The Gift is in the Living

“I just want to know that it matters.”

It was the day after I had two friends come over. We sat at my kitchen table and drank coffee poured from the silver carafe in the kitchen. There was fruit, banana chip muffins, cinnamon swirl coffee cake – a shared table. A space to share hearts and stories and laughter. The gift of gathering.

We talked about idols and it was the next day, I sent a message and confessed some of mine.

“I think I’m realizing that I idolize the idea of having significance.”

I was driving over slushy Pennsylvania country roads, January blue sky dotted with a few white clouds and fresh snow sparkling in cold sunshine, when I think this and say it aloud in my SUV, toddler chatting away to himself in the back seat.

“I just want to know that it matters.”

It’s don’t need to be a name known on a magazine cover or a billboard or even across town.

It’s not so much that I need a platform or a stage or a manicured, up-to-date, on-point blog or Instagram handle.

It’s don’t need to be followed or liked or hearted, praised or applauded.

Every accolade will fade.

I know this as sure as I breathe.

I just want to know that it matters.

That all of these incredibly commonplace habits and rituals and projects and tasks and lists and things to do, some of them over and over and over again

are not just superfluous waste to be flushed –

or mere useless necessity.

Is the bulk of my life mere necessity with brief moments of meaning?

If I am honest, this is often how it feels to live.

The necessities of life being relentlessly endless.

There is never time outside of what it takes to live.

Laundry baskets never stay empty, dishes never stay clean, fridges never stay full, floors never stay spotless, people never stop needing, life never stops happening.

Brief moments of retreat but every moment fleeting with every life continuing, because life never stops happening.

I was standing at the kitchen sink, when I saw it from the place where I seem to spend an inordinate amount of my time – the filtered light shining across the highchair tray splattered with bananas, Cheerios and milk.

I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture beacuse who knew that a messy high chair tray could be captivating? Look again. Pause and see it – how the light filters across the tray, some light sparkling, some light subtle in the darker shadows.

The mess on that high chair is relentlessly endless in this season of life. Cleaning it out is one of my least favorite things to do after a meal.

Generally speaking, I feel like I spend too much time cleaning up.

I just want to know that it matters.

It’s hanging there on my wall, the oft-quoted words – He makes all things beautiful in His time.

That’s not all Ecclesiastes 3:11 says though. “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” is just the beginning and the verse goes on to say, “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

There’s this beautiful passage for the first eight verses of chapter three – a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. We often stop there, with the rhythmic poetry, and maybe miss the point?

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” //Ecclesiastes 3:9-13

The unending gift of God to us is the gift of eternity set in our hearts. Life made up of all these moments of grace – sunsplashed dirty high chair trays, the free laughter of children playing in a fresh snow, the quiet cadence of a clock ticking, music filling the air and little feet running and steam rising from a mug of hot coffee.

There is never time outside of living because living is the gift. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil.

Brief moments of retreat are mere detours in the journey of life. These ordinary days are moments of grace, each one, and the significance of them all is –

that every moment is fully meaningful.

Today there was vasoline smeared on multiple surfaces in the bedroom where the Little Bear was supposed to be napping. Books had been thrown out the bedroom door and various items were strewn around the floor and he stood there trying to saw off the knob of the bedside table with baby nail clippers.

All the work you think you got accomplished can suddenly feel very undone.

I just want to know that it matters.

We see through a glass darkly and only in-part, but a day is coming when we shall know fully and see face to face.

He knows my coming in and my going out, my rising up and my lying down. He is familiar with all my ways.

I am fully known in the midst of my own living.

I change his diaper and clean his greasy fingers and tickle his belly button. He laughs. I laugh. We clean up the mess. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.

The gift is in the living. The living with eternity set in our hearts.


I opened the message and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

In verse 13 it says, “and when you have done all you can do to stand, stand therefore…” When you have done ALL you can do to hold yourself up and keep yourself together, keep standing with your armor that follows in the Scripture. His armor.”

She had no way of knowing and this is how I know it is God.

He keeps showing up, often in the quietest of ways, when I’m least expecting or looking for Him.

December has been a flurry of holiday hurry and advent expectation, tweaking traditions to work in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and suddenly here we are, December 31 and teetering on the threshold of a new year.

We had kicked off the month of advent with our annual night-before-advent hot chocolate party and big plans for how we were going to just squeeze the season for all the joy it was worth. I had this split second moment pierce my excitement, where I questioned “what if…”, but it’s been a year of fighting against cynicism and doubt and –

No more foreboding joy. Just JOY.

Hopeful expectation.

This is advent after all.

You pick up the phone and wish you hadn’t ever answered. You click on your text messages and read the words over and over again. You stare at the doctor, wordless and blinking. You watch someone leave your house and wish you could start the visit over and things could go differently. You begin your favorite season of the year with joyful determination to make the absolute most of a crazy pandemic year full of general uncertainties –

and the hammer drops.

Half the pain of unexpected news is in the unexpected. When you walk unsuspecting into a conversation or situation and get dealt a hand you weren’t prepared to take. If pushing rewind only worked in real time.

If only.

We started December with keenly different feelings than now, trading one calendar for another.

I’m staring at the white block spaces that look so incredibly empty, wondering what things will fill up all that white space, and I realize I’m chewing my lip again.

I do that when I’m anxious and I feel a little mad that’s how I feel looking ahead.

Take me back to the good news that felt so certain.

You feel me?

Take me back to the good news that felt so certain.

The tears of joy and the overwhelm of relief.

The moment we laughed so loud and felt so free.

I wish I could put my pen to this paper and tell you all the things.

Transparency can bow to elusive riddles any day, if you ask me.

I can blame “busy” for not writing all I want, but speaking freely is not a luxury everyone can afford, and this has silenced my pen more than anything else.

There is no rhyme or reason to it, but every December there is the intentional habit of choosing a word for the coming year. My friend recently told me she decided to do the “Christiany thing” this year and join the word-for-the-year bandwagon.

We laughed.

But,”Christiany” or not, this practice is deeply formative for me and something I look forward to every year. This year, I found myself craving for the anchor of a word – any word – something to ground me in a world that feels like it hit an iceberg and is sinking fast, in more ways than one.

I retreated in December. I still fed my family, made sure there was clean clothes to wear, brushed my teeth and took a shower somewhat regularly, but I stepped away from everything else. I took apps off my phone, turned down the volume, mostly said no and I quieted all the noise.

Was it all the heaviness of the year finally catching up to me or the darkness of the earth-shattering unexpected that came to visit as 2020 wound to a close? I can’t say.

But on one of the darkest nights of my year, I crawled off my suede brown couch, tears falling and desperate prayers rising.

I laid on the floor and the only two words I spoke were – “Jesus come.”

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.

And that has nothing to do with everything being right and everything to do with Emanuel being God with us.

I wanted my word for 2021 to be rest, but I knew that was all wrong.

I decided to use the “Christiany” word-of-the-year quiz from Dayspring. I felt so sheepish pulling it up and I threw my phone to the side and I prayed.

I prayed for a word. I prayed that whatever word I got would not be from the algorithm of a man-made quiz – but a word from the Lord on where I needed to throw my anchor down for the coming year – come what may.

I might have prayed for my word to be something like rest.

That is what I needed after all.

When the word flashed up on my screen, all I could think was “what? what does that even mean?”

This is all wrong. Why did I utilize a dumb quiz for this. I don’t even know what that looks like as a word for my year.

Then the verses from Ephesians I memorized as a child, came to mind.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

The same word that was prominent in the verse my mom had texted me a few months prior, the day I had to take the stand and testify in court. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

And then a week later, my friend sends me that message, as if she knew but she didn’t:

In verse 13 it says, “and when you have done all you can do to stand, stand therefore…” When you have done ALL you can do to hold yourself up and keep yourself together, keep standing with your armor that follows in the Scripture. His armor.”

God just showing up, often in the quietest of ways, when I’m least expecting or looking for Him.

Showing Himself and His heart towards me and the path I am walking.

Towards you and the path that you are walking.

Quiet your heart before Him.

He is very much alive.

So come what may in 2021 –

God is alive and in Him we live and move and have our being and we get to armor up with Him.

So when the day of evil comes – and we know that it will – after we have done everything, we will


& see the salvation of the Lord.

But God {why you should tell your story}

“He’s six years old, God. Six. He has faithfully prayed for over a year. Do not pass him by. He’s believing you.”

The Cub boarded the yellow school-bus one Monday in autumn, and I was dusting surfaces, mopping floors and praying begging prayers to God.

September 16.

We’d been licensed for fostering more babies since June and we’d said multiple “yes” to placements that for one reason or another fell through. Friends started asking me why things were going so slowly, when foster care was supposed to be so high-demand.

Yeah…for real. We did our part of obedience and saying yes.

What do you do when the standstills don’t make an inkling of sense?

When you do your part of obedience and then nothing happens.

When your child has prayed with all faith, for more than a year,

to let their be more kids in our home.


That morning, as I walked him to the bus stop, the Cub asked me why God wasn’t answering his prayer.

My heart paused, and everything inside of me felt like it was getting tightly squeezed.

Somebody please tell me how you’re supposed to answer that question and especially when your six year old is asking it. 

All I’d said, with a sinking feeling of desperation, was – “I don’t know, Cub. I don’t know. But maybe you’re just supposed to keep asking God.”

I’d waved as he rode away, and I walked home and straight inside and told God that He needed to show up, because my six year old needed to see Jesus.


A few months later, I am sitting with a small group of women when the tears come. I am holding this sweet baby with big smiles and round cheeks, –

born on the very day I pressed in with begging prayers for God to show up  –

the same day, born

to be delivered to our home, less than a week later.

And the Cub had looked at us with shining eyes and said, “God answered my prayers.”


And a few months later, I sat and cried in a hodge-podge group of women, because it was all so much“I just need to see Him.” 

So much joy and love and delight and pain and highs and lows and all-over-the-places.

Twists and turns and ups and downs I could have never expected.

Like, crazy stuff.

And that moment your finger’s held so tightly and you look into shining, trusting eyes that hold your gaze, and feel the slow tearing of your one heart.

Because you can’t say where the road will turn or go… and how?

How do you breathe in that space?

Embrace the need of that place?

Pioneer in the shadows of a story still being told? 


And it doesn’t matter what story you’re living or questions you’re facing –

no one needs another promise or platitude.

It’s not Abraham or Enoch or Noah that stop me – that causes me to pause and read again – the snowy February day I open the Word and read Hebrews 11.

It’s the army that marched around Jericho for seven days. 

Jericho was the first city the Israelites defeated after they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan. The city was a stronghold in the Promised Land and the Bible says it was securely barred so that no one could go in or go out, and yet –

God told Joshua, See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands”. 

Victory is already yours, Joshua. Here is what you must do.

Walk around the city for seven days, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and the city will fall. IMG_6415

The work is already finished. This is what you must do.

Because the truth is?

We don’t know the end of our stories and how the road will turn, but who on earth

needs one more platitude or promise, when you have the very presence of  the almighty God.

I read verse thirty, The day I sat and read Hebrews 11, five times. The fall of the city of Jericho is recorded as a great example of faith, because an army of God’s chosen people trusted God’s deliverance enough to walk around a city for seven days.

That’s not just a little bit crazy. 


But God.

He has the final word.

Every time.

And what would change in our stories if we truly, deep down, no-matter-what believed this?

Believed that what the Enemy means for evil, the Lord will use for good.

Believed that God will supply our every need, according to His mercy.

Believed that God would deliver us from evil.

Believed that even if we would lose everything, God is faithful and at work in a thousand ways we cannot see –

redeeming all things. 


I could wait to the end of the story, to tell the story, because what if?

Or I could tell the story of His love regardless of possible outcomes – 

and testify of His goodness to me regardless of possible outcomes –

because no matter what –

even if –

He has done it.

He has defeated death, conquered the Enemy and claimed the victory.

And I don’t need platitudes or promises, I need His presence.

The presence of the Almighty, delivering God.

Redemption never erases the ugliness of brokenness.

It reshapes it.

Scarred, imperfect, broken lives and stories that testify of the hope of Christ, who makes all things new.

I will praise You forever, Because You have done it; And in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.// Psalm 52:9

Why NOW is the Time to Speak {The Remix}

The year of my Cub’s first snow, the bitter cold took up residence as if the whole earth had iced over and froze some of us straight through.

Not a day went by that my clothes didn’t smell like formula from wearing baby spit up, I averaged four to five hours of sleep per night (thanks to teething), potty-training was in full swing with the three-year-old boy I babysat full-time, and I don’t know if I had ever felt so incredibly alone or defeated. Tired.

Welcome to motherhood, where they say it’s the “best job in the world”, but there will be a day you might will inevitably feel like a butt-wiping, boo-boo kissing, time-out dealing, meal-making robotic machine set on non-stop repeat, living in a vacuum of diapers, feedings, endless crumbs, sippy cups, piles of dishes, never-ending dirt and tears.

We won’t even talk about the laundry.

Mama Mia.

Hello motherhood.

It was a long winter and a hard winter, that felt like it would never end.

I cried a lot.

I prayed a lot.

I struggled a lot.

And by the summer of 2014, I started talking a lot.

Not so much about the trenches of motherhood or depression, although that was part of the story…

but more about the importance of transparency and why you should tell your story. 

And it became a theme in my life I have continued to speak loudly.

 “And this is why NOW is the time to speak. Because somewhere there is a mother in the trenches and a wife struggling to breach a chasm with her husband and a woman overwhelmed with the demands of her work, and none of us need to hear the clichés, but we all need to hear the stories of what He has done. How He has redeemed. How the Source of true joy is true to His Word and how every darkness is shattered by a morning light, ushering in unspeakable joy.”

Five years later, I wake up one early summer morning, open the blinds in my bedroom and find myself staring out the window, asking myself this question –

How do you stay vulnerable and transparent when your transparency becomes the target on your back? 

Gossip is always easy, but never cheap.

Words are never cheap when they are spoken at the expense of someone else.

I don’t know how many times I have walked away from a conversation and felt regret. Regret, that instead of using my words to share my own story and exalt Christ, I shared someone else story and framed it in a way that exalted myself.

But the absolute truth is –

when you cut someone down to raise yourself up, you fall.


I stood at the window and the hurtful words played over and over again in my head, the gossip that was regurgitated back to me, criticism that questioned the integrity of my heart… when I share my story.

The same reasons I quit blogging for almost a year once and went AWOL on social media more than a few times, for short seasons.

If people thought I openly shared my heart and my story to get attention, I’d just quit. 

For awhile at least.

But I could never quite retire completely, because I’d remember –

I’d remember the winter my heart felt as cold as the temperature frozen on the outdoor thermometer.

I’d remember how badly I wanted someone else to tell me how they made it through sleepless nights and crying babies and too many crumbs.

Sometimes all the hope we know in our head needs to be whispered back to our heart.

I didn’t need a pep talk, I needed a revival.

Tell me the story of Jesus…write on my heart every word.

Humanity is good at motivational pep talks and not so good at true revival, because revival only comes through transparency – with ourselves, with others, and most of all, with God.

Your gifts are about telling HIS story, and if you stay silent, the rocks will cry out.

This is why you can keep sharing with vulnerability and transparency, even if it becomes the target on your back –

because it’s not about you or earthly accolades or recognition or social media likes or shares, which means it’s also not about the criticism or gossip that may result from living into the purpose of Christ for your life.

Stand with Christ and you will rise above –

in Him.

My Divine Privilege, Part 1

We got called about taking a set of twins the week my husband’s father was dying from cancer.

We were driving to the hospital in Pittsburgh and I stared at my husband in disbelief.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

We were still in the hospital a week later, when we got another phone call about a severely abused infant.

“Why is this happening now?” I asked Ryan, “And why is this always so hard?”


My first baby would have turned eight-years-old in December.

Emphasis on would have.

My body has held life and birthed death.

I don’t dwell on my loss, but there are random times I remember and I wonder what life would have been like, if…

Emphasis on would have.

me2I remember staying home that Mother’s Day and feeling angry.

In the midst of intense doctoring and being told that my chances of having kids was pretty slim and the odds were stacked against me, I got pregnant.

Before we had much of a chance to tell everyone, and four days before the world celebrated motherhood with a national holiday, I went to work.

Like any normal day I went to work, except it wasn’t really a normal day, because it was the day I lost my baby.

May 5.

The same day we kissed one sweet baby girl good-bye, six years later.IMG_8337

Sandwiched between those heartbreaks, God gave us a son. Born on a warm summer day the sun shone bright, this little man with a head full of dark hair, weighing seven pounds and one ounce, was born.

He was fatherless and his mom was serving a sentence in state prison. She held him her entire three-day hospital stay and then they shackled her hands and feet once again, to take her back to jail.

I’m not sure why, because it’s not really protocol, but they let us in the room before she left the hospital.

She was wearing a brown jumpsuit and her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail. Her hands were shaking as she fixed the hospital blanket he was swaddled in. She was tracing the shape of his face and tears were silently pouring down her face.

I watched a tear slide down the ridge of her nose and hang there, until it dropped on his little face. She wiped it away and a small cry came from her lips, “I’m so sorry.” She said softly. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t forget me.” Then she looked up at me and said, “Hi, you…you can take him” in a shaky voice.

I could barely see through my tears. The prison guards and nurse in the room looked like they were fighting back tears too. I wasn’t supposed to touch her, but I wrapped my arms around her in a big hug and I told her that I loved her and I made her a promise.

“He will know who you are.” 

She handed me the sleeping little bundle and the guards turned her wheelchair and pushed her out.


I sat in the backseat of our car that day, and sobbed on the phone with my mom and sister. “How can I feel so much happiness and sadness at the same time?” I said.

For sixteen months we lived in a giant question mark, wondering if we would have to give him back. He was just a few months old when I wrote these words on this blog in 2013 –

When God places a child in your arms, it is a Divine placement, a Divine privilege, and the gift of motherhood- regardless of the method of placement.

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how Leo came to be in our home. Though he is not born of my flesh, he is born of my heart, and while he is here, he is here by the divine  placement of a sovereign God.

Becoming a mom isn’t giving birth to a baby.

I can’t tell you how many tears I have cried because “I just want to be a mom and have a family.”

Becoming a mom isn’t having your baby forever.

Quantity of time doesn’t make a mom a mom, kind of like quantity of time isn’t what determines viability of life.

I believe in life at conception and –

I believe that motherhood is not so much a position you hold as it is a love you embody.

Because when God places a child in your arms – it is a divine placement, a divine privilege and the gift of motherhood.


And then two years and two months after I printed those words on this blog, it was written in legal ink and my Cub, boy of my own heart, took our last name, forever.

He’s five-and-a-half now and he knows he’s adopted, because I made a promise in that hospital room, and –

because we celebrate his adoption. 

It’s hard and I won’t lie.

Adoption is hard. Fostering babies is hard. Giving a baby back almost killed me.

It’s hard and I won’t lie.

My idea of motherhood looked a lot different than infertility, miscarriage, fostering, adoption and losing a child.

It’s hard and I won’t lie –

it’s broken and it’s not how I imagined it. brokenjarBut this story is not something I want to hide.

We all have shards of brokenness and sharp edges, and I know it’s easier to hide those stories than share those stories, but –

and this is the part you need to remember:

when you can’t speak of your brokenness, how will you tell of His redemption?

img_6423“You made my dream come true,” I tell my Cub almost every day. “You made me a mom.”

There have been questions and there will be more.

And I’m okay with that, because I know that it doesn’t matter how Leo came to be in our home. He is here, with us, by the divine placement of a sovereign God.

My strong-willed and sensitive, brown-eyed, adventure seeking boy.

My divine privilege.

Give Me a Sign of Your Goodness

I climbed out of bed with red, tear-stained cheeks and matted hair, the first day I put on my tennis shoes to run.

Mother’s Day 2016.

“You’re going to run?” I could tell he was trying to be positive, but I could also hear the disbelief in his question.


“You’ve been in bed for four days, do you think you should get up and run right away?” He asked me so carefully.

“Yes,” was all I said and he said nothing else.

We all got in the car and drove the two minutes to the high school track.

I ran around it a little more than one time, huffing, puffing – basically hyperventilating.

When I stopped, bent over and gasping for air, he said: “That was great, but you don’t have to run you know.”

“I – am – going – to -run,” I said between deep breaths. “I am going to do this.”

He looked straight back at me and nodded, “Okay. If that’s the case, you’ll have to pace yourself. You can’t do it all at once. But I’ll be right here – with you.”


And he was.

Both of my guys did it with me. They gave me time to run. Sometimes they came with me, to cheer me on and tell me I could do one more lap. Sometimes they ran with me.

And ten weeks after hyperventilating over a quarter of a mile, I ran four miles. I ran my heart out and as I slowed to a stop, tears poured down my face.

Just a few short months before, I had danced in my living room with the sweetest little girl I’ve ever known. We had music playing and I’d just started dancing when this song came on –

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

My two-and-a-half year old had stared at me while I danced with this sweet baby girl we loved as our own, and tears poured shamelessly down my cheeks. ‘What’s wrong, mama?” He’d asked with serious brown eyes, and I had just shook my head and smiled, speechless.

Because what else do you do when you know that a door is closing, that time is slipping through your fingers, that there’s nothing you can do but say good-bye?

As I slowed to a stop that night, while the app on my phone told me I’d ran a little over four miles, the very same song played through my earbuds –

Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun
Tell your heart to beat again


Two days later, I ran my first 5K race and placed in the top ten for my category.

One step at a time, I was leaving the darkness behind – telling my heart to beat again.


There were days I stayed in bed until the sun was too high.

Days I felt like crying but my tears were dried up.

Prayers I begged God to take me home so I didn’t have to feel anymore.

Self-induced loneliness because being with people was far too vulnerable. I felt like I had to be brave when I was with people, because people don’t know what to do with grief, but I didn’t feel brave.

Days I felt so much like a train wreck, I wished a train would come wreck me.


Struggling with feeling like the people I loved most would be better off without me, because I was such a living mess of raw emotion.

Feeling like a stranger in my own skin.

constant wrestling match with knowing how to answer people when they asked, “how are you?” because if I answered how I really felt, it would probably just make things awkward.

I ran out all my frustration. I ran through my pain. I ran while I prayed. And God met me on the track, over and over and over again.

My prayers weren’t profound. Over and over again, I prayed one thing.

“God, give me eyes to see.”


I have seen the hand of God.

Not once or twice, but over and over and over again.

I know His goodness.

In Psalm 86:11-13, David cries out to the Lord –

Teach me your way,(S) Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;(T)
give me an undivided(U) heart,
    that I may fear(V) your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;(W)
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me(X) from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.(Y)

David knew the faithfulness and love of God, but still He ends Psalm 86 by saying,

Give me a sign of your goodness.

David had enemies and his enemies were attacking him.

David needed a rescue.


And who hasn’t been in that kind of darkness before –

needing a rescue?

A rescue from the broken shards of our one broken life.

In one of the darkest seasons of my life, I prayed for eyes to see, not because it seemed holy, or profound, or even because it gave me comfort –

I prayed for eyes to see because I didn’t know what else to pray.

The thread I clung to was thin, but I hung on with that meager prayer because I didn’t just believe that God was good –

I knew that God was good. 


And then one day, I posted this picture on Facebook and an almost-stranger messaged me and asked if she could run with me.

She was brave enough to ask and I was brave enough to say yes. 

I’m not sure if we ran as much as we talked, but we became friends.

Jess is the kind of friend who rescues you when your car battery dies in the car wash. Or when you need a last minute babysitter. The kind of friend who shows up at your house, when you’re sick, with your favorite coffee. A 3 am, real-is-where-its-at, I’ll-love-you-in-your-ugly kind of friend.


That summer I prayed for eyes to see? For three months straight? Because I needed a rescue?

God kept laying MOPS on my heart.

I pushed that thought away so many times with a gazillion excuses. I don’t know anybody. They’ll think I’m crazy. I’m busy enough. I don’t think I need more friends. Seriously, MOPS is not going to fix my problems. 

Finally I gave in.

Two years before, I had met this random lady on the beach who had invited me to the local MOPS group, so I knew there was one – but I didn’t know her or where she had told me that MOPS met.

So I googled it begrudgingly and found MOPS took place right up the street. (Of course.)

I begged my sister to come with me (which turned out to be no help for my insecurities, since she showed up late) and went to MOPS armed with cautious indifference and a list of reasons why this was all not going to work well for us.

Then this lady stood up and she was talking about the theme of the year and what we were going to be digging into, and I’m not sure I was really listening until she said –

“This is going to be the year we look up and see.”

And I didn’t know why, but I knew that I was right where God wanted me to be.


Alli was one of my first MOPS friends. She let me into her own painful story of losing a child and it was like an instant comradery between us, even though our stories are so different. I don’t like crying in front of people, but for some reason I could always cry with Alli and not feel silly. She validated my feelings in ways that no one else had and made me feel normal.

Jessica would have never friended me on Facebook and asked to run with me, if we hadn’t briefly met at MOPS when I commented on her yellow rain boots.


There’s more women too. I can’t name them all. Beautiful people with hearts that are even more beautiful, who love Jesus and who loved me through one of my hardest paths.

MOPS did not fix my problems or heal my broken heart, but it did shine a light in a darkness I was desperate to escape.

God uses unconventional means and normal people who live transparently and believe me when I tell you that –

God hears every single one of your desperately-spoken, hanging-by-a-thin-thread prayers.

Be brave enough to ask.

Give me a sign of your goodness. 

Put your running shoes on, girl.

Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun
Tell your heart to beat again

God is in the rescuing-business.

He Made You to Be You

“You laugh loud,” He said.

I laughed again and inwardly cringed. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? 

Being told something open-ended like “you laugh loud”, is a huge deal when you’re seventeen. Seventeen is right smack dab in the middle of living  in a constant tussle of people-pleasing and figuring out who you are in the middle of all that clamors…

And at seventeen, everything clamors.

You want to be cool, but depending on your social setting what’s en vogue can vary.

And at seventeen, I couldn’t wait for all that to end, when everyone, including myself, would be grown up and things would settle down –

and nobody tells you that it never really ends – that seventeen is really just a mirage of what’s to come; that even though it does get easier,

learning how to be comfortable in your own skin is a lifelong process that only gets more touchy with age.

Nobody really tells you that the expectations increase and all of life is finding your way through.

Or, maybe it just doesn’t quite sink in.


So there I was, in my mid-twenties, asking the same old, “who am I?” question and feeling like such a kid.

When I got married, I was 21 years old and I thought I had a pretty good handle on life. The hormonal teenage rollercoaster had balanced out and I had wrestled through some harder things in my young lifespan. I knew where I was going.

Except I really had no idea.

Because three months later, the plan wasn’t to have $5 in my bank account and be told that my dreams of having babies was dust. I didn’t plan to struggle almost daily with chronic stomach pain that no one could explain.

And four years later, I didn’t plan to be caught up in a tangled web of disagreements with my family and my church, sleepless nights and constant strain. I didn’t plan to welcome a baby into my home at the heart-wrenching expense of another mama’s loss. I didn’t think bonding with a baby who didn’t grow inside my womb would be so hard and I didn’t realize all the fears that I would face by saying “yes” to his little life.

I didn’t plan for invasive and expensive fertility doctoring that didn’t work and I didn’t plan to leave my church and I didn’t plan to love a baby girl that was born addicted to drugs that I would fight so hard for, only to say good-bye.

I didn’t plan to struggle with anxiety and depression, I certainly didn’t plan to doubt God, and –


I definitely didn’t plan to enter my 30’s and still be learning how to be comfortable in my own skin.

Life has unfolded completely different than what I ever expected at 21 years old, and shattered every bit of the naive self-confidence I embodied.

And that’s been good.


Because –

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. 

The world and even Christianity is telling you to love yourself more,  and it’s not going to earn me points for popularity, but I’m just going to say it out loud –

this is standing on dangerous ground.

…understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty, for people will be lovers of self… {2 Timothy 3:1-2a)

Paul goes on to say that the imposters of truth will flourish in their deceit, but the holy Word of God will empower you with wisdom as you trust in Jesus.

You don’t need to love yourself more, if you only love Him more than yourself.

Christ came to set you free from yourself – from the sin that you were born into, that so easily entangles you. You cannot earn your salvation or good standing with God.

You are not the answer.

He is the solution.


I was standing at the kitchen sink, wrestling through in my heart, because I also believe that self-care is important. We don’t have to run ourselves ragged or prove ourselves to God. We have been set free.

Our freedom includes deliverance from performance.

Jesus Himself retreated to the wilderness and put space between Himself and the crowds.

How do you reconcile it – the importance of self-care and the inarguable call to deny yourself?


My number one request for our kitchen remodel is a dishwasher. I spend so much time at the sink washing dishes and it came to me as I pondered and prayed, up to my elbows in soapy dishwater.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

When God said He made us wonderful, He’s not just talking about our physique.

The marvelous workmanship of God is not just in what we look like, but in who we are. 

We become the best version of ourselves, when we follow Him into the unique purposes He has for our life.

So if self-care is a coming away to not be filled up more with self, but to be filled up more with Him

If self-care is about making space for our soul to revive

and boundaries are set to guard our heart from self-reliance

and to protect against self-confidence and performance-based religion –

than self-care is really more about soul-care and making space for our Savior to have His way in us. 


YOU are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your gifts – the way you paint, the way you speak, the way you write, the way you create beauty, the way you cook, the way you love people, the way you give, the way you laugh –

it’s on purpose.

And it’s meant to be shared –

because God made you to testify and declare His glory.


Jesus paid it all.

To Him we owe everything.

It doesn’t matter what “they” think about your choice of work, your favorite color, what you eat or drink, and all the etc. —

IF –


You will be misunderstood and wrongly judged and envied and ridiculed and people will mock you and talk about you and make you feel small.

So turn your eyes upon Jesus. Lean in to your Savior.

You are freed from self and released from shame.

You can be confident in the workmanship of an Almighty God.

He made you to be you.


He walked out the back door, carrying a little brown basket.

“I’m going to go swing with Ryan, okay Mom?”

Ryan was the miniature doll he borrowed from Grandma’s house; the doll that was tumbling around in the brown basket he carried, my little Cub, as he ran across the backyard to the swing set.

A wave of sadness swept over me as he carefully placed Ryan in the swing. He was asking the plastic doll how high he wanted to go and gently pushing the swing.

It’s not fair, I thought as I watched him. He would make the best big brother.

Why does it have to be so hard? 

Impossible for us to get pregnant.

So hard for us to grow our family.


I was standing there, watching my son with pity. Would he always be an only child? Never know what it was like to grow up with siblings? I turned to go back to the sink full of dishes and I saw those two words scrawled across my blackboard.


God the Restorer. Our Restorer.


To restore means to “renovate – so as to return to its original condition”. 

To bring back.



I was barely 22 years old when I received two diagnoses that would forever change my life. I remember walking out of that appointment, feeling like I was walking through a milky haze.

This isn’t me. This isn’t me. This isn’t me.

They were the only three words I could think, even after my tears had dried up.

I wanted to refuse it. Refuse that it was possible that I would never have my own babies. Refuse that it was possible that I would have to worry about bone density and menopausal symptoms and hormonal issues that women shouldn’t have to think about until they’re late forties or early fifties.

Refuse that this was going to be my journey.



We are all fractured by life.

We are different and we are all the same.

All of us needing to be brought back.

Brought back and restored.


When I was a kid, Psalm 23 was one of the first passages of Scripture that I memorized.

The Lord is my Shepherd

I shall not want

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures 

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul

I learned those words in the King James Version, with all the idiosyncrasies of Old English, because that was the version of my Bible – the same worn copy I still read from.

I shall not want, because He restoreth my soul.

It never said that we wouldn’t want because we wouldn’t face need.

We do not want, because we have what we need.

And what we need is not the absence of brokenness, but the power of a restoring God. 

We do not want, because the Lord is our Shepherd.

We do not want, because our God is a restoring God.


For nine years, I have prayed that God would defy the medical impossibilities and give us a biological child.

For nine years, I have been in want.

For nine years, I have had all that I needed.

And goodness and mercy have followed me, all the days of my nine years –

in thousands of ways that He has blessed and given and restored.


Five years of sweet wild turbulence, raising this boy.

He has denied my petition.

But, He has restored.

And I would take His restoration over an answer to the prayers that I have cried, a million times over and over again.

IMG_5490 His restoration to our brokenness will not always feel or seem fair.

We can ask why until the stars fall, and it’s okay.

But in the end, trust this –



On Cultivating Faithfulness

“If one more person says, ‘If anyone could do it, you can’, I’m going to scream.”

She was furiously scrubbing her laminate kitchen floor.

I stood in the doorway, silent.

“I know,” I finally said slowly, “Me too. I mean, I have never been through what you have been through, but even in the things I face in life, I get that all the time. “You’re so strong”, “You have what it takes”…it’s so frustrating.”

“Exxxaaaactly,” She leaned back on her knees and slowly stood. “It’s kind of another way of saying that we don’t need anyone or anything. It’s invalidating.”

It’s kind of like saying you don’t even need God.


God knows what you can handle. God will only give you what you can handle.

We grow up hearing these things, until we wake up one morning and we are wrecked by life.

So we question –

because if we live from that theology, we are reduced to questioning even God Himself. 

If God will only give us what we can handle, is there even a God? {Because this is too much to handle.} 

My friend woke up one morning and her son died in his sleep.

How do you go on from that and live?


In the aftermath of such heart-rending anguish, well-meaning people told her crazy things like, “God knew you could handle this if anyone could. You are strong.”

We have got to stop.

No one is strong enough to “handle” that.

No one.


Years later, we said yes to the life of a newborn baby girl who had to fight through the drug addiction of her biological mama.

I held her every day that she stayed in the hospital NICU. I whispered “I love you” in her ears, I prayed that God would let me absorb all the pain that wracked her little five pound body, and I promised her that I would fight for her.

Our hearts were completely captivated with her wide eyes, round face and demanding personality. We loved her as our own. We sung her through hours of screaming and walked her through hours of tremoring. We got up with her at night. We welcomed her as our own.

Then we kissed her good-bye.

And I fell to the floor and screamed.

My heart bled for the pain.

None of our story made sense. I hurt because it was over and it had just begun. I hurt more because she wouldn’t “get it” and I knew that with every ounce of my being.

Babies are resilient, yes.

But babies are little humans with the capacity to feel every emotion that we are capable of feeling.

I couldn’t see through my tears and my fists pounded the kitchen counter and all I said was “no”.

My husband pulled me close and told me we would make it.

And I groaned. And I cried, “But will she? Will she?” And I remember looking at him, wildly swiping at my tears, and saying this – “I know that she will feel abandoned. I know that. It kills me.”

He half-carried me to bed, where I stayed for four days. There were moments I felt like I couldn’t breathe and moments I sat hunched over the toilet, gagging.

I threw up nothing but my one aching heart.

Everything hurt.

And I shrunk into a shell of grief.

img_6423Some people will tell you that God won’t give you too much to bear and they will try to be nice and encourage you by telling you untruths like – “you are strong enough”.

But you can hurt so deep that you wish you could close your eyes and never wake up, because you are truthfully not strong enough.

Don’t believe the lies.

You are not strong enough.

Good enough.

Smart enough.

Talented enough.

You are not enough.

And believing you are…and telling yourself that you are…is prison disguised as release.

Jesus came to set the captive free.

You. Me. All of us.

He came to save us – not just from sin and brokenness – but also from ourselves.

What would happen, I wonder, if we stopped struggling with our self-imposed expectations of “being enough” and instead – instead

cultivated faithfulness?IMG_5716 I wish I could tell you that I “handled” my grief well. I wish I could tell you that I was “strong enough”.

I can’t.

I didn’t.

I wasn’t.

But I hung on desperately.

And maybe that’s what faithfulness looks like sometimes. Resiliently hanging on, even when your whole life feels like it’s falling apart.

MtKatahdin1The spring before our son Leo was born, my faith in God’s goodness to me was tested in a way that shaped my view of God for me.

We had started the process of connecting with his birth mom and begun preparing for this little nameless baby boy – to be born in just a few short months. An August baby. It had happened so fast and so unexpectedly and I remember feeling so alive inside my heart, like I was living in a dreamy haze.

I was going to be a mom.

On my way, flying across the country, to visit my best friend and serve in another friend’s wedding, I wrote in my journal about a fear that shadowed my heart.

I was afraid that something was going to happen.

I felt this certainty that something would come up.

But I wrote this – “God, you wouldn’t let that happen though. Right?”

IMG_1861A few days later, thousands of miles away from my husband, I received the phone call that circumstances had changed.

We would not be placed with that baby boy.

Hope tells you to believe in spite of the risks, and when the risks became your reality, hope can feel foolish and unwise, like a waste.

And I wrestled. I dug in my heels and I grabbed hold and I said, “Show me.” 

Show me, God. What is it that you want from me, in this place?

Dashed hopes can make you feel an awful lot like you’re living in a wasteland.

And it’s there, in one of those fifteen scrawled-in books I’ve written the raw of my one heart and stored in my hope chest.

“You say you are good. But you don’t feel good to me.”

Honestly, it’s like if one kid offered a lollipop to another kid, waving the prospect in his face and then ripped off the wrapper and ate it himself. We would say that was mean, right?

But isn’t that just what happened? Didn’t God just wave this prospect in my face and then rip it away again?

I did not get an answer for why it happened, but it was impressed very deeply on my heart that I needed to just believe that God is who He says that He is.

It was like He was saying to me – “Renee? Believe who I say that I am. I am a good God and my plan for you is good.”

It was like He was saying to me – “Cultivate faithfulness.”

Hold on to what you know to be true.

And what we know to be true, is that Jesus, the Son of God, laid down his life for us and took the complete brokenness of all mankind on HimselfBecause He is good, for our good.

Two weeks later I received a phone call. Did we still want to be placed with this baby?


Two-and-a-half years later, this happened –

lawyer dayMaybe knowing why doesn’t matter, you know?

Life doesn’t and won’t often make sense.

You aren’t enough for that and you don’t have to be.

Because God is.

He is enough for your one shattered heart –

your messed-up predicament –

your broken dreams –

your busy life –

your deepest grief –

your imperfect family –

your darkest night –

and every hopeless thought you have ever had.

He is enough and He came so that you didn’t have to try to be anymore.

And this is why you can lean in and be fearless –

not because there isn’t brokenness,

but because there is faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3-5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and [a]cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.


Trust. Do Good. Dwell.

and cultivate faithfulness. 

We overcome because we cultivate faithfulness to God and His word, regardless of our life circumstances.

And when the storms of life come, we might be shaken –

But we will not be moved.

Why You Should GO FIRST

September 1st and the sun shone bright and warm when I walked through those clear glass doors with my three-year-old son in tow.

What am I doing? My heart thrummed in my chest. This is stupid. I don’t need a “mom group”. 

Mom group. Insert <gag>.

Her hair was cut in a cute brown bob that framed her face and she was wearing yellow shorts. Her face was bright and her eyes were warm. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, as I fumbled my way into the church, “I’m Dez. Let me tell you about MOPS.”

Stacy walked me to the classroom for Leo’s age group and Kristin reassured me when I left my kid with people I didn’t know – for the first time ever. “They’re so great back here,” She said. “They will call you if he needs you. He’s going to have fun and make friends! I know it’s hard. Do you want to sit with me?”

What am I doing here


I poured myself coffee and I sat down with a table of women I didn’t know. The morning flew by, I got Leo from his classroom and I went home, feeling more hope in my heart than I had in a long time. I wrote,

“Today there was MOPS and new friends, meeting up with 35 strangers and being met by 35 kind and genuine smiles and being encouraged by a whole lot of authenticity and talk of this one, next year, being a year to LOOK UP and SEE.”

 The six months leading up to that sunny September 1st, I had been begging God to open my eyes wide to see.

And when the woman with shoulder-length brown hair and quiet eyes got up and talked about seeing, I had my answer.

I knew it down deep why I was there.


There was a man in the Bible who was born blind so that the power of God could be seen. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said, and he spit on the ground and made mud to cover the man’s eyes.  “Go wash it off,” he said, and the man came back seeing.

Jesus restored the blind man’s sight by smearing mud over his eyes.

Sometimes God uses the unexpected to work redemption in our lives. 

When I walked into that mom group, I needed to see again. There were things in my heart crying out for redemption.

There were forsaken places in my journey and spaces in my heart.

And the journey through the wilderness that landed me at a moms group full of strangers, has only made me more convinced that Satan wants us to feel abandoned. Forsaken. Alone.

“Be watchful,” 1 Peter 5:8 says, “…the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and Peter continues, “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”


Knowing what?

That you are not alone.

CBS News reported that 72% of Americans experience loneliness and 33% say they feel lonely once a week.

floweratpophamIt’s late. The house is quiet, minus the soft, persistent tick of the bedroom clock. The smoke alarm in the basement beeps and I remember that we need to buy new batteries for it.

Be watchful.

Keep your eyes wide open.

The Enemy of your soul wants nothing more than to destroy you.

Be watchful and stand firm.

Stand firm in the knowledge that you are not alone.

And you resist. 

These words are profound to me.

Everywhere I go, I hear it, I see it, I feel it – this deep yearning for authenticity, transparency and connection.

Because at the root of every jealous thought or misunderstanding, argument or rejection –

is really just a yearning to be loved.


And this is why you should go first and say hello.

“Hi, I’m Renee, and…”

And your transparency might just be the key –

the key that lets another caged heart find freedom.

That says, “me too”“you’re not alone”. 

And together –

we resist the wily snares of the devil and step deeper into the water of His love.


When I walked into Meadville MOPS on a sunny, September Thursday, expecting to never want to go back – I left with a glimmer of hope that I never expected.


Together is why you you should go first.

Because underneath all the layers of politeness and pleasantries and behind every mask?

There’s really just a yearning to be loved and to belong.

Find your tribe and love them well, for better or for worse, and you will stand firm and resist.

And you will see.