Thursday, October 13, 2016


A friend of mine gave me a hug yesterday. 

I was standing in the fellowship hall of my church, just waiting on all the lovely women to arrive for Coffee Break.  She walked in the door, walked straight over to me, put her things down, and hugged me.

It surprised me.

This isn’t something we do every time we see each other.  Occasionally there are hugs given out at Coffee Break so it isn’t like it is something weird.  But it still surprised me.

The surprise wore off fast.

Like an instant melt, I felt all the cold loneliness and the tension of the last few days just melt away.  Gone. 

Like a sunrise after a dark night, light started spilling in.  Creeping over the surface, chasing away shadows, driving the dark of night away.

I wrapped my arms around her too and she just held me tight while I choked, “I needed this.”

I’d had a rough 24 hours.  I’m not going to explain why, but it was a day I didn’t care to repeat.  Somehow, this wonderful friend could see this in me.  I believe she listened to the Holy Spirit prompting her to offer me some acceptance and love.

Oh how we don’t know the battles of the women around us.  Oh how we have lost sight of the pain of other people. 

It takes eyes to really see it.  It takes ears to listen closely enough to hear it.  It takes a heart ready to break for other people.  It takes actually listening to those nudges you feel to reach out to someone else.

And then all it takes is a hug.  Bless the Lord, all it takes is an embrace. 

In that moment I knew I was still loved.  I knew people still saw me and cared about me.  I knew that there was still good in the world – that there was still God in the world.

He promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.  He promised that in this world we would have trouble.  And He promised that He would be with us always, even to the very end.

Yesterday, I knew He kept His promise.  And in the arms of a friend who offered a random hug I knew I had experienced the hands, the heart and the love of Christ. 

Go love someone today.  Offer an unasked for hug.  Message someone on facebook with encouragement.  Listen better.  Talk less.  Love more.  Be Jesus to someone today.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Where My Imperfection Meets His Power

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the five love languages.  They are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, personal touch and gifts.  I have a daughter whose love language is personal touch.  I’ll be honest, this is a major struggle for me because this is not the love language I am most comfortable giving or receiving.

One particular Friday night my husband and I and our three children were getting ready to go to WalMart.  Cuz that’s what super cool parents with three little kids do for fun on a Friday night.  My daughter grabbed my hand and I did something I am ashamed to admit.  I shook her off.  I actually brushed her hand away and removed my arm from her grasp.  I did it all gently and without complaint.  Really, I did it all without even realizing I had done it.

It didn’t even register with me what had happened until early the next morning when I was driving home from the gym.  For some reason God chose that moment to remind me of how I had pulled away from her.  With tears streaming down my face I started to pray.  I asked him to forgive me and promised to apologize to her.  I asked Him to help me be BETTER.  And then I said words that shocked me.  “Help me to give more.” 

And my mind reels with that statement.  For women, who give so much all the time, HOW is giving more even possible?  But there it is in the cry of my heart - I want to give more.  I beg the One who gave it ALL to help me follow closer in His perfect footsteps - me with my stumbling, bumbling gait.

I don’t get it all right.  I mess up.  I’m very much the poster child for the imperfect mother.  I am not the mother of the year.  I am not even the mother of the last five minutes.  If I were writing a song you can bet it would sound like my three year old banging on the piano.  It would be a mess.  Probably no identifiable tune.  Lots of flats and sharps that don’t make sense on their own.  Too quiet in places and way too loud in others. 

I’m not alone in this, you know.  Reading the New Testament can be a little humbling for me.  With heroes of the faith like the apostles who really measures up?  But with a glance at the Old Testament I start to feel a little better about myself.  I look a little better standing next to Jacob the perpetual liar or Samson the prideful.  One might be tempted to chalk them up as bad melodies too. 

But if we take a step back we’re able to see more than just a few notes at a time.  We can see God’s hand composing a whole symphony.  And suddenly, strangely, all those places where we thought the notes were all wrong, those are the places He has filled in with chords and harmonies too beautiful to be believed.

You see it is not our hand composing this symphony of salvation.  Instead we are notes on the page of the most beautiful score ever scribed. Our off-sounding notes, best efforts and failed attempts are in many ways the harmony.  And God provides a melody - beautiful and pure - filling in all the gaps, suddenly making sense of it all.

Every woman wants to give more.  Its something almost coded in our DNA.  It’s what we do – we give.  We want to reason that the more we give, the better woman we are.  But it’s not our efforts that determine the beauty of the song. 

I'm learning about my need for a Savior all over again, and I invite you to do something brave with me.  I invite you to give yourself a break - to stop worrying about playing all the wrong notes, and to instead listen carefully for the music God is creating.  He’s taking all the bad notes, the off-sounding chords, and even the most off-beat moments and wrapping them in a beautiful melody.  He sings His salvation song over, around and through us and He invites us to drop the worry and to join in the dance.

(Photo credit: Megan Vande Voort)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nicaragua Knocking On My Door

Several years ago, our church began partnering with other churches in Nicaragua.  Admittedly, this didn’t really connect with me.  A sister church in a faraway place is neat and all, but it was one of those unfortunate out-of-sight-out-of-mind situations.  Until one day they announced that they would have a table in the back full of Compassion sponsorship opportunities.  I had always wanted to sponsor a child so this seemed like a neat opportunity.

I walked up to their table and stared down at the packets.  I purposefully avoided looking at the faces.  Instead, I searched through the birth dates.  When I found one that matched Reagan’s within a few days, I picked up the packet.  I stared down into the serious face of the most beautiful boy.  And there, in the fellowship hall of Faith CRC in Pella, Iowa, I met Angel Isaac. 

That was the day Nicaragua knocked on my door.

I’m guessing he hadn’t had many photo shoots before.  Someone probably posed him in that alley and stepped back and clicked a good picture of a boy who didn’t know why he should smile for a camera.  He was clean and the background was neat.  But at his age he was too young to probably understand what a sponsor really was.

We began the normal correspondence.  I am embarrassed to admit how hard it was to step outside my comfortable American culture and just relate to him on a human-to-human level.  There were times when I would write something down and then delete it, because it felt proud and I worried it would be so foreign to him.  With every letter to Angel, I have tried hard to not sound like some bizarrely wealthy and snobbish rich woman.

His letters to me are sweet.  I love receiving them.  He writes about his life, his family, sports he plays.  And I get a glimpse of the boy he is – the boy he is growing up to be.

One of the reasons I signed up all those years ago was the little plug that our church would be sending missions teams down to Nicaragua.  This would make it more possible for us to arrange visits or to arrange for gifts to go down to our sponsored children.  And just a month or so ago, such an invitation was extended in our newsletter.

I jumped at the chance.  I didn’t really have the time to do the shopping, but I somehow managed to get to Walmart.  I strolled the aisles and I searched for things that Reagan’s male friends might enjoy.  Stickers, crayons, notebooks, legos, and little toys went in my shopping cart.  Deodorant, a toothbrush, a comb went in too.  I pushed my cart full of gifts for Angel up to the checkout.

“I got to shop for a little boy in Nicaragua,” I said to the clerk.  I’m sure she smiled and said something nice but I was suddenly overcome with emotion.  With tears in my eyes I watched her scan the packages of crayons and colored pencils absolutely coated in English words that Angel probably wouldn’t understand.  Does he even use deodorant?  I had no idea.  Was he too old for a little hot wheels toy car?  Possibly. 

But then I heard God remind me, “Does it matter?  What do you think Angel will feel when he opens this backpack?”

It’s a small miracle that I made it out to my car.

I went home, carefully packed my little gift, tucked in a few photos of our family, and immediately delivered it to Marlo and Carol – members of our church who would deliver it to Nicaragua.  I gave them all the information they would need for the gift to get to Angel.  And that was it.

So many times in the last few weeks I have wondered if Angel had gotten his backpack yet.  Out of nowhere he would enter my mind and I would imagine his reaction. 

But this afternoon I got this email.  And it’s full of the face of a smiling boy standing with the contents of my gift spread all around him.

There are our photos right out in front.

There he is on the other side of the world.

And once again, here is Nicaragua knocking on my door.

I don’t know if I will ever actually meet Angel.  Travel terrifies me and being a mom to young kids had demands all its own.  I would love to go someday.  I’m sure he would be horrified because I would be a crying mess – much like the lady I was at Walmart – much like the lady I was when I opened an email to see his sweet smile.  I would want to hug him too tightly and for too long.  I would have a million questions and so few words in his language.  Maybe someday God will open that door.

But for now, He has given us this.  He has shown me, and shown Angel too, that love sees no distance. 

Love knows no language barriers.

Love looks a lot like a backpack full of school supplies and little toys and tiny tokens of affection.

Love looks like the smiling face of that beautiful boy.

And love is always always always worth it.

Oh Angel, I pray that every time you slip that backpack on, you can imagine my arms giving you a squeeze.  I hope as you color and draw your world becomes more beautiful.  I pray that those photos find a place on the wall in your home (just as yours is on the wall in ours) and that every time you look at it you will know that you are loved.  Yes, loved by me.  But more than that – that God loved you so that he brought us together in this one small way.  P.S.  I love your smile.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Just Here

This has been a hard week.

After a full weekend with Brian’s family, we were geared up for one last day of activity.  On the morning of the Fourth of July, Hunter woke up with a small reddish area at the site of his tick bite from a week ago.  We didn’t get overly concerned as this was, according to the internet, a fairly common reaction.  But as the day wore on, he got increasingly more uncomfortable and the small red area grew larger and turned purple.  Still, he played even through fireworks late Monday night.  Tuesday morning he was in so much pain that I could not even pick him up and carry him without causing him pain.  We quickly brought him in and he was diagnosed with cellulitis.  We got him on “gorilla strength” antibiotics and have been doing our best to keep him comfortable.

He can’t really walk without extreme pain so I carry him, very very gingerly, everywhere he needs to go.

He can’t sit up due to the location of the infection.

His sleep is not sound and he needs comfort several times in the night.

He hates the taste of his meds and giving it to him is awful.

He screams any time he has his diaper changed (normally he doesn’t wear one, but given the nature of what he is dealing with and the side-effects of his medication it is necessary).  It takes two of us to even manage it.

He hasn’t played in two full days.

He hasn’t run through the house in two full days.

He hasn’t made a silly face to make us laugh in two full days.

I’m going to be honest – tonight I’m struggling.

I’m struggling to trust that the medication is working.  The doctor warned me that it would take some time.  And yet I’m just worried.

I’m struggling to remember even what day it is because I have spent all of the last several days being glued to his side.  He won’t let me leave him and asks for me repeatedly.  And even though there is no where I would rather be…I’m just tired.  After two days of sitting on the floor beside his perch on the couch, all of time seems one big blur.

I’m struggling to be patient with my other two kiddos who have needs as well.  I feel utterly spent and that is ridiculous because I am not actually doing anything other than sitting on the floor, begging my little boy to drink, and feeding him bites of food.  My energy is gone.

I’m struggling to reject the voice of the enemy who wants me to believe that maybe this is worse than what the doctor said it was.  Struggling to not listen to the worry that the diagnosis was wrong.  Struggling to ignore the worry that maybe I didn’t get all of the tick out when I know I checked so specifically to make sure that I had.

I flip flop between great moments of peace and comfort and hope to moments of fear and worry and anxiety.

There’s no neat-and-tidy bow on this one.  There’s just this – a valley.  When your three year old screams in pain every time you gently carry him, that’s a valley. 

Maybe its not necessarily the shadow of death that I fear here.  But the weight of suffering and the agony of waiting press in around me.  How long, Oh Lord?

I am working to dig deep and to find that Job-like faith that says, “even so…” 

It could certainly be worse.  But that’s not the brave face I put on in my prayers.  In my murmured pleadings it is always this – it could certainly be better.  Please let it get better.  Please let him get better.

So here’s where I find my only comfort tonight – that I speak all these honest broken prayers to a Father who watched His own Son suffer mightily.    

It would be hard, if not impossible, for me to pray to a God who hadn’t felt and experienced and lived through the agony and victory of the cross.  How could I trust Him to feel my pain, to feel any pain at all, if He’d never watched His Beloved suffer and die?  What’s more, how could I pray to a God, love a God, trust in a God who didn’t recognize the incredible pain of loss enough to reverse it with an empty tomb.

He hates pain.  He hates suffering.  He hates sicknesses, and hatred, and death, and oppression, and cancer, and AIDs, and malaria, and hunger.  He hates cellulitis in little three year old boys who should be running through the house. 

He hates it all and someday He will erase and reverse it. 

But for tonight, He holds me as I kneel and cry and pray for the little boy in the room down the hall.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Turning It Around

Yesterday was a long, non-smooth day. 

Despite the heat, my kids played outside in the morning.  But from the minute they walked back in the house they were a handful.  Three handfuls.  And I only have two hands.

They played games that annoy me because they involve shrieking and opening and closing doors.  They bounced beach balls too hard (I can’t even type that without feeling like an intolerant jerk – but it’s true – loud beach balls drive me cray-cray).  They intentionally irritated one another, especially Hunter, till the victim ended up in tears.  There was tattling.  There was shoving.  There was hitting.  There were countless requests for tv time or a movie. 

One of Maddie’s chores for the day was to make a pan of bars for dessert for supper.  So there she stood in the kitchen after having snuck away from the other two, ready to do one of her favorite things – baking.  She dumped half a cup of flour on the floor and jumped off the chair which slammed it into my foot and the words flew out of my mouth.  Not the kind of words I will regret for the rest of my life.  But angry, irritated, impatient words.

Her shoulders slumped and the corners of her mouth turned down.  “I don’t even want to do this anymore,” she muttered.

Oh man.  “Neither do I,” I thought to myself.  Somehow in that moment I scraped enough Mom-goodness together that I made a joke and made the rest of the job more fun.  She laughed and soon the pile of flour was wiped up, the mixer was whirring away, and the smile was on her face again. 

I’m not saying the rest of the day was smooth-sailing.  The bickering continued.  One kid hated my supper.  Bedtime was a long long long drawn out affair. 

But I am encouraged to know that just because I get it wrong on occasion, that doesn’t mean I always will.  I can turn it around.  With a joke.  With a smile.  With a hug.  With an apology.  With a prayer. 

Today I’m praying for all the Mommas who are slogging their own way through summer – be it the fun days or the monotonous ones.  It’s all exhausting in its own way, isn’t it?  Praying that God will give you reminders to have grace for yourself and opportunities to turn those hard moments around when they sneak up on you.

Monday, June 13, 2016


They're all packed and put away - every box containing odds and ends we find so essential to our week at VBS.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  Summer finally begins for me.

We sat down this weekend and over countless hours we planned out and reserved our family vacation.  So much planning for a vacation - I understand the concept of travel agents more and more all the time.

Brian has finished his last meeting for church council.  He, too, is feeling a sense of relief and that a burden has been lifted.

We find ourselves looking at weeks and weeks of summer with a sense of quiet calm and relaxation.

But just a few states down, the world has been turned upside down.  And as the news trickles in about the who, and the why and the how, my world seems suddenly scarier and darker.  Because what happens there...it could happen here.

I ache for parents and sisters and brothers and friends who are reeling after loss.  My heart is with those struggling to recover in hospital rooms filled with IVs and beeping monitors.  I can only imagine the confusion and shock covering the ones who were fortunate enough to walk away unharmed.

So I pray.  I pray that God will be near to them and that He will meet their needs.  I pray He will place people in their lives who can speak comfort and peace and love.  I pray that we will all look to the God who speaks of forgiveness and mercy and grace - the One who came so that all may live.

I watched the news reporters struggle to make sense of what has happened.  I listened to them grapple with the new reality that this kind of terrorism is almost impossible to fight.  And I have read pieces that reflect the political positioning already happening around this issue.

I'm one of the people in this country who find themselves completely dissatisfied with the candidates placed before me.  I struggle to understand why anyone needs to buy an assault rifle even if there is a legal process.  I struggle with the ease of which a woman can end the life of her unborn child.  I struggle to find a party that represents my views.  I feel almost left out.

I'm not trying to start a political debate.  If you believe differently than me that is okay.  In fact, it is so okay that I will smile and nod at you while you share your side.  And I will hope that you will do the same for me.  And that neither one of us will feel it is necessary to go out and purchase a killing machine simply because there are people who are different than us.

My lips tremble as I pray.  "Are you still in control?  Is the whole world still in your hands?  Because there are times when I feel like it is just crumbling to pieces around me.  And I am afraid for my children."

He doesn't leave me there.  He reminds me that it is okay if there is no political party that shares all of my concerns.  I can still be light.  He reminds me that it is okay if there are those who are different than me.  I can still love.  He reminds me that it is okay if there are evil men and women who hate everyone who is free and different.  I can still hope.  Because He is still here.

Our role is not diminished.  It is with every act of hate that we find our own acts of love magnified, amplified and multiplied.  Light is even more striking in darkness.  And though I cannot be thankful that such an atrocity could happen, I am choosing to see the doors that have opened for us to step out in love.

When these acts of terror shake us, I pray that they will shake us loose from every comfort that blinds us and hardens our hearts and that we will be moved past our pity to compassion.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

So Thankful

VBS is done for another year.  The jungle vines, the fake palm trees, the hundreds of stuffed animals are packed away yet again.  The craft room has been cleaned up.  The snacks have been eaten.  And I am home with my people.

It was a crazy five days.  It was busy.  There is a nearly constant stream of work that needs to be done in order to stay just one step ahead of 90+ energetic third graders.

I am thankful.  Not simply because it is over, though I am glad to be home with my feet up.  I am thankful for so many reasons.  Each reason bearing a name and a face.

I am thankful for Gary, Colin and Jeremy who were there each day, setting up great outdoor games and just having a great time playing the recreation games with the kids.

I am thankful for Ryan, who told the story and shared God's voice with a bunch of amazingly quiet and attentive kids.

I am thankful for Eilene, Heather, Karen, and Nia who welcomed the kids of the other volunteers.  They took them outside to play, fed them snacks, changed diapers and doted on littles while the Mommas were busy elsewhere.

I am thankful for Lindsay who mastered the snacks like a boss. 

I am thankful for Renae, Elaina, Rosie, Kim, Ruth, Cassie and Michelle who helped all those kiddos make really fun, and sometimes really messy crafts. 

I am also thankful for Cassie as she stood at the front and led all those kids in singing some really fun songs complete with actions.

I am thankful for 18 teachers and helpers like Makenna, Sophine, Lynae, Chloe, Greta, Evan, Tessa and Holden who were there each and every day to show some love to the kids in their classes. 

I am thankful for Nancy who was so helpful in so many ways as she met our secretarial needs over the past month or more.

I am thankful for Bob and the way he was so gracious to help us in whatever way he could even as we got in the way of his janitorial duties.

I am thankful for the church family who donated snacks, crafts and prayers so that our week could be a wonderful success.

And I am extremely thankful for Shalene, Cassie (again!) and Tanya who so fearlessly coordinate our program.  With seemingly effortless teamwork they pool their efforts and cover every single need.  They are such a joy to work with.

The faces of those third graders keep going through my mind.  And then they are followed with the names and faces of all those who showed up this week to show them what it is like to be loved and to point them to the One who loves them 

Grateful.  So very very grateful for our week, the third graders, and all our many volunteers.