thoughts on grief and hope.

It was late spring and after 10:00 p.m. when Jake suggested we get out of our apartment and go for a walk. I don’t remember any specifics about this particular night except that we ended up sitting together on a bench while I cried and Jake—wordless and steady—held his arm around my shoulders as they shook with each sob. The next morning we were set to board a plane that would eventually lead us to Africa, and I was completely convinced we were going to die at some point on this trip.

It sounds dramatic, I know, but my skills as a worst-case scenarioist have always been next level. I figured if the plane didn’t go down, something would happen to us on the ground, but if everything proved fine there, well, there was still the flight home to get through. My mind raced, and my chest tightened, and, still, I knew I would go.

A few weeks earlier, I had told a woman at my church I was feeling anxious about the trip and she assured me that I didn’t need to worry. “Everything will be fine,” she said. “You’ll see.” While well-intentioned, this encouragement didn’t actually offer me any peace because I knew two things: She was unable to predict the future, and all the things I was anxious about, while unlikely, could happen. They were actual possibilities.

A.W. Tozer once famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So, in the midst of my fear and unrest, I took a close look at my feelings, and I asked myself what I thought about God. If the “worst” was to come true, would I still trust him? Would I still believe he is good?

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In John 11, Jesus got word from his friends Mary and Martha that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Jesus was, at the time, in another town, and he waited there for two days before going to see them in Bethany. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had already died—his body buried in the tomb for four days. Martha greeted Jesus before Mary, but they each said the exact same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” To Martha, Jesus spoke about resurrection and belief, but he didn’t have words for Mary. Instead, when he saw her weeping, “he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” And then when they took him to the tomb, Jesus wept with Mary and the other mourners. A few verses later, Lazarus walked out of the tomb, wrapped in linen burial cloths but very much alive. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Jesus had asked Martha. It seems safe to assume that this encounter with Jesus solidified their faith in him.

There’s a small detail I left out of the beginning of the story—a single word I have been thinking about constantly since I read this account last week. Right after Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, he said to his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Then, John includes these two sentences: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

So. Jesus loved his friends, so he didn’t go to them right away. It’s tempting to want to put a “but” there, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. When we love others, we try to spare them pain and sorrow, but the “so” remains which means it matters. Lazarus died because Jesus loved them. Even more peculiar, then, is Jesus’ response when he sees Mary. Three times before he gets to the tomb, Jesus says Lazarus will rise again. There is no suspense here for Jesus. He knows Lazarus will live. Yet still when he sees Mary, he is deeply moved by her grief and weeps with her before, moments later, calling Lazarus forth.

This story tells me two things about Jesus.

First, sometimes he allows us to experience temporary, earthly suffering because he loves us. Now I will be the first to admit that this concept is mysterious and complex and hard to swallow especially in the thick of difficult situations, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be true. Not every prayer ends as Mary and Martha’s did, but Lazarus walking alive from his tomb reminds us that just a short time later, Jesus did the same. His defeat of death is our hope, and anything that solidifies our belief in the resurrection and the glory of God is for our eternal good.

But goodness and difficulty aren’t mutually exclusive, and Jesus also shows us in this story that we can hold both grief and hope at the same time. We are not meant to face our trials while blithely proclaiming, “Everything will be okay!” We can acknowledge pain and sadness while also trusting God’s sovereignty. This is such a kindness to us—a Savior who weeps over brokenness even though he knows everything will be made new in the end.

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I have been keeping a journal for the past few weeks. As soon as I could tell the nature of the coronavirus was ever-changing and unpredictable, I knew all the specifics of this time would blur together if I didn’t take time to write them down. So every morning, I log the events of the day before: News updates, changes to our daily patterns, how we fill our time, and my feelings in the midst of it all which have been frenetic—matched to the nature of this current reality.

Friday’s pages will tell you that the kids and I watched Jake’s car pull out of the driveway, unsure of when we will see it come back toward us again. They will tell you that we decided it would be best if he stays out of our house until after the virus peaks because we know it is inevitable that he will be exposed in the emergency room. They will tell you that I wept on and off for two straight days over the uncertainty of when we’ll all get to touch him again and the fact that while many kids, years from now, will remember this strange time with fond family memories, our kids will remember it as the season when dad had to stay at least six feet away.

Like that spring night in the park eight years ago, this is another significant opportunity to ask myself what I think about God. If my newest worst-case scenarios come true, will I still trust him? Will I still believe he is good even when he allows a global pandemic to completely upend everything around me?

I will. My hope is not tied to my circumstances, and if this experience refocuses my life on the One who is in control, then it is for my ultimate good.

But, still, I will weep because acknowledging my hope doesn’t negate the brokenness of this world. I will weep for those families also separated. For those who are anxious. For those who have lost their jobs. For those who face financial hardship. For those struggling to feed their families. For those who are sick. For those who are dying. For those who will die.

I will grieve over the shattered state of our world. I will sing of the glory of God. I will hold both things in my hand knowing that Jesus does too.

a few good things.

I’ve been wondering all week what I have to add to the noise and the words and the chaos all around us, and the answer came to me this morning: YouTube clips. 

I needed a break from the news today (you too?), so I went ahead and compiled 20 of my all-time favorite YouTube clips. There are movie scenes, broadway numbers, bits from my favorite television shows, and a few other random things included below. They all share one thing in common: They make me happy every single time I watch them, and I hope they might send a little joy your way today too.

Without further ado (and in no particular order)…

1.) This scene from Pam and Jim’s wedding in The Office which just now made me both laugh out loud and cry.

2.) Also that time Jim dressed up like Dwight and Dwight dressed up like Jim.

3.) One of my very favorite performances from So You Think You Can Dance: Turn to Stone with Melanie and Marko.

4.) One of my favorite songs: Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me by CityAlight.

5.) This sweet production of Boat Song by JJ Heller.

6.) The Jackal, obviously, fellow West Wing fans.

7.) That time Lin-Manuel Miranda surprised his wife with a rendition of To Life from Fiddler on the Roof at their wedding.

8.) Also that time Jimmy Fallon found out he once sort of went on a date with Nicole Kidman but didn’t realize it.

9.) Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig presenting at the 2013 Golden Globes and also Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig presenting at the 2020 Academy Awards.

10.) This scene from John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch featuring Jake Gyllenhaal in which Mr. Music tries to make music out of things that don’t make any sound.

11.) The Broadway edition of Carpool Karaoke.

12.) Also, while we’re on the subject of show tunes: the Hamilton cast singing Yorktown at the 2016 Tony Awards.

13.) This beautiful scene from the movie Wonder.

14.) When Leslie Knope met Joe Biden and couldn’t deal. Also, Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian, duh.

15.) Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me music video. Don’t @ me.

16.) Kristen Bell describing the time a sloth came to her birthday party. 

17.) Jimmy Fallon’s “songversation” with Justin Timberlake. (How can you choose just one Jimmy/Justin clip? I panicked.)

18.) Also, Jimmy Fallon’s recent at-home editions of The Tonight Show.

19.) Carrie Underwood’s rendition of How Great Thou Art.

20.) Finally, the first 10 minutes of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.

Happy Friday, everyone. Here’s to taking it one day and one YouTube clip at a time.

valentine’s day isn’t all we have.

Jake and I have now spent 14 Valentine’s Days together, and I remember exactly two of them.

My first memory is of our only Valentine’s Day engaged in which we spent the holiday together at a pot show. We drove thirty minutes and then sat for an hour in a hotel meeting room while a salesman tried to sell us the most expensive and classiest pot around—a full set of greaseless, waterless cookware.

A couple of college kids, we were always on the lookout for free stuff, and this event (using that term loosely given that there were only about 10 people in attendance) promised free food and a chance to win a free vacation which, to Jake and me, sounded like free dinner and a potential free honeymoon. It seemed like a win-win at the time.

Dinner turned out to be a single chicken breast which—amazingly—was cooked without grease or oil. It was then cut up into small pieces and we each got to sample one single bite. When we found out you had to buy something in order to be entered for a chance at the free vacation, we officially called the evening a bust, but as we tried to sneak out the back, the salesman cut us off and offered a final pitch.

“You’ll never have to buy another set of pots and pans for your entire life,” he told us after some small talk that let us know he was truly invested in our lives. “You’ll be starting your marriage with something that will last forever.”

Jake and I didn’t even have $2,000 (I told you—classy pots) combined at that point and certainly wouldn’t have spent the money on cookware even if we did. Jake though, ever the negotiator, couldn’t resist an offer. He picked up the smallest pot. “l’ll buy this one for $40,” he said.

“I can’t just sell you one pot,” the salesman said. “You have to buy the entire set.” He then went on to tell us about the importance of good pots and pans and how much he really believed in this product. “I got into this business to help people,” he said.

Jake, completely unswayed, countered back: “If you want to help people, then why can’t you just sell me this one pot?” he asked.

“I can’t cut you that big a deal,” the salesman said. “And even if I did, you couldn’t fully appreciate it because you didn’t earn it yourself.” With that, we left—empty handed and hungry.

Thirty minutes later, we sat eating burgers and endless french fries at Red Robin, while we talked and laughed about all the unearned things in our lives which we felt as though we really did appreciate.

My second Valentine’s Day memory is one year later and seven months after Jake and I were married.

I had decided to institute a new holiday tradition (note: this lasted two years) in which every Valentine’s Day we would find a new recipe and cook a nice meal together. I pulled out my fanciest cookbook (Thanks, Rachael Ray!), and together we boiled pasta, roasted vegetables, and baked chicken in our small apartment kitchen. I don’t remember many specifics other than this: We burst roasted cherry tomatoes for the sauce and discussed our gratitude for the cheap teflon cookware we had been gifted for our wedding.

At some point during this prep-work, Jake’s best friend called to see what we were up to, so we invited him over. Together, we sat down to eat our homemade dinner and then, because those were the leave-the-house-whenever-you-want-to years, we decided to see a movie.

That’s it. That’s all I remember.

There are 12 more Valentine’s Days of lost memories and forgotten experiences in addition to these two semi-vague recollections. I legitimately cannot even tell you what we did last year on this day. The specifics are gone—purged from my mind forever.

I have so many other memories though.

For instance, ten years ago, in the middle of the week and nowhere near Valentine’s Day, I found a post-it note hidden in the middle of a loaf of bread in our cupboard. Jake had put it there a few days earlier before he traveled overseas for ten days. I found a dozen more post-it notes in various places around our house while he was gone—reminders that he had been thinking about me before he left and missed me each day after.

A little less than seven years ago and right after Lily was born, Jake took a break from studying for his medical school boards to eat dinner with us. As soon as he walked in the door, I burst into tears—the delirious cries of a new mom who had no clue what she was feeling. That night (and a bunch of other nights), Jake neglected his books without pause and stayed with me longer than he should have, so he could hold Lily in his arms and me in his presence.

A few weeks ago, Jake woke up in the afternoon after a night shift and came downstairs to a half-cooked dinner and a kitchen filled with whining children. He took the wooden spoon out of my hand and told me to go eat dinner by myself somewhere “for self-preservation.” A few days ago, I caught him taking a picture of me inside Petco while I looked at a wall of fish tanks with the kids—an unspoken response to me mentioning that I wanted to be in more family pictures. Just yesterday, he opted to stay home instead of leaving to play basketball, so we could sit in our living room next to the fire after the kids went to bed.

I don’t remember much about Valentine’s Day, but I am filled with vivid memories like these—small moments in time which remind me that love requires no pomp, circumstance, or nationally recognized holiday. Generous and sacrificial love is found in the simple and ordinary moments too, and this is the kind of love I am most thankful for every day. It is not loud or flashy, but it’s steady. It’s familiar. And, better yet, it’s given even though I have done nothing to earn it which (and I say this resolutely) makes me appreciate it even more.

I’m tempted to regret those 12 lost memories—to wish I had better documented or kept a more thorough record of all the official holidays we have spent together. But, Valentine’s Day isn’t all we have, and, thankfully, the Mondays and the Thursdays and the Sunday afternoons have all been worth remembering too.

baby steps.

I’m not often far away from the sound of Jude’s feet. I hear them when the crib mattress rocks into the side rail and when they kick against the foot rest of his high chair. They shift softly when I lay him down for his naps and scrape pebbles across our driveway when we play outside. Sometimes his feet are the focus of my attention while other times they create a constant background noise; however, they’re almost always there—bearing witness to every piece of our day.

A year ago, all these feet did were kick off swaddle wraps and flail in the air with abandon. Now, here he is today using them to climb the steps to the top of our deck and sneak himself into the pantry cabinet.

I don’t quite remember the shifts or exactly when it all changed, but I suppose it happened one little step at a time.

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Everyday Magic.”

on being seen.

It’s past midnight when I finally collapse into bed. As I sink into the air mattress on the floor of our empty bedroom, my mind fills with scenes from the previous two days. The semi-truck parked in front of our home ready to hold all our belongings. One last walk around the neighborhood with the kids. Takeout Thai food in lawn chairs on the front porch. Heaving sobs as the lock turned on our empty house one final time. A 700-mile drive. A different empty house, waiting to be filled with our things.

Jake turns the light off and settles in next to me, his weight popping my side of the air mattress up. I flip over onto my back and center myself on my pillow. As my eyes adjust to the dark room, I notice the lights on the ceiling fan above me. The switch has been turned off, but the lights continue to glow slightly—four dim circles directly overhead.

I wonder why they aren’t completely black. It’s strange; the light is gone but also still here.

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Four years before I sank into that lopsided air mattress, our family moved away from home for the first time. Jake had just graduated from medical school and a residency program awaited him in Ohio. In our first weeks there, I spent a lot of time on our front porch during nap time—my feet pressed firmly into the sturdy planks while also feeling as though I had completely lost my footing. One afternoon, as I watched a car drive down our street faster than it should, an unsettling combination of anger and jealousy rose within me. I thought of all the friends I had left behind and realized their lives were flying forward without me. Their daily routines and structures were relatively unchanged by my absence while everything I knew had been turned on its head.

Self-pity washed over me. I felt cut off and convinced myself I was forgotten.

A few days later, I checked my mail. As I sifted through the junk mail and coupon packs, a small postcard with a cityscape on the front caught my eye. I flipped it over. It came from a friend back home. The message was only 30 words long—a quick note to tell me she hoped the move had gone well—but those words overwhelmed me with gratitude. Seven hundred miles away, my friend had thought of me, and then she went one step further: She wrote down those thoughts  and sent them in the mail.

I walked inside and hung the postcard on the refrigerator, where it would stay until we moved four years later.

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A few months after I got that postcard in the mail, Norah turned one. Instead of the family-filled party Lily had for her first birthday, we answered FaceTime calls and sat around our table, just the four of us. As we sang “Happy Birthday” that cold night in November and watched Norah eat an entire mini cupcake in one bite, I wondered how many of my friends back home remembered her birthday. Did they realize we were celebrating this milestone alone? The familiar pang of self-pity beat in my chest.

The next day, a package arrived on my doorstep. Inside, I found a board book of animals and a note: Dear Norah, We love you and miss you so much. Happy birthday! The gift came from another one of my friends from back home.

During the four years we lived in Ohio, our kids celebrated a combined 11 more birthdays (including the actual birth day of two additional kids), and this friend remembered to send a package for every single one.

She never forgot.

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Toward the end of our residency in Ohio, Jake had to spend two weeks out of town at various conferences and job interviews while I stayed home with our five-year-old, three-year-old, two-year-old, and two-month-old. It was not an ideal situation, but we were all determined to make the best of it.

School schedules kept us busy during the day, but the afternoons and evenings were long and lonely. By the time I needed to cook dinner each night, my patience was thin and my energy for meal prep thinner. Then, just when I was feeling as though the two weeks would never end, a giant box arrived on my front porch.

The kids and I opened it together. We pulled out pasta, macaroni and cheese, Goldfish crackers, coffee, chocolate snacks, and various other pantry essentials.

“Who’s it from?” my oldest asked with a jar of peanut butter in her hands.

I checked the box for a note, but couldn’t find one. I remembered a conversation I had recently with another long-distance friend about how hard it was to have Jake gone for so long, so I picked up my phone and called her.

“Did you send me a giant box filled with food?” I asked her after she answered.

“Yes!” she said. “I thought it might help.”

It did.

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Jake rolls over to his back and jostles me on the air mattress again. His movement pulls me into the middle, so I lay my head on his chest and close my eyes, exhausted from all the moving boxes, goodbyes, and general upheaval the previous days had held.

“Look at the lights,” he says; noticing the same dim glow I had moments earlier. “Why do they still look like they’re on?”

I glance up again. It’s not enough light to keep us awake at night, and if we weren’t looking directly at it, we probably wouldn’t even notice it at all. To see it, you have to make an effort.

The moving truck with the rest of our things arrives the next morning. The air mattress is replaced with a real one, and the rooms are filled with boxes of belongings. A few days later, I walk down our long driveway to the mailbox and, to my surprise, find a small package inside. I open it immediately and pull out a wooden ornament in the shape of Ohio and a note from a friend I just left behind: “Miss you already!”

Gravel crunches under my feet as I make my way back to our house, and I think about the various notes and packages I’ve received from long-distance friends throughout the years. As I hold the most recent one in my right hand, I realize the gift itself doesn’t even matter that much.

The real gift is the fact that someone took the time to notice. To see me. Even after my light had faded from view, my friends kept looking at me—seeing my dim glow from a distance and refusing to snuff me out.

Later that night, I lie in our bed and wait for Jake to turn off the lights. As soon as he flicks the switch, I stare intently at the four faint circles of light above me. Jake slides in next to me and grabs my hand.

“You doing okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say, feeling seen once more. “I think I am.”


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cleveland: the last chapter.

At this exact moment, my computer is sitting on top of a black and yellow Sterilite tote. To my left are two cardboard boxes labeled “Master Bedroom Misc,” and directly below me on a completely different floor are 20 more boxes carefully stacked in the corner of our living room—teasing our kids to come climb on them. Unfortunately for the kids, too many of those boxes are labeled “Fragile,” and, come to think of it, the main place they play probably wasn’t the best storage option for breakable kitchenware.

In a few days, I will watch as our house is emptied of these boxes. I’ll stand in the empty rooms left in the moving wake and feel the fullness of the memories each wall holds. I’ll hear the laughter of our kids, the cries of newborn babies, and sound of Jake’s footsteps coming up the steps in the middle of the night. I’ll breathe all these memories in, and then we’ll load up the van and drive away from this house for the last time.

I’ve been trying to figure out what there even is to say about this chapter as we close and move on to something new. Where do I even begin? How can I possibly sum up everything the past four years has taught me as it’s all about to go in the rearview mirror?

I can’t in this small space, but what I can say is this: Just because something can’t last doesn’t mean it can’t last.

This story, after all, isn’t about me. It’s about God. And, whatever God does endures forever.

Take our living room, for instance, even in its boxed-up state.

A cream-colored carpet square covers most of the floor. It’s not very soft—scratchy to your face if you lay down flat on it. I know this because, when we first moved here, it wasn’t unusual for Jake to come home from a long day at work to find me facedown on the carpet, crying and defeated after another hour-long bedtime battle at the end of another long, lonely day.

The walls are empty now, save for a lone painting in the corner. The textured pink walls we never got around to painting are chipped from nail holes and scuffed from the shelves we recently took down.

Then there is the oversized red leather chair and ottoman which I have claimed as my own. They sit in the corner of the room next to a small, antique side table, stacked tall with books, bibles, and journals. They’re right across from the biggest window in our house and where I sit almost every afternoon during rest time.

We’ll leave all this behind. The carpet. The empty walls. The corner of the living room I claimed as my own. But we’ll carry with us the things that last.

Those first months in our house were filled with long days and lonely nights—made more exhausting by our two-year-old’s bedtime screams reverberating through our house. I’d never choose to go back to that season where I ended many days flat on that scratchy carpet, but I’m forever changed by the way those days pointed me toward God. The ways they taught me to rest in his unchanging nature despite the fact that everything else had changed around me. I found strength in what should have been an unbearable circumstance because I could set my feet firm in that which wouldn’t change. The carpet stays, but the lesson goes.

I’ll never look at the badly painted pink walls again, and I’m sure the nail holes and scuff marks will soon be filled in and painted over by whoever moves in next. But those walls will always remind me of the good that comes when you make the effort to put holes in your walls. Not only did we make this house our home, but we also made Cleveland our home. We’ll leave the empty walls and a lot of good people behind, but the important reminders of community and how much better life is when you let people in will stay with us.

And then there’s the chair. That comes with, but it leaves behind my corner—the place where I learned how to rest. I’ll never read my bible with the same wide open window in front of me, but I’ll carry the habit along, always grateful for the ways Cleveland taught me to lean into God’s word before anything else.

Solomon is the one who says that “whatever God does endures forever” in Ecclesiastes 3, but there’s more to his point. “Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it,” he goes on to say. “God has done it, so that people fear (see: revere, stand in awe) before him.”

This Cleveland chapter isn’t about me. It’s about the work God has done in my life—work that lasts even though the chapter doesn’t—so that people will stand in awe before him.

We are standing on the other side of four particularly challenging years and an eight year journey that very easily could have broken us. I’m so proud of our family for all that we’ve endured—for the choices we’ve made and the hard work we have accomplished. But the credit is not ours. God has done it. God has done it, so that we can stand in awe before him.

I can’t pack that up with the glass kitchenware, but, thankfully, I can carry it with me forever.

It lasts.

ode to a backyard swing set.

Before there was a swing set, there was just an empty backyard.

The first time I planted my feet in the yard was the first day we moved into our house almost four years ago. The air was warm, and the sun was setting to my right. I held a baby on my hip as I moved my eyes around with each exhale of breath. There was a wooden fence on one side and a chain link on the other. The back was lined with four tall pine trees, a fence in their own right. In the corner stood a tall oak.

Jake would hang a baby swing from a branch in the oak a few days later, our first tangible mark on the yard. A few days after that, we would add a pink plastic pool.

But in that moment, it was empty. Untrodden by tiny toddler feet. I heard Jake talking to my mom in the house behind me, and I remembered being in a different room in a different state with her just three months earlier. We had thrown a baby shower for one of my best friends, and as I stood in the corner of the room watching my friends and family mingle that day, I saw all the things I would be leaving behind with the move to Ohio. Sadness washed over me. A sadness which was quickly followed by gratitude.

As I surveyed the room, I realized that my sadness meant Jake and I had done something right. We had put down roots and immersed ourselves in our community. The move felt so hard because we had filled our lives with so much good.

My mom laughed from inside my empty kitchen and brought me back to the present.

I shifted my weight forward to my toes.

“I hope it’s hard to leave here too,” I thought to myself.

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The second summer we lived in Ohio, Jake decided we needed more than just a baby swing in the corner of our yard.

“I’m going to build the girls a swing set,” he said to me as we sat on our front porch one night after the girls had gone to bed.

I shifted in my rocking chair, seven-months pregnant with our third baby.

“They’re both too big for that baby swing, and it’ll be nice to throw them in the backyard to play once this new baby comes,” he continued.

“That sounds great,” I said.

Not even two days later, a swing set stood tall in our backyard, built piecemeal with wood Jake had found from the actual woods. Two swings hung from the center.

“It’s a little bigger than I was expecting,” I said, craning my neck and wondering if you could see it from the road, “but I love it.” That night I sat on a green lawn chair while I listened to the girls squeal as Jake pushed them on the swings. I pressed my toes into the grass, and our backyard felt full in all the right ways.

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“I think I’m going to add a slide to the swing set.” The girls, now 4 and 2, were swinging happily while our 9-month-old baby boy sat picking clover leaves in the grass at my feet. It was our third summer.

“It will be great. I’ll just build a platform off to the side and bring up the slide from the basement. We can even put the kiddie pool at the base and use the hose to turn it into a water slide.

The platform took him a morning to assemble, but he ran into problems with the slide.

“They’re going to break the pool unless I can slow them down before they hit it.”

And so, our bonafide water slide was born. For two summers in a row, the girls spent hours climbing up a ladder and sliding down a yellow playground slide onto a flat wooden platform which sent them into a new pink plastic pool—an upgraded version from our first summer.

The second summer of the water slide, I sat in the shade, seven-months pregnant again and noticed the wear in our backyard. There were two dirt spots under the swings where grass once grew, and toys littered the clover all around me. But I didn’t just see marks from our own family. A fire pit sat nearby filled with ashes—a remnant of a gathering of our friends—and a bottle of bubbles was just beyond, emptied at the hands of a three-year-old friend. The fences showed wear too, likely from all the times our kids pressed against them talking to the neighbors who loved us all like family.

I felt the roots we had laid and saw all the beautiful things that had grown from them.

swingset

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The swing set is gone now.

A few weeks ago, on a cold, February afternoon, Jake took a chainsaw to it. We can’t take it with us when we move back to Iowa in a few months, and he was worried the sagging crossbar was going to snap from the weight of the swings.

So, our backyard is empty again. Void of the towering wooden structure that kept our kids entertained for three summers in a row. All that remains are those two patches of dirt.

As I watched the wood and swings collapse that day, my breath fogging up the cold glass while I held the newest baby on my hip, I felt the thankful sadness wash over me again. We built memories for our kids here. Put down roots and erected swing sets and lived these years in Ohio as connected to others as we could.

It will be hard to leave this behind.

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psssst! Each month, I send out a newsletter containing a few thoughts about all the things I read, write, love, and think about. If you want to get in on the fun, you can sign up HERE! 

52 minutes.

I stare at the cell phone on my desk and will it to ring. It’s silent in my dorm room save for the quiet ticking of my roommate’s alarm clock and the occasional passersby on the sidewalk outside. I notice a couple walk by hand in hand while frustration prickles the back of my neck.

I snatch my phone and call Jake. I think better of this decision about two rings in, but the prickly anger wins as soon as I hear him answer.

“Hey,” he says. I hear confusion in his voice. I had seen him less than an hour ago, after all. He dropped by my dorm room on his way home from the cafeteria to say goodbye before I went home for fall break. He stood on my porch for about five minutes before he walked back across campus to his room. I wanted him to stay longer. Only, I didn’t actually tell him I wanted him to stay longer.

“Hey,” I say, icily.

Pause. “What’s up?”

I sit up straighter in my chair and load my words carefully. “You could have stayed longer than five minutes tonight, you know. I’m not going to see you for four days and, really, I have only seen you for like 52 minutes all week.”

As the last four words leave my mouth, I realize how ridiculous they sound, but it’s too late to swallow them back up. Instead, I’m left with silence and the mortifying fact that I had taken the walks between class, the quick drive to Taco Bell and the run-in at the student center and turned them into an exact amount of time. I mean, I hadn’t even bothered rounding up.

The silence on the other end shrinks me in my chair.

“Well,” he finally says, “I’m not sure what difference that makes. I guess I’ll see you in a few days.”

Click.

///

I am terrible at math—a fact that may surprise you given my keen attention to minute details.

I’m pretty sure I felt my first heart palpitation in third grade when my teacher placed a minute math worksheet in front of me. Mental math? Multiplication of fractions? Size estimations? Forget it. I’m still over here using my fingers to execute basic addition.

It’s funny then that I’m so prone to counting up minutes and storing them in labeled jars on the shelves of my brain, ready to unseal and wield at a moment’s notice.

When Jake and I were first dating, I saw a direct correlation between the health of our relationship and how much time we were able to spend together. In those early years, I was fixated on quantity over quality. It didn’t matter so much to me what we did when we were together as long as we spent enough time with each other.

A few years after that college night of specific numbers, my boyfriend became my husband, and time was ours. The years of demanding careers and 3 a.m. wake up calls were ahead of us, so we went on spontaneous road trips and played cards at Starbucks whenever we wanted. It was early marriage bliss.

The babies came soon thereafter though—four in just over five years—and, coupled with a job which required so many of Jake’s hours, time felt stacked against us. I could never seem to get as much time with him as I wanted.

Still today I often wish we just had more time.

///

My cell phone alarm nudges me out of a deep sleep. I roll onto Jake’s side of the bed and try to remember when we last slept here together. As I warm up his side of the bed, that mortifying memory from college comes to mind, and suddenly 52 minutes a week sounds pretty nice.

My thoughts are interrupted by the girls downstairs. I throw on a sweatshirt and meet them in the kitchen. Lily flips on the light. Norah follows and takes her seat.

“I want cereal,” they each say, nearly in unison.

Just as the milk hits their bowls, I hear Sawyer calling from the other room. I open his door and make my way toward his crib. He takes one look at me and asks, “Where’s dad?”

“He’s at work,” I say as I pick him up, “but I think he’ll be home soon.”

I take him into the kitchen where his own cereal bowl awaits him. With the kids quietly eating, I wonder if I have enough time to drink a cup of coffee before Jude awakes, but with that thought, I hear the front door open. Sawyer does too, and his eyes brighten.

“Dad!” he exclaims. “Dad’s home!”

Jake rounds the corner, fresh from another night at the hospital. As I watch him connect with each kid, I try to remember when I last spent time with him alone. My mind stretches back five days before he started this string of overnight shifts.

I wish I could tie a nice ribbon around it and say that I have learned to stop counting minutes and to be content with whatever time I have to spend with Jake, but the truth is, there are still some weeks where we don’t feel like we have enough time together because some weeks we don’t have enough time together.

So, I still do the math sometimes (usually on my fingers). During the weeks where our schedules line up just wrong, I look ahead to when we will next have measurable alone time to spend with each other. The difference now is that I no longer measure the strength of our relationship by these minutes.

Instead, I’ve learned to be grateful for the quality of the time we share. The 19 minutes drinking coffee together on the couch while our kids crawl around like cats at our feet. The 23 minute conversation at the kitchen table while the Paw Patrol theme song carries up the basement steps. The silence we enjoy together on the 10 minute drive to church. These moments can make all the difference as long as I make a choice not to squander them.

Jake meets me by the refrigerator and wraps me into his arms just as I’m shutting off my internal calculator.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I reply with a smile.

I want to make this moment count.

 


 p.s. If you want to read some different perspectives about what love looks like after babies, let me introduce you to my friends Cara and Stacy:

Butterflies by Cara Stolen

Still Looking for Love by Stacy Bronec

 


 One more thing! Each month, I send out a newsletter in which I regale my email friends with various thoughts about all the things I read, write, and love. If you want to get in on the fun, you can sign up HERE

the thing about fear.

A crying yell jolts me awake. I blink my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t just dreaming it, but her voice pierces through the darkness again. My feet hit the cold floor as I slide out of bed and make my way downstairs.

I find my five-year-old, Lily, sitting up in her bed. I start to ask her what’s wrong, but she doesn’t give me the chance.

“I had a bad dream,” she says.

“You did? I’m so sorry,” I say as I push a blond curl away from her face. “Let me cover you up, so you can go back to sleep. Everything will be okay. Mom and dad are right upstairs.” She settles back into her pillow, and I pull her comforter up to her chin. Her breathing has slowed, and her eyes are already closed when I kiss her forehead and quietly leave her room. I make my way through our house, quiet once more. Back in my own bed, I’m reminded of myself at age five, of the many times fear woke me from my own sleep and my parents had to assure me everything would be ok. Has she inherited my propensity for fear?

What’s more, am I teaching her how to face it?

///

I was afraid of almost everything as a child.

When I was four, I slept with a baby monitor next to my bed, so I could whisper to my mom in the middle of the night if I was scared. My parents’ bedroom was on the other side of the house, and, of all the possible options, I constantly worried that a mean version of Santa was going to sneak through the door between our rooms and cause some kind of trouble.

By the time I was six, pirates had replaced my fear of mean Santa. I would lay in my bed, shrouded in darkness, and peek through my blinds to make sure there were no ships, planks, or skull flags in view. Never mind the fact that we lived on a cement road 1,500 miles away from the ocean.

Each year brought a new scenario to add to my list. After meeting a family friend whose daughter had a serious illness, I would fall asleep convinced the inside of my body was incurably diseased. My parents had to pick me up early from a weekend trip with my grandparents once because I had a feeling our house was going to burn down in my absence. I even made my mom hang my lost teeth on the door of my bedroom because I wasn’t interested in a strange fairy coming anywhere near my pillow.

Each of these fears had one thing in common: the night. The setting sun had a way of illuminating the fears that plagued me, and as I would lay still in my bed each evening, my mind would race, spinning circles around itself.

I wish I could say I outgrew my fearful tendencies, but I’m still a natural worrier and master crafter of worst-case scenarios. Fear still catches in my throat at times and burrows into my pounding chest all while I’m trying to fall asleep at night. It’s relentless.

I have tried, again and again, to talk myself out of feeling afraid. I tell myself there is nothing to worry about—that my fears are irrational. I think, “Everything is going to be okay,” but then I quickly remember that I don’t have the power to predict the future. Even if it is unlikely that something will happen to me while I’m away from my kids (a small adjustment to one of my predominant childhood fears) or that I am harboring some kind of incurable disease, there is still a chance.

“Everything will be okay” is moot. There’s no way to know.

Except God knows. And this is the beginning of my hope.

So much of fear is rooted in the uncertain, the unknown. So, its counterpunch is what I can know.

And what I know is that God promises to always be with me. That he promises to fill me with peace. That my life is secure in him forever.

When I stand firm in what I know, I have words to speak to the fear.

///

The next night, I stand beside Lily’s bed, my fingers stroking those same blond curls, thinking about the previous night’s conversation—unsettled by how I addressed it. My assurance that “mom and dad are right upstairs” isn’t the hope she needs when fear strikes in the middle of the night. She needs the answer which will actually help her face her fear.

“Mom?” She interrupts my thoughts, her blue eyes looking into mine. “I don’t want to have any more bad dreams.”

“I know you don’t. I don’t want you to either.” I kneel down next to her bed. We talk about how God is always with us and how He promises to give us peace when we feel afraid. I ask her if she wants me to pray for God to help her not be afraid while she sleeps.

“Okay,” she says slowly, “but, can you also pray that I won’t have any more bad dreams?”

This is the crux.

God doesn’t promise a life without bad dreams, so I can’t either.

Instead, I offer her what I know.

“You might have more bad dreams, Lily,” I say while my fingers comb through her hair. “Even I still have bad dreams sometimes. But God loves you so much. And when you’re afraid, He’s always with you. No matter what happens, if you love Him, you’ll never be away from Him.”

She turns over on her side, satisfied for the moment. We pray together, and I kiss her forehead before I leave her bedroom. As I pull the door closed behind me, I realize this won’t be the last time we have this conversation. Like all of us, she will have to learn to navigate the things that scare her throughout her life, and she will have to let what she knows be bigger than what she feels.

I say a quick prayer that this is the beginning of her hope.

 


 

psssst! Each month, I send out a newsletter containing a few thoughts about all the things I read, write, love, and think about. If you want to get in on the fun, you can sign up HERE! 

to all the books i’ve loved this year.

I can still remember the first chapter book I really loved. I was a sixth grader when Mr. Smith placed The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill in my hands. Something about it captivated me, and it was the first of many books that has long stayed with me even into my adult years. To Kill a Mockingbird. Harry Potter. The Help. The Fault in Our Stars. The Nightingale.  Even today, I’m moved by the experiences I had looking at life through a different character’s lens.

But, interestingly enough, 2018 wasn’t my year for fiction even though, historically, that’s typically the lane I stay in. I read 20 books last year, and only seven of them were novels.

The other 13 were a mixture of memoir, essay collections, christian living, and general nonfiction, so to sum it up, I spent much of 2018 thinking about the implications of all the things I have have read.

It does seem fitting though that I ended the year with a novel, and there was a line in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian that brought everything I have read this year full circle. It came toward the end as the Penvensie children and Trumpkin the Dwarf are attempting to make it to Prince Caspian and his ragtag army. Aslan the Lion shows up in the middle of the night to help, but it is only Lucy who can see him at first. Upon spotting him, she runs to him, and they have this exchange:

“Welcome child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

God became bigger to me this year, but He’s not the one who changed. There are a lot of factors at play, but many of the books I read last year challenged my thinking and revealed to me ways I needed to grow. And, the more I grew, the bigger I found God.

Needless to say, this has been one of my favorite years as far as books go.

I’ve already written about all of these books, so I’ll just include them in list form below. If you’re interested in any of my longer form thoughts, just click on the link attached to each month. For quick scanning purposes, I’ve included a five-star rating behind each book.

January

  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham ⭐️⭐️

February

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

March

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

April

  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground by Jess Connolly ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet by Callie Feyen ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

June + July

  • Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • For the Love of Discipline: When the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Time-Outs by Sara Wallace ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It completely reframed so much of my parenting for the better.)
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

August

  • The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️
  • Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilken ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(This is another one that led to an incredible amount of personal growth for me. It challenged me in all the right ways.)

September

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

October + November

  • Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis ⭐️
  • American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

December

  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️

A Few Other Things

I wrote a few things this month too. Over at Mighty Moms, I rounded up 21 of our favorite children’s books and wrote a little something about swaddle blankets. I also wrote a few words on Instagram about my internal struggle with Christmas traditions each year.

IMG_0598

Also, as a bonus, I fell in love with a few other things besides just books and words this year, so if you’re in the market for recommendations, here are a few of my other favorite things, compliments of 2018.

  • We discovered some new children’s books this year, and we all (kids and adults) are better for it. I wish you could hear my kids howl with laughter when we read The Book with No Pictures and our newest favorite is The Storm that Stopped (one book in a larger, wonderful collection).
  • barkTHINS snacking chocolate. Special shoutout to my friend, Breanna, for sending me a bag of this for my birthday and Costco for selling it in bulk.
  • These joggers and this tinted lip balm were two of my favorite purchases this year.
  • This recipe for white chicken chili and my friend Cara’s recipe for crusty bread have become well-loved staples in our house this fall/winter.
  • The Great British Baking Show. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Parks and Recreation. (Okay, so that last one is an old love, but every year I go back to it, and I’m never disappointed.)

The Last Thing (an action step!)

These monthly reviews have become one of my most favorite things to write. Not only is it helpful for my own means of processing, but I also just really love to tell people about the things I read and think about.

I’m going to keep reflecting at the end of each month, but (here’s the action step) moving into 2019, I’m going to format these monthly musings as an email rather than a blog post. That means if you’re someone who enjoys reading these posts, you’re going to need to subscribe to my email list. It’s as easy as clicking right here, but if you’re worried I’m going to start spamming you with daily emails, fear not. You’re only signing up for a single email at the end of every month in which I will regale you with tales of books read, summaries of articles written, and lists of things I can’t live without (have I mentioned this chocolate cookie recipe I recently discovered?).

In my quest to keep moving forward as a writer, this is my next right thing (oh! I loved The Next Right Thing podcast this year, too!). I’d be so honored if you’d stay with me. Writers aren’t anything, after all, if there isn’t anyone out there to read what they have to say.

(Here’s the subscription link again. 😉)

No More Things

(I bet you didn’t know how good I am at coming up with heading titles.)

2019 promises almost as much as 2018 threw at us. First, I’m going to kick off the year with a couple of books about the enneagram because I need to understand what this whole thing is about. But, on a more major scale, the Flinkman team is also getting ready to move back to Iowa in just a few months. Will knowing my enneagram number help with all the moving things? Stay tuned.

I can’t predict everything the future has in store, but I do know this: God is bound to seem bigger by this time next year as long as I keep growing myself.