Casual factor: somewhere around 23

Casual factor: somewhere around 23

I asked her if she could come by and take a few pictures of us in our backyard. I thought we’d go beyond the fence where we only recently got to go, for the first time since we moved here in July, because Shawn and his brother Tyler put a gate in when he was here. It was the perfect time to put a gate in because the fence blew down. It’s very “wild, overgrown Texas” to me back there. Deer cross through there often. Along with badgers, armadillos, road runners, and other such wildlife. And back behind the fence are where the cactus are (relax, I know the plural is cacti. No one says that. Literally no one). I love that there are cactus growing on our property. I love that we “own” some cactus. I feel as though I’ve “arrived”. Officially. Or unofficially. I’m not sure.
“It will be super casual.” I told my neighbor, in regards to her coming to take pictures of us. She agreed to take the pictures, because she’s a super cool neighbor. We planned for Wednesday at 4pm, and then Shawn texted me at 3:50pm and told me he didn’t think he’d be home by 4. Ooooooooooookay. So that took the “casualness” rating of these pictures from a 1 to a 4 simply because she was now ‘on call’ for said photo shoot. (Side note: she has a 9 month old baby. There’s nothing easy or relaxing about having to be on call, or planning, or arranging anything, for that matter, when you have a 9 month old.) By casual, I thought we’d just group together in the back, in whatever we had on, smile, Noella would be smiley and chipper, and we would have eternal documentation of us as a family of three at the six month mark. Well, surprise surprise, her naps didn’t go well that day, and if you’ve ever spent more than seven minutes around a human baby, you know that they operate best on lots of sleep. And you also know that the opposite of operating at their best is, well, not ideal for family pictures. My idea of us “grouping together in whatever we had on” is now, looking back, the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Really, Jennifer? So Shawn would be wearing a black dress shirt with a red tie, grey dress pants, and black dress shoes, and you’d be wearing your “The S’more the merrier” t-shirt, jeans, and maroon New Balance shoes, and Noella would be wearing a “Milk Belly” onesie and one sock? Classic. So of course, knowing my neighbor was coming, and that pictures were actually happening (even if they weren’t happening at 4pm, and we really had no idea when they would take place), I spent the longer half of an eternity coordinating our outfits. I’d wear my new cactus (again, literally no one says cacti) kimono/duster/whatever-it’s-called. Since it’s from a local shop downtown, it would give off that perfect we-live-here-now vibe, and Shawn would wear his orange t-shirt for some color with his blue jean button up on top for some layering pizazz (*please do the jazz hands motion after reading the word pizazz*). Baby girl? Oh man. I had every solid color onesie layed out from here to Timbuktoo, trying to decide if this pink clashes with his orange shirt, or if this turquoise works with my cactus whatever-it’s-called. The casualness rating now went from a 4 to a 7. Because ain’t nobody got time for coordinating outfits on a Wednesday.
In the yard behind the fence (we found out later…) there are also fire ants. So the casualness rating of these photos went from a 10 to a woeful, red, swollen, and burning 14 real quick. Like real quick. (Ask Shawn’s ankle about that.) Oh, and the thorns and the rain clouds threatening to ruin it all in a hot second brought the causal, “we’ll just group together and smile” casual factor from a 14 to a 17. Oops! Oh, and then there’s Weller. The puppy beast man child came rolling through like a wrecking ball (and yes, he even had his tongue hanging out while wearing a white unitard), and we tried to go with it. But he almost ripped my floor-length, flowy whatever-it’s-called while simultaneously jumping IN the stroller with our cool neighbor’s baby. *Face palm*. So Shawn decided to put him in the garage, which meant dragging his puppy beast man child self through the house, which also meant dragging him on my newly mopped (a record in and of itself because we live in the desert and dust abounds) floors. Casual alert: now at 23. So much for that. Oh, and I forgot, while all of this was going on, I still had to quickly change and leave for my women’s Bible study in the next 30 minutes. (“Jenn, just wear what you have on!” you say. Gasp! I couldn’t go looking like I came straight from a “Visit West Texas” travel commercial taping. I had to play it cool…)

But our neighbor is still cool, and she got some great pictures of us as a family of three. For six months (and eight days) now we’ve been a family of three. And we’re loving it. I’m so glad she was able to come and document this time for us! And that she’s a trooper with fire ants, thorns, tornado dogs, being on call, babies who squirm and wiggle, and casual that turns out to be very bougie, and very “hold my lipgloss”.

One of my favorites.

THIS ONE! *swoon*

Trusting God on both sides of the ocean

Trusting God on both sides of the ocean

It was about 9pm here, and about 3am in Conakry, Guinea. Cathérine, one of my dearest friends from Guinea messaged me. (Can we just throw out a few cheers for modern technology real quick?) I asked her what she was doing up so late and she said that she couldn’t sleep. “Trop de bruit?” I asked, knowing how loud the streets of Conakry can be. No, no, that wasn’t it, she said. “Il n’y a pas de travail.” (“There’s no work here.”) I immediately wanted to cry for her, because I knew what that meant. This friend has been through a lot, and Guineans fight daily the corruption that surrounds them. They’ve been through wars, and hardships that I can’t begin to understand. When she says that there are no jobs, it’s a literal issue of survival. When I hear an American complain, “There’s no work here”, it usually means they can’t find work in the field they want, with the pay they want, in an area they’re passionate about, or a job that fits the degree they’re trying to pay off. But there’s always work.
My friend was discouraged, depressed even. And I felt too guilty to even write back right away. Here I sit in my beautiful home, with a country full of opportunity, food always within reach, and more than I could ask for. And may I remind you that I’m the friend that was able to evacuate the country when things turned violent in the capital where we were living, where she and her family lived. They didn’t have the option to evacuate. But backed by our mission board, our embassy, and our passports, we had the option to evacuate. And that’s what we did.
Life is so vastly different for her and for me. We lived there for a time, and so we caught a glimpse of how hard it can be when there’s a shortage on propane or charcoal and you can’t cook dinner, or there are riots on a part of town where you need to go, or there are long power outages where you lose that meat that wasn’t easy to come by. I have an idea, from living there, what life must be like for her, and for my other Guinean friends. But even during our time in West Africa as a whole, there was always that backup plan in our back pockets: if we needed to leave we could. If we wanted to go back to America, we could. But this is life, day in and day out for our friends, and the struggle for them goes beyond the inconvenience, or the temporary hardships that we may have known while living there.
So I didn’t know what to say to her problem of not finding work, to her very real issue of daily survival. I didn’t know how to respond because I was so distracted by my guilt of never really having been in a place of real need. I’ve never had the burden of being so desperate to find work that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have food, and my family wouldn’t have food and daily essentials.
I sat there and thought for a minute, trying not to look up at the chandelier mocking me in my moment of comparison, her life and mine, me trying to find some way to encourage a sister many oceans away.
I just sat there thinking. I didn’t want to just throw out a common, “Oh, you’ll find something!”, slapping a Band-Aid on her situation, and moving on with my life.
Instead of writing her back I took a video of myself talking (because speaking French is one thousand times easier for me than writing it…) and I sent it to her and I said, in sum, that no matter where you come from, no matter where you live, there is the daily struggle and the daily joy of learning to trust God where you are, and in your given circumstances. That’s not to belittle the situation she’s in. But to urge her to pray. To remind her that God sees her and cares for her right where she’s at: laying on a foam mattress on the floor, at 3 am, with sisters sleeping next to her, up worrying about the future. I highlighted that common thread between us – worrying about the future. It’s a part of our human nature it seems. And what does God want us to do with this worry and fear? He wants us to bring it to him, to lay it at his feet, and to look up at him and say, “Help me, Father God. You are more powerful than this situation, than this circumstance that I can’t see a way out of. I need you to help me trust you. I know you’re able. I know you’re worthy. But in my humanity, I need your help. I want to walk with you, trusting that you’ll take care of me.” I explained to Cathérine that there are things in her world that will stretch her faith, and there are things in mine that challenge and stretch my faith. She may not have to worry about being hit head on by a drunk driver. She may not have to worry about the flu attacking her baby. There was a time I was worried about getting Malaria. But living in Texas now, it’s not even on my radar. She is often worried about getting Malaria, and Yellowfever, and other diseases. She hopes to have enough mosquito nets for her family, and I hope that there isn’t a shooting in my child’s school one day. All of these issues are real, and legitimate concerns and fears. But the lesson in all of it, for me in my world, and for her in hers, and you in yours, is that God is bigger than our “what ifs”, our “worst case scenarios”, and he CAN BE TRUSTED. It’s a choice to trust God. It’s not a flippant, “Oh just trust God” but a way of handing off our weaknesses, our perception of the situation, and the risks of a given situation, to a God who works in ways we can’t even always see or fathom. If we look at the character of God, even from the beginning of time, we see one common thread: faithful he has been, and faithful he will be. And with that, we wished each other a good night, and left our worries and our futures, as similar, and as different as they may be, at the foot of the cross.

Our old neighborhood in Conakry, where Cathérine and I became good friends.
The joy of now

The joy of now

My favorite is when he asks whether I want option A or B for dinner. I choose B, and am pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s red curry.
I ask if I can help, and he says no, that there’s nothing for me to do. So I set the table using my orange and white cloth napkins, and I put some music on. Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are The Best Thing” felt fitting for this evening. It’s been on repeat lately. Baby girl is awake, but not for long. She’s already in her pjs. They’re the ones that zip, and have a pineapple on them.

He always puts extra baby corn in my bowl because he knows I love baby corn. Little gestures like putting baby corn in someone’s bowl are the things that dreams, and happy marriages, are made of.

It’s brisk out this morning, so we wrap baby girl in her pink fleece blanket with hearts on it, and arrange the noisy metal chairs on the little concrete slab which is our back patio, until we’re close enough to pass her back and forth. He has his coffee black, and mine is, of course, full of hazelnut creamer. Don’t waste my time with French vanilla, or any cinnabon-esque flavor.

I see the live Christmas tree we planted in our yard with its fortress of bricks surrounding it, in hopes to keep the full-blooded puppy out. His white-turned-black snout tells us that he found the charcoal bag. Apparently we should have build a fortress around that too.

We see some neighbors out in their driveway, so we walk over, me in my slippers, baby skipping her nap, and we say hi, and catch up a little bit.

Three nights a week it’s dark when he comes home from work, and she’s already asleep in her crib. We sneak into her room together and he kisses her cheek. Sometimes he can’t help it, and he scoops her up into his arms, her sleepy cheek smashed up against his patterned dress shirt. He whispers into her ear, “If you need anything baby girl, just holler and I’ll be right there.” She sleeps in peace knowing she’s had a goodnight kiss from daddy. And a full belly from mommy.

We close her door, and have our late dinner of cobb salad. We talk about the customer with the interesting backstory, and the hilarious predicament his coworker found himself in. I tell him in full detail how baby girl discovered in her bath earlier that day that she can kick her feet and splash. He thanked me for the video.

Weller jumps up on the windowsill to see us sitting at the table. He wants to know what we’re up to, but he can’t handle not being with us. So we go outside and play old-blue-beach-towel tug o’ war until he loses some of that full-steam-ahead energy.

We fall asleep below our floral wallpapered accent wall, thankful for the simplicity, the blessings, the grace, and the overwhelming joy of NOW.

A love letter to 2017

A love letter to 2017

Dearest 2017,

As I sit here at my desk eating Dove chocolates and staring out the window, I realize that I can sum you up with these four words: YOU DID NOT DISAPPOINT.

We’ve seen good years, and fun years, and challenging years, and long years, and years full of adventure, and unexpected years, and years that flew by, and years full of prayer, and years full of questioning.

But this year… wow! Where do I even begin? You were most certainly an unforgettable year. You did not disappoint. You brought your A-game. You went above and beyond. You were an incredible year. We’ve loved our time with you.

You were the year that prayers were answered.

You were the year that we held our dreams in our arms.

You were the year that we got to watch my belly grow, and grow.

You were the year that Shawn won $5,000 through his company, in the form of one of those comically ginormous checks.

You were the year that Shawn was promoted to manager of his own store.

You were the year that we took a risk and decided to buy a house. We saw God work in big ways behind the scenes. In ways that made us say, “That was God.”

You were the year that brought us to San Angelo, Texas. A place we had never even heard of before moving here.

You were the year that Shawn won an Alaskan cruise through his company, and saw some spectacular sights.

You were the year that we got to meet a new niece and a new nephew.

You were the year that we had some family come to visit.

You were the year that we met some great people in our new city.

You were the year that we got a Christmas puppy named Weller.

You were the year that we took a roadtrip to Colorado to introduce our daughter to my family, and the majestic mountains.

You were the year that we traveled to some new places in Texas, seeing more of this big state.

You were the year that we stood hand-in-hand at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

You were the year that our daughter Noella Pearl was born.

2016 was a year of praying. It was a year of asking, “God, do you hear us?”. Every time I drove to work on those icy Cheyenne roads, through a tunnel of trees, I would be so deep in thought. Knowing we were in the middle of our 4th attempt at IVF, I would often fear the outcome, and what the future held for us.  It was the same path, the same route, a different day, but the same year. There was something about the repetition of that same path, every day, that reminded me to just keep on praying, to just keep speaking boldly before God, to keep asking, in faith, for specifics. In many ways, that was the theme of 2016. Along that same path I would pray so specifically, and so often, that Shawn would get promoted to manager soon, knowing that then we could finally settle down. I prayed over and over that God would find the best place for us, but also knowing that we would accept any offer to relocate. So I prayed that whatever they offered us would be a place that God had in mind for us. I prayed that he would find the right city, state, community, church, and opportunities for us there – wherever he would move us next.

2017 was a year that so many prayers were answered and dreams were realized. It’s a year that will forever be near and dear to our hearts.

Here are a few other blog post highlights and some picture highlights from the year:

A daughter
Her first doll, survivor’s guilt, and timing
Grace for right now
Our circumstances, his goodness
This belly
2 years back in the USA

Say whaaaaaat?
Shawn dreams big and works hard. I’m so proud of him.
My sister and her family came to visit us in Texas, and to meet two-week-old Noella! Shawn’s parents got to come for a visit the following week. What special memories!
Noella Pearl joined our world, our family.
Our Christmas puppy Weller.
Move number 16. Wait. 16?!? Yes, we’re crazy.
Time with family in Colorado.
The nursery in our new home, all set for baby girl’s arrival.
13 years together. Love you more.
Meeting my niece Quinn. In October we got to meet our 8th nephew Graham, my brother and his wife Sara’s third son. He’s just two weeks older than Noella. How special!
We enjoyed our travels to Garden of the Gods, Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Alaska (Shawn), Waco, Austin, and Fredericksburg.
This little joy made it an unforgettable year.

2017, you were an incredible year. We loved our time with you.

2018, we can’t wait to meet you…

Christmas joy, now and always

Christmas joy, now and always

I see my baby wrapped in a flannel blanket, fresh from her bath. Little sparkly trees sit on our mantel. A new puppy fights the wreath I try to put around his neck for a picture. Shawn puts on a festive bow tie and a green vest for a short work day. Tonight we’ll put baby in her red Christmas dress and white tights, and head to the Christmas Eve service at church. We’ll sing about how a weary world rejoices, and joy will fill the room, just as it has our home over the past few months.

We didn’t send out a Christmas letter this year, just a few cards with a picture of us as a family of three. But if we had, I don’t know what I would have said other than, life has never been better. And that feels so cheesy, so “look at us in our beautiful home, with a baby and a puppy, sitting on a blanket in the yard” brag-fest-y.

This scene is new to us. Christmases past have been us sitting on white plastic chairs, wearing a santa hat, hoping the power will come back on and charge our laptop so we can watch a Christmas dvd, while finishing a bowl of rice + mystery meat the neighbors brought by. Christmases past have been us giving each other gifts we could find at Casino grocery store in Dakar (hazelnut syrup for me, and imported sausage for him). Christmases past have been us waking up early to the Call to Prayer at the Mosque, and knowing that out on the streets it was just another day, not December 25th. Christmases past were us missing family and the familiar festivities of our home culture so much that I laid on our bed and cried into my pillow. Christmases past were us cringing as other couples our age welcomed their first, second, and third child into the family, adding another stocking, and more traditions with each passing year. In Christmases past we were barely scraping by, living on support, and praying for God to provide month by month.

But no matter where life finds us, we can say that God has been good to us. This Christmas is a special one. We have the baby we’ve prayed so long for. We have the home we’ve dreamed of. We have the yard, and the community of friends and neighbors too.

These things are so special to us, and we are incredibly grateful.

But I don’t ever want to get so lost in the white lights, the red nails, the sparkly trees on the mantel, and the festivities that I forget about the great joy of this season. That great joy is Jesus. He came to save a weary, dark, lost, helpless, and sad world. He’s our remedy. And for that, we rejoice. For that, we can rejoice. No matter where you find yourself this Christmas, whether life has never been better, or you don’t know how you’ll face tomorrow, I hope you’ll know that joy, peace, and hope are possible. I hope you’ll know that your weary soul can rejoice, because King Jesus was born for a world in need. He was born for you. He was born for us. He was born that we may have life.

Merry Christmas from us to you!
Lessons on fear and trust

Lessons on fear and trust

I sneak into her room to watch her sleep sometimes, when I know she’s really out. I look down at her in her crib, and I’m in awe that she’s our daughter. I feel such love and gratitude when I look at her that I don’t quite know how to contain myself. I take some pictures, and I whisper a thank-you to God. We prayed for so long for a baby, and here she is. But I also whisper a prayer for help in choosing faith over fear when it comes to her life. It’s this soul battle that I’ve been fighting lately, and perhaps some of it is anxiety from that post partum life, and some of it is just a parent’s natural reaction, but I beg God to help me trust him with her life. My human nature wants to hold her tightly to my chest and run so far from ever saying, “She’s yours, God”, for fear of what that could mean. But isn’t placing her in God’s hands the safest, best place for her to be? 100% yes. But sometimes that struggle between my fears, and my faith, and my humanity is a battle. I get so mad at myself when I worry or fear, because look at all that God has done – both in our lives and from the beginning of time. But in my humanity I’m still tempted to take matters into my own hands and fear all the “what ifs” that this world, and my mind tempt me with. The fact that she’s here at all is a miracle, and I don’t want to take away from that by allowing fear one minute of power over me. But sometimes, if I’m honest, it’s easier said than done.

I remember when we were living in Cap Skirring, it was known that you should not drive at night for safety reasons. Both because of the dangers on the road, but also because of the risk of rebel activity. So we just never drove at night. But one time Shawn went with a group of local believers to a men’s meeting in Ziguinchor (about an hour away) and due to a number of reasons, the meetings ran late, and that meant they would be returning at night, driving in the dark – the very thing we knew to avoid. I was at home with our dog Roxy, fear creeping in as the sun began to set, knowing the risks at hand. Shawn called to tell me what I had already assumed, that they would be returning later than expected, and driving back at night. I was sick with fear. I thought about the local Senegalese taxi driver who was shot in the back of the head a few weeks prior, just so rebels could stop the taxi and rob him and anyone in the car. I thought about the accidents that took place on that road, with no good hospitals nearby, and I was scared thinking about what could happen to the man I loved so very much. Our minds sure do love to take it and run with it when there’s even a remote possibility for danger. I was too worried to even pray. I just paced our house, and then went to sit with our neighbor Yassine while I waited. It was awful. Thankfully, they made it home safe and without encountering a single incident. My worry was for nothing. But I didn’t know that at the time. The fear was real. But where was my trust in God?

With each of our six embryo transfers, I worried about what could happen. It was like a cycle of hope, then remembering our track record of loss, then back to the excitement that it could happen this time, back to analyzing everything we had invested in this transfer, and so on. The fear and the emotions were real. And although it may not have felt like it at the time, we were strengthening our ability to choose faith over fear. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t instant, and it most certainly wasn’t a natural or feel-good response.

Shawn watched me fight malaria with fear in his eyes. He saw how my body was giving up, and he saw how delirious I was. Choosing to trust God when your wife is so sick, in a country you’ve only been in for a few months, was terrifying. It was hard to trust God in that moment when fear was present and easy to grasp.

There are so, so many scenarios that come to mind of times when fear and worry and anxiety were all too familiar, and the tears and the shortness of breath were real. Like when I was convinced our plane was going down, or when my throat began to close after my Yellow Fever shot, or when Shawn was locked in a Senegalese jail cell.

Sometimes I feel like fear is validated as I remember heartache we’ve known personally, or as I’ve cried for friends over their loss, or the news of their diagnosis, or the reality of their heartache. That’s what fuels the fire of these “what ifs” that creep into my mind, into my day. I feel like they ‘deserve’ a second glance, because bad things do happen. And from there, the fear grows, and it becomes more legit as I focus on it. That’s the struggle. And it’s real. But if I feel that fear can be “validated”, how much more can trust in God be validated? He’s the author of Salvation, the designer of our blood vessels, the one who controls the atmosphere, the one who works good from bad, a great mighty warrior, the one who fights for us in a realm we can’t see or begin to comprehend. He’s powerful, he’s in control despite our circumstances, our fear, our very own worse-case scenarios. He’s the Great I Am. And that’s what I’ll remember when I watch her sleep, when I hold her and am overwhelmed at what an incredible gift she is to us.

Faithful he has been, faithful he will be. Even with her life. Even with an unknown future.

That nursery sticker, guilt and joy

That nursery sticker, guilt and joy

I got to wear one of those stickers on my jeans at church on Sunday. You know the one, a white rectangle with bold lettering showing all who walk past you that you have a child in the nursery? It was a badge of honor for me to (finally) get to wear one. I felt proud. I felt like I was “officially officially” part of the mom club. (And not the “mom jeans and harvest vests” mom club, the “cool mom” mom club. I hope…)
Anyway, it’s one of those little tiny things that I used to see other women wearing and wonder why they had a kid and I didn’t. It was one of those cruel things that set them apart from me. It was a clear and vivid sticky symbol that they were given a child, and I was not. This wasn’t so much an issue in Senegal, because there wasn’t such organized childcare, but there was the “moms with kids go first at the potluck”, and the play date social circles I missed out on, and moms waving at their kids singing on stage at the Christmas play, and other social scenes that left me feeling sad, and left out from something I so desperately wanted to be a part of.
But not today. Today I got to wear a badge saying that I had a baby.
I felt joy. And pride. And even some guilt.

A badge of emotion.

It’s a very similar feeling that I dealt with in this blog post. It’s a feeling of wanting to express to those around me, to that woman who hasn’t been able to get pregnant, or wants to adopt, or who has experienced loss, that I understand grief on a personal level too, and that I’ve seen hope on the darkest of days, and that joy is possible through knowing God. This sticker wasn’t easy to come by – well, actually it was, they literally printed it for me in a matter of seconds – but the baby behind the sticker wasn’t easy to come by. This joy, this moment, was long prayed for, hoped for, wished for, and fought for. If I have a sticker and you don’t, just know that I’ve been there. You’re not alone. And if you too want a sticker, I’ll be praying for you. And in the meantime, through your season of waiting, and through your season of tears, I’ll be your friend.

The village and Noella’s name

The village and Noella’s name

We’ll never forget our year of living in the village. Packing our belongings  and our puppy on a truck while we took the 14-hour, overnight boat trip. The indescribable heat, the living with no running water, the hurricanes that blew over palm trees. The cultural ceremonies, being a fifteen-minute walk from the ocean, the bugs. Watching the sunsets from our roof. The bug that my neighbor removed from my toe using a needle. The long power cuts. The hoping we wouldn’t lose the hard-to-come-by meat in our freezer. Land mines. The lime green snakes. The large, extended families of cockroaches. The risk of driving at night because of the rebels. The fish and rice. So much rice. The dancing. The drums. The sand. The greetings. The heartache of missing family. The vivacious bougainvillea and the vibrant hibiscus flowers. The learning to belong. The melting pot of people and languages. The loneliness. The unexplainable struggle to get pregnant after years of trying. Being an outsider in a foreign culture. Not blending in. Making friends. Spending time with my namesake baby Jenn. Learning to live outside our comfort zone. Friends turning into family. Pigs. Goats. Chickens. Kids climbing palm trees. Kids climbing on our fence. Noisy roosters. Community. Yassine. Thomas. Nando. Safi. Mami. George. Martin. Noella.

We’ll never forget our year of living in the village. More than anything we’ll never forget the people. We were outsiders living in their world, learning to navigate a culture that was foreign to us. We were far from family and friends, and they welcomed us.

One person that we’ll never forget is Noella. From day one of meeting her I loved her name. She was 13 years old at the time. She was the little sister of one of the guys in the church where we were working. She was living with her brother, far from her parents. I know family dynamics are different for Africans, but I always felt bad that she lived so far from her parents at such a young age. She would come with her brother to church and she was often the only girl there. Her life, like many women in Africa, was hard. She was up early hauling water, cooking rice, going to the market, and often spending time out in the fields, working long hours in the hot sun. But she was always so sweet and so kind.

Noella (in the green wrap skirt) helping us make a meal for Shawn’s birthday.

She stayed the night with us once while her brother was out of town. I loved being able to take care of her, to host her in our home, to watch Shawn interact with her, knowing he’d make a great dad if ever given the opportunity. I remember her curious questions as she looked around at our American gadgets (potato peeler, lime squeezer) and observed our “strange” in home customs.

The way things were going for us, and living hours from any medical help, let alone a fertility specialist, I doubted whether or not we’d ever have a child to name. But with bitter tears stinging my eyes, I quietly tucked the name Noella in my back pocket just in case we ever had the privilege of naming a daughter. Not only did I love the name, I loved Noella from Cap Skirring, Senegal. I loved her sweet spirit, and I loved how she went against the cultural norm for a young woman and came to church with a desire to learn. I loved the idea of a name that incorporated the memory of our time in Africa. In Africa namesakes are everything. You always name your child after someone.

Our Noella may never meet Noella of Cap Skirring here on earth. But she will one day. And in the meantime, she’ll hear about her, and that memorable year in the village that we’ll never forget. The year when we prayed that one day we’d have a daughter that we could name Noella.

And Pearl, her middle name, is a family name on both sides. And we also had the expression, “No grit, no pearl” in mind. Because the best things are always worth fighting for. Things like our baby girl. Things like pushing outside your comfort zone. Things like finding meaningful community in a world where you’re the foreigner. Things like love and hope.




For this family

For this family

For this family we had to dream big.

For this family we had to pray big.

For this family we had to work hard.

For this family we had to try and try and try again.

For this family we didn’t give up.

For this family we count our blessings.

For this family we are grateful.

A rainbow in our arms

A rainbow in our arms

Storms are bound to come. Some are harder and more powerful than others. Some are more devastating than others. Some last longer than others. Some teach us something. Sometimes that lesson is about survival, about how to weather the storm, and get through it. Sometimes the lesson is about how to come out on the other side stronger than you were before. Sometimes the lesson is about taking it moment by moment when you don’t know what’s going to happen, just to turn around and see that you made it.

The calm after the storm is such a beautiful thing: the winds and the rain stop, the waves calm down, the birds start chirping, and the sun breaks through the clouds in an undeniable display of perfect beauty. Rays of light touch the earth, right where the storm was raging not long ago. It’s a moment where you look back and see that you made it when you didn’t know if you would. Then, not always, but sometimes, there’s a rainbow. There’s a vivid and colorful sign stretched across the sky where you can’t miss it. It’s a sign that God was with you through it all. When the storm was raging, when fear and worry were present, when you didn’t know what was to come, he was there. His grace and presence were there, just as he promised.

We look back on some of the storms we’ve weathered as a couple, storms that brought grief and the loss of six embryo babies, and we see that we were never alone. We see God’s grace when we see the sun’s rays shining down, we see his grace when we see that God made us stronger through the storm, and we see his grace and mercy when we see a rainbow – both in the sky and in our arms.

We thank you God for allowing the hard, dark stormy days to make the rainbow that much sweeter.