Am I Loved?

 

 

Life is funny sometimes. You know how those same struggles keep resurfacing? They don’t often look the same as when they first come up. It takes a while to get to the bottom of what is really bothering you and then you realize, “Oh, here it is again, that same thing, just in a different package this time…”

Am I loved?

This question likes to show up for me in different packages, storms and struggles.

I decided that I should turn back the clock a bit as I pondered writing about this question. I should go back to my very first memorable struggle with God, faith and the gospel.

When I was in high school I struggled with a lot of inner turmoil. Especially early in high school. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be the fun, funny, loud, confident girl who wasn’t afraid to be herself. Maybe some of that was wanting to get noticed by the cute boys… but a bigger part was being envious of the girls around me that were like that. They just seemed like they were more free, had more fun and made more friends. “They must love who they are, because they aren’t afraid to show it… Right??” At least that’s what I thought.

Here I am, quiet, shy, blending in, and not feeling quite sure where I fit all the time. Sometimes thinking “God I think you made a mistake… couldn’t you have put a little more of this or that in me?? I could really use a little more natural confidence and a little less anxiety”

I remember wanting to show up late to everything to make sure that my best friends were at church before I was, then I could plug into my group right away. I didn’t have to stand there by myself in the back feeling awkward until my friends showed up. It didn’t matter that this isn’t what would usually happen.  Or if it did, is it really that bad to stand in the back for a few minutes by yourself? What looks like a little bit of peace to me now, then felt more like that moment when you are speaking on stage and you realize you don’t know what to do with your hands!!  Do I stuff them in my pockets? Do I talk with my hands??

Back then I wished I could stuff my whole self in my pocket and come out when it didn’t feel awkward anymore.

Side note, my whole starting to show up late to everything makes me laugh now. Because when Daniel and I got married we had the – he wants to be “on time”(early) I want to be late(actually late) fight! Yes, I wantedto be late. It wasn’t a time management thing, it was purely a me thing. And I would drive him nuts!! But seeing as wanting to be late was simply rooted in my insecurities, eventually I let that go. And we are usually early. Now if we are late, it is definitely a time management thing, more rooted in getting 5 kids out the door!

I wish I could say something different about those early high school years. But the truth is I really didn’t like who I was, (some moments I still don’t like who I am.) However, during this time, I spiraled, I fed the negative thoughts. I didn’t bring them to Jesus, I believed them. I let them take root. It turned into this negative, self-loathing talk in my head.

Eventually the way all this mental self-negativity manifested itself, (because I’m telling you, it’s going to come out somewhere!) was an eating disorder. I started struggling with anorexia. I was on a quest for perfection with a distorted image of the truth.

I grew up in church, I grew up knowing Jesus. I grew up knowing that Jesus loves me.

I got it. I mean I could understand God loving all of humanity. But it felt like this big overarching love.  It didn’t feel personal.

I know God loves me. But does He really love ME?

 I wanted to be perfect, I wanted to pull myself up from my boot straps and change who I was! If I could just try harder, stick to the plan…except, there was no perfect plan. I always ran into self-disappointment and frustration. I always came up wanting.

“How can God love someone who doesn’t even like themselves?”

During this time darker thoughts, and questions swirled.  “Can a person get so tiny they disappear?” “Can a person be so small, that the hurt is seen on the outside?” “Can you be loud through silence?”

So much hurt, so much pain we deal with in our hearts where people can’t see.

Here in the middle of my pain and frustration, this was where God reached down once again with His hand of redemption and truth.

None of us like to be faced with our brokenness. None of us want to realize that we are by nature broken. That all the efforts put forth have gained no traction. Or can be taken away by the shifting of the winds of life.

It’s hard when truth hits you in the gut. When you realize that the walls and defenses that you have propped yourself up with, to deal with the pain, are just making it worse. Those props were not real defenses for your inmost being. They were actually blinders keeping you in the dark and knives that are cutting you up where you are vulnerable. It’s hard to let go of those sins that you have been nursing in the dark for so long.

I had finally come to the end of myself and saw my brokenness.

I had been trapped in a mindset that told me God couldn’t love me because of who I was, and how I felt about myself. My understanding of how God felt about me revolved around me and my actions.

But God broke me. And through the light, the truth, of the gospel he illuminated the truth. He showed me that what I did and how I felt about myself had no impact on his love for me. Though I may loathe myself, he would never loathe me. He loved me with a love I could not fully, and still do not fully, understand.

God shined this truth in multiple ways, that all culminated in the blinders I had set in place finally falling off.

It was like a huge spotlight that shined a powerful focusing beam on the truth of the sin that I had been harboring. All the lies I was believing about myself, were seen for what they were- Lies. When I could finally see this sin in the light of the gospel, I saw how ugly and dark it was. The difference between how I saw myself vs how God sees me.

The gospel obliterated the lie that I needed to be perfect. That I could pull myself up by my bootstraps and get it all together. That I needed to love myself or like myself to be loved personally, intimately by God. I already was loved, from the beginning.

The truth of the gospel and how good this news about God’s love and Jesus taking all of my sin and shame finally hit me. It overwhelmed me, it changed me, but most of all it freed me.

I am truly loved.

I dove into the Psalms that summer of high school. God brought me there, He spoke to me in the deep places of my heart.

Particularly Psalm 139.  (Wanted to make this shorter or to pull out highlights from this Psalm. But the whole of the scripture passage here spoke volumes, and I just couldn’t shorten it.)

Psalm 139
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

 

“Really?  This is how God sees me?!? How much He cares for me!?!”

This is not an impersonal love, it’s not the overarching God loves all humanity kind of love I had pictured in my head.

God does love all of humanity, but his general love is also an individual love. He love’s each one of us personally.  This is a God that sees each detail of my life so much clearer than ever I can.

This is a God that is consistently urging husbands to love their wives in the way that he loves each of us. He instructs fathers to love their children the way that he loves us, his disobedient, rebellious kids, bent on self-destruction.

I can’t think of a love more personal than what I feel for my spouse and my children. God knows our hearts, He knows what we cherish most. And that is what His love is compared to.

Except his love is not flawed. It’s perfect. It’s even deeper, wider and more full of mercy than my imperfect love for my husband and children ever could be.

He truly loves me!He loves each one of us. He didn’t make a mistake when He made me. He intentionally made me, and then pursued me with His love. He still pursues me with His love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Big First

I had a big first recently!

 

 

Yes, this is my first tattoo! I know, I know it’s huge for my first one. But I love it!

I have thought about getting one for a while. But the timing was never right. You’re really not supposed to get them when you’re pregnant. Basically, I have either been, pregnant or poor… one precedes the other. And round and round it goes! Haha!

However, the timing was right this spring. After I had Ava, Daniel and I talked about getting tattoos in Ava’s memory. I loved the idea.

Daniel knows how picky I am. Apparently I’m “bougie” … Side note, I learned this new word from my young adults. I’m told it means you like ‘nice’ things. Or ‘fancy’ things. I mean let’s be real I only have a few areas this applies… ok… maybe more that I would like to admit. But a really good tattoo artist was definitely on my list!

That put Daniel on the hunt for a good one, preferably one that does Japanese art well. You see, years ago, back when Daniel first started getting tattoos, I started to think about what kind of tattoo I would want. I settled on a Japanese Phoenix. I just thought they looked so cool, and I loved the coloring and the art.

And then Ava just confirmed that choice. You see, Ava’s name means both ‘bird’ and ‘life’, so getting the Japanese phoenix seemed like a perfect fit.

This was just one more of many things, that fell into place that have deep meaning to us surrounding Ava.

The Japanese phoenix, the tattoo that I had been dreaming about getting for so long.

To our surprise, one of the best tattoo artists in the area has a shop walking distance from our house. I had seen this place numerous times, it’s right across the street from my bagel place! (For those of you not from this area, EVERYONE has ‘their’ pizza place, and ‘their’ bagel place.)

Walking into this guy’s shop… man… maybe it was all the young guys with their beards, or maybe all the tattoos and the laid back attitude. Whatever it was, I felt like I walked into a place in Seattle. It transported me back to hanging out with all the guys in the music scene, when Daniel was in his band. It was pretty awesome.

The shop, the taste of nostalgia, it all just helped Daniel get bit by the bug again and he is more than excited to get going on the rest of his sleeve.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should answer the question that is on most of your minds. Or at least the most common one I get asked. Especially since I have a pretty high pain tolerance.

“Does it hurt?”

Yes, yes it does! Ok, ok! It’s not like childbirth or anything. I got it on my shoulder which is a less painful area. I was expecting it to be an annoying pain. But it was more than that, and it depends on how long the session is too. I think if I had been done in an hour and a half or something it would have been easier. But as the hours tick on… you start to feel pretty raw. However, it’s totally worth it!

I gotta say, it was really fun to go with Daniel and get these matching tattoos.  I’m biased, but I think they turned out beautiful. 😉

 

 

 

Holy Week

 

Holy week, The coming of Easter

Holy week is upon us! Holy week wasn’t such a big deal to me as a child. In fact, I don’t ever remember calling it that until much later in life.

When I was a child this meant the coming of spring, promise of candy in my Easter basket and of course a new Easter dress.

Now that I’m a pastor’s wife this week has a whole new meaning! Those of you that are very involved in ministries at your churches know what I’m talking about. 😉

Holy week for us consists of our final Lenten Wednesday prayer dinner, followed by our Good Friday, and of course Easter on Sunday.

It’s a wonderful season. Full of so much meaning. This week we remember the events leading up to God’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of our sins. We celebrate Jesus breaking the chains of death that once held us all.

During our lent dinners, I am reminded of the fellowship and community we are blessed to have as a church. And not just our church! I’m reminded of the Christian Church around the world that meets with one another and encourages each other in all of their very different settings.

During the week of Christ’s death, Jesus celebrated Passover with the disciples. They broke bread and shared deep community with each other. This is when Jesus blessed us with, when he instituted, the sacrament of communion, The Lord’s Supper. Promising that when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we remember him, we profess faith in him, and that his body and blood have made full satisfaction for all of our sins. What a blessing to break bread together at the Lord’s table, in Christian community.

On Friday evening, it’s our Good Friday service. This is one of Daniel’s favorite services, if not his favorite service of the year.

Last year we took the wooden cross and walked around the neighborhood and up the main street, praying and remembering the long walk Jesus had carrying the cross.

I love the symbolism, of this walk. The weight of what Christ carried for us. And the desire to be a reflection of the light of Jesus’ love to the community around us. After the walk, we have a somber service, where at the end we nail our sins to the cross, because in fact:

Our sins are nailed to the cross. And they are left there. They are no more.

Sunday Morning.

Easter.

We rejoice in Christ’s victory over sin and death. I have thought more about death these past 5 months or so than I ever have in my life. This morning I was reading John chapter 11. This is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And here I just want to share you with verses 11-15.

John 11:11-15 
11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

 

Verse 11 really hit me today. Jesus says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Most of the time when I’m waking someone up, I’m waking up my kids for school. Right now, it’s not too hard… I mean Asher can be a little tough. He’s not a fan of mornings! But when my kids are sleeping and I have to wake them up it’s a natural normal ‘easy’ thing.

For us death is final. Death means that a person is no longer in our lives. Death means that life with that person is over. It’s hard, it sucks, and it hurts. That fact is also reflected in John chapter 11. This is also the chapter where we read before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that ‘Jesus wept.’ Jesus understands our grief and suffering over death. But the fact that Jesus is in fact God is so apparent to me in verse 11. Referring to death as ‘sleep’. Why?

Because Jesus knows exactly what awaits us on the other side. And physical death is most definitely not the end for us. Death doesn’t get the victory. That belongs to Christ alone.

 

In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 we read
 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Death has no power over Jesus, and it has no hold on those that have acknowledged Christ as their Savior.

We celebrate His victory on Easter! We are victorious is Christ.

Holy week.

What a week. What a time for us to step back, take some time and remember the amazing events that transpired. That have shaped and changed the Church, the Christian faith, and my life.

If you all think about us this week, pray!! It is an incredibly busy week for our family and the church.

Thank you and God bless!

 

Emotions… So many layers

 

Spring is coming. I can feel it. There’s an anticipation deep in my bones.

I can see spring is coming by the way people start driving. The way kids suddenly have more fidgety energy, and declare they NEED to get out. The way teenage boys and girls playfully yell at each other from their cars or across the street. And little purple and white flowers have started peeking out from the ground.

I’m looking forward to spring. I’m looking forward to taking the kids to the park, going on long walks, going to the zoo. Watching the boys play baseball. I’m looking forward to opening the windows and feeling the breeze through the house.

There is a busyness that comes with this season. I love to be busy. I love to go out and do “all the things”. I love people, activities and the sunshine. Daniel often has to remind me to slow down.

Don’t get me wrong I need down time, and I love cuddling up on the couch with a cup of coffee for a quiet afternoon. I love sitting in the back yard with a good book or just watching the kids and dog run freely, while they squeal…eh… screech around the yard.

For a while here I have craved the distraction of spring.

We watched the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’ the other day. We hadn’t seen it in a while. But man… that movie… all the adults were crying!! The next day Daniel and I were talking about the movie and how it really hits a lot of deep issues regarding our feelings, and how we deal with them. As I was introspectively thinking about my own feelings, I looked over at Daniel and said “Man… I think I just like to have ‘Joy’ running my console all the time…” He just looked back at me, laughed and nodded in agreement.

Nothing makes you realize you can’t have ‘Joy’ running the console all the time like experiencing loss. Experiencing loss has made me feel many layers of emotions. Sometimes these layers of emotions have made it incredibly hard to pick out how I’m actually doing, or what I’m actually feeling.

I’ve had so many conversations with friends in the past year about how important it is to feel your emotions and work through them. Taking the time to do this is a good thing! We have an emotional God. We are made in his image. We are going to experience the full range of emotions. He doesn’t expect us to be ‘happy’ all the time. That’s just not how He made us!

And here I am facing my own advice. Isn’t that just how it works!?! I really just want to stuff it down, burry it and ignore it…but I know I need let all the painful, and complicated emotions roll in and wash over me.

The bright sun and warm winds of Spring are carrying me away from the Winter of loss.

Honestly it’s a really good thing for me that this all happened in the winter. There is so much less distraction, especially in January and February. It’s given me more time to face the rolling emptions.  More time to sit with God. More time to talk with family and friends. More time to talk with the kids. More time to talk with my husband. More time to face my thoughts.

The rain, the sleet and gray days of winter have reflected my mood. It’s a strange feeling, to look out your window and appreciate the weather and its reflection of your grief, the tears in the rain, like the tears in my heart.

As much as I love to encourage and be upbeat. I can’t have ‘joy’ running the ship all the time. I have experienced deep loss, and I need to feel that. Later in time when I am sitting with people in their loss, I want to remember how my heart felt. I need to remember the physical pain. The pit in my stomach and the looming fear of the unknown. I need to let God use all these things to make me look more like Jesus. To bring me close to Him. And also, so I can minister to others who are experiencing deep hurt. So that I can remember the pain and remember the healing on the other side. And allow the time it takes, for me and for others, to heal.

The time table of healing isn’t something we can hurry up and ‘get through’. As they say, “you can’t rush art!” And there is an art to grieving. It leaves a mark on your soul. It leaves a different reflection for each of us. It looks different for every person and experience. Our own expression, our own fingerprint, of loss.

Dealing with these rolling emotions during the cold months has allowed me more time to sit and process.

It’s a dance, to sit in the moments and feel the hurt, pain and sorrow, and then know when it needs to be time to get up and push through. It’s not a cut and dry process. It’s a back and forth  dance.

In the movie Inside Out the characters learn the importance of the range of emotions, and that experiences are often colored with multiple emotions. It’s not unusual to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously. Often our memories of different times bring up a range of feelings.

As things start to feel easier again, I’m learning to not feel guilty on the days when I feel joy and want to tackle the world. And I’m learning to have grace for myself on the days where the layers of feelings vary, and are complicated.

I don’t have to be happy all the time!! Sigh of relief… There is freedom in letting go.

And you know, if I feel like dancing in my kitchen, I am going to kick aside those thoughts of “you shouldn’t be feeling happy yet”, and I am going to dance in my kitchen!

I am looking forward to the warmth of spring. I am having more good days. More joy coming out again.

In a lot of ways sitting in the warmth of the sun reminds me of basking in the warmth of God’s love. I think I’ve felt this way about it since I was a child. And in this season as the weather changes there is a new depth to this feeling.

I am thankful for the different creative ways God uses to wrap His arms around us.

 

Psalm 31:7-8
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Ava

 

I shared this letter at Ava’s memorial. Now I’m sharing it here with you.

 

Dear Ava,

My Ava Hope. My first little girl.

You were only with me for 20 weeks, or in other words, 4 and a half months. But you impacted our lives on such a deep level. Honestly it’s still hard to understand the depth. But we all feel the absence of your presence and we miss you.

My list of experiences with you are much too short. But I will still treasure them. I treasure the times I saw you flipping and wiggling all around in the ultrasounds. I’ll treasure feeling you move. I craved pop tarts and halal guys, very weird… but those things will always remind me of you. I’ll treasure all the trips I took with you, trips to the zoo, New York city, Niagara falls, and just being pregnant with you through the regular routine’s of our life. We even flew out to Washington with your brother Elijah. You were right there with me for my first big speaking engagement. It’s fitting that I was speaking on encouraging women in the Lord. My prayer is that your story will bring encouragement and hope to many women throughout my life.

There are so many things that I hoped to experience with you. I wish we had been able to gaze into each others eyes and meet face to face for the first time.

I wish that you would have flooded our very blue world with pink and purple. Even before we found out you were a girl we were teasing your brothers about the possibility of all the girl toys that would invade their playroom and the girl shows that would be on the tv. They would act so upset! But the truth is they were all wishing it would be true. You see they had prayed for you dear Ava, they had prayed for a baby sister. They were excited about you the second they found out mommy was expecting another baby.

I wish that you would have given me sleepless nights, times for priceless moments with just me and you, quiet moments with me nursing you and rocking you while you fall back to sleep.

I wish that I could have bathed and dressed you. I wish that I could have hugged you and wiped away your tears.

I wish that I could have fought with you over all of the things…

I wish that I could have watched the wonder in your eyes as you discovered your world.

I wish that I could have known your personality and the way you laugh.

I wish that I could have known the fear and pride that parents talk about when they watch their little girl turn into a woman.

I wish that I could have watched your daddy with His little girl. I know you would have brought out a new tender side of him.

I wish that I could have watched him walk you down the aisle someday…

I wish that I could have told you about Jesus and how much He loves you. But that is something you now understand better than your mommy. And that makes me smile and again brings me hope.

There are a thousand things that I long to have experienced with you, and hoped for you.

It’s funny because I will always picture what things would have been like with you in a perfect world. Because from the very beginning things were imperfect.

I will always picture you whole and perfect here. And I will always romanticize what our relationship would have looked like and how you would have fit into our family and who you would have grown up to be.

I know things would never have been as perfect as I picture them.

But in so many ways imagining the perfect relationship is so fitting for us. Because someday when I meet you there on the other side of death, our relationship will be perfect. It will be more perfect than any romanticized version of us I could have imagined. With Jesus, with the Lord where there is no more sin. No more darkness. We will be both be perfect and I will enjoy getting to know you and being with you forever.

Ava Hope-   I love your name little girl. Ava means bird, and it also means life.

Living Hope-   Your name is a reminder of the living hope we have because of Jesus. Just thinking about your name brings me comfort.

There is sorrow in this life, but with the Lord there is a greater hope little one. And I am clinging to that.

I am clinging to the foundational truth of God’s word and the hope that it gives me.

I love you Ava Hope. And I will miss you until we meet again someday.

 

Your Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weak

Weak…

This is not a word that we like to use when describing ourselves. It’s not a word that lifts me up and brings me encouragement. It’s not a word that propels me forward through the day. In fact, if you really reach down to the bottom of how I would prefer to associate that word, I would rather use it to label other things, situations or sometimes even people.

Using the word weak to describe something outside myself, well, it can give me a false sense of feeling stronger in the face of my own weakness.

Weak…  I’ve felt weak a lot in the past months. I mean don’t get me wrong I’ve been aware of so many of my struggles and weaknesses forever. But the past months have just taken a big fat, squeaky, bright highlighter to them. The glare is blinding. They cannot be ignored.

When I found out about having our 6thbaby I felt weak. How am I going to be enough for all these children? How am I going to do this?

When I found out about Ava’s diagnosis. After the shock abated a little bit, and the reality of the situation started to settle in, I wanted nothing more than to get off this train. Get back to where I planned on having a healthy baby in the spring. I wanted to stop sitting in the unknowns.

“Can I go back in time? Can I just start this whole thing over and hope for a different outcome?”

Of course, the answer to this is no.

This is my precious baby girl. This is where I am. With her. Our weaknesses exposed together. I can do nothing on my own to fix this.

I felt so weak.

I felt weak as fear would creep in at unexpected times during the day and then also at expected times like when I went to the doctor’s appointments.

I felt weak in the face of one of my biggest fears…losing a baby, a child. And in turn preparing and attending Ava’s memorial.

I felt weak when I didn’t want to get out of bed some mornings, some afternoons….some days.

I felt weak at the thought of having to go through my normal routines, when I felt like my world had stopped. I felt weak when I needed my world to stop…at least for a while.

The reality of facing my weaknesses at such a raw and real level has been hard… gut wrenchingly hard…

and Beautiful

Here in my utter weakness and brokenness there is Good News. Here, there is gospel that shines bright and lifts me up.

As the simple, elementary, yet oh so true, children’s song ‘Jesus loves me’ says:

“When I am weak, He is strong.”

I am weak, but my God is Strong!

When I felt fear and inadequacy at having a 6thchild. When I knew I couldn’t be enough, I was reminded that God is enough. He is strong. And He will give me what I need for the days ahead. And often this doesn’t mean it all falls on me. I have an amazing husband who parents alongside me. And other people in our family’s life that also love on my children, encourage me as a mom and a wife.

When I struggled with fear and wanting to give up after Ava’s diagnosis, God reminded me that she is His child first and foremost. And he has entrusted me to carry and take care of her. And through that truth He gave me peace, a peace that doesn’t make sense.

And He gave me joy. Joy that I do get to carry her right now. And joy in being reminded that He carries me. It’s hard to convey how it feels to be ‘carried’ by the Lord in a place of such deep hardship. All I can say about that right now is, it is true.

As I expressed in my last post(Ava Hope), God was with me every step of my terrifying and hard trip to the doctor’s office and hospital. He was with me through her delivery and goodbye.

When faced with the reality of losing a baby, the phrase “hurts like hell” is accurate. However, with the Lord I am not filled with suffocating despair.

I grieve with hope.

In facing one of my biggest fears God has never been absent. Some days I didn’t do much but grieve in my bed. And that’s ok, it was healthy and needed. I may still have some of those days. But God has given me new strength and mercies each morning, to face the day in the capacity that was needed. Some days the pain wasn’t so much, and some days it felt like more than I could bare. But God gave me what I needed for each of them. This is still ongoing and true.

Now let me add a “Life is real in the Stenberg house” story here:

I finally had enough courage to sit down and rip off whatever band aid I had plastered on. I was ready to write Ava a letter. Obviously she is gone, but I needed it.

So here I am, I’m writing, I’m crying,… I look like a mess. Facing this hurts in a healthy way, it feels good to do this. In the middle of writing the letter, I hear a knock on the door. It’s an older man and a young guy. I peek out the window and see their truck. These guys have been working on getting our furnace fixed. Not too long ago they ordered a part and told us it wouldn’t be showing up for a couple more weeks….It came early.

I open the door say hello, and let them in. Those poor guys. They couldn’t have been more uncomfortable after taking a look at my face. They sheepishly explained that the part to the furnace came in faster than expected and they were here to replace it. “We will be done quickly” they said.  And they were, they ducked out of my house so fast after they were done! I thought about giving them a simple explanation, but really, I couldn’t come up with anything that would make things less awkward! I am just left to laugh about it now.

OK back to the letter and memorial.

While getting ready for the memorial we had so much help and support. We are so thankful for all the people that made a very hard day, as easy as it could be. It takes a village and ours loved on us that day and the days surrounding. It was a good day and good day in our process of healing.

Daniel sang and played a special song at the memorial and he also gave the message. I shared the letter I wrote to Ava.

We did not know if we were going to be able to make it through what we had planned. In fact, we had a backup plan in the event of an emotional meltdown! I didn’t know how I was going to get up there and share my letter without falling apart. I felt so very weak and afraid of facing that day.

But when I am weak, He is strong.

God’s peace and strength carried us up there, God’s peace and strength transcended all the difficulties, fears and the tears that threatened to take over. Because there were tears, but they didn’t take over. God’s peace and strength carried us through the service through the day.

I wish I could explain to you the feeling of being upheld by God that day, sharing about my girl and the hope we have in the midst of sorrow because of our Lord and Savior. But there are really no words to convey what it feels like when God is carrying you.

God’s message of His love shined that day.

And God’s peace and strength are still carrying us through.

I am no “super Christian”.

I have no “super faith”.

This process has been so hard and messy.

But God is rich in His mercy, grace and provision for all of His children that have faith in Jesus.

This is good news for all of us! Because He desires all of us to be His children.

He desires to carry all of us, and to be a stronghold in times of hardship, hurt and fear.

Whatever the situation now or to come. Take heart because God is enough.

 When we are weak, He is Strong.

 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
 

 

Ava Hope

 

 

 

I’m finally ready to sit down and write, finally ready to walk through those days surrounding actually losing Ava. It’s one thing to walk through them over and over in your mind. It’s something very different to actually sit down and type them out.

To relive it.

About a week or so before I lost Ava, I was finally starting to feel her move. I had felt her earlier, but it’s hard to tell, when baby is so tiny, if those fluttering movements are baby, or just gas! But now I could actually tell that she was moving and kicking. It was a bitter sweet place to be at the time. Even though I loved feeling her move, it would often bring tears to my eyes knowing that I would most likely have to say goodbye. Yet, as I look back now, I really only remember the sweetness of feeling her alive like that, and those memories are ones I cherish.

That Friday before she was gone, I had “a bee in my bonnet”. I wanted to get some things in order that had been on my “to do” list but hadn’t taken priority. I saw that Ikea was having their winter sale, so Daniel, myself, and the two youngest boys headed off for the maze of Swedish furniture, with a side of temptation. We found what we were looking for and this enabled me to get our spare bedroom set up with an actual bed and good sheets, and comforter. There were also some other organizational items that I was able to set up as well. Anything to make life easier, right?

Then over the next few days we started getting our lives back in order after the craziness of Christmas. On Tuesday night Daniel and I finished getting the guest bedroom in order. Little did I know what a blessing it would be to have that done that night.

Now I knew for sure I had felt Ava move on Friday evening, but by the end of Saturday I wasn’t sure I had felt her move at all that day. And then Sunday came and went, again I wasn’t sure I had felt her move that day either. She was small, and smaller still due to her T18, so it was hard to tell if she had just shifted to a place where it was harder to feel her movement or if she was gone. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for that Wednesday, so I knew I would find out for sure by then. But at this point God was just instilling peace in my heart, and I was feeling fairly optimistic. On Monday night, I did tell Daniel I couldn’t be sure if I had felt her move since Friday. He made sure he could come with me to my doctor’s appointment.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into that day. I went over questions to ask the doctor, like: “should I transfer to a hospital that deals with high risk babies?” And so on… There are a lot of unknowns and questions to go over with T18.

At my doctor’s here in NJ, instead of just listening for the heartbeat they actually have a little ultrasound machine in the room. It’s not as detailed, or precise, as the ones at the hospital, but you can still see your little one on the screen.

Even going into it knowing she could be gone, nothing prepares you for the silence.

The doctor ran the wand over my belly and I looked at our little one and she was so still. She was probably my most active baby in my ultrasounds, more so than any of the boys. So, seeing her there so still, I knew she was gone. The doctor, I think tried to shield us from it for the minutes she was looking for baby’s heart.

But we knew.

She then ushered us into her office and we discussed, through tears “what now?” She told us she was sending us to the Maternal Fetal department at the hospital to have another ultrasound to confirm that our little one was gone.

That day we were planning to find out Ava’s gender regardless of the outcome. We had the doctor write it down in an envelope. Then made what felt like a long trip to the van, and Daniel and I opened it together…. ‘Female’ it read.

Ava Hope.

That’s when the flood of tears came for both of us. The ugly cry you just can’t stop even if you wanted too. But we didn’t want to. There was a wonderful and horrible release of emotions in that moment. Finally getting to truly mourn the child we loved, the little girl we had wanted and prayed for. The time of hoping we would meet her had past, and we could truly mourn her at last.

I think we both had felt in our hearts at some point during my pregnancy that she was a girl. But the full weight of everything hit so hard. How do you prepare for the freight train of loss?

We then drove to the hospital and went for the second ultrasound, where they confirmed that she was, indeed, gone and had been gone for a few days. The reality of “Yes, the last time I felt her move was that Friday.”

Now, I had to check in to the maternity area. I looked at my still baby on the screen while laying on that bed and just felt overwhelmed. I can’t do this, I can’t check in and go deliver my stillborn little girl.

But God’s presence is never absent.

When I despair, the Lord reminds me that He is indeed right there. He knew what we would be encountering that day, He knew the overwhelming emotions that would come, and the difficulty I was feeling at facing the next 24 hours, or even in the next 10 minutes.

That still small voice was whispering to me “One step at a time, literally just focus on one physical step at a time.” I am not alone, the Lord is my strength, the Lord is carrying me.

I delivered Her at 1:15 am on January 10, 2019.

She would have been 21 weeks that day. I won’t go into the details of the actual delivery. It was very much just like a normal vaginal delivery, that I’ve had with my other boys. Except it was easier.  In some ways, it was really nice that is was easier, and in other ways it will always break my heart that it was easier.

The nurses took her and cleaned her up then brought her to me in her blankets. It was beautiful to hold my, light as a feather, little girl in my arms. She was 8 ½ inches long and weighed 8 ounces. She was so light because she was only 20 weeks but also from the T18 she was small. I wasn’t sure what was heavier, my little girl, or the blankets she rested in.

We got to hold her, take some pictures, and talk to her even though it was obvious she was already whole with the Lord.

It was a blessing to say goodbye in a tangible way.

The newborn photographer does pictures for free for babies that are stillborn or that die shortly after birth. She came in and took some photos for us. The social worker came in and talked to us about funeral homes and the process of paperwork and our different options on what we would like to do with her body. Those are things you never want to have to go over for your baby. But I’m so thankful the social worker was so helpful and sensitive to our situation.

In fact, all the staff we encountered at the hospital was wonderful and caring. They even had a memory box for our little Ava. So many things I would have had put together at a later date, I didn’t have to worry about because the hospital had it covered.

I delivered Ava at a Catholic hospital, where they offer to have a pastor come and visit you in these hard situations. Pastoral care was not something we lacked. Pastor Warren visited us both days I was in the hospital, and brought some encouragement and Bible verses at the behest of President Larson. Pastor Aage also visited us, and we had offers from other pastor friends to stop by, but we just weren’t in the hospital long enough for everyone to visit us.

I remember the nurse asking “Well, I know your husbands a pastor and you have had two pastors come and visit you, but I have to let you know that we have a pastor here who can also come and see you…” I chuckled.  “Thank you, Um, I think I’m good.” I am surrounded by pastoral encouragement. And I state that in the most thankful way possible.

It’s been such a blessing to have so many wonderful people surround us with their encouragement, support and prayers during this time. We are so very thankful for God’s hand of encouragement through all of you.

I think the hardest thing I had to do through the whole thing was call the nurse to take Ava’s body, after we had said goodbye. I feel like I sat on the bed forever knowing it was time and working up the courage to really let go physically. Death takes over so quickly, it was time to let her body go.

I left the hospital that afternoon. It’s so hard to be at the hospital without a baby. So many things were reminding me of all the healthy children I had given birth to in rooms just like that one. So many things reminding of me of what would be like in a perfect world with Ava. But our world is not perfect, it’s broken from sin…and so I went home with no baby in my arms.

Though life may have long moments of sorrow, there is still joy.

I went home and got to hug my other “babies”( boys actually) that are still with us. Man does Elijah give the best hugs. Nothing starts mending a broken heart like a one year old squeezing your neck and slobbering your cheek.

Emily, Daniel’s sister, came to stay with us for about two weeks and help. The guest bedroom and house were ready since we had gotten things in order without even realizing how much it would help in the coming week. Emily was a huge help with everything, and it was so nice to have someone to love on the boys. Daniel and I didn’t have much left right after getting home. We didn’t have much left for weeks after getting home.

I’m glad Daniel got those weeks. Our church family was so supportive, letting him grieve at home without the having the burden of work. Pastor Aage was so gracious in covering the pulpit for those weeks. Andrew Little and the crew organizing Jr. High Winter Weekend were a blessing, in releasing Daniel from his speaking engagement on one of those weekends. We needed time to grieve as a family, and we were given it.

It takes a village, and our village took care of us so well. Between the food that was dropped off, the prayers that were felt, the flowers that were delivered, and the love that was poured all over us, we felt loved and cared for, and we are so appreciative of our friends and family across this continent, and our friends and family right here in Bergenfield.

There is so much still to write. But for now, I will leave it with just her delivery story.

As I said before I do not grieve without hope. Ava Hope is healed and whole now. We are the ones left to be healed.

And the Lord is healing us. We have good days and bad days. But God’s presence is here and carrying us through it all.

 

Psalm 30:11-12

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

 

 

Hope in the midst of Sorrow- News about our 6th Child

 

I am writing to share some hard and heavy news we received a couple of weeks ago now. It’s taken me a bit to even think about sitting down and writing this. Because my heart is grieving and sometimes it’s hard to get through even the simple daily tasks. 

 

Most of you know we are expecting our 6th child in May. And while it took some processing, “6 kids!!” We were excited. And as I entered the second trimester and started to feel better. That excitement just kept growing. 

 

But just as our excitement was growing, the wind has been knocked out of our sails. 

 

I went in some weeks ago now for my first ultra sound and blood test. And the results were that my little one has Trisomy 18. 

 

I had never heard of Trisomy 18 until now. Trisomy 18 is a genetic mutation, a chromosome abnormality, where a person has 3 chromosome 18s instead of only the two you’re supposed to have. And that slight imbalance, that one extra chromosomeaffects almost everything with the baby’s development. It causes extreme birth defects, including, but not limited to, key organslike the brain, heart and kidneys. 

 

It is very fatal. 

 

95% of babies that are born with this pass away within the 1styear of life. And most babies do not even make it full term, passing away in utero. A lot of babies that are conceived with this chromosome abnormality are often miscarried in the first trimester.

 

We’ve been informed it’s totally random. It’s not something that is hereditary. There is no one to blame. I didn’t eat bad romaine lettuce and Daniel didn’t eat too much raw cookie dough. Its super unlikely to have this happen.

 

It’s like winning the bad lottery. 

 

We hoped that this would be a mistake, a false positive. But when the blood test was compared to the ultrasound findings the diagnosis was confirmed. This past week we went in for a second ultrasound, and the doctor said they could see the cysts forming in the brain of our little baby.

 

Receiving the news that unless God starts knitting differently in my womb we are going to have to say goodbye to this little one has been heartbreaking. This is never a road I anticipated walking. The unknowns and the questions, mixed with the reality of the diagnosis can make the walk overwhelming, scary and debilitating.

 

How do you prepare for a birth and a funeral at the same time?

 

News like this clouds most thoughts through the day. And some moments I’m grieving, and some moments I am filled with God’s peace, and some moments I have no choice but to laugh at my boys and their silliness or funny comments, and then I’m back to crying. 

 

I am grieving, but I am not grieving without hope. 

 

Weather the Lord decides to make this little one whole and healed in heaven or decides to heal this one for life here on earth, I know with certainty that this little one is in the Lords hands. And for that matter so am I and my family. 

 

Processing through this has just highlighted so much to me the brokenness of the world we live in. This is not punishment for Daniel and I or this baby. This is not “fair” or how things are supposed to be. 

 

This happened because you and I live in a world that is broken. Broken by sin.

 

Ever since sin entered the world at the time of the fall with Adam and Eve, the world has had a sin condition which has resulted in separation from God, and things falling apart. God created the world, He said it was good, and then we got involved and corrupted the whole thing with our sin.

 

Sin is trisomy 18. Sin corrupts this world with defects, just as Trisomy 18 is corrupting my beautiful little baby with defects.

 

And so, this world is broken and filled with hurt and I am reeling from the consequences of that right now. 

 

However, as Christmas approaches and we think of this season that is, or should be, filled with joy, I can’t help but be reminded of why we are filled with joy. It’s not the food, or the presents or even spending time with family and friends. All of that is wonderful and joyful. But the real reason we can have joy in this season is because Christ came. 

 

Christ came and walked the hard road to the cross and took our sin, shame and brokenness so that we can have forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ. So that He can restore and make things new. 

 

Christ came to make things right, Christ came to restore our relationship with Him and the Heavenly Father. Christ came to heal our brokenness and hurts, and to make us whole. Christ came so that we don’t have to bear the weight of our burdens and sin. Christ came so that some day we will live with Him, where there is no more death and no more sorrow, no more trisomy 18, and He will wipe away the tears from our eyes. And things will be as they should be. 

 

Christ came and walked the hard road to the cross, so that I can walk this hard road now with hope and His peace. 

 

Because of the gospel I can praise the Lord in my grief. Because of the gospel I can say that God is good. Because of the gospel I have hope and assurance in my sorrow. Because of the gospel I can have peace in the storm. 

 

John 14
 
14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

 

We have shared with the kids about the baby and the situation. They are sad. Silas’s response to the news “But Mommy, I wanted to play with this baby!” Me too Silas, me too.  But they are doing well. And looking forward to Christmas. 

 

I will try to be open about this hard journey we are walking right now. I’m not sure how long or short it will be. 

 

When I feel like it and when I don’t feel like it, God is right here with me. 

 

We covet your prayers through this time. And are thankful for all your encouragement.

 

I Need a Nap!

It’s November now. I wrote this in August. Before we were expecting #6! It’s been a while now. Sorry!!! But here it is anyway!

~

It’s a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in August. And to be honest Daniel and I need a break. Maybe not necessarily a date night or a weekend away. But a brake from the schedule, a break from work, a break from the kids. I “need” a break from Elijah.

My little(one year old) Elijah has been sick. He requires so much physical attention. This past week, he needed day and night attention. He is also going through a shy phase, which means he is hardly going to anyone besides his daddy and of course me. While Elijah may be the most taxing, my other four also need plenty of attention.

I want a break.

So this afternoon I said no to the splash park, I said no to catching up on things in the house, I said no to making sure the boys are getting in their daily reading and I ditched the to do list this afternoon.

I am letting both of us(Daniel and I) take a break.

What does that mean??? Daniel is playing on his computer, Judah is on the old computer playing next to Daniel. Asher, Caleb and Silas are watching the Disney channel. And I took Elijah with me. We are sitting in the nursery at church where I have the AC blasting(it’s like 100 degrees outside),and Elijah is playing with “new” toys in a room he can’t escape. As for me, I am sitting with an iced coffee writing this blog post. Right now this is a break. I might even order some cheap Chinese take out for dinner. I need to breath today. And I am refusing to feel guilty about it!

Now when I say I said “no” to those different things. The only person I actually had to say “no” to, was myself. I love to go, go, go and I have a hard time remembering that it’s fine to let certain things “go”. Being a mom in this big family teaches me everyday that things can’t be perfect! Just last week at church the kids were totally squirrelly on me and numerous people encouraged me after the service that, it was just fine, that’s just kids. I train them the best I can but, they are little humans that have little personality’s. Sometimes without them knowing it, they gang up on me and it all falls to chaos! And you know what, it is ok. And I’m thankful to have people that remind me that it’s ok.

But I have an issue with saying “no” to myself and taking a rest.

I was putting Elijah down for a nap the other day. It was a little later than it should have been so he was over tired. He was just wailing and screaming because he didn’t want to take a nap.

He wants to be a part of everything. He doesn’t want to miss a thing! All of his brothers are still awake playing and I’m putting him in baby jail… his crib. I give him a kiss whisper good night and leave him all by himself. I am the worst! At least that’s what his screaming seems to communicate!

But the reality here is, He really needed to take that nap. He was not going to have fun playing with his brothers that tired and cranky. He most definitely did not need to be a part of everything, right then he needed a rest!

As I closed the door part of me felt relief “Yeah! It’s nap time!” Part of me felt a little bad because he was especially mad today.

But that got me thinking, how much I relate to my little guy.

I want to be a part of everything. I want to know what’s going on, and be on top of all the things. I want to make sure all the fun summer things happen with the kids, I want to make sure, they are caught up and ready to go when the school year starts, and I want to make sure I’m catching up on my summer reading or catching up on mundane paperwork. My time seems so limited right now, so I try to be productive with all that I have to spare.

But man the reality is, sometimes I need to be unproductive and restful. I need a nap!

Um what did I just say??? I need to stop the train of thought that taking a rest is unproductive!!! How productive can I be with anything while I’m running on empty?? And I also have an issue with realizing how low my tank is getting.

I don’t really, realize how much I have put off rest until it’s too late. At these times I am not a nice person. I’m like that grumpy baby I couldn’t wait to get a break from!

Usually the rest of the world doesn’t get to see that side of “Karen”. I save that side of me for my sweet unsuspecting family.

And then literally, Daniel will say, “Hey, Babe I can come home after lunch and you can take a nap..” And even then sometimes I argue with him, and he continues to assure me its ok if I don’t get it all done. It’s ok, Go take a rest.

When I’m sitting burdened in my struggle, the struggle not to let any of the “ball’s drop”. God’s word gently reminds me of what His expectation of me is.

Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

God doesn’t mean for me to keep going and going and going. He is not throwing on this big burden of stuff that I have to complete on my own. He’s not telling me that I just need to be stronger. He’s not telling me that if I was better at following Him then I wouldn’t be in this mess.

He’s showing me the gospel here.

God desires for me to rest physically and spiritually in His grace. To come to a greater dependence on Him. He desires to show me His grace in the form of rest and refreshment.

He designed us to need it!

In my need I am pointed to the cross, in my insufficiency I’m pointed to Jesus and what’s already been done. And He reminds me of what is actually important. If I could keep on top of it all, there is a good chance I would forget to bring these things to the cross. I would forget my utter need for being dependent in Christ.

Praise be to God that I can’t do it all! Praise God He keeps me turning to Him! Praise God He keeps me thirsting for the refreshment I will find in His word. Praise God He keeps me longing for prayerful dependence in my chaotic world!

Praise God He shows up there with me in my mess and my unfinished list.

Praise God for the rest in Gods’ grace that He has promised is mine.

When I turn to Jesus and seek rest and dependence in Him, He often surprises me with His literal provision and grace for the things I am worried about letting go of, this may come as a shock… but… my world does not fall apart. However, it does remind me that its not all about my ability, but Christ’s ability. Praise God!

Coast to Coast – Summer with the Stenbergs

It’s half way through summer, and I really can’t believe it. I have spent the past couple weeks catching up on being away from home during the whole month of June.

We had the opportunity to drive back to the West Coast this summer. That drive! I’m still recovering! Nothing reminds me of how big or diverse our country is like driving coast to coast…and then doing it all over again!

It was quite an experience, packing the seven of us, including our dog, into a minivan and driving for over 40 hours one way.

Looking back on our vacation adventures I realized that “It’s not a vacation with the Stenbergs without”:

– A ridiculously long road trip… Seriously Elijah started thinking the car was his baby prison. And Caleb still pipes up at gas stations “I have to use the bathroom!”. Come on man! We just left home 2 minutes ago!!!! You don’t have to use the bathroom at every stop anymore!

– All the energy drinks… Keeps Daniel driving and driving on the road.

– A noise complaint within the first 15 minutes of being in a hotel. I mean really people?! It’s before 8:00pm and my kids have been in a car for 13 hours. At least let us have a chance to get settled before phoning in the noise complaint!

– Being stopped in pretty much every public place by people who would like to talk with me about my family. My kids make me feel a little famous! Haha! Although the reactions range from, “Wow you have such a beautiful family!” To the gal at Walmart eyeing Daniel and kids with distaste and then, after seeing the Bible verse on Daniel’s shirt, commenting: “Well at least you’re going to the right place” … hmm I’m still not sure what to make of that…

– All the snacks… Ones that don’t melt or crumble into all the crevices of the van are best. But at some point, you just stop caring.

– Usually this is where I would mention someone puking…but we made it through the whole vacation this time without any of us getting sick! Woohoo!!

– Starbucks! (Ok, I do miss having a mom and pop coffee stand within 5 min of everywhere. In my opinion they usually have the best coffee for cheaper.) However now that I don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, Starbucks totally hits the spot! And it’s just the best on vacation.

– Silas getting naked at parties… I mean really, using the bathroom while you are playing with friends or cousins is overrated.

– Being creative with eating out.  When you realize your boys are already getting bigger and eating more than you expect. I tried to have stuff for peanut butter and Jelly in the car. But somehow the bread kept getting squished and becoming inedible. So…eating out on a budget it is!

– Being told there is a bear and her cub that live very close to where you are hiking and to not let the kids or dog chase it or try to pet it. Yep… think we will make sure that doesn’t happen, and while we are at it, find a new place to hike!!

– Making use of peeing in a bottle. (Advantage to having only boys.)

– Your kids giving one of your best friends dating advice: “You just need to go on a date with all the single men in Seattle.” (Side note: My boys better not take their own advice!)

– Great Bible teaching! I’m so thankful for all of the people that volunteered to run the kids programs at camp. It really is the best when you can drop off your kids at someplace fun and just sit down and enjoy hearing the message from Gods Word without all the distractions.

– Awesome friends!

– Amazing family!

– All the laughter!!

The kids actually did great, I really can’t complain. Elijah was pretty frustrated at times. Seriously though, he’s one and a half and the whole “being strapped into something where he can’t move” is pretty much the worst form of torture to him right now. So, for that being the case he did really well.

We had a great trip, so good to see family and friends that live so far away, but after a month on the road, it was so nice to get back home to Jersey. Nothing beats sleeping in your own bed after being gone for weeks!

Our journeys, being separated from loved ones and thinking of all those who mean so much to us and are spread out all over this country I am reminded of Philippians 1:3-6.

Philippians 1:3-6

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul often starts his letters off thanking God and praying for the people and church he is writing to.

There is longing in his tone about his desire to see them again. And an excitement about how God is at work in their lives.

When our family travels to visit family and friends, I am reminded of how Paul feels as he starts off these letters.

There is such a thankfulness for them, a joy in their friendship. They have partnership in the gospel, and a longing to see each other again.

When we are together with friends we haven’t seen for a long time, or meeting family after a year of time passing. There are some great things that happen. We start sharing about how things are going, and how God has been at work. We hear about how God is at work in our friends and families lives and in their church’s. We joyfully reminisce about God’s faithfulness.

When I start sharing the stories of what God has been up to in my life, my family, and my church family, I am reminded and encouraged again, as I recall God’s faithfulness in those life events that have happened since I last talked to that person.

It leads me to think we should be recounting the faithfulness and blessings of our Lord more often than we do.

We also share about the struggles and hard things in our lives. When we are being real and honest about our hardships, praying over each other naturally follows. There is so much encouragement in praying over each other in our struggles.

All of this pushes me to praise God! He is at work. He is worthy of praise in the blessings. He is worthy of praise in the struggle.

I love, love, love having the family of God extend out so far. To be encouraged and to encourage as we travel the length and breadth of this country.

I love hearing about what God is up to all over the place.

Having all these conversations also reminds me to get excited and share about what God is up to with the people that I get to see all the time. It can be so easy to get distracted and not share what you are excited about or encouraged by to the people around you. But man, it is so important to cheer on and share with the people that you are living life with in the everyday struggle.

It was so sweet to get home. To pull in and smell the air and think: “It smells like Jersey. It smells like home.” I continue to be filled with hope and anticipation at what God is up to here.

God has filled my life with so many amazing people wherever we go.

What a blessing that month of travel was to me and my family. But what a greater blessing we have in what God is doing in our country, from sea to sea.

Let us be encouraged and let us encourage. Let us remember each other, take joy in the memory, and pray.

God is at work!