Opening Night

When I was in high school, the musicals were a huge production and those who starred in them, or played any part at all, were like mini-celebrities in our small, rural community, where our school building was tucked in the midst of a cornfield. We performed to a packed gym, standing room only…for three nights. A dress rehearsal, opening night, and Saturday night. It was a given. Full house.

I remember well, standing behind the curtain, shaking with anticipation, refusing to look on the other side of the curtain. Nervousness. Sweaty palms. Dry throat. When I opened my mouth to speak, would I remember my lines? When I opened my mouth to sing, would I have a voice? Would my body betray me under the weight of the panic rising and the pressure of wondering if the months of preparation would hold up in the moment. One moment. Would my offering be worthy?

I overcame the panic, by reassuring myself that I was the character. It wasn’t me standing on that stage. It wasn’t my performance on the line. I disappeared under the costume. Covered safely beneath the makeup.

It was Minnie Faye, or Mrs. Banks, or Rosie.

Not Kelly.

It made the pressure tolerable.

Hiding there freed me to soar beyond the crippling limitations of stage fright.

Rewind further back to eighth grade. My memory is poor. So, I cannot tell you why this moment is crystal clear in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. Other than it was one of those significant memories the Lord saw fit to tuck away, knowing it would be relevant to the shaping of the future. Relevant to this moment, standing backstage, wondering if my offering would be worthy. Wondering if anyone would come. Wondering if my knees would buckle beneath the pressure.

We were riding the bus, which was a rare occurrence, being a town student who had always walked to school with friends. Perhaps we were on our way to a field trip to tour the high school. As we drove past the building, I looked over at my friend Nicki…the one to whom I could safely whisper all of my secret, sacred dreams…the one who held them close to her heart, safely, and never mocked the sacredness. I leaned in closer, and spoke one of my deepest “What ifs” aloud.

“What if I never become a writer?”


It was a faraway dream, like the ones I’ve heard boys whisper to and from carpool. Dreams of standing on the baseball field…or football field…or golf course. Crazy, farfetched dreams of making it to “the show.” Becoming a professional athlete. And, yet…I craved it at the time, being an author, as if it were something to be grasped. As if it were possible. Youth…the magical season of life, a time when crazy dreams seem attainable. A time, untainted by the death bed, the dashed hopes, the disappointments of the drudgery of everyday…the grim realities of missed opportunity and regret and not measuring up. A time where dreams come true and Santa just might be real.

In a flash, I traded one dream for another, when I told my mother I was pregnant the week before my graduation from high school. Teachers would be disappointed at the lost potential. Family members were disappointed. My mother was not, or if she was, she tucked it safely away. She knew about trading dreams. I knew instantly, that this dream was far more valuable than any other I had dared to hope for. The trade was not even a blink in my eye. I have no regrets. I knew from day one of being a mother, while life was still being knit together in my womb, that this treasure was far more precious than words on a page, than life on a stage, than any accolades or accomplishments the world could offer. The boy I held in my arms at the tender age of eighteen became my new dream. The sacredness of being his mother. Of creating a family, and maintaining that family. I learned to pray when my knees buckled under the weight of the responsibility. Being a mother was far more significant than any other title I could ever hold, any role I would perform. I didn’t look back.

We filled the years, with birthday parties, and Christmas mornings. We dreamed dreams of a quiver full of children and stood beside tiny graves instead…holding tightly to the one God gave us when we were young and fragile and growing up before our time. We traded our old dreams for new…again and again. Another miracle filled our arms, and we continued on with baseball games and golf tournaments, trading dreams, living life, washing dishes, shaping concrete (Tim…not me), realizing that cheering them on at the sideline was so much more than any dream we dared to grasp for ourselves.

And those in this small railroad town. Those who once filled the gymnasium to receive our humbled offering…prayed prayers for our little family, as we stumbled and held on.

When God said it was time to write the words again, to tell the story that I never dreamed of telling, a story I would never have asked to write, I obeyed. And, the words flowed from my heart like therapy. A healing elixir. For ten years, He shaped and molded, weaving the story through our lives, a tapestry of grief and joy. For ten years we continued on about the business of life, standing by more graves, cheering on the sidelines, blowing out birthday candles, fighting and making up, serving in ministry, building up a dream from our broken, standing on stages again…this time…not to perform…but to give a far more worthy offering. Not to please the audience before us…but to serve an audience of One. To give an offering of hope, redemption, grace, and salvation from the One who gave His life, that we may live.

One of the hardest things to do, was to declare the offering finished. Complete. Worthy.

How desperately, I still wanted to give a worthy offering. How much I wanted it to be perfect. And, yet, the book born of my labor, is gloriously imperfect. Just like life.

The day the books arrived in the mail, I tore open the package and dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor, tears dripping down my face as decades of emotion rose from the depths, emotion I cannot describe bursting forth, like an erupting volcano. It was like giving birth…the myriad of grief and healing, accomplishment, joy, defeat, victory, humbling broken and sweet redemption.

I longed to run across town with the book in my hand, bursting through the door of my mother’s house…to say that I was a writer. To show her my offering.

And, at the same time, I longed to quietly lay the offering at my heavenly Father’s feet, knowing full well that it wasn’t mine…and that any identity I had was not in being a writer, a mother, or anything else…but simply in being His.

And, in the wee hours of this night/morning, when I stand behind the curtain for this next opening night, quivering, knees threatening to buckle under the pressure, dry throat, sweaty palms…wondering if anyone will come…if my humble offering will be found worthy, it isn’t a character I hide behind, or a mask of makeup covering my face, reassuring me that it isn’t about me or my performance. It is the shelter of my Father’s wings I nestle safely under, it is in Him, where my identity finds solace.

If for a moment, I wonder if anyone will come to receive the most of my heart and my Jesus I know to give at my little book signing, or if I take a stage in front of an audience or church, I find comfort in knowing that my God doesn’t measure success the way that we do. He concerns Himself not with a full house, but with one heart at a time, receiving the love and grace He has to give. Each sacred conversation we’ve shared, from those who have stopped to buy my little book at SGM and told me a piece of their hearts…or their dreams…or those who give in various ways to support grieving hearts through SGM. Or those who have written to say how a word on a page spoke to your weary soul. That has already, for me…humbled and blessed my heart more than I can say…that has already shown this tiny offering to be a worthy one. And, not because of me…because of the Author of my life and the Perfecter of my faith…and yours. Because of our great God. From the moment I said, “I will” when God said, “Will you?” the victory was already won.

Of course, I would be blessed beyond words if many of you would come to the Deshler Library tonight (from 6-8pm) to show love and support, and let me sign a book for you. Even though I’m just a little nobody girl from Deshler, Ohio. And, my offering is small and imperfect. (Because let me just say, it is really frightening to put yourself out there…to pour out your heart with the most you have to give, and to wonder if anyone will come.) But know this…whether one of you comes or several, it matters and it is always worth it to have gone when God says to go…because one heart is worth it. Always.

Because in His eyes, our offering, no matter how small or imperfect, is worthy. Because He is the Planter and Nurturer of the dreams placed in your heart…of the abilities you are given for His glory. Because He is the Author of our lives…the Perfecter of our faith…the Redeemer of our souls…the Healer of our broken places.

Because the words I write to comfort a grieving heart are more valuable to Him than anything grand or mighty I may attempt to accomplish in the world’s eyes. Because the song I quietly sing in the hospital room over the tiny babies in the arms of their mother are perhaps more sacred to the One who sits on the throne than those I sing to a full house.

Because every heart…every life matters.

For more about the book, Sufficient Grace, click here.

When You’re Feeling More Like Discouraged Elijah Than Wonder Woman

Weary souls wandering, stumbling through your days. This post is for you.

The last couple weeks, I have endured a wave of spiritual attacks on all fronts…both outwardly, in the form of circumstances, but even more so, within. It wasn’t long, before I went from feeling like a Wonder Woman Grace Rebel dodging bullets….i.e. No weapon formed against you will prosper (see Isaiah)…

wonder woman bullets

To discouraged, defeated, depleted, wanting to give it all up and throw in the towel, Elijah…

elijah1

Do you see him there? Not even able to lift his head.

That was me, a couple days ago…heavy with despair…burdens…and relentless-accuser-spewing-lies-in-your-face-discouragement. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. Done.

Have you been there, in that pit?

Elijah has. I have.

In his mind…After being rewarded for his dedication to serving the Lord by being hunted down as his life is threatened, Elijah feels so alone. So done.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4)


He doesn’t even want to go on. He wants to quit all of it. Even his own life. (Don’t worry…I wasn’t ready to quit life.) But, I have been there. And, so has Elijah…the great prophet, zealous for God. He doesn’t look so zealous in the picture, does he? Remember that picture. Because life on planet earth…and even life as a servant of the Most High God may hold moments more like discouraged Elijah than we realize…than we Christians will often admit.

So what does God do, when his little son or daughter lays alone in the wilderness, unable to lift his (her) head?

Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel[b] of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”
~ I Kings 19:5-7

He sends an angel to minister to Elijah…to feed him when he cannot go find food for himself. To strengthen him when he is too weak to life his head. Why…because the journey is too great for you. For me. For Elijah. The journey is too great.

Just that He knows that. Just that He sees, the Lifter of my head…sees. He doesn’t expect me to be able to handle this journey. He knows it is too great for me. So, when I fall. When I curl up and retreat to the pits of despair, feeling all the heavy that was never meant for my shoulders to bear the weight of…He comes, to feed me. To nourish me. To tell me He sees. He knows.

After Elijah eats, he is strengthened for a time. Then retreats again to a cave. God asks Elijah…

What are doing here?

So he (Elijah) said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

I’ve served you Lord…with all my heart. And, everything is falling apart around me. I am alone. Hunted down. Weakened. Attacked. And…left alone. All I can see are the ways I fall short. Defeat. Discouragement.

Should I even be doing this? None of this was in the plan. I wonder if part of what Elijah is really saying is, “Have I lost favor with you as well? Why is this being to allowed to happen? Have I failed? I’m in this cave, hiding…because I don’t know what to do.”

Then He (God) said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
I Kings 19:11-12

God wasn’t in all the noise. The accusations, the loud and whipping winds, the broken circumstances, the doubt, the storm, the fire, the pain. He was in the still, small voice.

The steady, never-changing, always faithful, truth-filled, peace-breathing…still, small voice.

Sometimes, nothing makes sense, and we just have to curl up in a cave for a bit, and listen past the noise…for the still, small voice…the only One strong enough to quiet it all.

It is good to remember who our God is.

When Human Beings Disappoint

I’m one of those people. You know the ones.

I like to believe the best about people…to believe that others will do what they say they will do. And that they will be the people they profess to be. You can imagine the disappointment experienced on a daily basis from this assumption.

It is a difficult thing, and placing expectations on another soul is never a good idea. Not unless you enjoy disappointment. In that case, by all means. Still…shouldn’t we strive to keep our word, to be the who we say we are? If we can, on most occasions…shouldn’t we?

Something lately, I’ve been wrestling with, is not only the disappointment that occurs when others take an unexpected path, or fail to keep their word. Even as I type those words, I am convicted, myself, about the times when I let someone else down. I wonder if others feel the same conviction. I would like to think so…you know, believing the best, and all. I suppose we can’t do a lot about the motives in the heart of another. Ours is only to wonder. We cannot fully know. Only God can.

It is something I’ve watched often, even in circles of ministry and serving. Motives that start pure, or seem to…and then go awry or grow weary, or get distracted…or plans that sometimes get snatched away completely. It causes me to consider how important it is to abide closely to the Lord, listening intently, waiting on His timing…and not grasping something that isn’t yet ours to hold…before it’s time.

We human beings do that from time to time. I’ve been surprised by that…the grasping. It never fits quite as well, as when we wait on the Lord. His plans are always better, anyway.

As far as the motives of people’s hearts…I like what The Voice has to say in I Corinthians 4:5:

“So resist the temptation to act as judges before all the evidence is in. When the Lord comes, He will draw our buried motives, thoughts, and deeds (even things we don’t know or admit to ourselves) out of the dark shadows of our hearts into His light. When this happens, the voice of God will speak to each of us the only praise that will ever matter.”

It can be a painful thing, when someone else has displayed wrong motives, taken something that wasn’t theirs to hold yet, wounded you with false promises, unmet expectations, leaving you disappointed.

But God knows. God sees.

The thing is, some people’s ways are all messed up. And, some choices leave a path of broken trailing behind them.

Psalm 37 is great one for reflecting on how to work through that broken trail.
The Voice ~ Psalm 37:1-2
Don’t be worried with evil workers
or envy the gains of people with all-wrong-upside-down ways.
Soon enough they will wither like grass,
like green herbs fading in summer’s heat.

And, Psalm 37 NKJ
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,

The narrow path is a lonely one to walk. Opportunities to gain resources, popularity, finances…there are so many ways to gain such advances through compromise dangled in front of us like a carrot on a string. We could choose that path and prosper in our way much quicker as well. But, it is much better to wait on the Lord, to resist the temptation to grasp what He has not yet given. Watching others prosper as they make such choices can lead to discouragement. Best to remember, instead, the One who gives completely and securely when He gives it…the One with an unshakeable foundation. To dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Trust Him…do not fret.

Remember His ways are not our ways…but they are much better.

Lydia Brownback says it well:
“We can get a lot of things by sidestepping God’s ways, but whatever we get in wrong ways will bring only more misery.”

Instead of comparing, or allowing wounds to fester….though it may genuinely grieve our spirit to watch…better to wait on the Lord. Better always to rest in His ways.

The Wounding Human Beings Inflict…and What to Do With all the Broken

We who wander on planet earth have all been wounded at some point by another human being. The deepest cuts, the ones that take the longest to heal, are from those we love. We all wound one another at some point. With our words, our actions, our indifference.

We all take the sacred gift one offers when she gives a piece of her heart, allowing another human being to tiptoe in, and inflict harm whether on purpose or inadvertently. Because we’re flawed. We speak from our broken places. We revisit our own wounds. We have moments of self-seeking, self-protection, self-preservation…that have nothing to do with loving one another.

People you barely know may speak words or exhibit behaviors that sting. Those closest to you, however, hold the sharpest weapons. They know your weak places. They know how to shoot an arrow so specifically to inflict the most damage. What is left behind…broken trust, broken hearts, broken fellowship. A whole lot of broken.

And from a spiritual standpoint, there is one who studies you and me…studies and waits for an opportune time, to whisper his accusations in the ear of the vessel doing the accusing…to divide…to destroy…to tear down what God is building up in us. And, in our hurt…we listen… to both the accusing vessel…and the reaction of the accused. We listen to the harmful words that tear down.

I’ve been wounded. And, I’ve done some wounding.

I think if we’re all honest, we’ve been on both sides of the battlefield. Those gifted with words can unleash the deadliest of insults. What does the scripture say about blessing out of one side of your mouth, and cursing with the other? We do it, as human beings.

Ironically this same tongue can be both an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father and a weapon that hurls curses upon others who are created in God’s own image. 10 One mouth streams forth both blessings and curses. My brothers and sisters, this is not how it should be. 11 Does a spring gush crystal clear freshwater and moments later spurt out bitter salt water? ~ James 3:9-11 The Voice

And, when we’re wounded, we justify our reactions, lashing out like an animal in a cage, fighting back. Well…he hurt me. I have to protect myself. She let me down. I had every right. I’m not the one who threw the first verbal punch. At least I didn’t (fill in the blank).

I spent some time on my patio recently…something I haven’t done enough lately…indicative by recent failings to control my own tongue, my own reactions when backed into a corner dripping from wounds. On my patio, I received the kind of spanking a loving Father gives when His daughter’s heart is bent for a wayward path. Oswald Chambers is a good vessel for the truth-talking, no nonsense, lie dispelling necessary when one has spent way too much time listening to the accuser.

The wounds hurt. I won’t lie. They hurt and the words roll around in your mind long after they’ve been flung your way, piercing the outer layer…to the inner layer. But, that hurt is no excuse.

Because, we are called to die. Die to ourselves. Lay down our lives for a friend. Love dies to self. To the rights we think we have. To the justification we feel we’re due. To the need to speak our case, right the wrongs, claim our value.

It is humbling. It is excruciating. It is impossible without the prompting and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Especially when the words, the hurts inflicted…were soooo wrong. So unprovoked. Underserved.

I’m pretty sure the Savior I serve knows something about unprovoked, underserved wounds.

Humbling. Conviction.

So, when I brought my broken to the patio, my list of “look what so-and-so did to me, Dad” to my heavenly Father, in the ugliest of self-justified, victim-y whines, he answered with a gentle, life-giving, freeing spanking.

“From our Lord’s standpoint it does not matter whether I am defrauded or not; what does matter is that I do not defraud. Am I insisting on my rights? (In marriage, in friendship, with family, with children, at work)…or am I paying what I owe from Jesus Christ’s standpoint?”

“Do the thing quickly, bring yourself to judgment now, In moral and spiritual matters, you must do it at once; if you do not the inexorable process will begin to work. God is determined to have His child pure and clean and white as driven snow, and as long as there is disobedience in any point of His teaching, He will prevent none of the working of His spirit. Our insistence in proving that we are right is nearly always an indication that there has been some disobedience…
(ouch)
Agree with your adversary quickly. Have you suddenly turned a corner in any relationship and found that you had anger in your heart? Confess it quickly, quickly put it right before God, be reconciled to that one – do it now.”

As I typed those words from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, I am thinking of the one who has been repeatedly harmed or abused in dangerous ways. Neither I, nor God is commanding you in those cases to physically be reconciled (unless He works such a healing), but in your heart…in my heart…He is saying release that anger…forgive…be reconciled…in your own heart.

Forgiveness is a gift more for the one doing the forgiving. A healthy, freeing, healing release. For you. For the one laying it down, dying to self…even if you deserved so much more…and were not in any way deserving of such pain. If you cannot have restoration with the relationship (as is not always possible or best), you can still have healing in your own heart.

And, if it isn’t too late, if you haven’t spoken words that you can’t take back, lay it all down the next time someone you love spews the ugly your way. Lay it all down, first.

And, set yourself free.

For we all have our broken places…as Oswald Chambers reminds in another entry:
“There never has been a saint yet who did not have to live a maimed (broken) life to start with. But it is better to enter into life maimed and lovely in God’s sight than to be lovely in man’s sight and lame in God’s.”

He can always heal our broken places more completely than we can we strive to do so with our own devices. After all, He’s an expert at creating beauty from the broken.

Why Can’t You Just Get Past It?

“I don’t understand mothers who lose a child. Why can’t you just get past it?”

People have whispered these words about me in conversation, especially in the early days after losing our babies, measuring grief “performance” by how much I spoke of my children or how easily tears came, or whether or not I was out in public functioning at a “normal” capacity. She will be ok when she is “herself” again. Always happy to comply and perform, I learned quickly to put on a face for them. To not make anyone uncomfortable by speaking of those dead babies. I put their pictures away. I tried to look as “normal” as possible to everyone but a few who could handle my remembering, my speaking their names. A few who were willing to remember them with me. Without squirming in the chair.

For eight years, I was quiet. I’m an excellent performer. An astute pleaser of people. Never wanting to be an inconvenience, an annoyance.

And, then….God, the One much bigger than all the people I know, spoke to my heart, breathing truth in the broken places, blowing off the layers of dust, the words laying dormant, surprisingly still desperate to be written or spoken aloud…and He gave me a voice. It’s the same voice He gave me in my mother’s womb. The one with words that demand to be expressed, and flow through my fingers like liquid therapy. It’s the voice that sings worship songs while babies are ushered to heaven from their mother’s arms. My voice crackled and wavered, trembling as I remembered how to speak. Mustering courage I cannot explain. Because He is bigger than anyone else…bigger than what they may think…bigger than displeasing someone….bigger than being understood or misunderstood…bigger than our comfort levels.

And, He said…speak. Tell this story.

I have never in the seventeen years since burying my children heard those whispered words from others spoken directly to me. Until recent months. Family members questioned an article I had written for a well known magazine for bereaved mothers (Still Standing), because if you talk about missing your babies or your mother or your husband, or anyone who has died (although society may place a bit more value on the loss if that person breathed breath and lived life on planet earth for a designated number of years. I’m not sure how much time must pass before a life is worthy or grieving, remembering, mentioning, recognizing, or missing. I’ve never really been good at rules like that. You’ll have to consult the experts who deem themselves worthy to decide such things.), if you speak of the missing…something must be wrong with you. The more that I speak outwardly about babies in heaven, and supporting families who grieve. The more I write or talk about the experience of returning again and again into raw grief to walk with another family, the more others feel it necessary to form an opinion, to judge my performance. (Which in all instances, I would think is an indicator that I’ve experienced a great deal of full circle, “healing” to be in a healthy enough place to enter in to support someone else. You know…as opposed to wallowing in grief.)

But, it is interesting. The more I talk about the reality of grief and missing, the more people step away, uncomfortable. Or, like the acquaintance who recently asked me on Facebook why I couldn’t get past it (losing babies) and what my children think of me for not getting past it. Not that my children are anyone’s concern other than my own, as you know…their mother…but what they think is that they have two sisters and a brother in heaven. Two sisters and a brother who lived, who’re worth mentioning. They don’t dwell on it, and in fact, we don’t speak of them often in our home. But, we do occasionally. Because, they’re worth mentioning. And, my children know that every life matters. My children know that Jesus cares about the brokenhearted, and if we can do something to help someone else walking through loss, we ought to. My children know how much time and sacrifice is poured into walking with another family. They know that their mother would do almost anything to help carry that burden alongside another broken heart. My children stuff bears and set up tables and the older one stays with me when I’m working at the office late at night, to help walk me safely to my car. They and their friends paint walls, carry trash, dig weeds, and stuff endless Comfort Bears. College students, boys who grew up in my kitchen, and girls who sewed bears at SGM…bravely stand in front of their peers to speak about baby loss…and the work Sufficient Grace Ministries does. Not only are my children just fine with their mother’s line of work…and her insistence on mentioning that there are people walking through grief and babies worth remembering….I would go so far as to say that they wholeheartedly support it.

Like my thirteen year old said, when the woman’s questioning prompted me to ask him his thoughts: He said very definitively, “No! Why would I think that?! We lost kids in our family. Nothing weird about helping other people who lose kids.”

So, here’s the thing. We as a society are not very good at respecting and understanding bereavement, or loss of any kind. We get uncomfortable when someone speaks of missing someone they love. We are uncomfortable by many emotions. And, often confuse a person’s mentioning of a memory as not “adequately healing or getting past it”. Those words kind of make me want to vomit, if you’re wondering. It is part of the way that we support others at SGM, being real about the missing. Giving a voice to it. Making it ok to speak it aloud. The missing never goes away. You don’t get past that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t functioning just fine as a healthy member of society. It doesn’t mean you’re wallowing in grief. It doesn’t mean you spend your days crippled by emotion and will never laugh again. And, it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t leaning on and trusting in God to carry you. For the love of Pete…if you weren’t, you may not get out of bed at all. Life on planet earth is tough.

I laugh and cry more than anyone I know. It took me so many years to speak their names. To stop worrying about if it made someone uncomfortable or caused them to question my sanity or whether I was “moving on” well enough. I used to hate that I cried easily, felt deeply. I hated it because other people didn’t understand it. My strong mother, other women in my family…and most people. Most people think showing emotion is weak, or an indicator of some unhealthy part of you that needs fixing….a cry for help…or, my least favorite, an invitation for advice. I don’t need a reminder to be grateful for what I’ve been given…the preciousness of the people I love is not lost on me. I am one of the healthiest people emotionally that I know…and I cry and laugh every single day. Part of being healthy for me, is being ok with that. There is nothing wrong with having a heart brave enough to feel. Do you have any idea the courage it takes to keep a heart soft in this cruel, broken world, to resist the urge to cover feelings with layers of walls, to resist the safety numbness offers?

I speak about the missing, not because I spend every moment crippled and overcome by it. Not because I am wallowing in death and unable to function in the land of the living. There is nothing meant to invite anyone to fix or be concerned about. I speak of the missing, so that others quietly carrying this weight know they aren’t alone, and that it’s ok to miss someone. It’s ok to remember them. Mentioning a memory is not wallowing in grief. I will remember and mention my babies, my mother, my grandparents, my dear friend Dinah, and anyone else who goes on to glory ahead of me until we’re reunited in heaven. Because they’re worth mentioning. They’re worth missing. They’re worth remembering. They’re worth honoring. Their lives matter. And, I gave up being afraid to speak of what makes someone else uncomfortable, because it’s more valuable to be free to offer comfort and hope in the speaking…than to concern myself with the comfort level of someone else who is choosing to judge what they do not know…and who themselves may likely being carrying unexpressed pain. Just because emotion scares someone else, doesn’t mean I have to be afraid to speak…and neither do the mothers I know, missing their children, everyday….as they drive to carpool, make peanut butter sandwiches, watch school programs, and sit down at the dinner table, living life fully…but always with one (or more) missing.

A dear friend and beautiful mother spoke these words recently in the above-mentioned Facebook discussion on mothers “getting past it”. Leigh Ann’s words are an excellent answer to anyone wondering what it’s like for a mother and family, missing children, and they were and are a great blessing, honor and encouragement to me:

“I so admire Kelly and the work she does on behalf of other grieving families. I have wanted and contacted Kelly to physically help at her ministry and then when it comes right down to it I can not. You see I am not as brave as her. God gives her grace to step into other’s lives and minister to them in their darkest hour. Her work through her grief ministry puts her in situations that can only trigger feelings of sadness at losing not only 1 child but 3 beautiful children, but yet she has the strength to do it. We all grieve so differently…and I am so thankful the Lord lays it on Kelly’s heart as well as other brave parents who come along side her. I only wished in December of 1996 that our family been on the receiving end of such a wonderful ministry.

What would you say to your 6 year old daughter when she asks how her baby brother will go to Heaven, when he was to little to ask Jesus in his heart himself? Or the 11 year old brother who asks if he didn’t pray correctly because his brother died? Or the 9 year old brother who tells you not to cry because Jess is in a better place? Or to the husband who comes home from work defeated because no one seems to realize how hard it is on Dad’s to lose a child? What do you say to yourself when you wake up sobbing even years later because of a dream you had about your son and the suffering he went through, and you don’t want to share those feelings with someone else because it has been 17 years ago and my goodness….probably for fear that someone may think your crazy and you should be over it. Please let me explain, my older children have been wonderful and the Lord blessed us with another beautiful daughter after Jess passed away, whom, by the way, never took Jess’s place but brought much joy and healing back into our family, but there is not a family event, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and just plain ordinary days that I don’t feel like something is missing. I don’t pout about it or even speak it out loud at the time, but it is an awareness that he is not with me physically.

I am thankful to know that I will be reunited with him in Heaven some day. So you see, although some of us, like Kelly, are in the day to day trenches helping others, some of us are silently in the background praying, and yet others help out her Ministry with finances, time and donations. But rest assured, we never get past it….my prayer for you is for further understanding in this area and to be gentle with those who you felt responded harshly…maybe now you could be one of those who could be strong enough to come along beside and support a truly wonderful ministry in a way the Lord would lead you to do so?….I hope my rambling helps you to understand our feelings a bit better….love and prayers….”

For more information about Sufficient Grace Ministries and the services they offer to bereaved parents visit: www.sufficientgraceministries.org

Grace Rebel

grace rebel

I’m wondering how to speak these words tumbling and churning inside, begging for release. The trouble is, the conveying…the truly nailing it on the head with explanation. Lately, I’m feeling rebellious. And, by lately, I mean for several years now.

These molds we try to force ourselves into. They aren’t fitting. Just like when we try to force our very big God into a box. He will never fit.

Do you feel sometimes that the closer you get to understanding who Jesus really is, the further you drift from fitting into molds, or identities, or expectations, or even friendships? I think it’s a challenge, to try to fit in places we were meant for. But, oh…the sweet freedom when we stop trying. Even if my freedom is a rock of offense to some, I can’t go back.

I’m surprised by how alone we sometimes can feel when we delve further into knowing the One who shed blood for us, while we spit in His face. How separated…even from those who sit beside us in the church pew, professing His name. Or those we’ve known as family all of our lives. Or those we call friends. The connections change. The path narrows. The numbers dwindle to a close few, real friendships. The ones who know all your broken and love you anyway…the ones who get it…who get you.

When my oldest son was young, I felt fiercely protective of every nuance of his being…physically, spiritually, emotionally. The weight of that responsibility on my young momma shoulders drove me to many prayer sessions on my knees. I never wanted him to taste a drop of sin, or harm, or disappointment in this broken world. The thought left me undone.

I had buried three children before I was 24 years old. So, I knew that there were no guarantees in this broken place.

I never wanted him to have unsaved friends, to hear or speak a curse word, to drink, or lie, or drive too fast. I wanted him safe.

A friend who’s currently trying to make sense of our desperation for safety in a very unsafe place spoke truthfully about that wrestling we do prior to surrender. There is a frightening freedom and the strangest sense of peace in surrendering. In knowing that there is no safe place from loss, from death, from sin.(In case you’re wondering, I’m not offended or frightened by her wandering in this wilderness, or by her questions. And, I don’t believe our very big God is either. I believe He is wooing her to find him, even in the wandering.)

Something stirred within me, in the depths of grief, when all had been stripped from me in the burying of babies…and in the surrendering…in the clinging to the hem of His dirty garment…the One full of muck from all the walking with broken people. Something life changing. In my letting go. In my learning that true faith is gritty and messy and dirty and full of way more questions than answers…way more believing without seeing…knowing, even in the desperate broken places when prayers can’t be uttered…that even in that, His grace would meet me and it would always be enough.

It began to fall way, the lie that faith is about my performance…that my Christian witness has more to do with a perfect picture with a checklist of rules than a real gathering around my kitchen table to listen to stories, offer good food, and cherish the gift of lives and friendship….being the hands and feet of Jesus, rather than merely speaking of Him with a bunch of shoulds and requirements attached. Letting His love ooze through and pour out in the sharing of laughter. In the shedding of tears. In the holding of hands. In the walking alongside. In the breaking of bread. In the telling of our stories. Letting that speak louder than eloquent prayers prayed just right. Not covering the cracks and mismatches in my “picture” which upon closer inspection reveals so much more beauty in the imperfections.

Ironically, I’ve learned the most about that freedom from the son I was once so desperate to protect. He brings a wide range of friends to my kitchen table. Some who maybe have never set foot in a church. He is one who loves his Savior, and shows it much more in the living than in the words he speaks. Not perfectly…in real life, messy fashion. The kind that leads to discussions on truth. During a recent conversation, he said, “If you really want to share your faith, you can’t only surround yourself with people who think like you. You have to live out among everyone. Share conversations. Get to know people. Listen and discuss differences with respect.”

And, do you know what happens? In the sharing. In the living. In the gathering and telling of stories. Naturally, easily…opportunities to share what you believe and why.

I love that.

That’s how our Jesus revealed Himself. Humbly, quietly…in the living amongst the people. No one…not a leper…or a drunk…or an adulterer…or the mentally ill…the poor….the sick…the broken….the dirtiest sinner…the thief on the cross….no one was too far gone…no one too dirty for Him to touch….no one worthless. Every life mattered to Him.

And, if we say every life matters to us, we really ought to live that way. Instead of spending so much time trying to keep our pictures looking perfect. Trying to measure our own performance, or that of those around us. We should be so busy in the loving and following the lover of our souls, that we don’t even notice that bologna. If I can boldly keep it real, I’m done with it. Disgusted by it. And, don’t have the time for it.

Anything that wreaks in the slightest of performance, I feel a rebellion rising within. I’m not talking about disobedience. Not rebelling against God and His ways. Rebelling against man’s…or in most cases, more accurately, women’s ways. Ladies, we can’t grow if we’re divisive and not encouraging and loving, if we’re so worried about our measuring sticks, we can’t see the hearts around us. Put them down, for the love of Pete. Put them down and just look at one another with love and grace. Can we do that? Can we walk worthy of this calling for a bit?

This grace rebel is longing for the grace to see the measuring sticks broken and tossed aside with the fervor that the feminists displayed when they were burning their bras. (I’m not advocating that, of course! But, if you did, I won’t judge you or quit speaking to you….just sayin’. )

If you’re wondering what I mean when I speak of a grace rebel…and if your heart is perhaps longing to be unleashed with the freedom with which we were meant to love…here is my best attempt at a definition:

grace rebel

 

 

 

A Grace Rebel’s Mother’s Day Survival List for Grieving Hearts

I’ve said it many times before, that expectations may be listed right up there with money as the “root of all evil”. Expectations, like those we have on “special days” set aside to honor us…birthdays, Mother’s Day…or holidays that really weren’t ever meant to honor us, but we’ve somehow claimed with our expectations…like Christmas and Easter…set us up for disappointment, regret, and feelings of unworthiness and lackluster. No good comes from it. Expectations can rob the joy from any woman, on any day, but there is an extra measure of struggle for bereaved mothers and for those battling infertility. An added sting to a wound already so deep and oozing with hurt.

Surely, I think mothers should be honored, and motherhood is a sacred gift. I’m grateful that I can be called mother by the boys I have with me on this earth, and grateful that I am called the mother of Faith, Grace, and Thomas in heaven. The interesting thing about Mother’s Day, is that while we are busy holding up our standard for what it means to be a mother, and to be adequately honored on our day, while comparing ourselves to one another and feeling all levels of discouragement and brokenness, the actual birth of Mother’s Day was a selfless one from an unmarried woman named Anna Jarvis, never able to bear her own children, and had just recently lost her mother (who herself was a bereaved parent). And, yet, she chose to honor those who are called Mother.

Inspirational. To the point where it almost makes me feel less rebellious of the day. Since my mother died, I’ve not been the biggest fan of celebrating. My heart swells with aching to be honest. Aching for what isn’t. But, Anna’s example, pierces my weary, battered heart with conviction. I know the desperate ache that drives a mother who lost her baby to feel agony, like salt in the wound when considering Mother’s Day, or when watching another woman enjoy what she is so longing for and unable to have. But, Anna, in her ache and in her need, honored the women who had what she longed for so desperately. I wonder if we could love one another with that kind of sacrificial love, as women. Our Lord certainly knows, we could use a bit of that. My heart, while often warmed by the beauty of many women in my life, has also felt the chilly sting of the measuring stick held up by some, the envy, comparing, criticizing, sizing up, tearing down, that women can do. Oh, the ugly of that. Most recently, the sting has cut me to the core.

What if we loved and honored others like Anna, and even more so, like Jesus? Laying down our lives…our needs, wants, desires, to honor and love someone else. What if we did that?

And, if you’re still feeling rebellious about Mother’s Day…because I’ll admit I am, perhaps instead of allowing a day to steal every ounce of our fierceness, our beauty, our joy, we could choose instead to soak it in and embrace the day. It doesn’t even have to be about being a mother.

1. If you feel like running away, do it. Maybe plan a day trip with your husband and kids…or just your kids if you’re a single mama, or just your husband, if it’s just the two of you…or a friend if you are a single lady missing your mother or your baby. See a movie, have a picnic, eat at your favorite restaurant, go to the zoo. Get the Pete out…of anywhere that makes you feel like wallowing.

2. If you want to take a big long nap and say forget it. Go ahead.

3. Take some time to relax. Soak in a bath (with lavender essential oils if you want to really treat yourself!) Start reading that book you’ve been meaning to dig into. Sit on the back patio and sip lemonade.

4. Read a promise from scripture, one that reminds you that you are a dearly loved treasure. Just as you are. I like this one:
“I passed by you again and saw you were old enough to love and to be loved, so I offered Myself to you in marriage. I wrapped my garment over you to cover your nakedness. Then I gave you My divine promise to always be your Beloved, and I entered the sacred covenant of marriage with you. I wed you, and you became Mine. I bathed you with pure water and washed away the old blood from your skin, and then I anointed you with fragrant oils. I dressed you in an embroidered gown and put the finest leather sandals on your feet. I gave you the most luxurious linens and exquisite garments. I decorated you with the most expensive jewelry: bracelets for your wrists and a necklace for your neck, a nose ring, costly earrings, and a stunning crown for your head. I adorned you with everything a woman could wish for: gold and silver, the finest clothes of linen, silk, and embroidery. You dined on elegant meals made with fine flour, honey, and olive oil. You became a beautiful woman and carried yourself as a queen! You became famous among the nations for your extraordinary beauty—beauty that flourished only because I lavished My splendor on you.”
So said the eternal Lord.
~Ezekiel 16:8-14 The Voice

5. Pray a little. And, if you’re so broken and done you can’t muster words to pray, just sit with Jesus awhile. Just as you are.

6. Watch the sunrise, or sunset, or both.

7. Reflect on the gifts you’ve been given (And, I’m not just talking about the scrawled crayon signature on your Mother’s Day card, although that’s certainly allowed to make the list)…just anything that is a blessing in your life. I know it sounds cliché, but “counting our blessings” is a powerful weapon in completely changing our perspectives from weariness to hope. Gratefulness beats bitterness every time.

8. Eat something yummy.

9. Allow the luxury of a deep belly giggle if you can conjure one to the surface.

10. Thoroughly, unabashedly enjoy your people…your tribe. Whoever they may be.

11. Wear something pretty and put on lipstick. Or lay around in your favorite holey pair of yoga pants. Just be you.

12. Dance it out. Sing it out. Write it out. Paint it out. Play it out. Run it out. Do what you do.

13. Climb on the back of a motor cycle and feel the wind blowing your hair wild and free.

14. Reach out to someone else who is feeling down, or alone, or full of the missing. There is always a filling up in the pouring out. It’s just God’s Math.

Just know, dear mama-hearted friend, that you are covered in love and grace. This day and everyday. You never walk alone.

My friend Kristi recently shared her own thoughts on making peace with Mother’s Day and being more sensitive as a church on Mother’s Day.

Let it Go

Can’t sleep. In the wee hours of this morning, the words are begging for release. So, here I am.

Last night, I watched the Disney movie, Frozen. Several parts spoke to me in the deep recesses of my heart, the places most often tucked safely away.

When Elsa sings the words from “Let it Go”…

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always had to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know…

My soul aches with recognition.

And, as she finally releases it all, she finds sweet freedom, creating beauty from her curse, dancing as she transforms into the gorgeous creature she was created to be. I think of His redeeming promise to make all things beautiful in His time.

And, by release, I mean, she embraces her curse, and sees the gifts hidden beneath the surface, beauty rising from the ashes.

Proclaiming…

It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits, break on through.

A kingdom of isolation…no right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free.

So much like when a heart heavy with the woes of grief breathes it’s first breath of life in the land of the living. When the haze clears enough to remember what it feels like to live. The first foreign-feeling, hesitant laugh that arises from deep in your belly, sounding like it came from someone else…because in this unfamiliar new skin, it’s easy to forget the sound of your own laugh.

Or what it feels like to really live. Free.

And, maybe…maybe you never knew what that felt like anyway.

Before.

Maybe it’s impossible to know that depth of freedom and release, that fullness of life, until you have tasted the air in the valley of the shadow of death. Until you’ve been locked in the room, frozen with the curse. The one you can’t even explain to those closest to you.

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve…

I am often asked how I can perpetually walk in this shadowy place, alongside those who are broken with grief.

I guess my answer would be…

Here, I can finally breathe.

 

 

Birthing Miracles

I stayed as far away from birthing rooms as possible after experiencing four traumatic labors that resulted in five births. I was the queen of the cascade of medical interventions phenomenon spoken of in the doula realm. Pitocin and other labor inducing interventions. Check. Epidurals. Check. IV’s. Check. Forceps. Check. Long, stalling labors with ineffective contractions. Check. And, don’t even get me started on my track record. Three of my five children were born alive. Two remain alive. Two left this earth before leaving my womb.

The celebration of the miracle of life experienced in pregnancy long ago lost it’s luster for me. So, I find it rather intriguing that my heart has awakened to the love of all things birth related, some sort of redemptive path I never would have chosen or orchestrated in my limited human imagination. God loves to restore broken things. To send us into unlikely territory, stripping us of the heavy, muddy cloak holding us back, and clothing us with a new garment.

My friend, Heidi Faith, from stillbirthday.com speaks of the miracle of birth…saying simply, “All babies are born.”

I love that. And, I’ve found it to be true. I have spoken of the miracle that occurs when we enter in to walk with a laboring mother, most of the time, one expecting a child whose life will be brief, or whose life on this earth has already ended, beginning anew in heaven. It is a sacred ground, the place where heaven meets earth, and Jesus bends near to carry the wee one home as He brushes past, comforting the mother. Sometimes, he allows my arms to be felt as His, wrapping around her. Comforting her with His comfort, dressing her baby in the most beautiful hand-made garments. Through me, through us. What a humbling honor to be allowed to serve as a vessel of His love. He is ever close in the birthing room. Whether a baby lets out life’s victorious cry or takes his first breath in heaven, He is ever close. So close, we could reach out and touch the hem of His garment. So close, miracles still happen…even when a baby lies sleeping in her mother’s arms. Even when goodbye follows hello.

Because every life matters. Every life is worth celebrating, welcoming. loving, honoring, and grieving.

And, because birth is always a miracle, a powerful, divinely-bestowed gift, offered to women.

Eve, the first woman….her name means life. She is known as the mother of all living. God gave her that gift, that powerful, mighty, beautiful gift…to be the bearer of life. This world is all sorts of broken, from the moment of the fall in the garden. But, the gift remains…precious.

I’ve been reflecting on the beauty God means to weave through our lives, the purposes He has for the gifts he gives to us. Women often feel devalued and left longing for something more. We miss the gifts in front of us. We long to be empowered, significant, accepted. And, yet, what greater power (the good kind) has God given…what greater honor than to be a vessel through which life is birthed? The power to conceive and give birth should not be overlooked. I am not just speaking of the ability to birth a live, healthy baby. Not all of us have been blessed with that gift. However, the ability to birth life…to encourage and enliven this world, that treasure lies in the hearts of all women.

“God gave the woman an ability not just to have babies but also to release life in a variety of expressions. In fact, one translation says that Eve means ‘to enliven’. ” ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

“Women excel in intercession, in spiritual sensitivity and the release of new beginnings…To possess a national awakening, the ‘birthing’ power God has placed in women must be released.”

“You have been created by the almighty to birth breakthroughs on planet earth! God has designed you with a latent ability to release life through your intercession…Through their intercession, these godly women will prayer-birth powerful ministries on earth, of both male and female.”

“Revelation 12:1 speaks of a ‘woman clothed with the sun.’ This word is not just talking about Israel or the Church. It also reveals how God sees spiritual women: They are honored and crowned with distinction; pure and clothed with the glory of God. With confidence, they tread upon the powers of night. Dear army of praying women, it is your inherent destiny to birth that which will rule the nations.”

From chapter 13 of the book ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

The above book has inspired me, as a woman, not to overlook the incredible, divine gift of bearing life…whether it be in delivering a baby, or whether it be in encouraging another or going to battle in prayer for another soul. Women are treasured in the sight of our God, and we are not ever insignificant or overlooked in His eyes. He has entrusted us with a power great and mighty, a gift to be honored and cherished.

Be blessed today, beautiful woman of God, and be a bearer of life…in whatever capacity you have been called to enliven this earth, birthing breakthroughs through prayer, melting brokenness with love, covering the wrongs with grace.

 

 

 

Where the Ground is Even

 

I wonder if we will be surprised who we see in heaven one day, and who we don’t. I wonder if we will fall on our faces, astounded by the grace of our God, melted by His love and mercy and in awe of His power.

I hear a lot of talk about our rights lately. Rights as women or whatever group of people we are claiming rights for. But, in the birthing room, and in the silence when heaven meets earth, it isn’t the rights we concern ourselves with. It isn’t our earthly identity that clothes us in the end, shielding us, keeping us secure. There is nothing false to hide behind in that moment. When a tiny casket, or even a typical sized casket is lowered into the earth, we are quieted and only one thing remains.

The love we gave, and the love we regret not giving.

Do we really know this Jesus we speak of, the one we resist and rush passed, and claim to know? Do we know Him intimately? Because if we did, we would clamor so much less with the clanging symbols that echo love’s absence. When I hold a father or mother in my arms as they weep for their child, it doesn’t matter if they wear a hospital gown, a business suit, tattoos, piercings, or a bandana. Their political views or worldviews are irrelevant. Loss, brokenness like that, it’s an equalizer. I’ve heard it said that the ground is even at the cross. It’s the same at the deathbed.

And, if we truly knew our Jesus, if we cared about what He did, we would know that He was the first to acknowledge that men and women were equally loved and valued in His sight. He did so in a time when culture demanded otherwise. He wasn’t concerned with culture. He ate with the sinners and loved the unlovable. So, we don’t have to clamor so loudly for others to notice. We don’t have to resist what we think is oppression, trading in what is precious for a false sense of empowerment for deeper bondage. If we truly delve into His word and let it flow into our hearts coating the mess inside with His healing truth, then we will realize we are never truly free by gaining what we grasp with our own hands.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—   rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.  1 Peter 3:3-4

His math, you see, it isn’t like ours. It is in the laying down of rights, that we gain true empowerment. It is in the pouring out that He fills up. It is in the dying to ourselves that we truly learn to live. It is in the becoming a servant to Him that we find sweet freedom. Submission, in marriage, is a mutual and beautiful gift, when done His way. A perfect flowing. A safety net much stronger and sweet than any sense of strength we try to build ourselves. A band of three cords is not quickly broken. Much stronger than one cord…no matter how tough we think that cord to be.

Just a little something to ponder in the midst of all the noise.