Unanswered questions

Unanswered questions

Our book club recently read Becoming Elisabeth Elliot and The Hiding Place. The women in these stories have both taught me something recently through their faith, suffering, and walking with God: we may never have the answer. Let that sink in for a minute. You may never know here on earth why your husband died a savage death (Elisabeth, known as Betty, lost her husband in the jungles of Ecuador, after he was speared to death by the Waodani Indians they were there to minister to). You may never know why you were put in solitary confinement and forced to endure the realities of a concentration camp (Corrie Ten Boom) or why God allowed it in the first place. You just may not get the answers to life’s hardest questions living here on earth. But you know what? That didn’t stop either of these women from moving forward in their faith, testifying EVEN STILL to the faithfulness of God. I love stories like these, and from others who you’d think “they of all people have a right to stop believing, to question, to waiver in their belief” because of what they’ve gone through. Almost like they get some kind of a “pass” to stray a little bit from God, because doesn’t He have a say in what happens to us, can’t He stop the suffering, the injustice, the grief and despair? But EVEN STILL we have examples in our world of men and women, past and present, who choose to speak of the faithfulness of God, EVEN WHEN the hardest, most painful questions are left unanswered.

I think of Elisabeth and Corrie and how they would handle our own unanswered questions. Why did we have boy/girl twins growing in my belly one year ago, and today we don’t have them here with us? Why? If we were going to end up without them here in our arms, why did God allow for their existence in the first place? Why did they stay safely preserved in the freezer as embryos for four years? Why then did He allow a successful thaw of the embryos and a successful transfer? Why was there a positive pregnancy test after all of those shots and medications and trips to Denver to see our fertility doctor? Why did God allow weeks with them growing in my body, and not a full-term, live birth? If it was going to end, and He knew that, why did He allow weeks and not days? Surely days would have maybe been slightly less painful than weeks, right? I wonder “why”, but not with angry tears like I once had, but with a curious mind, and a heart softened toward knowing I’m not the only one to question why, to question God’s ways and His timing. But I can see from these heroes of the faith that we can move forward in trusting God anyway, even when our questions go unanswered. Our questions can linger there, because He is God and we are not. And maybe that’s where we place our faith. We can place our faith there with Him, the all-knowing God, and live on in peace. 

IVF belly. Bruised, sore, and swollen. But worth it. The twins were from Noella’s IVF cycle. That makes her extra special that she’s here with us! And Shilo’s just a miracle in her own category.
Boy/girl twins! Now with Jesus. It’s one of those unanswered questions. But God is always faithful.

 

This very Tuesday morning

This very Tuesday morning

God help us to know when to pull our girls in and hold them as they struggle with too many emotions and too many tears and not enough sleep. Help us know when to say no and when to guide their emotions to a better reaction, to a better response. Help us to know when to just hold them and when to train them.

Help me to know when to stop and play and when to finish the task of cleaning up refried beans off the rug.

Help me to know what it means to love and speak softly when little people appear at my bedside before I’ve even had a chance to stretch my neck from that weird sleeping position or put my contacts in. (Is is just me or is hard to even be human when you literally can’t even see yet, let alone respond with what breakfast will be.)

God help us when we look back to dwell on the good and happy memories, like the first time we kissed the fresh skin of our babies or embarked on one of our adventures, to see above all, your goodness. And if our minds do pass by the hard days, may we see vividly how faithful you were and not how flawed we (still) are.

God may we see the shift in season (even though it still feels like a mid summer Texas day here) as a new chapter, a fresh start, your mercy going before us.

God, may we be mindful of others: missionaries serving you (killing vipers on the walking trail…), and trying to make their mouths sound out sounds that are so foreign that they sound like toddlers learning to talk. They learn those new sounds and languages to one day share your truth with people. May we be mindful to pray for them, and not just ‘like’ their pictures and journeys on Facebook. May we be mindful of those dealing with chronic diseases. Help us be mindful of those who struggle every day in ways we can’t imagine. May we pray for them when they cross our minds.

God show us your goodness through light streaming in through arched doors, and through daughters with different eye colors, and through husbands who love us like we’ve never been loved before, and through friends who bring sidewalk chalk for the girls, and neighbors who drop off pistachio ice cream.

God, give us the ability to make the most of things: the friendships in our lives, the childhoods you’ve placed in our home, the conversations around the table, this very Tuesday morning.

God, give us your eyes to see our days and our circumstances as you would have us see them.
“Raised in good conditions”

“Raised in good conditions”

When it comes to writing in French I’m a little rusty. There are too many accents and silent letters that I overlook, or rather, ignore. So when it comes to staying in touch with my French speaking friends, I’m especially thankful for any kind of voice memo possibilities. It’s a lot easier to just talk without thinking about grammar and such.

My Guinean friend “C” and I love to stay in touch this way, and just hearing her voice warms my heart. Just hearing the noisy background warms my heart. She still lives in Guinea and I miss her so much. She met me a lifetime ago, when I was 25 and wide-eyed to a new, unfamiliar culture and language. I was a fish so far out of water I was in a dry desert, flopping around as Shawn and I tried to navigate culture shock, homesickness, purpose, and ministry in this new country.

Conakry, Guinea was where we first started out as missionaries, after four years of training and a year of language school in Québec. (See? Those accents will just sneak up on you when you least expect it.)

Conakry was often referred to, even by locals, as “Capital Village”, because even the capital was underdeveloped. We didn’t know any different as this was our first time in Africa. But time would reveal that it was a rough place. But a welcoming, hospitable place unlike many other places we’d ever been, or have since been.

A big part of West African culture is to wish things for people. For example, at the start of a new year you wish them prosperity, and money, and peace, and health, and things like that. (You just keep wishing and wishing and wishing, and the more wishes you lavish upon someone, the better!) So when Noella had her birthday the other day, “C” left a voice memo with lots of wishes for her and her life. One of the things she wished was that she would “be raised in good conditions”. Her sentiment stopped me in my tracks because I know what kind of conditions “C” was raised in and lives in now. I know “C”‘s world because I lived there. I wasn’t raised there, but I can remember so vividly my experiences there. I know her probable realities as a young woman in West Africa. I know her social and cultural expectations and the roles she’s expected to fulfill. I know how hard it can be to find good drinking water, and to have enough power to run your refrigerator or charge your phone. Yes, even in the capital.

Then I look around and see our girls, riding their bikes on our long driveway, matching helmets securely fastened, with food in their bellies and good drinking water always available, and I feel an unshakable guilt. Maybe it’s not guilt, exactly, but a feeling of “why us”? Why are we getting to raise our girls in conditions where medical care is within driving distance, and they aren’t forced into female circumcision like what happened where we lived in Guinea? Why do we have the ability to get educated and vote and run and play and enjoy carefree childhoods? We as Americans are, generally speaking, raised in such good conditions that we don’t even have it in our language to wish that someone be raised in good conditions.

So it sat heavy on my heart and mind for a few days. Partly because the sentiment was so sincere and meaningful, and from someone I love, and someone whose living conditions I still remember. But I don’t want the blessing to be a burden. I want to just do all that I know to do, and that’s to give back (like to practically support missionaries who work to spread the Gospel in these areas and around the world) and to never forget to be grateful. I want to look around at the conditions our girls are being raised in, and not forget to thank God for His many gifts. I want to also thank Him for the experiences that brought us these perspectives. These perspectives don’t forget how it once was, how it could be, and one that reminds us to thank Him for how it is. And above all, we want to thank Him that because of the cross, no matter how our earthly conditions are, or how bad they may get or may seem, there is hope. There is always hope. May Noella and Shilo also be raised in the knowledge of that truth. And that, my friends, is my wish upon wish for you too.

The marathon of motherhood

The marathon of motherhood

I’ve never really ever been the marathon personality type. The type that goes the distance, runs with endurance, continues even when it’s hard type. I’m more of the sprinter type. The who gives it everything for a short bit knowing there’s an end in sight, then takes a long nap on the couch. I admire the marathon type. The ones who get up every morning and do it all again, with perseverance to stay in the game. That’s why I write blog posts and not books. Because books are marathons. I’m a sprinter who would rather write what’s on my heart and hit publish.

But then I became a mom and realized that motherhood is the grand daddy of marathons. Or rather, the mother of all marathons. It’s a race you can’t quit. But what if you want to? What if the whining and the monotony and the training and the nonstop talking and the messes and the sibling squabbles and the day after day and ALL OF IT JUST BECOMES TOO MUCH?!

You have to keep running.
You have to keep looking up.
You have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
As soon as you start to take your eyes off of Jesus, the overwhelm will overwhelm you and you’ll be pacing the driveway with a fake cigarette in your hand.

You can try and sit on the sidelines and binge a show or have another gin & tonic with the colorful little straws, but none of that will equip you to stay in the race. None of that will equip you to finish well the race that is set before us.

Is the race the same e’ry day, over and over, all day long? Yep.
Is it exhausting? YESSSSS.
Is it doable? Yes it is, in fact. Doable and hard can be in the same sentence. That’s what I’m learning in my race right now. This desire to escape when it gets hard is ingrained in me. But quitting is not how we win this race.

By the way, “winning” in the context of the motherhood marathon means a few different things to me:

– Finding joy when I want to quit
– Loving like Jesus (umm, not yelling, getting annoyed, acting more childish than the actual children, forgiving)
– Being willing to begin again, each morning, multiple times a day
– Showing up with a gracious heart when I want to stay in bed and not care for one single person but myself
– Not comparing who does what with the kids, accepting my role and responsibilities and seeing them as a privilege
– Raising girls who love God and seek after Him
– Raising girls who love each other and others
– Raising girls who can eat something other than chicken nuggets, eventually tie their own shoes, and, you know, not wear pull-ups their entire lives maybe?

It doesn’t matter how I got here, or if I’m a marathon or a sprinter type of person, I’m in a marathon now. So by God’s grace I’m going to lace up those shoes, and run well by showing up again tomorrow. There are some little girls on the sidelines watching me in this race, so I can’t give up.

When my sister-in-law was in town last month, we went on a hike and when Shilo got tired we took turns carrying her on our backs. What a visual for the marathon of motherhood.
The culture of home

The culture of home

Home is where my husband and my daughters are. Shawn has been my home for almost 17 years. We lived in an apartment attached to someone’s house (where the kitchen sink was the size of a toaster), we lived in missionary training center housing where there was not even a toilet in the apartment (we had to walk to a bath house- somehow that was supposed to help prepare us for life and ministry overseas). We ‘upgraded’ to a little apartment at our next training center where there was a toilet (the cheering! The excitement!) but no shower. We had to bundle up in the winter just to walk to take a shower, hoping our wet hair wouldn’t freeze on the walk back. And of course, hoping the line wouldn’t be too long since we were sharing with a whole campus. We lived in my in-law’s basement (it was more of a garage with a bed in it) for 4ish months. We lived without running water for a year, and we’ve lived in a few ghettos. The kind of ghetto where your friends don’t feel comfortable parking their car outside your house. We lived above a boutique where you could buy a baguette, a cold drink from the fridge, eggs, seasoning, all from a friendly man from behind the counter. We lived where we could hear the ocean at night, and drums when there was something to celebrate. We lived where the Call to Prayer at the Mosque was our alarm clock and a reminder that I should probably start dinner (read: ask Shawn what we were having for dinner). We lived where no one understood our language or our ways, we lived where snow fell higher than our car, and where our apartment was furnished and quite possibly the most uncomfortable thing known to man. We lived here and we lived there. We had pot smoking neighbors and mice upon mice living among us. We always had decorations of some sort. Even if it was just a map of the world taped to the wall with family pictures taped around it. And now we’re in a new place and I’m thinking about home, and the various homes we’ve known, all over again. I’m thinking about what it means but more so, what it should mean, and what we want it to look like for these growing-by-the-minute girls of ours. They may not be amazed by the light fixtures, or how well insulated the house is, or how great the long driveway is. They many not be impressed by the bathtub like I am, or rave about the front door like I do. (I’m going to interrupt myself with a quick mini story: a friend came to see our new house last night and she was also raving about the front door. I said, “I know! I just can’t get over it. And she said, “Then don’t.” And it was the sweetest permission to just love this place, to keep being grateful and appreciate it all unapologetically. So please be anticipating weekly if not daily door posts on the ‘gram.)
I started thinking about what we want our home to look like, aside from the door and the tile and the way we arrange our furniture. I started thinking more about the culture of our home. In issue 27 of Bella Grace, there was an essay on home. Then there was a blank illustration of a house where you can write down or illustrate all the feelings you want to fill your home with. That really made me stop and think.
In the empty space of the illustrated home, here are the things we jotted down:
Laugh here! Cry here. Be you here.
Forgiven.
Accepted because we’re accepted in Jesus.
Heard.
Peace.
Welcome.
GRACE.
Chosen!
Dance parties.
Growth (but no rush).
“Always we begin again”.
LOVE.
Fun.
Friendship.
Happy memories.
Whatever home looks like here, or wherever our girls end up, I hope they know love and grace and I hope that at some point, they get to have a front door that they love.

What do you want to fill your home with?
Farewell house on Elk Run

Farewell house on Elk Run

So many homes, so many memories. We’ve been in this house longer than we’ve lived anywhere in our whole entire marriage. Four years. That’s how long we’ve lived here on Elk Run. Isn’t it funny that in nearly 17 years of marriage, four years is the longest we’ve lived somewhere? Even within our six years in Africa we moved around a few times. Once a nomad, always a nomad, I guess. We moved into our house on Elk Run when I was so pregnant I couldn’t bend. You know that feeling? Like, even if you wanted to, you physically couldn’t bend. I wrote letters to Noella (she was still in my belly) while sitting in her grey nursery that my friend graciously helped me paint. I wrote baby Noella to tell her how excited we were, and that we couldn’t wait to see, hold, and kiss her. So many of the other places where we lived I often moved in wondering if we’d get to create a nursery in that home. We never did. This home on Elk Run was our first time creating a space for baby. Then two babies! Our first meal in this house was Chicken Express and they forgot to give us silverware (Chick Fil A would never have the audacity to do that) so we ate with our fingers using an empty box as our table. We attempted to plant a raised bed garden here, but the heat and the grasshoppers were ruthless. We met neighbors who grew to be Texas grandparents to our girls while living on this street. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like here in San Angelo if we hadn’t met them, and some of the other neighbors on this street. I cried for about 10 min when I realized we were really selling the first home we ever owned, the home we brought our new babies to. It sank in when we were talking about listing prices and all that legal, next-step contracty stuff. But the chair where I nursed and rocked our little ones is the same chair I’m bringing with us to the new house. And the girls are coming too! The idea of setting up bedrooms for two little girls is so very special. So I don’t feel too sentimental about leaving behind this house (now that my 10 min of crying is over). It was a dream come true, and so is this next place. How special that those babies are walking and talking now, and coming with us to help establish another however-many-years of memories in the new house. The new house is our first-ever “just for fun” move. It’s an unexpected gift from God and we’re so grateful. We’re grateful for all that happened within the walls on Elk Run. The bonfires, the joy, the grief, the healing, the forgiveness, the late nights, the early mornings, the homemade meals, and the frozen waffles thrown into the toaster. Realizing there would be a Shilo, then watching her crawl, and giggle, watching Noella as a baby herself become a big sister… these are things that happened here. Things we won’t forget. There were toddler fits, little girl bubble baths, dress up parties, messes, playdough in the rug, and candles lit. There were shy apologies and more laughter than we can count. There was Shawn spraying me down with the water hose, the two of us hosting Christmas parties, and doing projects in the garage. There was love, there was teething, there were grumpy mornings, and loads upon loads of laundry done here. There were friendships that grew here, movie nights, loud music in the kitchen, and pizza parties on the patio. These walls won’t soon forget those memories, and neither will we. I’m so glad that the sweetest parts of this home are coming with us, to the next place where we will build a home and continue this life together.

I hope they’ll remember

I hope they’ll remember

I hope they’ll remember that I loaded them up and took them to the pool, and not that they scorched their feet on the long walk to get into the water.
I hope they’ll remember all the times I’ve talked about God, and His character, and the Gospel, and not the time I said “shit” because my feet were also being scorched to high heavens on that long walk across the concrete to get to the water.
I hope they’ll remember that their dad was home in the morning to make them breakfast burritos (and even let them help), and not that he had to work a long stretch for the last nine days without a day off to hang out.
I hope they’ll remember that I picked them up when they fell, and not that I later yelled at them to stop asking for another band aid.
I hope they’ll remember the whimsical bedtime stories I told them each night, and not the pleas to “go to sleep already!“.
I hope they’ll remember that I made their lunch and even sometimes cut their sandwiches into stars (take that, Pinterest Mom), and not that it was pb&j more often than not.
I hope they’ll remember all the times I stopped to read books or play dolls, and not all the times that I was too busy with something else.
I hope they’ll remember the ice cream treats and not the battles to, “take a bite of your carrot!“.
I hope they’ll remember the sincere apologies and not the times that my patience was MIA.
I hope they’ll remember all the times me and their dad held hands and danced in the kitchen, and not the times I gave him a rude look or acted disrespectful toward him.
I hope they’ll remember the times I celebrated their childhood and not the times I was annoyed at their child-like behavior.
I hope they’ll remember that their sister was their first friend, and a forever friend by God’s design, and not all the times she stole your toy, pushed you down, or ate the last bite of your cookie.
I hope they’ll always remember that they’re loved, wanted, special, and prayed for.

Motherhood on a given day

Motherhood on a given day

Motherhood is so many things at once, all in a given day.
It’s refining.
It’s painful.
It’s beautiful.
It’s hard.
It’s a marathon.
It’s holy work.
It’s ministry.
It’s wanting to quit. But knowing you never would.
It’s so special.
It’s a lot of responsibility.
It’s fun.
It’s meaningful.
It’s all day, every day.
It’s everything you’ve wanted.
It’s a battle with your own selfish nature.
It’s an answer to prayer.
It’s dying to self even on days when everyone’s melting down (for no apparent reason).
It’s serving others even when you have a headache (and you want to sleep in and have coffee in bed).
It’s responding to little demands even when the day starts way too early.
It’s miracles playing out in front of you.
It’s a platform for teaching and training and guiding into the future God has for them.
It’s worrying, then remembering that it does no good to worry, and that prayer trumps all.
It’s worth showing up for. Every day. Over and over and over.
It’s, from the beginning, a process of letting go, as they go to the nursery for the first time, to a friend’s house, to college, and into the world… doing what God has made them to do.
It’s worth fighting for.
It’s done by God’s strength.
It’s love.
It’s a gift I’ll never take for granted.

A sweet visit with grandma

A sweet visit with grandma

It was a treasured time with grandma, and family, and seeing the familiar Rocky Mountains out our hotel window. It was a long road trip we were determined to make, a 2 and 3 year old surprisingly happy with snacks and stickers and a stack of dollar store colored pencils. It was a whole group of us releasing balloons outside of grandma’s hospital room, waving and smiling and shouting that we love her. It was her saying that she wanted to follow those balloons right up to heaven to meet Jesus, and to see grandpa again. It was masks, and restrictions, and nurses “looking the other way” when more than two visitors were in her room at a time. It was holding her hand, laughing with uncles, and hearing memories of cousins, farm life, and grandpa’s early days in Iowa as they came to her mind. It was the birth of a niece just a few floors up from grandma’s room (a niece who was given grandma’s middle name!). It was life and near-to-death, the pain and the sweetness, but hope above all, wrapped up in one short visit. It was nurses moving heaven and earth (in this age of restrictions) for grandma to be able to hold, and to meet, and to whisper blessings over her new great-granddaughter’s life. It was the passing of the baton from the oldest to the youngest taking place in that little hospital room. It was special reminders at her bedside to keep walking with Jesus. It’s a vase she set aside for me, now sitting on my living room shelf. It’s a lifetime of having her in my life, and the gratitude that I got to see her one more time here on earth.

Grandma, God knows the day and the hour that you’ll join Him in heaven. Walk by faith in these last days, as you have for many years, knowing that if you’re still here on earth, He has a plan for your life. Hug grandpa for us all! Make sure and meet Shawn’s grandparents. And tell the Apostle Paul that I’m looking forward to sitting down with him for an interview. We love you, grandma!

Grief and lies we believe

Grief and lies we believe

Sometimes you just need your husband to get in your face and remind you with a stern tone and a loud voice that:

“OUR GOD IS NOT FICKLE!”

Let me back up.

I was just feeling down. Discouraged. And worse: believing lies.

It was a day of feeling caught back up in grief (we don’t move on, we move forward…and I was just not moving anywhere).

Why did God take our babies? Why did we lose our boy / girl twins? I was circling back around to questions we had already asked ourselves. Questions we’d asked in the past with other losses. Questions we didn’t have answers to and ones we gave over to God. But the questions were back. Why did that happen to us? What’s His plan? Does He have a purpose? Did He not think I could handle it? Was I not a good enough mom to take on two more? I was sobbing as I said these shameful lies out loud.

Shawn was intimidating as he said very clearly that those were lies, and that God does not work that way. He doesn’t just give and take for fun. He is not fickle. He is not mean. What lies are we believing about God? What lies are changing the way we live our lives?

The conversation circled around and around, the good but really hard kind, and Shawn kept asking me if I trusted God. I’d bring up a fear, a thought, a concern, a worry about our unknown future or pain from grief, and he’d ask, “Yes, but do you trust Him?” He kept asking that same question over and over as I tried to trip him up with a valid-to-me point or a seemingly good question. “Yes, but do you trust God?” He’d ask. “Yes, but can God be trusted?” He’d ask. It was the tough conversation I needed to set my mind back on God, and trusting Him even when we don’t understand.

Sometimes things turn out differently than we thought they would. Sometimes things feel unfair. Sometimes there’s hurt, grief, sadness, confusion. Sometimes we question God’s plan.

But in all of it, He is not fickle. He is not mean. He is good, and YES, He can be trusted.