On starting the New Year right.

December 31, 2014

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.

25 Days of Kindness

December 29, 2014

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!

Five Ways Acts of Kindness Will Grow Your Grinchy Heart

December 24, 2014

"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.

December 22, 2014

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."

Paying it forward: Advent Acts of Kindness Finale {And link up!}

December 15, 2014

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.  

Love Wins. The End.

December 8, 2014

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. 

The Last Time.

December 3, 2014

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.

Jewelry that Makes a Difference {And Link Up!}

November 30, 2014

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.

5 Ways to Balance Giving and Getting in Kids' Christmas Traditions

November 26, 2014

My 5 and 3-year-old daughters love to get “stuff.” It doesn’t matter what that “stuff” is – my daughter 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 this is the third year we’ve done our Advent Acts of Kindness (did you see our cute printable this 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). 

When Fear and Faith Collide: An International Adoption Story

November 24, 2014

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.

Third Annual Advent Acts of Kindness - Ready, Set, Go!

November 19, 2014

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. 

A 13-year-old's Perspective on His Adoption from Foster Care

November 17, 2014

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. 

Erring on the Side of Love

November 12, 2014

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.

Chosen One: An Adoptee's Story

November 10, 2014

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. 

When You Feel Like a Fraud

November 5, 2014

“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

5 Ways to Support Orphans

November 4, 2014

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:

When Fear Becomes Friendship

October 27, 2014

This weekend, Kendra and I attended the Allume Conference in Greenville, South Carolina. We left behind our crisp Minnesota fall to experience a weekend of breakfast grits, sweet potato desserts, and even sweeter Southern hospitality. 

Let me tell you, it’s intimidating to go to a conference for writers. There’s something so vulnerable about telling someone about your blogging. It’s something most people don’t ask about, something you usually do in stolen moments late at night or in the cracks of the day, alone. 

Kendra, Angela, Carley, and I
But what we quickly realized was that we were in a safe space. A sacred space. Over salads and sweet tea at lunch, or in the darkest part of the night when our eyes felt gritty from the long day, we talked to the new friends we met. About health troubles and herbs, babies and teenagers, communities in need of help and the social justice causes we heard about that made us want to do more, be more.

One of our roommates, Emily Knotts from Crisp Interiors, is mom to a busy 11-month-old, has an interior design business, and once had her DIY home featured in Country Living. Not to mention the fact that she is wildly self-effacing about her talents and sweet to boot. Another roommate, Melissa Ringstaff from A Virtuous Woman, has an amazing life story and ministry. My favorite anecdote gave us a glimpse into her life: As a young mom, she began dating her now-husband, who showered her with kindness. At the time, her 14-month-old would take about two hours each night to put to bed. Knowing this, her now-husband began to visit her each evening regardless of whether or not they had seen each other during the day – in order to rock her child to sleep. That’s a keeper. 

When You're Nervous About Something New

October 22, 2014

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but I don’t particularly like new things…at first, anyway. Change is hard for me. It's necessary, I know, but still hard.

Sometimes I walk into a new situation and feel like I did walking into a new school in seventh grade. All the old insecurities flood back in, and I think, “This is just so awkward.”

But the older I get, the more I've realized that things haven’t necessarily gotten easier for me, I’ve just learned how to mask my insecurities better.

A small part of our BTG team from Fall Conference!
Last week I had the privilege of being a part of a conference with a group of women that I love. One of the special pieces I got to be a part of was a video that shared women’s stories before each session.

In the video, I talked all about how fear has overwhelmed and ruled much of my life, and yet ever-so-slowly, God has begun to walk with me down the road to face my fears.

Afterwards, a woman on our team came up to me during a break and told me how my story encouraged her. She said, “I never would’ve guessed that you struggled with fear and insecurity; you always look so put together.”

And all I could do was smile and say, “Isn’t that always what we think when we look at others?”

Life beyond to-do lists.

October 20, 2014

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.

On Losing a Child

October 15, 2014

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.

A Common Bond.

October 13, 2014

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?

Unglamorous things.

October 8, 2014

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!

Why You Should Trust God Now

October 6, 2014

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. 

Shine On: An Adoption Story

October 1, 2014

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. 

The Very Best Kind of Family

September 29, 2014

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. 

Life is Too Short Not to Enjoy Virtual Cupcakes

September 24, 2014

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!


When I Slow Down and Find What's Good For My Soul

September 22, 2014

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.

A New Devotional and an Upcoming Conference

September 15, 2014

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:

What Matters Most: An Invitation to Your Best Yes and Book Study

September 10, 2014

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.

When Life is Bittersweet

September 3, 2014

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.

A Mom's Confession: On Summer and Swimsuits

September 1, 2014

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!”

A Note to First Time Kindergarten Moms

August 27, 2014

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. 

Guest Post for She Lives Free: Sole Hope Shoe Making Party!

August 18, 2014

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!

The Lies We Believe

August 13, 2014

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.

The Friends You Meet Along the Way

August 10, 2014

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.

The Sweet Life {A Celebration & Giveaway}

August 4, 2014

Some of my brilliant writer friends -- Photo courtesy of Lindsay May Photography
Leaving the gathering of women behind, I walk out into the soothing crispness of twilight, a sunset of brilliant pinks and oranges fading into dappled hues of violet and blue.

Exiting the small town of Dassel, Minnesota, I head out on the two-lane highway, turning up the music. Listening to tunes from the ‘90s and ‘00s, shoulders swaying and head bobbing to the beat, surreptitiously turning down the music whenever I slow down to idle at small town stop lights.

As I turn my hi-beams off and on and swirl through rural hollows and bends, I reflect on the value of friendship. How these women – fellow writers, bloggers, ministry-oriented women who have passion and goals that I love to witness and participate in – have silently passed me Kleenex to dry my tears, given hugs that squeezed the breath from my lungs, laughed about everything from children to sex. Old lady jokes, hashtags, what a meme is.

On Writing: A Blog Hop

August 1, 2014

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.

I Hate Pink

July 23, 2014

“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. 

When You Just Need a Break

July 21, 2014

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!

When You're In the Middle of It

July 14, 2014

I look down at the pregnancy test, bracing myself for one line, not two. We’d been trying to get pregnant for several months, and so far, it just wasn’t happening. Today was no different.

No doctor would categorize this season in my life as infertility. But right now, in the middle of it – it feels like it. And it’s hard when people ask, with the best of intentions, when we’re having another child: “Don’t you want more?” Um, yes, actually. Now let me find an excuse to end this conversation so I can go cry in the car, thanks a million.

I knew that I’d been bottling it up, but I just couldn’t bear to talk about it. I think it’s partly the feeling that if you do talk about it, you jinx your chances of it actually happening. Or that, maybe, it’s not really a problem unless you talk about it, and then it becomes a problem – so ignoring it is a better option. Plus, when you already have two children, it’s hard to not feel petty talking to those who have been trying longer with less success.

But the other day at a playgroup, while my children poured sand out on the deck and snitched muffins from the kitchen island and climbed too high on someone else’s backyard playground, it just felt like too much. And as I watched a group of amazing women talk about what it means to live in God’s will and how that plays out in their lives, I felt like I was on edge. I made up excuses to go inside and check on my children when the conversation got hard. I rifled through my purse for Altoids that I know perfectly well weren’t there to distract myself. And when they asked for prayer requests, I promptly burst into tears over something that should not spur that kind of emotion (a vacation, for the love of Pete. Who cries over a vacation?)

The thing is, I wasn’t crying because of the vacation.

I cried because, in that moment, it just felt like too much.

And I cried because, sometimes, life just feels disappointing.

And despite all of the good things in my life, this one hard thing is taking over like a gigantic, lurking, silent elephant in the room. When you're in the middle of it, whatever that "it" happens to be for you? Let’s face it: It’s one of the hardest, loneliest, downright ugliest places to be.

Feeling tired and worn at the end of the day, I fell into bed and woke up to only good things. Sneaking in to check on the girls, I found them tucked into Elise’s bed, reading The Pout-Pout Fish and Fancy Nancy to Wonderheart and Funshine Bear. Playing house together, I heard Noelle (as the Pretend Mama) call everyone in sight “sweetie.” Kneeling down to get a hug from my daughter, it lasted so long that the carpet made swirling patterns in my skin and my calves fell asleep.

No, this season of life may not look exactly like I’d expected. But I've found that my expectations of this life determine my attitude toward my circumstances. And I know that there’s sweetness to be found, located just past the bitterness of my emotions, if I’ll only stop and pay attention.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Meet Our Storytellers {Giveaway Winner Announced!}

July 9, 2014

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:

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