Beauty from Ashes

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Ashes. The rubbish left after devastation. The wasteland remaining after tragedy. Nothing left but to sweep it up and toss it to the wind. No one wants ashes. No one cares about what is left. The focus is only on what is gone, all that is lost to ruin.

My soul is in ashes. I have pummeled it and beaten myself down to nothingness. I have come to believe no one cares because I am not worthy of the concern. The wildfires of despair and pity have ravaged my body and my heart, leaving behind only ashes. A pile of worthlessness detracting from beauty.

But what if it could be different? What if I could be different? What if all the years, all the failed attempts to save myself from the slavery of my sinful habits could be wiped away, allowing me freedom to grow in beauty and strength? What if?

I’ve all but given up hope. All but. I have one last chance to salvage this body of mine, to allow the forest of my soul to flourish and grow fresh, renewed, beautiful as my Creator intended.

But fear holds me back; I am afraid of the fires of failure. They lick at my heels, whisper to me that today doesn’t really matter, I don’t really matter. Fires of unforgiveness against those who lost hope in me and unforgiveness for losing hope in myself. Those fires consume me, weaken my core until I am too afraid to put down my roots, stretch to the heavens, and cry out to God for His salvation.

Can I do it? One more try? You, Oh Lord, have given me hope, one more option, support for the trials. Can I block the flames of insecurity, gluttony, and pity to give You room to heal me to the core?

Can we, together, create in me beauty from the ashes?


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When Silence Enters

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Just down the hall in our small home, my daughters are drifting off to sleep. It’s the same most evenings. We put the toddler to bed, followed shortly by the 7-year old. Some nights it takes longer for them to settle, but most of the time, quiet follows me up the hall until I sit in the living room in silence. The house breathes a sigh of relief. We made it through another day in the noise, this parenting of young children. Never a pause in sound. Until this hour, when silence enters in.

The gentle tick-tock of my grandmother’s cuckoo clock lowers my heart rate and brings me into rhythm with the countless other women who are just now taking a breath for the first time in the day. Tick-tock, tick-tock. I am reminded of generations before me, my mother, my grandmothers. Did they crave quiet, like me, waiting for their hour each evening? Or were their days less busy, less loud? I am left to wonder how they spent their evenings. Beside their husbands, enjoying drinks together. Reading, sewing, or watching tv. Reviewing the events of the day, the children’s successes and adventures.

Did they lament mistakes they made themselves, where they failed as mothers, as I do? Wishing I could change my reaction, my tone, my quick temper, I am left to worry and feel guilty for my shortcomings.

When the silence falls around me, my mind doesn’t benefit from the quiet. Sometimes I long for the din of the day to fill my thoughts and my ears, blocking out any room for misgivings. But tonight, this night, I breathe my own sigh of relief. I look back on a day filled with love, laughter, and patience for one another, a successful day. And that old German clocks lulls me to peace with tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock …


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And then there is BRAVE

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Learning to be brave can take many forms. For some, it goes so far to as find a newly brave soul jumping from an airplane; others test their taste buds with strange foods in strange lands. Many people consider stepping in front of an audience to be a bravery make-it-or-breaker. In my own quest, I am testing my limits and finding my courage by sharing my heart via this blog and offering it for others to read.

To that end, I recently submitted an entry to be published in an online publication. While my piece was not chosen, the act of editing it to conform to the publication’s standards (and limit of 450 words!), then sending out to be judged took as much gusto as that first time I stood behind a podium to address hundreds of people. And, maybe, just maybe, when the task was complete, I put on my well-worn SuperGirl tee shirt!

The following is a consolidated story from my mission adventures in Honduras


And then there is Brave

I thought I was so brave when I left my children. I filled their arms with stuffed animals to cuddle and their hearts with promises to love them forever. I arranged for babysitters, church friends, my mother to comfort them in my absence. My MOPS Mentor mom suggested I leave love notes and Bible verses to read if they felt sad. I packed my bags, I kissed my babies, and then I left them.

As the plane took off and my home receded farther into the distance, I recited the verse I had left with my daughters, my mantra of bravery.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

Several hours later, our plane touched down in the third world country I was to spend the next two weeks. My mission team and I wound our way through customs, hoping our bags would not be confiscated. We traveled through checkpoints of armed teenaged military personnel and were awoken at night by nearby gunshots. I was often frightened, but not afraid. This was an adventure, an opportunity to see another side of life, to bring God’s love and hope to hurting, abandoned children. I would return home and tell my daughters I had left them to spread goodness in the world. It was hard being away from them, but I would show them I am brave.

And then I met bravery face-to-face, looked into eyes of true courage. She arrived at the orphanage with her five young children, then the young woman signed paperwork, handed over her babies, and walked away.

The native language being foreign to me, I gleaned only a little of the conversation but words were unnecessary. Grief has a language all its own, a non-verbal way of taking over one’s posture, gaze of the eyes, strength of hand, to expose the deepest heartbreak. I saw the vacant look in her eyes as she left her babies; the orphanage would provide a safer home than the one she offered full of sickness and abuse.

What love and wisdom – bravery she probably didn’t know she possessed – it must have taken to leave her children, giving them their best chance at survival. In weakness, my heart crumbled as I recognized the strength she possessed was something I do not, with my clean, secure home and healthy, well-fed children. Choosing to separate herself from her children in order to save them, she revealed to them – and me – what true bravery is: a sacrifice of love.

Better Than a New Car

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Friends are like little gifts from God. Or not.

“Little gift” implies something small, inconsequential. A pack of stationary, a bracelet that is just your style, a $5 gift card to Starbucks – just enough for a pumpkin spiced latte. mmmm… Okay, maybe not entirely inconsequential. Little gifts are delightful, we’ll all agree.

But I’m talking about great big, knock-your-socks-off, here’s-a-key-go-look-in-the-driveway sized gifts. Presents with gigantic red bows!

When God created us to have relationships, he didn’t just mean man-and-wife or mother-and-baby, he gave us FRIENDS. Seriously, this was His idea! Oh so beautifully.

Your friends are beside you to laugh, cry, scream, tell you to change your shirt because you wear too many stripes, beg you not to leave because there is a snake in front of your house and you cannot move, send you a message to ask after your child. Those seemingly small, inconsequential acts that all add up. That’s friendship. That’s love.

Friendships are a reflection of the love we pour into others. You are drawn toward self-sacrificial acts for another just because she matters to you. It’s easy to pick up the phone and call a friend to ask if her interview went well, to make dinner for a friend when she isn’t feeling well and her husband is traveling, to drive hours just to share a meal with a friend. We do this, not out of obligation, but because we want to. We are created to love, created to have friendships.

And what a magnificent lesson our friendships are for us! We do for others, without thinking, only asking for their love in return. We don’t expect to be compensated in act. We pour out because our friends’ hearts matter to us. This act comes so naturally to us because we are made in the likeness of the perfect example: Jesus. He called you “friend” then laid down His life in sacrifice. He doesn’t guilt us into returning any favor or want us to write notes of thanks, just as we wouldn’t ask so much of a friend. He merely wants us to remain as close to Him as our hearts allow, to open our deepest wounds to His loving touch. And He is there. No guilt, no shame, not even a mention of the lettuce stuck between your teeth.

True friendship is non-judgmental, always cheering from the sidelines, making me laugh until my guts hurt, bringing me cups of nourishment and joy, enjoying sunny days and walking close in rainstorms, reminding me I am beautiful even when I’ve put on a few pounds, challenging me to live better because I deserve it, hugging holding cherishing uplifting on the darkest days. Each of my friends, my better-than-a-new-car friends, gives this to me. But none so much as my Truest Friend.

Thank you, good and gracious Lord for the gifts you have given. Friendships modeled after your unconditional LOVE for us and our desire to return the same to one another. You are so good. And so creative!

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:12-15

More than a Number

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I wanted it to be more than a statistic. More than the ugly number that states 1 out of every 3 ends this way. The odds surrounding the survival of my baby were dizzying. Every third known pregnancy ends in miscarriage. Half of all pregnancies don’t survive, even though most women never even know they are expecting. At age 40, my chances for a live birth are even lower. We knew the odds going in, yet we tried anyway. We prayed, talked, and sought answers for months before even attempting.

Four years ago, my husband and I walked out of the silence and shame of infertility into the hope-filled world of reproductive therapy. Our first child had come to us so easily, we never expected to face several years of “trying,” only to have the doctors confirm the heartbreak: we were unable to conceive again naturally. In fact, the doctors aren’t sure how I was ever able to conceive our first child. Together with this husband of mine, whom God gave to me in perfect union, this man who in every way completes my heart, we were unable of creating life in my womb. Medically flawed. The knowledge that our union could not produce that which it was designed to created compatibility insecurities and stress. Yet, no amount of “you just need to relax” suggestions were going to fix this problem. Weekend get-aways weren’t quite the same for us. Sex is a wonderful thing in a marriage, a really wonderful gift. But prescripted sex every other day for months on end – even with a spouse who keeps you coming back for more – can begin to lose its luster.

With the new truth facing us, we could have counted our daughter as our miracle and moved on to raising an only child. But we felt pulled to try anyway. We prayed over the controversies surrounding In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), the process of introducing a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a dish, waiting for it to develop into a live embryo, then transferring it into her womb. As Christians, this science-driven method of creating life can raise questions. Yet we believe that God’s desire for us is life and relationships. If our family was to be blessed with another child, God would still be in control of the conception, no matter what method we used. And so we pursued. To be honest, I was terrified and ready to quit before we began. If it weren’t for my husband’s bravery, my first visit to the reproductive endocrinologist would have been my last.

In the months that followed, I obeyed the doctor’s instructions perfectly, injecting myself daily on schedule, sitting for repeated blood tests and sonograms, and generally feeling like a science experiment. My body helpfully produced a large number of high quality eggs which resulted in a fair number of living embryos. Babies. After our process was complete, and several weeks later we learned I was indeed pregnant, we were able to cryopreserve just two remaining embryos. Two future babies. Frozen in time.

Fast forward a few years to our now family of four. Two beautiful daughters fill our lives and hearts with joy. Is it selfish to desire another child? With two healthy children, each a miracle in her own right, how much more can we ask of God and science to produce for us? Yet we do so greatly desire a larger family. We spent months debating the pros and cons of “trying again,” something that can provide fun recreational intimacy for most couples. For us, we knew it meant it different level of intimacy – weeks of intramuscular shots, more tests, and this time, the anxiety of thawing our embryo with hopes it would survive long enough to be implanted in my womb. After many conversations and tears, we embraced the idea together and set out for a new round of IVF, completely committed to the life we were going to bring into the world.

And yet we didn’t. My pregnancy, the embryo we fell in love with, the idea of another child in our family, failed. Only a couple weeks into it, I suppose I could count myself among the millions of women who never realize a life is growing within and just move on. Except with me, with anyone facing infertility, it’s different. If I was going to subject myself to the pain and raw exposure of the process, I had needed to fully wrap my mind and heart around this child, to be prepared long before it could grow in my womb. As much as I loved my first two babies in utero, this child was mine. Then it was gone. My pregnancy and I are nothing more than a statistic, 1 in 3 women who suffer miscarriage.

I have joined a sisterhood, a sad sorority no woman wants to pledge. Our song is hope.


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Back To School Makes Me Cry

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Am I the only one who hates back to school day? All the hubbub and excitement as the long summer winds down and the house is suddenly too quiet. I was weepy for two weeks before the yellow bus arrived, knowing my daughter would be gone. all day. every day. for nine months. I’m glad her little sister didn’t know what was coming because she would have been crushed with disappointment. As it is, whenever Meredith isn’t at home, Audrey goes on auto-repeat, “Where’s Meme? Where did Meme go?”

Sure, we had our bouts of give-me-my-space during summer. And maybe, just maybe I told my husband I want half-day Fridays next year. But that means I want a few hours to myself, not all of them, every weekday, for the majority of the year.

School is necessary. And I realize one day these baby birds of mine must fly from my nest. But you won’t find me doing a happy dance about it then or now.

15 Minutes a Day

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A friend and I were talking about ourselves. Well really, she was talking about me. Very kindly. Very very kindly. What started as a passing comment about my lack of self confidence in middle school, she quickly turned into an opportunity to make sure I understand how beautiful I am, internally and externally.

(Don’t worry, this post isn’t only about how awesome I am, though according to my friends, I am quite the catch!)

From there, we wandered into conversation about what fulfills us, inspires us so much that we no longer see the world through the filters of “I am not enough,” but finally begin to understand what we put out there is real and beautiful and a product of our souls, something so perfectly us, it’s selfish to hold onto it. You know the thing. Your thoughts, your sewing, your amazing, lilting voice. The meals you bake for your family, your business sense, your ability to make others feel encouraged and worthy.

For my friend, it is her art. The world comes to life when she draws. She didn’t set out to become an artist, didn’t study art in college because, practically speaking, she needed a career that paid money. It wasn’t until she was firmly established that she recognized her ability and started dabbling in it. More and more and more. Then she had children. Ya know, those darling little never-stop-talkers, the need-to-be-fed-everydayers, the can-they-even-do-one-thing-without-making-a-messers. And her time was gone.

Enter Jerry Seinfeld.

Ah, wouldn’t that be a gas! But, I’m not budgeted for the big guns, so in his absence we have his advice. Apparently, when he understood his own talent and wanted to really get his career off the ground, he committed to 15 minutes a day. Fifteen minutes of writing, practicing, or whatever a genius like J.S. needed to craft his perfect humor. And guess what happened? Of course I wouldn’t have brought this up if he got bored and quit. His career took off is what happened. And the world is still laughing!

I don’t know details beyond that because, honestly, I was so captivated by my friend’s own beauty and gift, we moved on to more important topics, like ourselves. And her 15 minutes a day. She finds time to quiet the kids, quiet the house, quiet her mind, and she draws. She improves. She creates her art to be shared with the world. Because what good is that gift if it’s bottled up inside her head, no matter how pretty her hair is?

I’ve spent all summer chasing my never-stop-movers, driving my we-need-another-activitiers, and cleaning after my own can-they-even-do-one-thing-without-making-a-messers, but NOT writing. So this fall, with my friends’ encouragement and Jerry’s advice, I’m going to commit (a.k.a. try my best) to 15 minutes a day. Because I believe that for this season of my life, God has given me a talent, a gift, a “thing,” just as I’ve been asking Him to do since I was a talks-too-much with a bad-perm-despite-the-Aquanet middle schooler. It’s only as an adult I see the inherent beauty in it, in myself, and have the courage to share both my writing and myself.

What is your talent, strength, gift to the world? What can you spend 15 minutes a day creating to bring beauty to those you encounter? No matter how tangible, artistic, or earth-shattering, you are here and you have a purpose. Don’t keep it inside; share it!

Summer Spin Cycle

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Ever feel like your life is on spin cycle? Rinse, wash, repeat from one activity to the next. How do you stop the machine, or slow it down enough to catch a breath, look one another in the eye, truly enjoy time spent together rather than racing from one thing to another, albeit together?

Today begins the fourth week of summer break for my family and the first day I can catch a breath. Or hope to. We have had a delightful break from the school year routine thus far, our days mostly filled with new and different routines. And today is the start of yet another routine, though this will last a glorious four weeks.

I have been looking for small, minute opportunities to look my girls in the eye, to just take long deep breaths and remember their beautiful faces. Ages two and seven: one with pudgy fingers, bouncy baby curls, and full dimpled cheeks; the other with elongating features and glorious, captivating eyes. These children will change so much before August, so much more before we juggle next summer’s spin cycle. Their lives, their childhoods are so fleeting.

How do I provide for them a summer full of fun and laughter, while slowing down to make memories and not spoil them rotten? My eldest is having the time of her life, horseback riding and swimming late into the evening. Yet she complains when nothing is happening. She’s “bored.” (Oh how mothers loathe that word!) And my little one is dragged along to her sister’s various activities, hoping beyond hope that we will stop at a playground along the way. We have logged over 1200 miles in two weeks, barely crossing the county line. Little One and I are beginning to take the shape of trucker drivers, having spent approximately 60 hours driving the older to her lessons and home again.

I am exhausted, edgy, guilty (for lack of the coveted “slowing down”), yet we have filled our days and nights with fun. For my own memories (and guilt-free sleep), a rundown on weeks 1, 2, and 3:

Week 1:
Sick daughter. Lots of sleeping. Doctor visit. Pool. Ballet. Swim team time trials. Volunteer for said swim team. Playground. Attempt to organize for summer.
~Father’s Day. Family kayaking trip.

Week 2:
Horse camp 1. Swim team. Ballet. Library dance party. Afternoons at the pool. First swim meet. Game time with Mommy. Reading. Lots and lots of driving.
~ Weekend camping trip. Hiking. Biking. Pep rally.

Week 3:
Horse camp 2. Swim team. Swim meet. Visits to friends during camp. Lavender picking (apparently this is a thing). Catching fireflies. Play date. Lots and lots of driving.
~ Pep rally. Late nights at pool with Daddy. Play date.

Not too shabby!

Plans for Week 4:
Tennis lessons. Swim team. Swim meet. Trip to grandparents’ and the beach for the 4th. Lots and lots of driving…

Perhaps we need to turn driving time into family togetherness time. Happy spin-cycle summer!

The Unwrapping Continues

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I knew what I wanted for my 40th birthday a year in advance. Several months before my celebration, I was elated to receive the gift I had asked of family and friends, and embraced it with wonder and joy. Together, many of the people closest to me sent me on a mission trip to Honduras. What I gained through that gift was so much more than an experience or a cool trip, but a new perspective on life, a view of the world beyond my own.

So now, on the eve of the “big 4-0,” I’m left remembering where I was a year ago, emotionally and spiritually. I had never traveled to a third world country, never faced immeasurable poverty up close and personal. I had never wrapped my arms around an orphan. I was celebrating my 39th, never thinking I would soon be attacked by fire-ants while playing frisbee, cook rice and beans for dozens of hungry children, and fall in love with an unwanted, abandoned child.

When I received the gift, I slowly, carefully peered inside. Throughout the months following, I’ve checked back inside from time to time, toying with and chatting about the memories, but keeping it all locked where it is safe. It’s only now, that the real value is beginning to show.

My husband is taking his own journey and traveling to Honduras next month! I am thrilled to share the places, smells, sights, and faces with my partner in life. I know what he will experience, and I can’t wait to hear about it from his perspective. (I’m guessing fewer tears and less hugging.) Most of all, I am excited for him, for the impact these children will have on his heart, for the love and compassion I know he will feel for the nationals.

When I landed in Honduras, I immediately realized the second 40 years of my life would be very different than the first 40. The first proof of that is finally coming to fruition. My crazy college boyfriend, my adventurous backpacking-across-Europe pal, my stuffy business-suit-wearing husband … he’s going on a mission trip. And that is the greatest gift of all!

Lost Bee

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There is a bee in my house, a yellow jacket I think. He keeps banging himself against a window in the front bay.

Smack, buzz, smack, buzz.

I don’t want him to die needlessly. In fact, he should be set free to fulfill his pollenating purpose in the world. I sure don’t want him to find his stinging way to my daughters’ rooms. So, I open the screen in the pane next to him.

Smack, buzz, smack, buzz buzz buzz, smack.

He won’t leave. The breeze blows through the open window, cool and fresh. The bee remains, repeating the same ridiculous behavior. Behavior that will lead to certain death.

Smack, smack, buzzzzz.

He’s irritated and confused. I risk a sting and try to lead him toward the opening, wide and completely available to him. Yet he ignores my goading and climbs higher, farther from freedom.

And I think, is this how the Father feels? I fall, grumble, fall, fall, grumble grumble grumble. He opened the window, gave me access to freedom and life. He risked more than a pesky sting; he took on the sting of death.

Grumble, fall, grumble grumble.

I repeat the same ridiculous behaviors. I sin daily. I make mistakes I can avoid (I yell, lose patience then my temper, make unhealthy choices for my body, prioritize my social well-being above my spiritual self, tell the occasional white lie, shirk responsibilities, and act in ways I’d rather keep between God and me). I bang myself against the veil of selfish temptations, again and again. I complain, “What am I doing here? How can I get away from these destructive behaviors?”

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Instead of following the path to freedom, I remain lost. Lost in myself. That open window sits within my reach. I don’t need to earn my way through it or uncover a secret to unlock it. I simply need to move. Move toward to path to freedom. Accept God’s gift of freedom for the sake of love.

Are you lost? Are you banging your head in a repeated attempt to feel freedom? Are you knocked down, again and again, by false promises of the easy life?

Look to the open window, look to Jesus. With His arms open wide, He is ready to set you free from burden and worry. Life with Christ overflows with love and unbridled joy.

Christ set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.
Galatians 5:1

That little bee? He found his way out, to freedom, to life. I pray you do, too. If you’re a little lost like the bee, talk about it. I have found such freedom and love in Christ, I want to share it. Go ahead, ask. I promise it won’t sting!