tricks, I again feel (and smell) something warm. Oh no, not again! Please tell me she hasn’t blown through another outfit!

It's no secret that we at TRE love stories. And to celebrate our 200th post, we thought, What better way to celebrate than by sharing some of your stories?! Five amazing women sent us a story; one snapshot, if you will, of a picture of their lives. 

Some are warm and dear, others are hard and heartbreaking. But they are all real. And they are all life. And, as people, we can relate to the emotion conveyed through their stories.

But, as if sharing stories wasn't enough, we are also partnering with Broken and Beautiful to create a one-of-a-kind storyteller necklace for one lucky (randomly chosen) entrant! You'll find more of their story, as well as the winner of the necklace, at the end of this post.

Now, here are the five lovely women who have shared their stories with us:

Just this past week our garage door up and died. The morning my husband left on a week-long business trip. And as I’m standing in my garage looking at my door that is completely ajar --listening to the garage door repair man talk about door differences, tracks, springs and such -- I’m throwing a little pity party in my head. Because this minor inconvenience is not only going to cost money, it’s putting a wrench in my plans to attend one of my favorite meetings every month or so, a writer’s meeting with a group of ladies I dearly love. A truly minor annoyance.

Photo by Runar Pedersen Holkestad from Flickr.
But then I talk with a friend who has water in their basement. For the third time. In a house that has never flooded before. When I texted her this week to see how it was going, she said, “It’s been a bad week and my attitude sucks. I haven’t checked (the house) because the carpet is already ruined and it just feels a bit overwhelming.” And I agree. It’s a small struggle in the grand scheme of things, she later reminds me, but no less stressful as you walk through it.

And, finally, a dear friend's house started on fire in the attic. It's the worst place for it to begin, as it seemingly smoldered for hours before it was discovered. Her family emerged safe and sound, but they will spend the next several months living in a rental as their house is gutted, cleaned, and fixed. It's a time in life where something comes along that is completely unexpected, changing plans and uprooting a family.

Happy Monday! Thanks for being here for Make A Difference Mondays, a place to get intentional about starting our weeks focused on the positive and put our heads together to dream up ways we can make a difference in this world!

Today, on Make a Difference Monday, we're so thrilled to feature a guest post from Danielle Brower:

Five years ago, my husband Mike and I were well on our way to the beautiful, glamorous “City of American Dreams," where comforts and flashy lights abound. Though thankful, we were unsettled, feeling stirred to make some drastic changes in our pursuits. Neither of us could quite understand how we could have these so-called blessings and not be at peace. Wasn’t there more to life than obtaining and maintaining our comfy corner? 

Standing in the schoolyard, I’d wait. Attending a small Christian school as a child had its perks, one of them being that it ended about the time my Uncle Jim would get off the day shift at the paper mill.

I’d wait outside, hoping he’d show up while my friends were there. I was so proud of my Uncle Jim, whose exuberant personality and booming voice loomed larger than life over my shy, quiet self.

A picture of me and Jimmy.
When his Ford truck would pull in the dusty drive, I’d climb up in the passenger seat beside him. We’d head out on the open road, windows down, wind in my hair. When a song came on that he liked, he’d turn up the radio, slip his hat to the side, and sing loudly with a country twang. And me? I'd be grinning from ear to ear.

We’d make a quick stop in Hill City for a can of pop and candy bar that I didn’t have to share (a HUGE treat for this little girl, who usually had to split treats three ways with her sisters) before making our way to my uncle and aunt's farm.

He had a love for life and for people, especially kids, like few others my little eyes had seen. While most adults would engage us children for awhile and then tire of our childishness, Jimmy was different. He was always glad to see you, seemingly never tired of the silliness of being a kid.

He loved people. And he loved stories.