Once again, we've pulled together the months kind acts as a reminder of all that was accomplished. Thank you so much for joining us this year!

Day 1: Today, the kids and I donated items to our local humane society in honor and memory of our dog Reggie and got to pet some really sweet animals as well!

Day 2: An encouraging note (and caffeine) to a small business owner who is a hard working rock star.

Day 3: I may or may not have teared up a little when chatting with my girls about our military and their families and the sacrifices they make for our safety and well-being.

Day 4: Today was a bittersweet day, friends. We had the honor and privilege of helping dedicate Katie's Wing, a beautifully redone area at Place of Hope homeless shelter that will help give homeless women and kids a place to live. It's named in honor of our dear sister and friend Katrina, who died 11 years ago after a 5-year battle with breast cancer. The funds raised by our family's foundation and the generosity of so many others in the community led to this day.
Whew, already partway into the month, and it's already turning into a busy December! If you've been following along with this year's 25 days of Christmas kindness on our Facebook page, this past weekend we revealed via video what our finale will be this year (Kendra is in love with those live videos. If you know how much I hate being in the spotlight, you'll understand why all I do in the video is grin like a fool.)

Attending the dedication
A bit of the backstory first: More than 11 years ago, when my sister Katrina died after a 5-year battle with breast cancer, our family created a foundation in her honor that gave women and girls opportunities in Christian environments that they otherwise wouldn't have. Over the years, one of the places Katie's Club supported was Place of Hope, a homeless shelter in St. Cloud. Last year, Place of Hope announced that their new women's wing would be called Katie's Wing in honor of Katrina and her legacy.

This past weekend, we got to see the fruition of that dream in action. The three of us, along with  friends and folks from the community, attended the dedication of the wing. I could not. stop. crying. With more than a dozen bedrooms for women and their children as well as a common living area, kids room, kitchen and bathrooms, the wing is fully equipped to help women overcoming abuse, human trafficking, and homelessness. It's amazing.

Living room

We are SO excited to be a part of this amazing ministry, and although there are still practical needs to be met, we wanted to take on an item that we hope will encourage the wing's residents to dream.  We'd like to take on one specific item -- journals for all the women who stay in the wing, journals that they can then take with them as they leave the wing to continue their lives. So here is where you come in: We are asking our community and friends to help out by donating a journal. In addition, if you'd like to write a blessing, scripture, or prayer inside for the woman, we would love that!

Ok, I know it's the holidays and everyone is busy but journals are everywhere. I bought three this morning at Marshalls and spent $10 total (who else loves Marshalls?! It is seriously right up there with HomeGoods and Barnes & Noble as one of my happy places). We would LOVE for you to send us a journal, and before you do, write in it. If there's one thing we've learned over the years and believe in wholeheartedly, it's that your words matter. Words have the power to hurt or to heal, and your words of encouragement could be exactly what someone else needs to hear.

Hallway and a bedroom
Plus, how amazing would it be to say, "I know this person is a stranger to you, but they've been praying for you and will continue to do so"?! If you'd like to send us a journal, drop it in the mail (you can even send it media mail, which is cheaper, since it's a book!) to us at: 1704 Red Fox Road, St. Cloud, MN 56303. Thank you for joining with us, friends!

P. S. If you're interested in donating to some of the other practical needs of the wing, you can certainly still do so! A few of the items on their wishlist include sheets, curtains, and new windows, although there are other things they need as well. Donations can be sent to: Place of Hope, 511 9th Ave North, St. Cloud, MN 56303. Just designate your gift for Katie's Wing.
Wow, it's now been five years since we began incorporating kind acts into our families’ holiday activities—acts that have now weaved themselves into family traditions, right alongside decorating the tree and hanging stockings.

Sometimes the simplest of ideas can produce the most profound change in us and in those around us, in ways we’d never have known when we’d first begun. For us, these acts of kindness have become so much more than just something we do during the Christmas season. They have become the catalyst that has shifted the way that we see people, needs, and even the way we see God.

We now notice so much more of the pain and suffering that is occurring in our world—but instead of quickly averting our eyes or ignoring it, we walk towards the pain, extending out our hands with what may seem on the surface to be one small act of kindness, but turns into so much more. An altered perspective; a lesson for our children or ourselves. A willingness to be vulnerable even when it hurts.  And, on the very best of days, a small glimpse of the way in which God's grace can bring light to the dark places in this world. 

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Image by Cesar Acebal via Flickr

As I pulled into the parking lot of the small cafe on the shores of Lake Superior, the parking lot full of cars gave me pause. The quick, one-night get away to the North Shore for the hubs and me had turned into a quick solo trip due to circumstances beyond our control. I had a speaking engagement at a nearby church in the morning, and I found myself facing an unexpected afternoon and night of forced solicitude.

I'd thought to sneak into our favorite cafe for a late lunch/early dinner at 3 p.m. and had hoped to find the place empty - primarily so I could hide in the corner for a quick meal - wondering if my favorite salad was back on the menu. Following the hostess further into the dining area, I suddenly realized my secret, solitary meal was still going to be solitary, but while sitting at the table in the very middle of the cafe at the intersection of every walkway - the one place where I would be on display for every couple, every group of women out for a girl's weekend to eye curiously.

I raised an ironic eyebrow heavenward. It seems that God's sense of humor was on full display.

Instead of leaving or hunching miserably in my chair, hiding in my phone, I ate the most delicious brussel sprout leaf salad with a confidence and peace that was partly faked and was partly fueled by the determination that eating alone was simply not going to bother me.

As the embarrassment at being solitary faded, it occurred to me how afraid we've become at being alone - alone with our thoughts, alone with God - that we'll do almost anything to avoid it, even to the point of choosing to be jolted with electricity rather than sit with our thoughts for 15 minutes (seriously, here's the article).

There is nothing to fear from time spent in quiet solicitude with God, whether its strolling along a rocky beach listening to the rhythm of crashing waves or curling into a hotel bed, realizing a bit wistfully that my early-rising son won't be shouting "MOM" across the hallway at 5:45 am to see if I'm up yet.

My current season in life is that of encourager, listener, finder, fixer, correcter, cooker, snuggler, driver, and laundress - and it is chaotic, loud, and requires a constant balancing act of being mom, wife, attorney, and follower of Christ. And it's all wonderful, good stuff - especially when I know that I only have these few short years in which to mold and launch these two funny, sweet, loud, crazy fledglings currently living in my house.

But, sometimes, I forget me. I focus on the woman defined by loud labels describing what I do for others so much so that the quieter labels describing who I am get swept under the proverbial basement couch, forgotten and gathering dust bunnies.

As I met and walked with God in that solitary space, I rediscovered me - the woman who quietly exists aside from the labels describing what I do for others. And I also rediscovered God - who He is, and what He says about me.

It is only in the stillness, in the solitude, in the time spent quietly in God's presence that we re-calibrate His magnificence and our role in his kingdom. And it is only in the stillness that we find ourselves, the one who exists separately from all the roles we play.

Heavenly Father, for those of us in a season filled with chaos and noise and being pulled in a million different directions, help us find afternoons and mornings and lunch hours and moments in which we can turn off all the distractions and simply sit in stillness before you. Remind us of the women we are separate from the labels. And for those of us who find ourselves in a season with too much solitude, whisper into our hearts our worth, our value, and place us in spaces where we can pour your love into the lives of others. Amen.  

“So what are you going to do next?”

The question was posed innocently enough by a friend last night after I’d explained about just finishing up helping with a major women’s conference and meeting the final deadline for our book (yay!) last week. 

I immediately fumbled through some things I could be starting this week, when what I really wanted to say was, “I just need to catch my breath.”

But I didn’t. Instead I rattled off another list of things that needed to be done.

Why do I do that to myself? I pondered later, as I was alone. Why do I let my value be in the things I accomplish? It’s been my vice for as long as I can remember. Finding my worth in what I do, not in who I am.

I am a to-do list kinda girl and I feel worthwhile when I can check things off of my list.

And although, there may be nothing wrong with that—at least not on the surface— there is a deeper need, a drive in me, that says to be valuable, to make a mark on this world, to be seen and noticed and even sometimes loved, you must do. Being is simply not enough.

Good morning, friends! Today we are so excited to once again have a guest post from Sue Moore Donaldson. Sue has taught us so much about hospitality and her love of welcoming others in is contagious! We know you will love her as much as we do. Here's more from Sue:

I have a Blue-Plate Legacy. Not a legacy my mother got from her mom, but one she passed down to me in spades.

Mom loved pretty dishes. Every Sunday we’d ask, “Mom, which china do you want to use – Grandma’s or yours?” She’d say, “How about grandma’s – pretty dishes are meant to be used!”

I got Mom’s pretty-dishes-DNA. She had two china cabinets. I have one and am holding (so far). She’d say to us girls: “Now tell me—what dishes do you want after I die.” Morbid? Maybe, but we liked to please and would wander through her cupboards and drawers and lay claim to a treasure or two—just to make her happy. (Read: just to make her stop asking!)

Mom gifted me early with a This-Will-Be-Yours-Someday present when she handed me the Blue Plate Special – a glass sandwich platter with etched designs.

We arrived in Tulsa on a Thursday evening just a few short weeks ago. We were there to see Jasmine’s birth Aunts Haddie and Mary, Mary’s husband Thomas, and their children, Trae and Harper. We greeted them in the hotel lobby, then decided to go out to a local restaurant for dinner. As we sat and visited, shared about life and familiarized ourselves even more with one another, time
seemed to stop. It wasn’t until a worker kindly came and told us that they needed to close the restaurant that we realized everyone else had left and it was late. We went back to the hotel and sat in the lobby to visit for a while longer until the kids got too tired. We made plans to swim the next morning and, as we got off the elevator to go to our room, I was excited for what the weekend might hold, not yet knowing the profound effect it would not only have on my daughter Jasmine, but on me as well.

Jasmine is adopted and her birth mother passed away this last winter. We went to the funeral and made connections with many in her family. Since that time, we’ve exchanged letters and pictures, messages and Skype calls. When her Aunt Haddie mentioned they’d be having a stateside wedding reception in Tulsa, I told her to let us know the details, we’d love to try to make it.

Happy Monday, friends!

You may have noticed that it's been a little quiet around TRE lately. That's because of some news we shared on our Facebook account recently:

It has been a little quiet around TRE lately and we can FINALLY tell you all why! After 4 years of writing, several hundred blog posts, two self-published books, and months of talking to a publisher, last week a dream came true when we signed a contract with Tyndale House Publishers to write a devotional for them!! We are so excited and thankful for this opportunity! We'll be sharing more details soon and letting you know of some fun things happening at TRE this summer! Thanks for supporting us friends, and if we could offer you any encouragement today, it would be don't quit chasing your dreams! ‪#‎girlswhotry‬

We've been working on this devotional for several months now, and we can honestly say that for as much as we love it,  we've been pouring all our creativity into it and haven't had much left for other blogs or outside writing. But we promise that when the summer's over and our book is wrapping up the roughdraft stage, we'll return!

In the meantime, you can keep in touch with us via our Facebook. Thanks for all your love and encouragement!

Kristin, Kendra & Julie
“I would be happy to follow my husband anywhere in the world,” she said from the other side of the room.

I couldn’t believe I had heard her correctly, especially as I had just bared my heart to the husbands and wives of the church small group we had recently joined.

I had told them I was finding it hard to settle into our relocation with my husband’s job, three thousand miles away from home.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt miserable before I spoke; now I felt even worse. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. Most of all, I wanted to go home.

Then anger rose inside of me; I pushed it down. Anyway, no one seemed to notice my distress. The conversation continued as if nothing had happened. But I sat hating myself and loathing her for being so confident and not understanding how I felt.

Why couldn’t I embrace my new situation? I wondered.

Why did it take so much effort to explore unfamiliar surroundings? Why couldn’t I pluck up the courage to take my two-month-old baby to the playground and make new friends?

This past weekend, my daughter had dance try-outs for the competition teams at the studio she attends. As I watched her get into line with 70 or so other little girls her age, all dressed in black leotards with their hair pulled tight into buns, then scurry into a closed room where they would be judged, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous and excited for her.

At just 7 years old, Jasmine already has a lot of dreams and things she’s passionate about and, as her parent, I want to support her. I see gifting and a drive to accomplish things at a young age I was never bold enough to do. But even with all her personality, she confided in me that she’s nervous: What if she doesn’t make the team?

And, boy oh boy, do I know how she feels. Fear has always played a big part in my life and often -- too often -- my decisions.

Hello dear friends! We are so excited to once again have our friend Stephanie sharing honestly about her experience with her adopted child. We were touched last fall when Stephanie shared her story of "How Foster Care Wrecked My Life" and we know you will be blessed by reading her story of what it's like to love our kids through the good and the hard.  

It has been three years ago this month that we brought our teenaged foster daughter into our home. I wish I could sit down with each of you and share with you the journey we have been on. It has been a journey of pride and humility, desperation and fulfillment, joy and sorrow. It has been a journey of soaring on the wings of optimism and wallowing in the valley of defeat. We had no idea how to parent a teenager with a traumatic past. BUT GOD (don’t you love those words?) knew exactly what HE was doing. 

We adopted our precious girl 11 months after she came to live with us. We poured our love into her as much and as often as we knew how. We knew she had spent 15 years without the love and structure of a Christian home. We were constantly on our knees and before the throne for mercy and help as we sought the best way to love and discipline with grace. We love her just as fiercely as our biological children. In our hearts, there is no difference.

We like to talk about the fun parts of parenting – the wonder of a baby’s tiny toes, the cute things our kids say or expressions they make, how they snuggle up to us. But sometimes, if I’m honest, parenting can be ugly.

I feel intensely vulnerable in acknowledging that sometimes my temper can get the best of me.

Last night it happened at bedtime. Elise had been sorting through pictures in the office, putting them in a container for some project she had in mind, but it was getting late so I went in to tell her to put it away for the night. She objected loudly, rudely, then tried to storm off and take all the craft supplies she’d been working with to play with them in her bed.

And – I snapped. I just lost it. I yanked the items out of her arms to put them on the table, but it went awry and they spilled, dropping on the floor in a messy pile. I grabbed her and set her in the hallway outside the office, closing the door firmly so she couldn’t try to run back in. And then I headed downstairs in a huff.

My neighborhood as seen from my front porch.
It is finally spring in Minnesota, and the neighbors on three sides of me have been busy edging, cutting, and spraying their grass. When I drive by their homes, I see the beginnings of lush carpets of green covering their lots. Their lawns look almost fake, they are so beautiful. Their children are grown, and they have the luxury of hunting down every stray clover, every last crabgrass and waging war against any green thing without the word "fescue" in its name.

My lawn, on the other hand, is what I would call "bio-diverse," and I sometimes wonder if we have more weeds than actual grass. With young children and busy jobs, my husband and I these past eight years have barely had the time and energy to run a mower around the yard on a weekly basis, much less primp and pamper our lawn.
Last night I came across a woman’s story. She was sharing about some struggles she’s currently facing and what she’s doing to find joy, even in the midst of walking through hardships. And for whatever reason, her words were like rain after a long drought I didn’t even know had settled on my heart. I found myself nodding in agreement, affirming my own sometimes insecure thoughts, and immediately I felt a kinship with a woman I’ve met only in passing.

But stories, good stories that matter, aren’t just ones we read online or in books. Some of the best stories are the ones told in coffee shops and around breakfast tables, outside under trees or while sharing desserts after midnight. They’re told late at night driving home in the dark accompanied by tears or early in the morning over tea, when the earth is just beginning to stir.

They’re whispered through sadness and bellowed through laughter. They encourage and give wisdom, offer support and love.

And more than anything? Stories let us know that we are not alone.

They remind us that we are all humans who make mistakes, who have fears and doubts and dreams. And our own stories, once told, let others know it’s okay to be themselves.

Our stories are a gift. God-given. God-breathed. In a way, they are sacred.

It was a classic case of good intentions gone bad.

I was 16, and it was my second year cheerleading. Our coach that year was new, and she had grand visions of a revitalizing a somewhat-neglected, not-always-considered-a-sport activity like cheerleading.

With that in mind, she asked her older cheerleaders to help convey her message to our small community via the local radio station. A handful of us trooped into the station, read a few lines from her script, and that was it. I don't think I even listened to it being broadcast.

It wasn't until after it aired that I realized that it may have been a mistake. The radio blurb, while well-intentioned, specifically targeted groups of people in the community who my cheerleading coach thought could help lead the way in supporting the group of girls. My portion of the script was directed at coaches.

As a mom to three girls, I spend a lot of time thinking about raising girls, what that means and if I'm doing a good job. Our culture is tough on girls, and I want to do everything I can to help them to grow into women who are strong and kind. That's why I love today's guest post from Jenny Hill, who brings such wisdom and insight into her reflections on what it means to be a woman. Here's more from Jenny:

There I was, sitting at my kitchen table in front of my laptop. The sun was streaming in through my sliding glass door, and I’m sure there was a glass of something cold and refreshing sweating on the table beside me. I was listening to Beth Moore preach like I do every summer as I dive into one of her Bible studies on my own. There she was, with her beautiful big hair, impossibly high heels, and charming sense of humor. She was roaming her audience, touching the arms of some of her listeners, talking about the joy of her ministry, when suddenly she exclaimed, “I just love women!”

I remember that moment, as if the thought just ran across my brain yesterday. I sat back in my chair, paused, and thought, Do I even know what it means to be a woman? I’m 32 and I’ve never been on a second date. My days don’t revolve around homemaking, meal planning, soccer practice, and homework. My wardrobe does have a fair amount of pink and purple, I love accessories, and I’m enamored with shoes, but I also have mild cerebral palsy. It impacts how I move, how I’m perceived, and it definitely means no high heels. I think all of this begs the question: What does it mean to be a woman when you are single, childless, and flat-footed? I’ve been pondering this question for a while; most intently over the past month. Here’s what I see:

Yesterday morning, as we were getting ready for church, my daughter came into our room and told me she had a song to sing for us and then wondered if she could sing it at our church service.

Several weeks earlier our pastor had encouraged anyone that had a story or a word of encouragement for others was always welcome to share during our services. Jasmine heard his words, took it to heart, and wrote a song that she now wanted to sing during the service.

As we were leaving home, I told her she could certainly ask Pastor Carl if it’d be all right. As we walked into the sanctuary and the music began to play, Kyle encouraged Jasmine again to ask Pastor Carl if she could share her song. She walked over to him shyly, showed him her song and asked if it’d be all right. Of course Carl agreed.

As the worship portion of the service ended, Carl called Jasmine up on the stage as she bravely shared the song she’d written and then felt led to share with others. She was amazing, at least to my mama eyes. I could not have been more proud.

“Isn’t it better to know what would have meaning to someone, rather than not know?” 

The question was voiced as my family boisterously chatted in the kitchen before Easter dinner. 

My culinary-inclined brother-in-law Kyle was in the midst of making something delicious, assisted by my parents. I had the lazy job – bringing a dessert, which I had Tim pick out at Byerly’s so I didn’t even have to make anything – and sat lounging on a high stool on the periphery of the kitchen, watching Ashlyn try to crawl along behind her big cousins as the children played and worked on bead projects.

Kyle had just asked my Mom for a bowl, and she’d pulled out her largest one. A large, light-colored, heavy-duty bowl, with think pink and blue stripes on it.

“I want that when you die,” Kendra said, half-seriously, as we all laughed. 

“Uh, nice!” someone said. 

“What?!” she defended. “Isn’t it better to know what would have meaning to someone, rather than not know?” 

“It’s just so amazing the way you can open yourselves up to their biological families.”

This statement was said to me by a dear friend as we had dinner together one night and were discussing my adopted daughter’s birth family.

How can you not? I think. I love these people and feel a connection with them. Maybe it’s because of the love for my daughter that spills over in a natural desire for me to connect with her birth family, or maybe it’s just the way I was raised, but including others has always been a part of my DNA.

Sighing a little, I checked my hair one last time in the mirror and reapplied my lipstick. We were headed to a work-related event and, unlike most times when I can get dressed up and out of the house for dinner, I was not looking forward to it.

I remembered the last time we'd attended this event, with these same folks: Although the woman I sat next to had responded enthusiastically to the questions I posed to her, she didn't ask me any questions. Not one. single. question.

She knew I was a mom. She knew I stayed home with my kids. And that, apparently, was all that she needed to know.

It's not that I have a burning desire to talk about myself, but her reaction was mystifying and, if I'm honest, a little hurtful. From her perspective, was I only defined by my marriage, my children? Wasn't it possible for me to have outside interests, an identity outside of my home?

It's the same reason that I find myself stumbling around a bit, trying to explain my life. Well, yes I stay home with my kids, but I also do freelance work, write books and a blog. I like doing volunteer work. I've got a master's degree, too...

I end up feeling like I'm trying to justify choices I've made, the woman I've become.

Sitting at her table, our hands wrapped around steaming cups of coffee, her story (shared here with full permission and approval) tumbled out.

Their son, a truly sweet kid, had been giving her and her husband a serious run for their parenting money - especially during the past 12 months.

His independent streak is a mile wide, and they were having epic parent/child clashes over matters large and small - all ultimately boiling down to topics revolving around independence and freedom.

They'd tried all sorts of parenting strategies, with neither rewards nor punishments ultimately reaching the underlying issue.

She found herself scraped emotionally raw and particularly vulnerable when issues of parenting comparison were raised, even innocently, by others. She began comparing every other child in their best public moments to her child in his secret worst moments and then counted herself a failure as a mother. 

It was the repeated gentle suggestions of a friend that finally had her picking up the phone and dialing the number of a recommended therapist - just for an informational interview, no promises she would consider anything further.

The therapist returned the call late one evening, and my friend, gripping the phone in her hand as she dashed out of the busy family room with dad and kids, locked herself in the bedroom and began a conversation that changed her life.

After a few thoughtful questions, the therapist began explaining the three primary personalities types found in bright children:

Affirmation children. These are the kids teachers and parents love because they are eager to please, eager to do what is asked, and eager to earn love through pats on the back and verbal kudos. These kids make parenting look easy, and this type of child was the perfect description of this woman's husband as a kid. Their weakness? The Nazi SS ranks were filled with grown up affirmation kids whose need for affirmation overcame their ability to stand against authority when it turned evil.

Social Interaction children. These kids have to be in the midst of the action. They hate being alone and desire to be with friends, family, and everyone else. These kids will do anything you want, as long as they get to be with people. My friend immediately recognized herself in that description - her childhood was spent surrounded by friends from an early age and that pattern had lasted into adulthood. She is vivacious; a woman who makes friends easily and keeps them forever.  The downside to these kids? Gangs and organized crime are filled with adults who were social interaction children and whose desire to belong is stronger than their ability to say no.

And the last, the therapist explained, are the Internally Motivated children. These are the kids who want to decide, from the earliest age, their own path and make their own decisions. They are the most difficult to parent because their motivation comes from internal sources, not external influences. Handled too harshly, these kids turn further inward and rebellious. Handled too gently, they go off the rails and get into serious trouble.

My friend, tears streaming down, whispered into the phone: "That is my son, perfectly summed up."

And the therapist responded, "Can I tell you the best thing about the internally motivated children? These are the adults who transported slaves along the underground railroad to freedom in the North. These are the adults who hid Jews in Nazi Germany at the risk of their own lives. These are the adults who will stand firm for righteousness and will not be swayed by public opinion. They are the hardest children to raise, and yet they are the children who will change the world."

The therapist said lots of other wise words that night, but it was the promise of world-changing potential spoken over her sweet, darling, oh-so-independent child that my friend has clung to in the days and weeks since that conversation.

And it isn't that she believes her son will be famous or "big" in his world-changing. So often, world-changing starts with small acts in quiet spaces. It requires courage and bravery and allowing God to be bigger than our scared little hearts.

It was that my friend finally caught a glimpse of the hope and the future that God has planned for the internally motivated son that he has given to an affirmation father and a social interaction mother to raise. She realized that her greatest legacy might very well reside in that 9 year old's body - and that, raised well, her son might do more wold-changing that his mother and father ever dreamed of doing.

And while not easy, her perspective has shifted and she has been reminded that God stands with us on this parenting journey. He knew, before our children were first placed our arms through birth or adoption, that they would be ours. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, just as He knows ours.

Friends, we do not parent alone. And, believe it or not, He will equip us to parent these crazy, sweet, independent little creatures in ways that exceed our skill sets, if we let Him.

You can follow us on Instagram as The Ruth Experience for additional encouragement, ideas, and camaraderie. If you are looking for additional resources, sign up for our email list. We send out a monthly newsletter filled with resources and freebies.

Finally - have you bought our book, The One Year Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional? It is the story of how our families embarked on a one year journey of kindness - our successes, failures and how God redeemed it all in the most incredible ways. If you already have our book and love it, we'd so appreciate it if you leave a review on Amazon.   

We would love to walk alongside you in encouragement, inspiration and community.

- Julie, Kendra, and Kristin
There are days when hope seems to be in short supply.

This creates a problem because I've realized that I need hope in every area of my life. I need hope when I imagine my future, or my children turning out all right, or my marriage making it to fifty-plus years. All these things require hope. Hope in something and someone greater than myself. Hope that things will turn out in spite of my screw-ups and do overs.

Yesterday we met as a missional community, a group of believers who gather together to share in our journey of the pursuit of God and what it means to live out our faith, and toward the end everyone shared a request that needed prayer. For parents and kids and work. And all I keep thinking is how do we get through this life, these concerns or problems, without hope?

Hope is is much more than good thoughts or conjured-up positive feelings. Hope is the anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6:19) and the buoy for our faith.

This week, let's pursue hope together.

Good morning, friends! We are so excited to feature a guest post today from Jessie Christensen. As a recovering perfectionist, I so appreciate Jessie heartfelt post on how we're not perfect -- and it's ok. It's a message I need to hear, again and again. Here's more from Jessie:

Perfection -- something we all strive for, right?
Or at least, that is what our world tells us.
The perfect hair, the perfect body weight, the perfect car, the perfect job.
The perfect emotional reaction, the perfect speech, the perfect ministry.

What exactly is perfection, anyway?
What defines a perfect body?
What defines the perfect life?

The Webster dictionary defines perfect as having no mistakes or flaws, completely correct or accurate, having all the qualities you want in that kind of person, situation, etc.
In this season of political unrest and transition, I have had a continual companion in my thoughts and
heart: fear. Fear over the changes that will come. Fear that the wrong person will end up in power. Fear for where our country will end up if we continue to be as divided as we are. Fear of the future.

This morning, after all the hoopla of Super Tuesday, I decided that enough is enough. I’m tired of uncertainty. I’m tired of being afraid. I opened my Bible and reminded myself of these things:

1. God is Sovereign.

Psalm 93:1-2 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.

Nehemiah 9:6 You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

This past week I came across some unpleasant words and deeds done by some of my son's friends. My initial anger and surprise at their actions made me spend the next several days conjuring up ways in my mind that they should be punished. My husband and I had some honest conversations with our sons over the inappropriateness of his friends actions and ways to safeguard himself from falling into the same thought patterns and behaviors.

Afterward, I found that my anger towards these boys had not dissipated. I wanted to shake them and yell at them for the ignorance they had displayed. As I thought about this Lent and focusing on grace this week, I realized that was the last thing I wanted to extend towards these boys was grace. My outrage had turned to resentment and I didn't want to show them mercy or love.

But hanging onto resentment towards others is no way to live as a follower of Christ. All it took was for me to think back to my own teenage years and the errors I made during that time period to realize, that even though I do not approve of their behavior, they are still deserving of grace and kindness.

This week, let's focus on grace together.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to go. Tim and I had just had dinner out with friends the night before, and with frigid subzero temps outside, staying indoors and cozy sounded marvelous. When one sitter after another said it wouldn’t work to watch our children, I took it as confirmation that it wasn’t meant to be.
Photo is mine - quilt made by my Mom,
print is from Home, James

But as the afternoon waned, Tim approached me again. It was important that I be there, he insisted. We could make it work. Try another sitter.

So I found myself, just a few short hours later, at a concert benefiting a local homeless shelter, one we love to work with year-round. We’ve served meals there, adopted families for Christmas. They have such a heart for others, and we are always humbled and blessed by the interactions we have while there.

It was in the midst of ballerinas dancing and a lovely soprano singing that the announcement came: They were in the midst of updating a women's wing, and they had decided to call it Katie's Club. Katie's Club -- as in, my sister's foundation. My sister's legacy. Cue the tears.
We at The Ruth Experience have been observing Lent for the past few years. We’ve done this not because we feel beholden to tradition, as Kristin and I did not grow up observing Lent, but because we have found this tradition to be a beautiful way to prepare our hearts each year leading up to Easter.

In the past we have focused on specific countries and causes, world issues and needs—and this time we plan to do something a little different. This year we want to be much more reflective and prayerful in the weeks leading up to Easter. This year we plan to pick one topic each week that we will reflect upon. We’ll also provide three days of Scripture reading and reflection that you can spend a few moments in study each week as we observe Lent together. Rather than “giving up something,” it’s making time to spend with God -- practicing the discipline of prayer and reading Bible.

We pray that you will join us as we all seek to deepen our connection to God during this time of introspection, scripture reading, and prayer.

This first week we will focus on the word: peace.

Photo was taken by me, but original print is from House of Belonging LLC
on Etsy -- you can find listing here
For Christmas this year, I asked Tim for a print for our home. It features a quote from Mary Oliver that I saw Shauna Niequist’s mention on social media one day. I love her books and her taste, generally, and this was no different. In beautiful shades of blue, with a contrasting white text, it reads: 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

I love the sentiment but I’m curious and, with Google at my fingertips, I decided to look up the context. Who is this Mary Oliver, and why would her challenge strike such a chord? 

It turns out – if you don’t know, as I didn’t know – that’s she’s a successful poet, and that this is one of her poems, which I found at the Library of Congress:
This past year we've covered so many topics from Advent Acts of Kindness to highlighting concerns around the world, to sharing honest stories of struggles and joys, friendship and harder relationships, along with some wonderful guest bloggers. Here is a look back at our most popular posts of 2015.

5. 10 Years Later...The Aftermath of Grief
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.

Read the rest here. 

Today I have the privilege of sharing part of our story with Lauren from Sobremesa Stories. Every Wednesday she features women who are willing to share their stories of joy and struggle, pain and happiness, in a very real and honest way. I'm so honored to be among these women who've had the opportunity to tell their story. 

I sit staring at the last Christmas card envelope I need to address. Next to me, a completed stack for family and friends sit ready to go. I pull out my daughter’s card, look over her note again, the one she thought up by her seven-year-old mind alone –it’s addressed to her birth mother. She’s wondering if she would care to come to Christmas, “if she’s not too busy.”

A sad smile crosses my face as I see, once again, the tender heart that is my daughter clearly displayed across the colored note to her birth mother. I set it aside and start to write my own note to a woman I’ve never met but somehow feel connected to. I tell her that Jasmine came up with the note on her own but Kyle and I are in full agreement; we’d love to have her come for Christmas. We’ve sent cards in the past and her birth mom has responded with letters and presents of her own, offering Jasmine encouragement and love from a distance, but this is the first time we’ve invited her over for an actual visit.

I send Jasmine’s note along with our card and an extra picture of Jasmine, licking the envelope, hoping we still have the correct address for her and that she’ll receive it. Too scared to tell anyone else what I’ve done, fearing that they’ll tell me I’m crazy to invite her or try to talk me out of it, I let no one know of our note to Jasmine’s birth mom.

Every once in a while, being a foster and adoptive mom is a lonely proposition (like I shared about in this post). I have wonderful mama friends who have supported me on all fronts, who love my kids well, and who listen to all my successes and failures. But sometimes it’s hard to quite put into words the balance we try to strike with our adopted kids about birth families and adoptive families.

The bond with both sets of families for my kids is undeniable and I would be discarding a part of themselves if I ignored this other half of them, their birth families.

You can read the rest of my post here

“We are NEVER getting a dog.”

These words had been spoken countless times by my husband and I over the past ten years. Although we’ve always liked our friends' dogs, we’ve never considered ourselves animal people, and with providing foster care to countless children over the years and now taking care of our own four little people, the timing never seemed right to have a dog.

All that changed over this past Christmas break.

Our daughter Jasmine has always been drawn to animals, particularly dogs. There is something soothing for her about being around animals. As Christmas break approached and I attended her conferences, her teacher showed me a report Jasmine had spent hours on about a dog named Goose. And while her teacher thought it a rather funny name, I knew immediately that Jasmine was referring to the fun-loving dog who lives on my aunt’s farm.

Then, on New Years Eve, we enjoyed the holiday with friends who have a couple of dogs. Jasmine spent most of her time with the dogs—playing, petting, and just loving on them.

Kyle and I were struck again by how being with animals does something for Jasmine, how it calms her and comforts her in a way that little else does.

The next day we started looking for a dog.

I knew immediately that I shouldn’t have read it. The headline caught my eye, and a simple click had dragged me into a Pandora’s Box I wished I hadn’t opened.

The story was one I’ve unfortunately heard before: A child, abused at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him. In this case, a 5-year-old tortured for months by his mother and another adult in ways that make bile rise in my throat, even now. I have a vivid imagination, and it’s to my detriment sometimes.

I read the news story on my phone while standing in my kitchen, and as I exited the link with shaking hands, I looked around at the supreme normalcy of my life. A discarded rubber duck on my dining room floor. A crushed piece of rainbow cereal. My 9-month-old swaying to the music of the movie currently enthralling my 4-year-old, lying sprawled across the couch. Focusing on my children, on the everyday details surrounding me, I tried hard to replace the images my mind conjured.
We at The Ruth Experience love having guest bloggers share their hearts, passion, and words on our blog. Hearing different perspectives and joining together on issues is what we are all about; life is just better when lived with others! Here is a look back at the amazing women who shared their stories with us this past year:

A tea party with Scarlet and Shelby, their dolls
I dismissed the crying when I first heard it. I had just finished laying Ashlyn down for the night, and figured I'd give our 9-month-old a moment to calm down before intervening.

But after a minute, I realized that it wasn't her, after all. Leaving the office, I hurried to my older girls' room and found 4-year-old Noelle huddled in her small bed, coughing and crying inconsolably. Hearing the barky seal cough characteristic of croup, I felt dread even as I brushed aside my husband's worried exclamations and headed to the bathroom to turn on the shower. Gathering her in my arms, I carried Noelle into the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub, rocking her gently. After a few minutes, when she failed to improve and seemed panicky about breathing, we decided that Tim would bring her in to the hospital to get checked out.

It was an unexpected twist to our night yet, on its own, it wouldn't have been that memorable. It was only afterward, when things fell apart, that I started to feel exasperated with life:


No one told me the tears I would secretly shed over these little-ish bodies, these souls whose care my husband and I have been entrusted with for such a short/long time.

There are days when I lay my head upon my pillow with a contented sigh, knowing that I rocked it, that I hit the grand-slam, that I was on my parenting A-game that day.

And then there are the remaining 360 days (not really, but it seems like it sometimes!) of the year when I wonder whether we were are on the right track, whether we are handling discipline with the correct balance of sternness and grace, whether we are balancing jobs and family and activities and everything else in the proper ratios.

I find myself constantly evaluating, adjusting, readjusting, experimenting and then course-correcting on my motherhood journey.

And that is okay.

I've realized that to be a parent is to live with a constant tension about how to do it better.