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!”