I'm not big on resolutions. I get discouraged and usually quit when I inevitably break them, but I do like to have goals. Goals feel more attainable to me -- like I can mess up, get up, try again, and still be in pursuit of my goal.

I've been thinking a lot lately about who or what I want to become more like, especially as I get older. These are not the goals I had at 21 (fitting into leather pants a size too small no longer make the cut), but they are ones I hope to hone, however imperfectly, this year.

My children adore our Advent tree. Each day they count from the beginning to figure out whose turn it is to pull the slip out of the envelope ("Lisie, Noe, Lisie, Noe, Lisie..."). The unveiling of our activity and what follows afterward are often the highlight of the days leading up to Christmas.

Since we've chosen to intertwine kindness into our Advent tradition, recapping what we did this year is another seasonal favorite of mine. It's a way to make Christmas last just a little bit longer.

Here's what we did this year -- I'd love to hear what you did this year, too!

Towers, home made harmonicas and Cafe Latte: Bliss 
Sitting at the fancy fundraising dinner, I chaffed secretly in my finery for the hundredth time before sighing internally and turning to the woman in gold sequins seated next to me in an effort to make small talk.

This past month as we’ve committed to perform a kind act each day leading up to Christmas, a lot of discussions have been had in our house about giving and receiving, needs of others and even some of the heartbreaking events that are happening around the world. We’ve prayed for refugees and
children without food, packed gifts and written notes to veterans who have been injured in war, and brought presents to women and children at a local shelter who’ve experienced domestic violence.

All of these actions have led to heartfelt conversations with our kids. They’ve asked hard questions and we’ve tried to answer as honestly as possible.

Although we never wish to scare our children, we want them to know the reality of what is happening in the world. We want them to know that as Christians we will help because we believe that God is the greatest comfort, the greatest healer, the greatest LOVE the world will ever know. And if they see that their parents believe that our kind acts can extend God’s grace to the brokenness of this world, maybe they’ll believe that God can heal the brokenness inside of them.

I can't believe we're already halfway through December! If you've been following along over on our Facebook page, you know we've been doing daily acts of kindness during the Christmas season. I think it's especially important this year, when the world sometimes feels like such a dismal place -- with stories of racism, refugees in crisis, political polarization and more, it can feel like hope and joy are hard to find. In fact, Kendra, Julie and I decided early on this month that we'd like to help refugees for our Advent Acts of Kindness finale. That's why I was beyond thrilled when my friend Samantha approached us with the opportunity to help in a very specific, tangible way. We're joining with her in her efforts to provide kerosene for displaced folks living in Iraq, whom she recently visited. I'll let her explain the rest:  

Aiden and I
“In Sinjar, we have pool,” he shared as we walked up the rugged road to the mission’s main house at dusk. “My friends, me would jump off the top of the house to the pool. Very beautiful. I miss it.”

My companion on this walk was a 9-year-old boy I’ll call Aiden I’d gotten to know over the previous week. We were coming from his house--or rather, the structure where he and his family had been living for the past 15 months. Though considered comfortable for the refugees in the village (i.e. a metal door, window covering on two windows, and cement floors), his current dwelling was far from the home he spoke of.

The temperatures were dropping quickly. We could see our breath and shivered as we hurried along. The forecast called for rain and low temps the next several days. I had found that when it rained there, it poured. Cold in Iraq was different from the Minnesota winters I was used to; though the temps outdoors were similar, there was a vast divide between the comfort of my Minnesotan home and an Iraqi village lacking electricity and warmth.

Image by Waiting for the Word via Flickr
"'Tis the season."

That is my go-to response this time of year for all manner of things, most of which is spoken wistfully with a tinge of irony.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and friends and family and celebrations.

But, 'tis the season for easily becoming overwhelmed with expectations.

'Tis the season for the strain of step that took its sweet time (three consecutive weeks) to roll through my household, picking us off one by one.

'Tis the season for quietly ticking off days in the back of my head as I try to make sure I've covered the bases for gifts, cards, cookies, and all the traditions this season brings for my family.

'Tis the season for totes sitting in my family room, reminding me that I haven't yet decorated the fireplace mantle and probably won't get to it this year.

The past few weeks have been hard for all of us around the world—bombings, terrorism, shootings, and hate-filled words spewed by those who would do harm to others have left my heart and soul a little battered. I've had to shut down and unplug from any form of media for hours at a time.

I've been saddened by responses I've seen that would automatically exclude others from protection and care. I've heard a lot of me and mine above all else.

This morning I read Jesus' words, written in Matthew 25:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

I'm one of those weird, freak-of-nature people who love lists. Actually, it's not the list itself, it's the sheer pleasure of crossing something off the list. I love that sense of accomplishment so much that if I'm partway through a series of tasks and I decide to write out a list, I will include things I've already finished just so I can cross them off!

This time of year is especially ripe for lists. Between gifts to purchase and food to bring to gatherings and social events to attend and charities we want to give to, my lists explode. My lists have list babies, you guys. It's ridiculous.

So in the spirit of easing some of the pressure that comes from too many lists, we've created one for you -- a holiday gift guide. From books we love to organizations that have ahhhhmazingly cute items but also serve a greater purpose, we've got you covered.

Last Friday night I was putting the final touches on a talk I would be giving the next morning to a group of ladies in my community. We’d be talking all about kindness and gratitude and what it can look like to live those things with our families.

I read through part of the scripture I’d be covering again where Jesus tells us, "Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). And suddenly, in light of the chaos of Paris (and around the world, really), my talk on kindness to others (including strangers and refugees) seemed so radical.

I went to bed praying for the people of Paris and unsure what to do with the rest so I just left it. I tabled the ideas and thoughts around what it would look like to love my enemies, because suddenly they felt very close and I was afraid. Afraid for my safety and my kids. Afraid for our country. Afraid for the world and where things could be headed, filled with ideas about worst-case scenarios of where we could go from here.

Love your enemies.

Do good to those who would persecute you.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day when a headline along the side caught my eye: "Does growing up in a religious family make you MEAN? Christian and Muslim children found to be less altruistic than the offspring of atheists." Immediately, my heart sank. Less altruistic? More likely to deal out harsh punishments for minor infractions? That was the message I got as I read the study detailed in the news story. It was disheartening, to say the least. 

And I wondered: As a mom, how do I teach my children a better way? How do regular people like you and I show our kids that kindness matters? 

A few years ago, Julie, Kendra and I met with those same questions on our hearts. At the time, we all had young children, and were trying to figure out how to balance the giving and getting parts of Christmas. How could we refocus on others during the Christmas season, rather than focusing on an ever-expanding Christmas List for Santa?

“I know you want to give your son all the credit,” our child’s psychiatrist stated, “but you need to know that you deserve some credit for how well he’s doing too. Go home and tell your husband you’re both doing a really good job.”

Her words caught me off guard, and I immediately began to tear up as I nodded and whispered my thanks to her. Wiping my eyes I realized the validation she offered made me feel like my efforts were not for naught.

I didn’t realize how often I am my own worst critic. How often I wonder if I am doing a good enough job with these kids. How often I berate myself for being short with my kids, or angry. How often I will remind myself of all the times I’ve messed up, and use that as the litmus test for how well I am doing as a parent.

When here’s the truth: I am trying. Sometimes not as well as I should. But overall, I am trying to raise these kids well.

About to drive to pick up my sister and head to the airport and our final destination, a beloved blogging and writing conference called Allume, I have everything planned.

Getting up early, I plan to sneak quietly out of my house, so as not to wake anyone else up. Putting my bathroom supplies in my suitcase and scanning my lists one more time, I feel comfortable that nothing has been missed.

I pull out on the open road, seeing very little traffic at 5 a.m., and tamp down my excitement for what the weekend may hold.

As I near my sister's house, located half an hour away from my own, I suddenly realize that I've forgotten something. Despite my lists, I've left behind my pants. All of them. I picture them in my mind, lying on the chair in my bedroom where I’d placed them the night before to finish drying. Still there.

Crap, I think.

A little more than a week ago, Kendra and I had the privilege of attending Allume, an amazing blogging/writing conference in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, we had a couple of meetings that were exciting to us, and so we posted this on our Facebook wall:
Today Kristin and I are at a blogger/writer’s conference called Allume and we are meeting with TWO publishers about a book idea that we have. Y'all, book deals are few and far between--kind of like hitting the lottery--but we decided we’re going to TRY anyway. And you know what? Tries are worth celebrating too. We don’t need to wait to be wildly successful before we let people in on what we’re doing. We don’t need to be afraid of failing and others knowing about it. What are you trying to do well today, friends? Parenting? Your job? A dream that you have? Can we just tell you, we are in the middle of the trying too, and we want to cheer you on! Our kids may see us fail a lot, but hopefully they’ll also see and remember moms who ALWAYS tried. Much love, friends. ‪#‎girlswhotry‬
Afterwards, we got such sweet encouragement from folks who read it and responded that we thought, You know what? We should celebrate more tries. Why aren't we doing that already?

Good morning, friends! Today we are so excited to have a guest post from Sue Moore Donaldson. The three of us love hospitality, and Sue's post is such a great reminder on how even something as simple as an invitation truly matters. We're also giving away a copy of Sue's book this week so DON'T MISS OUT! Find out how you can enter below. Here's more from Sue:

“Would you like to come for Thanksgiving?” I asked Amie, a regular customer at our store.

The question hung in silence a little too long for my comfort—2 seconds or so. I rushed on, “We’re kinda loud. We play games. We have lots of food. Really, a lot of food….”

She smiled. “I’m a good cook.  Just made caramel salted brownies. I could bring caramel salted brownies.”

Well, well. My kids don’t like pie. I’ve tried, really. But brownies? Caramel salted?

“You’re in, Amie—you don’t even have to come—just leave the brownies on the porch!”

We laughed and said goodbye.

I didn’t know Amie’s last name or phone number. She didn’t know where we lived. All I knew was that Amie, recently divorced, wasn’t going to have her two little girls on Thanksgiving for the first time ever. And I didn’t want her to be alone.

I sit alone in my room. Kids are tucked into bed. Husband is downstairs watching a football game.  

The soft glow of light shines from my bedside lamp. Snuggled against the pillows, this place is my safe haven. A place I find rest and peace from the busyness of each day.

I find a familiar episode of Gilmore Girls and settle in to watch, but more importantly, to remember. My sister Katrina loved this show. And it was one of the last things we did together. We’d sit on her bed, she too weak to get up, hunkered down with drinks or snacks or just each other to watch episodes together.

We’d laugh and cry, interspersing our own conversation against the replayed episodes we’d watched more than a few times.

“I wonder what your kids will be like?” she’d say. I’d smile and tell her my hopes for the future with my then-boyfriend-now-husband Kyle.

“I can’t wait for you to have babies,” she’d respond. “I can’t wait to watch our kids grow up together.”

Hello, friends! Today we are so excited to feature a guest post from Stephanie Bruce on how becoming a foster parent changed her life. As many of you know, Kendra was a foster parent for many years and adopted two of her children out of foster care, so it is something that is near and dear to our hearts. Here's more from Stephanie: 

On a Sunday in January 2013, our pastor interviewed a woman at our church who kept children in foster care. She spoke about our state’s broken foster care system, the many children in foster care, some of whom DCS had lost track of or had actually died while in custody. She told about the children that she had had in her home and I felt the Lord begin to nudge my heart. The final blow came when she said (and I will never forget this), “If the church had been doing what we were supposed to do, our system would not be in this mess.”

My husband and I both heard the Lord calling that day and we decided to bring foster children into our home. We finished classes and home-studies and were approved to be foster parents. During the mass of paperwork you do in training, you can decide what kind of children you are willing to foster. We were fairly open, our children were grown and out of the home, we had plenty of room and two friendly dogs to help ease the transition to a new home.

The one thing we specifically asked was that we not have teenage girls. My husband was a teacher at the time and he would be home alone with the foster child (or children) many days in the summer. I worked outside the home, and we had heard scary stories about accusations made against men, so thought for our safety that it was best to not have teenage girls. In March 2013, we got our first call…for a teenage girl! Did they not even READ these profiles??

“Why don’t you meet every Sunday? What will you do if a visitor comes that day?”

It came as an honest question, someone wondering why our church community only meets every other week together, spending the other Sundays meeting in smaller groups in homes.

And it's one I’ve had to wrestle with these past few years.

The traditional church setting has been my constant companion since I was little girl—forever, really. As a community, it's been so good to me. Some of my fondest memories are with church people and at church functions. I was blessed to be loved—and loved well—by pastors, friends, and families that attended with us.

When I needed support, the church was there. When our family walked through hard times, they supported us. Not just with prayer, but in very tangible ways—meals, house cleaning, babysitting, cards, hugs—and so much more. When we celebrated, they were right there with us with bridal and baby showers that showed their love and support.

But I realize this is not everyone’s experience. There are those who have been hurt by the church and the people who go there. Christians have been mean to them, let them down, and in some cases even hurt and abused them.

I get that. I hear it. And I will not discard it just because it is different than my own experience.

Happy Monday, friends! In our past three years of blogging, we've met a number of amazing women with similar visions and passions. We're thrilled to feature one of those sweet friends today, the amazing Amy L. Sullivan, who is talking about five principles to help guide our daughters AND we're giving away a copy of her NEW book! (details below...)

I have one daughter making her way through middle school (stubborn lockers, multiple teachers, and important decisions about the dreaded lunchroom). Oh my. And I have one daughter starting first grade (new friendships, long bus rides, and math which includes fractions). Oh my.

As I watch my girls learn to navigate the world, I know one truth: growing up girl is no easy task.

Image by Gabriela Camerotti via Flickr
My morning started with my child stepping into a big pile of dog doo, thirty seconds before the bus pulled up to the bus stop.  The driver watched as I stopped frantically trying to wipe poop off a small left shoe (still attached to the child) with a twig, sighed resignedly and waived the driver on without my kid.

Happy Monday, friends! Today we are so excited to feature a guest post from Kelly Bingham. When she told us the story behind The Mom Quilt and the significance of the work The Mercy House is doing in Kenya, we were immediately on board. We love the ebook, the mission, and the love and care for others Kelly so clearly displays. Here's more from Kelly:

In a sleepy fog at 6:30 this morning, like every morning, I made my way down the stairs to prepare my son's bottles of formula for the day. I lined up five bottles, turned on the faucet, filled them with water and set them aside to add powdered formula.
Photos courtesy of The Mercy House

I take for granted sometimes that I don't think twice about giving my son water from our tap. We don't worry about clean water for drinking or bathing or laundry. We have it so well, in fact, that we often buy plastic water bottles to drink.

Water is not so easily available for young mothers and girls at The Mercy House in Kenya. The Mercy House provides safe refuge for young pregnant girls and new mothers in a place where women don't have many options. About 21,000 women are hospitalized each year from having illegal, unsafe abortions in Kenya, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Young females face a harsh and often unforgiving or even violent road, where abortion is a volatile topic, families often force females into the sex trade to provide food, and rape is common. The World Health Organization reports as many as 1,500 women die in childbirth every day in Africa.
“The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone of the structure.” Mark 12:10

We had some work done in our garden last week; nothing too exciting: a new fence, a bit of pruning, and a bit of levelling off of the ground. Our garden is quite small so every part of it is precious and much needed! We have three daughters, including a very inquisitive preschooler who loves investigating outdoors, so we were thrilled when the work was done and the limited space in our garden was maximised.

As the guys were finishing off, they were levelling the ground and discovered a BIG stone in the
ground. They were really surprised at its size, and it took the two of them to move it onto a level surface to investigate it. After a bit of debate and cleaning off, they decided it was a “cornerstone,” probably from the house next door, which used to be a manor. (Just to clarify, we do not live in a manor of any kind! Our house is messy, well-loved, used, run through with an the array of crunched up potato crisps on the sofa, paint spillages, dirty clothes and everything else that goes with a house of three girls!) The guys surmised that it probably would have been part of a wall at one time, bordering our house. The shape of it and the way it had been chiselled certainly seemed to fit with the description of a cornerstone. It was covered in dirt but, at the same time, it was beautiful.

We’ve heard about it for months. We’ve read about the terror. Rape. Murder. Fear. And there’s been talk of help, organizations who’ve been stepping up and those who’ve been praying.

But this week a little boy washed up on shore and something broke—deep within us—all around the world it could be felt.

We focused our eyes on what is happening, and we have not moved. We’ve watched. We’ve wept. We’ve prayed. We’ve read the statistics:


And now?

Tel Aviv at night
Hello, friends! As you know, Kendra, Julie and I are passionate about social justice issues. Recently, our dear friend Nancy talked to us about seeing the effects of human trafficking firsthand and a connection she made with someone who is trying to do something to help. We were more than happy to jump in and help spread awareness for this outstanding issue! We'll let Nancy explain:

"DAD!" A small, panicked voice echoed from the bedroom across the hall.

As my husband rolled out of bed, a glance at the clock glowed with a time well past midnight.

Shadows. They have suddenly become sinister in the eyes of our child as they loom and leer across floors and windows and walls.  
Today I have the privilege of sharing over at Michaela Evanow's blog a post I wrote for her series, this is motherhood too about raising an adopted child. Over the past few years I've been more than blessed by Michaela's blog, her honesty and her open heart. I hope you find her as much as an inspiration as I have.
Courtesy of Michaela Evanow
“Mommy is this right?” 
My daughter shows me the note she’s writing. There are pictures of herself and her siblings taped haphazardly alongside her printed words. 
“It’s close!” I reply. 
“Well, what would make it perfect? I want it to be perfect!” 
I glance over the note, stopping at the words mom and I love you. But this note isn’t for me, it’s for her other mother. Her birth mom. 
Jasmine came to us at three month old. She was a beautiful baby girl. I still remember that first day—what it felt like to hold her as she cooed at us, giving her a bath in our kitchen sink, laying her in the crib we’d borrowed from a family member, turning off the light to her freshly painted room. 
I remember months in limbo. As foster parents, we cared for kids, but never knew for how long or when they’d get placed somewhere else. 
Jasmine was different. I loved her from day one, secretly wanting to keep her for always. 
Miraculously, seven years later, here I am with my daughter by my side.

You can read the rest of my post here.

Today we're also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Holley Gerth.
Good morning, friends! We're so thrilled to feature our friend Kate Washleski today, who asked us almost two years ago Where is Everything Going and Who Am I Without It? Kate's back to talk about motherhood and what she's learned along the way:

Last time I guest blogged here, we were in the middle of a very tiring and challenging journey, looking for answers to our son’s medical diagnosis. After 18 months of visiting specialists and running a battery of tests, we found out just before his second birthday that he has a rare genetic abnormality. We’re now about 18 months from that point and have learned so much about what that means for him developmentally and how we can come alongside him in his growth and in attaining new skills. He is doing so well and has grown so much; we’re so proud of him and thankful for all God has enabled him to do so far!

Today I am so pleased to be able to guest post over at Busy Being Blessed for their Imperfect Mom Confessional series! Here's just a preview of my post:

Last night as I was getting dinner ready my 19 month old toddled in to the kitchen from outside where she’d been playing with her older siblings, grinning from ear to ear with dirt smudged all across her mouth.
I paused for a moment, deciding what to do, shrugged, and kept making supper as an, oh well, thought fluttered through my mind.
To read the rest of my post, just click here.

And if you are in need or some more encouragement for your mothering, check out our new book, Grace for the Imperfect Mom, a daily devotional written from moms who know what it means to need a little grace.  

I see it often in my social media news feeds—judgments made, people dismissed and labeled. Opinions vary far and wide on anything and everything, and people are easily discarded if they act in a way we don’t think is right or believe something different than us. We distance ourselves—conveniently unfriending others—when it suits us.

And something about this doesn’t sit quite right with me.

Blame it on my upbringing, because my parents epitomized to me what it looked like to extend grace to others: Quick to offer understanding. Always recognizing our own humanity, our tendency to err.

Even as a child who saw things as black and white, my parents would quickly disarm the snap assumptions made on my part.

That child who wasn’t always nice to you and got in to trouble at school? You never know what his home life is like, my dad would say. What if he has parents who don’t show him love or aren’t there, or worse, what if he isn’t cared for or abused?

The family members who struggled with mental health issues or addiction? You don’t know the road they’ve walked. You don’t know the pain they’ve suffered.

And the friend who got pregnant right out of high school? My mom offered to host the baby shower at our house even as she shrugged her shoulders and said, Who hasn’t ever made a mistake? We still love her and the baby.

I found it in my closet again the other day. Pausing, I pulled the coat from its place in the darkness, running a hand over it to look at it in the weak light of the spare closet. The dusty collar, the fabric-covered buttons, the slightly worn cuffs, an interior liner that reminded me of a picnic table.

It’s more than ten years old, now. But the color – that bright red, a beacon of a color and the reason I bought it when I saw it at TopShop during the semester I studied abroad – is still true.

The red coat in 2004
It was in the spring of 2004 that I stumbled out of a bus into Gloucester Green in Oxford, England, fresh off an overnight flight and fighting jet lag. The bus station was close enough to St. Michael’s Hall that we were able to trip along to the place we’d live for the next few months, suitcases bumping over cobblestones. It didn’t take long to settle into a rhythm: Sweaty hands and a pounding heart when meeting with professors one-on-one for a semi-terrifying hour once a week, hours and hours (and hours!) of homework, falling in love with Jane Austen’s novels, eating chips and cheese, feeling daunted by the Bodleian Library, hearing church bells toll, living on a college diet of digestives (cookies) and cold cereal, attending vespers, watching a fencing match, seeing Michelangelo’s drawings at The Ashmolean Museum, sharing pints with friends at pubs.

I was out shopping with friends when I saw it. It was £60, a dear amount at the time, nearly double that price in American currency. I hemmed and hawed over it, leaving and returning later. But it was winter, and then spring, while we were there. And with temperatures rarely dipping below 30 degrees, the balmy weather lent itself well to our incessant walking, necessitating a mid-warmth coat.

I loved it, so I finally talked myself into it and bought it. It became my favorite coat, a symbol of being young and happy and part of a world that felt full of limitless possibilities.

Shenanigans, even during the photo shoot.
This month, we celebrate our third anniversary of The Ruth Experience.

An anniversary is the coming together of the past, present and future in a way that allows us to view all three at once. It's a moment to reflect, to regroup and then to cast the revised vision before us.

And that is exactly what we have been doing these past few months.

We are less starry-eyed and more seasoned after having had a few failures (most of which we now recall with chuckling and head shaking). We are more savvy and less swayed by fancy promises.

And, we are having more fun than we'd ever dare imagine those three short/long years ago!

We write because we love it, because it is compels us, because we are as passionate about our topics of faith and generosity and living intentionally as ever. We write because we've discovered a community of readers and fellow writers who feel the same - and whose same commitment is a breath of fresh air to us when life feels a little lackluster.

As we kick off our fourth journey around the sun, we've overhauled our website.  We're digging the simplicity and tranquility of our new look. And, we have a few other fun things in the pipeline!

As we reflect on the past and pray over the future, we are so very thankful to all our family and friends who have joined us in this space and in this community.  We are looking forward to another year of adventure, of learning new things and of journeying together.


Two months ago, we at TRE saw another dream come to fruition in the publication of our second book, Grace for the Imperfect Mom. Then -- just last week -- we realized a dream on a smaller scale, updating our website.

Both of these dreams realized are the result of seemingly small steps, taken over weeks and even months' worth of time. As we near the third anniversary of TRE and I look back over these last few years, I see the amazing progress we’ve made by taking one simple step after another.

Image by Martin Fisher on Flickr
Thanks for being with us as we co-host 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! Today's post is on change...

What happens when the future you so carefully planned out suddenly looks like nothing you had imagined?

A phone call from the doctors office with the test results that made you feel as though a thousand lifetimes had passed while you waited to for the phone to ring.

A causal conversation with someone who suggests that you should apply for that open position you've been secretly pondering but had talked yourself out of.

A spouse who comes home one day to tell you that he thinks perhaps it's time to pack up and move across country on a new adventure. 

Insert any one of a million different ways life can change in the blink of an eye, for better or worse, and you are suddenly set adrift in an unknown future.
We spent this past week in Colorado with family and friends. For the first several nights, we’d gather at our house, Kyle cooking and everyone bringing something to share.

One of our nightly meals together!

We gather to Climb for Katrina. And before supper, I decide to offer a toast. As I raise my glass, my voice catches in my throat. Carol wraps her arm around my waist, offering strength and understanding of loved ones now gone. I smile at her as I continue and we toast to friends and family, Colorado and the Hope Hike, and then to Katrina and all that her life represented.

We end with cheers and hugs and laughter as kids scurry past to get food and drinks, then rush off to play again with friends.

At first glance, this space is paradise: snowy mountain peaks rising above forests of conifers, crystalline blue lakes tucked into valleys, wild flowers carpeting meadows and open places with rainbow hues.

It isn't until your boots are crunching across rocks, your breath a little harder to catch than normal while scrambling up the trail, that you start to understand that there is something deeper to all of this undeniable beauty.  

Life at an altitude of 10,000 feet is hard.
Spindly conifers stretching tall and lean toward the sun live in precariously thin soil on rocky mountainsides. 

Delicate alpine wildflowers survive nightly temperatures have hover near freezing, even in July. 

Those incredible clouds rolling over the peak just yonder can suddenly turn your morning romp through the mountain meadows into a mad dash for the trail head as thunder rumbles in the distance and as a wall of rain closes out the glorious sunshine.  
Breathtaking beauty so often goes hand in hand with hard circumstances.  

And so here we, the girls of TRE, our families along with many friends, find ourselves, sipping coffee during the early morning hours on the eve of Climbing Day.

We celebrate Katrina Serenity Stigman with this final, 10th Anniversary hike for Katie's Club in this land of hard beauty up Mount Holy Cross.

We celebrate her life. Her legacy. Her breathtakingly beautiful response to life when it got impossibly hard. And, most importantly, her unshakeable faith in Christ.
We love you, Katrina. 

Lord, show us beauty in the impossibly hard places in life. Bring comforting memories and laughter to our lips as we remember those we've loved deeply. Hold us close as we navigate circumstances that are bigger than ourselves, and help us to do it with the same abundant grace and faithfulness that made Katrina so beautiful, inside and out.    


I heard the screaming first. Running from my daughters’ bedroom, where I was supervising my oldest while she chose books and Barbies for bedtime, I raced into the master bathroom. 

My 3-year-old was still in the shower where I’d left her with the water turned off. As she stood up, naked and hysterical, I noticed that even though we had rinsed her off before I left, her legs were once again coated. Slicked up with bubbles and a slimy coat of shampoo, she looked like nothing so much as a greased-up pig. As she skidded across the slippery tile floor toward me, I simultaneously grabbed for her and scooped the shampoo bottle out of her hand. 

This morning I’m sweating as I vacuum out the truck. Too many kids trampling through and too many weeks left to fend for itself have found our vehicle in a sad state. As I wipe old milk stains off the leather seats and suck up broken glass (?!?) that mysteriously appeared from under our side console, I think about the purpose for our upcoming trip to Colorado, an endeavor to once again support Katie's Club, a fund set up in memory of my sister Katrina.
The hikers ready to climb the first year!

10 years ago, Kyle and I were packing for our first trip to Colorado. With no kids in tow, our lives looked quite different as we packed two bags for the both of us (can you even imagine?!?) and jumped in the back of my brother-in-laws truck, naively ready to climb a mountain. A feat we’d never accomplished, all in memory of a sister who’d passed away not even a year earlier. The pain still raw to the touch, tears just barely removed from the surface.

I remember how hard that first year had been for me, moving into the toy room at my brother-in-law’s house, struggling to pay bills and find work, trying to finish grad school, all while navigating the grief of losing one of the most influential people in my life. I remember how the grief would wash over me in waves—sometimes awakening me at night, as I’d writhe in pain on the floor— not realizing until much later that my physical symptoms were simply a manifestation of the grief I was walking through.

But as I look back now, I see how God used so many things, so many people, to show me his goodness during those days. And climbing a mountain was a huge part of what eventually began a healing in me I didn’t even realize I needed.

All leading up to this past Sunday, sitting in a dimly lit downtown restaurant—sipping wine and sampling cheeses--with a group of friends who’ve walked with us over the course of these past ten years. All who’ve supported Katie’s club and hiked with us and loved us well.

Our conversation turns to Colorado as these dear friends have agreed to join us for the 10th anniversary of Hope Hike, one last climb for Katrina, as we return to the mountain we hiked that first year, Holy Cross.

At the top of Holy Cross.
We talk about gear we’ll need, camping supplies, how early we’ll need to wake the night before, toilet paper you may just need, and food that you can eat (completely guilt-free!) on the hike.

We leave that night and I feel a little lackluster, like something wasn’t said that needed to be. It’s a feeling I hadn’t been able to shake the past several weeks: Why do I feel like going this year is going to be a chore? Where’s my enthusiasm? Needing a little perspective for myself, I sat down later the next night and typed out this email to our friends:

This spring I was a part of a single moms retreat in Minnesota. The retreat hosts several hundred single moms and volunteers. Three years ago when I first heard about the retreat and all the love and support they lavished on the single mamas who attended, I just knew I’d want to be a part of it.

But I was hesitant. What would I have to offer? I’m not a single mom. I wasn’t raised by a single mom. I really don't have many close friends who are single moms. How would I be able to help? And wouldn’t it just be kind of silly for me? 
The Diva Boutique Team 2014

Talking with Carol, the organizer for the event, gave me the confidence I needed to join the team, and for two years I organized, planned, and put on the Diva Boutique -- a shop set up for the women to come and get new and gently used clothing and accessories for free, all part of their retreat experience.

Then this past fall, after deciding to step down as the boutique organizer, Carol asked if I’d like to be an advisor for the retreat while also emcee’ing with the other organizer. Again, I thought, Won’t people think it’s weird? Won’t they wonder why this woman, who really has no connection to single moms, loves single moms so much?

This morning as I sit reading through social media outlets, I see posts as varied as the people represented there. Looking for the good, I am encouraged by people who choose to speak about love and grace and mercy.

My eyes wander to our dining room wall, where Kyle recently hung a favorite quote of mine I came across last fall. It states, "Come on in, there is always room at the table for you." It's a welcome beacon over my dining room table, reminding me of what I as a Christian am called to do.

Love my neighbor.

I think about Jesus's life on earth, how he invited people into community who were very different from him, including his enemies. I remember that he was called a drunkard and a glutton--not because he was those things, but because he chose to hang around people who were. I'm reminded of the words my pastor so frequently offers us, "You can belong here before you believe."

It was just a couple of months ago when we got the call about Kyle’s Aunt Mary passing away. It already had been one of those weeks when you feel like you need to just stop, take a breath.

I’d been fighting off illness, my body willing me to stop, but obligations kept me going.

And so as we drive to Mary’s wake, a priority in an already busy week, we explain to the kids about death once again. How Mary’s body will be there, but that she’s in heaven now. They sit in the back and nod, appearing to understand.

Not all, but many of the cousins.
As we walk into the church, we’re immediately greeted by familiar faces. Aunts. Cousins. Family. These people who’ve been together and lived together and created what has now become a rather large group of people.

Our people. Who hug big and laugh loud. Who smile and encourage you. Who look you in the eye and tell you how much their mother loved you. Who aren’t afraid to shed tears and share stories. I tell Kyle as we drive home, “Your cousins are so kind.” Authentic. And I am humbled by their love. It's a mirrored reflection of their own mother’s love over the years.

“Look, I know you don’t want to hear this, but if anything should happen to me…” He pauses, takes a breath. 

Heart stuttering, I rush to interrupt.

“Stop. Just – stop. Nothing’s going to happen to you–” 

Ignoring me, he plows on, “Talk to Chris, he can give you the password you need – everything’s on there.” 

 Calling my husband as I left the doctor's office, I choked up as the words came out: "Honey, thank God - there is actually something medically wrong with me."

As I sat in my car after I hung up with him, I wept hot, hard tears.

A little over a week ago we had the privilege of once again helping at a Sinlge Moms Retreat in the central Minnesota area. This event has become one of our favorite things to help with and be a  part of. We always leave incredibly blessed and humbled by the profound stories of faith, courage and hope the single mamas share with us. Nancy attended this year and we wanted to share the amazing story she learned from one of the women who attended. 

In May I had the opportunity to help at a retreat for single moms. These moms come from every walk of life and are single for a wide variety of reasons. Some are rich, some are poor; some are divorced, or widowed, or never married at all. Some have white-collar jobs, some blue-collar jobs, and some have jobs that might raise your eyebrows. I don’t know about you but sometimes I’ve had a tendency to put single moms into a category of one-size-fits-all while at the same time throwing out just a little bit of judgment about their choices. I’m not proud of that; I’m just being real here.
But you know what? I was oh so wrong. These single moms are simply trying their very best to feed, clothe, and care for their children. Like any mom, they are worried about doing it wrong. They suffer from mom guilt, just like the rest of us, and many of them go hungry at night so their kids won’t. At the end of a hard day, when they might need a little break, or help getting the kids into bed, there is no other adult to help them.
One mom told me a small piece of her story. I’ll call her Patti (not to protect her so much, but more so because I can’t really remember her name.)
Patti has had seven children: FOUR of them have died; two died in an accident, one died from SIDS, and I believe the fourth one died from an illness of some sort. She has had to bury FOUR children. I can’t fathom! You would think she’d be walking around depressed, but she isn’t. I doubt it’s because she doesn’t mourn for her kids. I think she’s CHOOSING to stay positive because she still has three boys to raise; three boys who need a mom who isn’t sad all the time. Though I’m sure she has her sad moments, she just doesn’t allow herself to dwell on them.
Money is tight at Patti’s house – so tight, in fact, she almost didn’t come to the retreat. She didn’t have enough money to pay for the gas to get there. When she told one of her sons that she thought she’d just stay home for the weekend he wouldn’t hear of it. “Mom,” he said, “You’ve got to go! You have money – it’s in the piggy bank!”
Want to read the rest of Patti's story? Click over to Nancy's blog.