My Thoughts on The Shack

Seven years ago I read the book. This past Sunday, Brett and I went to see The Shack with some of our youth group students. Due to an adorable baby waking up and missing some of the show, we decided to go back again last night and really absorb the gold that is in this movie.

I’ve seen many parents post online that they have no intention to see the movie because (spoiler alert) a small girl is abducted and murdered in the beginning of the film. As a mother myself, I hear you on that thinking, but let me assure you- the girl’s murder is NOT what the film is about. The movie, instead, is about facing our pain, processing our anger, acknowledging our own sin in it, and trusting God to be a good Papa to us in all circumstances. It is all about the relationship God wants to have with all of His children, in every experience. For these reasons, I encourage all humans, not just Christians, to go see the film.

Now if you choose to see the film and you’re a Christian, I advise you to keep an open heart and mind. I’ve heard some are boycotting the movie because of theology issues. The Shack is not a Bible-based documentary, and it isn’t meant to be seen as one. It’s a creative work meant to help those who are stuck in their pain see things a new way. It means to stretch the paradigms you may (incorrectly) have about God the Father, Jesus, or Holy Spirit. Before going in, I would encourage you to ask yourself the question, “What if I’ve put God in a box and what I think about Him isn’t the whole truth?” After all, don’t we all have more to learn?

As someone who has experienced great loss the past two years, this film was golden. There were so many nuggets of encouragement and truth. As we watched the film the second time, I fumbled through tears to rapidly type out some favorite quotes to process later. One of my favorites were when the main character who has experienced a lot of tragedy is yelling at Papa (God) that He was never there for him. Papa kindly and gently responds, “When all you see is your pain, you lose sight of me.” I can absolutely affirm this from experience. As we have navigated the loss of our three children to miscarriage and the loss of Brett’s sister to murder, we have had to choose to keep our eyes fixed on Him to carry on. When we take our eyes off of Jesus and fixate on our pain, that is a slippery slope to depression, hopelessness, and worse.

If you haven’t yet experienced great loss, pain, or disappointment, you will. We are all guaranteed trials this side of Heaven. I hope you are able to remain connected to Christ throughout the journey and that it is processed quickly. But in the interim, let me advise you to check out this film. Let it stretch your paradigms. Invite Holy Spirit to speak to you as you watch and allow new encouragements and truths to invade your heart and mind. Even if you cannot currently relate to parts of the movie personally, someone you know does and knowing better ways to love them is vital to their healing.

If you have endured horrific loss like we have, take your tissues and don’t allow Pain or Fear to rob you of this beautiful healing experience. Brett and I have had major heartbreak dealing with the murder of his sister in recent months, and particularly in the past few weeks. Watching this film in the midst of losing a loved one to a violent crime led us both to ugly cry and sob out loud in the theater. We were both in a place that our spirits needed to release, to cry out loud; so we did. I am unashamed in my processing of my pain. I know that ignoring my feelings, pain, and loss won’t make it go away. Instead, I will grow hard and I will hand down my pain and dysfunction to the next generation. I refuse to do so. I pray you won’t either.

At the end of the film, in reference to his stubbornness, the main character asks God, “Why’d you keep working on me?” Papa simply responds, “Because that’s what love does.” Whether you see this film or not, I pray you know that no matter what you’ve done or been through, God is still pursuing you and desires a loving relationship with you. He is Love, and there is nothing greater.

Grit

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Our family at Brett’s Grandparent’s property in California over Christmas.

I grew up in a small redneck town in the Rocky Mountains. We had a large piece of land and lots of animals including horses, sheep and chickens. I have three brothers and was raised to hunt, fish, camp, and do all the same things the boys could do. I shot my first elk when I was twelve and could out-shoot the guys with a shotgun any day. I was tough and taught to have value for my ability to overcome and good character.

Now, as with all cultures, there were some negative things found in this. For me, one of them was performance and another was stuffing. I had to put a brave mask on and stuff my emotions through trauma at times to avoid being labeled “weak” or “overly emotional”.

There were also many good things that came from this cultural way of thinking. For one, I knew I was capable of taking on life’s challenges. I knew I was strong and not afraid to show it. I’ve always had a firm handshake and never shied away from looking a stranger in the eyes. My yes means yes and no means no. I am dependable, brave, and able to face challenges that come my way. As was expected and taught in my small-town community, I have grit.

Grit is defined as “firmness of character; an indomitable spirit; courage or resolution in the face of difficulties.” As we have faced the hardships of continual loss and sickness the past two years, I have felt at times that my grit is in question. I haven’t felt as strong as I desire, and I haven’t always handled difficult moments as bravely as I’d like to. I have found myself more weak in the state of pregnancy, loss, and continual disappointments than I want to be and have been processing the importance of grace with Jesus.

Then came this past Christmas. As we traveled fifteen hours to California to visit Brett’s family and bury his sister’s remains, I wanted to be strong. I wanted to keep my love on well while sleep deprived and weary. I wanted to help hold up Brett’s parents and family in their time of need, but often found myself simply trying to hold myself together while holding my screaming newborn. The trip was long, exhausting, overstimulating, sad, and difficult for me and I didn’t handle it the way I hoped to in strength and love. The temptation to shame myself and be disappointed has been very real.

As I have processed the trip with God, He’s lovingly pointed out places I allowed the enemy to run rampant, but also affirmed ways I loved well and supported Brett and His parents. He reminded me that His joy is my strength (Neh 8.10). He’s lovingly reminding me that my emotions are valid and sleep deprivation is real, but also that He did not create me to be a person who shrinks back. In Hebrews 10.39 it is written that “We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” (NIV)

So, I have and will continue to validate my emotions and hardships but I will also remind myself of how strong I am because He is in me. I believe there is a fine line between being vulnerable enough to experience your God given emotions and hardships in a raw way, while also recognizing our inner God given strength to take it all on. Grit is an inheritance I received from my family and cultural roots that I love and am taking hold of in a new Godly way. I will not shrink back, I will connect to Him and continue to have courage and resolution in the face of difficulties because He is the God who can do all things and I am not alone. He is Emmanuel, God with me.

Isaiah 41.10

Tonight, while putting my older children to sleep, my eight year old began to sob. She has struggled with fear here and there the past month, but especially since we buried my husband’s sister last week. “I am afraid mommy. I feel like bad guys are going to come into my room and get me and hurt me and I’ll never see you again,” she shared through her tears. My heart was broken. How do I tell her that will never happen when someone we love so dearly was just taken from us? I can’t. The truth is that we do live in a fallen world. Evil does exist and people do horrible things. Last month we endured a horrific loss when Brett’s sister, Andrea, was found dead after missing for three days. We traveled to California over Christmas to bury her remains and say goodbye. This tragedy has been a nightmare and is very real and in our face right now.

But there is another truth at play here as well. Jesus exists. He is alive and He is good. With tears in my eyes, I asked our daughter if I could pray for her. As we commanded all fear to go, Jesus reminded me to lead her to Him. He alone can truly comfort her in this horrible loss. I told Elle to close her eyes and ask Jesus where He was in the room. In her mind’s eye, she saw Him with our three month old, Esther. I told her to ask Him if He could be with her too. She closed her eyes and said the first thing she heard was that He loves her. She continued to ask Jesus if He could stay with her through the night. He showed her He would sleep in her bed, next to her side and that she could snuggle Him the whole night. She felt His peace envelope her and she was returned to joy and able to go to sleep. It was beautiful, and far better than anything I could have done.

How often do we think Jesus can, and will, be with someone else in their need, but forget we can ask Him to take care of us? How often do we doubt He actually will? Elle could see Jesus with her sister. She had faith He was there but had to be reminded she could ask Him to comfort her too. Johnny (our seven year old son) was on the top bunk and as he overheard all of this he, was able to tell us he’d struggled with nightmares since Halloween when their librarian read a scary story of a man that turned into a werewolf. After hearing Elle connect with Jesus, he was inspired to forgive his librarian for sharing the fear-filled story then asked Jesus to come take all fear from him as well.

That’s the thing. When we experience Jesus and His goodness, rarely is it just for us. If we are brave enough to share it, it has a domino effect that inspires others to trust Him and ask to experience Him. What we’ve experienced in the loss of Brett’s sister has been horrible. It has been a worst nightmare come true. But Jesus will walk all of us through this tragedy. He will comfort us, show us His truth, and help us process our grief. And, as only Jesus can do, He will find ways to work good in the midst of it too.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Isaiah 41.10 (NASB)

Yes, My Kids Still Like the Baby

Now that Esther is a month old, I have people asking me if our older kids are still doing well with her, or if they still like the baby. I understand the question, but it makes my heart sad. Not only are Elle and Johnny still head-over-heels in love with their baby sister, but their love for her is growing with each day. It’s been a beautiful thing to experience, and all of our hearts are overwhelmed with joy.

When we decided we were done having kids, one of my main reasonings was that I wanted Elle and Johnny to be able to be kids. I feared having more kids significantly later would push Elle into the mother role and I didn’t want that. I wanted her to be a kid with kid responsibilities. Another reasoning was that because we’d lost our first child, Nathan, in a miscarriage in 2007 (nine years ago today, in fact), Brett had the fear of possibly having to go through another loss. Also, he loved the dynamic of our family of four and was afraid of how another baby would upheave that simplicity.

When God started speaking to our hearts about having more children two years ago, one of the biggest points He made to us was that we made the decision to not have more kids partnered with fear, not partnered with Him. I didn’t feel like God was saying I had to have more kids, but rather that He was inviting me to make decision with Him instead of fear of what could happen. In the end, we repented for giving fear space in our decisions and invited God to speak truth and life into our hearts. Jesus reminded me that He is the author of LIFE and He can teach me how to have a family filled with goodness and life for each family member. With that, Brett and I were both filled with an incredible excitement to have more children!

When we told Elle and Johnny that we felt we wanted to have more children and asked what they thought, they were super excited. Elle was six and Johnny was five, but they had some great questions about how it would affect them and our family. We processed each question as they came honestly and sometimes with “I don’t know that yet.” The more we processed it together, the more excited they became and were thrilled to make the announcement once we had conceived our fourth child!

The day we went in for our little Timothy’s routine doctor appointment, Elle and Johnny were with us. They were looking forward to hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, as mom and dad already had, and we were all devastated when there wasn’t one. The kids were confused, we were heartbroken, the whole thing was simply awful. After we left the office, the four of us went to the parking garage and bawled in our minivan, holding each other, and listening to worship music. The kids had questions this time that I couldn’t answer. All I knew to do was to process honestly with them and surrender them to Jesus for the healing their little hearts would need.

Six months later, we had conceived our fifth child, our sweet Evelyn. When it was time for our same appointment, I journaled and asked Jesus whether or not to take the kids. He reminded me He loves them far more than I do, He has them in His hands, and I have nothing to fear for He is still on the throne. So, we asked if they wanted to come, they said yes, and we all headed in declaring life. Sadly, Evelyn had already graduated to Heaven and we went through the exact same horror of the baby having no heartbeat with Elle and Johnny in the room. They had just turned seven and six. It wasn’t fair for their little hearts to endure another heartbreak of this magnitude! I trusted Jesus and now they were hurting and confused all over again. I was angry, hurting, and heartbroken- not only for me but especially for them. I realized quickly that I didn’t know what to do to walk them through it all well and held Jesus to His promises. In an honest prayer, I told Him, “You said you love them more than I do and you have them in Your hand so now it’s Your job to walk them through this. It’s Your job to show me what to do so they don’t end up bitter and distrusting.” Jesus wept with me for weeks and then kindly showed me over time, that declaring the truth that He is Lord over them was actually one of the best parenting moves I’ve made.

As their questions rolled in, I waited on Holy Spirit to give me the answers Elle and Johnny needed. I leaned more on Him in this season than ever before for parenting. I knew I wasn’t equipped to handle this, not to mention I was hurting so deeply myself. All the fears we’d had seemed to be coming true and we didn’t know what to do with that. As a family, we turned to the Prince of Peace for our processing and He was faithful. Elle and Johnny both had encounters with Jesus in their dreams that answered their little heart’s questions and healed their hurts. Holy Spirit showed them their siblings in Heaven and spoke incredible truths to give their minds peace. Elle would get up and paint with Jesus every morning for months and repeatedly see and paint Heaven and our entire family. Johnny would have “knowings” of Heaven that we’d never spoken about. Over time, I watch Jehovah Sneaky working in our family, healing our hearts with gentleness and faithfulness. He never rushed any of us but also never left any of us alone.

Then came the day that Elle and Johnny asked us to try for a baby one more time. I was completely shocked and had no idea how to answer. The two of them pulled us aside, intervention style, and asked me to please try to get pregnant one more time. These poor kids had been through hell and back with us. I couldn’t believe they were suggesting we all go through it again! I tried writing it off that they are just too young, or too naive to understand the ramifications. But I knew that was a lie. The world would tell me they’re just kids and don’t put too much weight on what they ask because it can change in five minutes. But I could sense this was bigger, much bigger. I knew this was a pivotal point in their lives in which they’d either see me shrink back and give up for (completely understandable and valid) fear of more pain OR they’d see me put my trust back in the Lord and allow His love to guide me in my weakness (Heb 10.39).  I knew in my spirit this was something they’d remember forever and I was refilled with a supernatural strength that only a mother can understand.

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Brett and I had many conversations, cried many tears, and prayed a LOT. Finally, we gathered our courage and decided to try one more time. We conceived right away, but the battle had just begun. My pregnancies are not easy, but this sixth pregnancy was a whole new level of difficulty. From day one, we endured hardships emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. Without question, this was my hardest pregnancy and many times I wondered if I’d make it through. We had to call on loved ones to hold us up in prayer when we doubted we could go on. But we made it, she made it, and now we have this beautiful little gift straight from Heaven!

Elle and Johnny have been smitten all along. Even while I was pregnant, they would talk to and pray for the baby in my belly. This isn’t to say the hardship didn’t affect them, it did. While I was in bed day after day, they missed their mommy. We had to work through more waves of grief, confusion, and lots of questions. But Jesus was faithful with each day. By the time Esther was born, the delight in our family was off the charts. Elle and Johnny, like us, have waited for this baby with hope, heartbreak, patience, and long-suffering. I knew they might need some time to adjust to the new norm of having three children, but so far it’s only been delight and enjoyment. I feared they would feel overlooked, but they are overjoyed. Brett worried it would change the dynamics of our family, and it has in the best of ways. Esther arriving has NOT been a difficulty to endure but a long awaited blessing and gift to receive for ALL of us. So yes, my children are still liking having their baby sister. In fact, her arrival and their love for her has helped to heal all our hearts even more. Our family isn’t perfect, but we are abundantly blessed and thankful. We aren’t afraid to face or process hard things, and we don’t sweep issues under the rug, but we also don’t hesitate to genuinely celebrate. This season has been fought for and prayed for and nothing is going to stand in the way of our full immersion in the joy and delight.

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**Maternity Photos by Michael Wessner Photography.

Esther’s Diagnosis VS God’s Promise

Earlier this month, we proudly took our thriving one-week-old newborn in for her well check. Our Pediatrician has walked through our journey with us the past couple years so we knew she’d be excited to celebrate a healthy newborn too. The nurse weighed Esther and immediately congratulated us as she had not only gained back her birth weight, but two additional ounces. Smiles and joy were abundant in the room. It was a day to celebrate!

After examining Esther, our pediatrician smiled reassuringly and told us she needed to talk to us. She told us not to panic, but that she had heard a heart murmur while examining Esther. She told us that while there is a very common explanation for most heart murmurs in newborns that resolves on its own, she did not believe this was Esther’s case. Instead, she explained the murmur sounded more like a rare condition that would need to be taken very seriously. Because of this, she referred us to see a Pediatric Cardiologist at Vanderbilt as soon as possible. Our Pediatrician assured us again, she wasn’t panicking and we shouldn’t either, but that we don’t play around with things like this and having it checked out right away is best.

It’s hard to express the feelings we had as we left the office. We had gone in excited to celebrate our child’s health with a doctor who’s loved and cared for our family for five years and instead we left with another issue to address. It felt like someone had popped our joy bubble we’d been hanging out in. Neither of us felt devastated or super worried. Considering that while I was pregnant we were told five different times that they thought I might miscarry and yet God preserved her life, we felt certain He had a plan here too. However, we were disappointed to need to address another medical scare.

We invited our biological and spiritual parents to cover us in prayer then headed in for our appointment hoping there was nothing to be found. We were there for a full workup that would take hours. During the echocardiogram, Esther began to fuss so I prayed over her and asked Jesus where He was in the room. He showed me He was in the corner and I asked Him to come put His hand on her as He did when she was born. He immediately came over, laid His hand on her chest, and she fell fast asleep, resting peacefully the rest of the long test. During her EKG tests, she was hungry and disliked all the sticky probes they’d placed all over her body and screamed so hard she welled up with crocodile tears. I felt like screaming and crying just as she was. I was so angry we were having to put her through this, put ourselves through it, rack up more medical bills, and deal with the possibility of heart issues in our rainbow baby. I couldn’t do anything but pray. I prayed that God would fill me with His peace, His perspective, and bless Esther with perfect health. They finally finished their tests and ushered us into a room to wait for the Pediatric Cardiologist to give us our results.

As we waited, Brett played the trauma prayer over us all and we prayed as I nursed Esther. It’s such a strange feeling waiting for news like that, full of faith that God has it all in His hand, but not knowing what the journey ahead may entail. Finally, the doctor came in and gave us our baby’s diagnosis: Esther was born with what is called a VSD, or a Ventricular Septal Defect. This is where the muscular wall, or septum, between the two lower chambers of the heart isn’t fully connected yet. This allows blood from the right ventricle chamber (oxygenated) to pass back into the left ventricle chamber (non oxygenated) with each pump of the heart. VSDs come in three different sizes/severities: small, moderate and large. Esther’s is very small. The great news is that it doesn’t seem to be affecting her in any way. She is, and continues to, thrive in all the areas they would watch for problems like gaining weight, sleeping well, breathing, and more. The specialist assured us she was able to measure the VSD from five different angles and is confident it is a small one that should close up over time without any medication or medical intervention. That’s right, no surgery. Obviously, hearing that your daughter is being diagnosed with a rare, and sometimes scary, heart defect is never good. But hearing “no medical intervention is expected” is awesome! It felt like a sweet kiss from Jesus in the midst of a storm.

So now we wait. We pray, we hope, and we wait on the Lord for His incredible plan to play out. We agree with Heaven for Esther’s full and complete healing and we give this diagnosis no more attention than it deserves. Today, Brett and I took Esther to her one month well check. She weighed in at the 75th percentile and has grown to the 97th percentile in height. She is growing, sleeping, and thriving perfectly, just as we hoped (being the confident expectation of good). Today, the doctor said she could still hear the murmur. But that news won’t stop us from hanging on to God’s promises over her life. We know Esther was fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in perfect peace.

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When we told Elle and Johnny about Esther’s diagnosis, they asked if Jesus will heal her so she will be okay. I told them yes and they asked how I knew. I waited a moment and Holy Spirit filled me with complete peace and gave me an answer that welled me up with tears and faith for what we have not yet seen for Esther but experienced with our other two: When Elle was born, the enemy came against her and tried to take her life. Her umbilical cord was around her neck three times and she required an emergency cesarean delivery to save her BUT GOD protected her and she breathes life with kindness and compassion for everyone she meets! When Johnny was born, he was premature and his lungs weren’t ready. While in the NICU, we found a bone mass on his spine and were told he had a spinal disorder that would prevent him from ever walking, running, or living like a normal little boy BUT GOD miraculously healed him and the Cleveland Clinic couldn’t ever explain it. Johnny runs with a bounce and stamina that is far beyond normal and brings joy to everyone he meets! Esther has been born with a heart defect that the enemy wants to discourage us with. He wants us to label her as the child with an issue. BUT GOD says the only issue we have is one of Hope, continuing to have a confident expectation of good. As a queen, Esther of the Bible laid down her life for her people. Our Esther Hope is also destined to have a heart for God’s people too. Her heart will be strong, courageous, and full of life. We will expect nothing less!

I recently heard that “where the snake has bitten you is where you’ll have the most authority”. So today, we declare God’s good plans and promises over Esther. She will have an incredible heart for Papa God and for others. She will have an abundant life, filled with health, goodness, and love. Esther’s heart will beat strong, God will heal her in His perfect timing, and we will sing His praises again and again. This will be yet another testimony of His faithfulness that we are celebrating now. We are choosing to remain in our joy bubble and are delighting in the beauty of the journey. So join us in declaring her healing. Please do not focus on or speak anything over her that isn’t in alignment with her perfect health. Esther is not a baby with a heart problem. She is a daughter of the Most High King with a promise for good! Partner with us and with the Lord in declaring His perfect plans for her life. He will heal her, she will thrive, and we will all rejoice in another good report of His promises fulfilled.

“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14b NASB

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Our Joy Bubble

**Photos by the incredible Teale Photography Continue reading

My Supernatural Cesarean Birth

I have been so excited to share Esther’s birth story for the past two weeks. I finally have some time to sit down and type it all out. Let me start by giving some background info. In 2008, when I was pregnant with Elle at just 22 years old, I planned for a more natural birth experience. I spent 24 hours laboring with no pain medication but had not dilated beyond 4cm. Due to my exhaustion and Brett’s impending football schedule, my doctor suggested I try an epidural to rest and preserve some of my strength for when it came time to push.

Some may hear that and assume, because I was in a hospital, I was bullied into an epidural. Let me assure you, it was just the opposite. Elle’s heart rate had been showing distress and we all knew Brett had to get to football the next day and could end up missing the birth. This was a special circumstance in which our life and her birth revolved around Brett’s work, not the other way around. I agreed to the epidural, enjoyed three hours of rest, then Elle’s heart rate stopped and I was rushed to an emergency cesarean surgery (better known as a c-section) that saved her life. I learned later that had I not had the epidural in, they would have had to put me to sleep and I would have missed Elle’s birth. To this day, I am so grateful for the epidural that allowed me to be present for her birth and the surgery that saved my daughter’s life!

I was, however, a bit disappointed that I didn’t get my more “natural” birthing experience. Six months later, when we discovered we were pregnant with Johnny, I began asking doctors about a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I wanted to try again. While these are allowed and work well sometimes, both of the doctors I spoke to told me it was absolutely unsafe to do a VBAC so shortly after a cesarean as Johnny was born only 14 months after Elle. Risks included rupturing my incisions (internally or externally) that could result in the death of baby or mom. We planned the c-section date and made arrangements around football again, choosing to be thankful for the ability to plan.

Johnny then decided to make his debut in complete Johnny style arriving a month early in the middle of a random Monday night! His c-section delivery was completely different than Elle’s. While it was considered “emergency” it wasn’t a life or death situation and therefore wasn’t as rushed. It was a slower, quieter experience that I wasn’t yet prepared for. At the time, we were dealing with major crisis in our personal lives and to be surprised by this so early when we had a different plan in place (that included a lot of needed support) was very traumatic. I felt alone and unprepared. My doctor was incredible and Johnny’s actual birth was amazing, but some issues like a difficult nurse situation, etc. left me feeling the trauma of an early birth followed by Johnny ending up in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) because his lungs weren’t fully developed. To top it off, 8 days after his birth, Johnny’s doctors told us they thought he may have a spinal disorder that would leave him unable to “walk or run or do anything like a normal little boy”. Eventually, Johnny was miraculously healed, but I’ll share more about that later!

After Johnny was born, we decided we were done. My pregnancies were very difficult and now my body had gone through two c-section births, which is major surgery! Our personal life was still in crisis and life in the NFL was always chaos and unknown. I asked my doctor to “tie my tubes” and, thankfully, he refused explaining I was too young and he’d seen this pattern in NFL families too often and they always regret permanent surgeries after football ends. I am so thankful that I actually listened (even though I was sure he was wrong at the time).

With all that said, when we decided to have more children, we had a lot of decisions to make and history to consider. It had now been seven years since my last surgery so considering a VBAC was totally reasonable. As Brett and I discussed and prayed and sought wisdom, he explained many times that he did not have peace about the VBAC option. My current doctor explained that she felt we could absolutely do a natural birth but also explored the c-section option with us. As we were discussing it, I welled up with tears and realized I still had some unresolved trauma from my previous two births. That time in our life was hard and filled with a lot of crisis and heartbreak. Now, we were headed into our third birth after losing two children to miscarriage the year before. It all felt like a lot and I needed a support team. As we explained this all to our doctor, she synced with us, validated it all, and then vowed to make it her “personal mission to make this the best c-section experience, if that is what you choose to do.” This gave me a lot of peace that she was an advocate for me just like Brett and now I could start working on my part as well.

After seeking some personal ministry, I knew I needed to intentionally invite Jesus into this experience. I know He was at my last two deliveries, as He protected my children and saved their lives. But my relationship with my Savior was very new back then. I wanted to go through each step of this third delivery with Him, allowing the Prince of Peace to guard and protect me while also redeeming and restoring old trauma and hurts. We explained our desires for the surgery, to have worship music playing among other requests and made a plan with our doctor (who is not a believer but was absolutely in support of our beliefs and desires).

The morning of my scheduled c-section, I woke at 3:30am so excited for the day that we had awaited for 21 months. I was finally going to meet my Esther, a living full-term baby! We left the house early and drove to the same hospital where I’d been exactly 12 months and 18 months earlier for surgeries to remove the dead bodies of my last two children from my womb. We pulled up to the same entrance, at the same early hour of the day and registered with the same unsuspecting receptionist. I prayed and asked Holy Spirit to go ahead of us and make a way for us to walk in favor, peace, and ease. That is absolutely what happened. As we walked through the same hospital where we had our two losses, I realized God wasn’t just redeeming old deliveries, but even our miscarriages. Every detail of our morning retraced the steps of some of our most painful memories, restoring it to joyful memories of receiving our beautiful daughter. Even the staff treated us with the utmost tenderness and kindness and we were able to share about all six of our children with them, inviting them into God’s goodness in the day!

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Getting ready to meet our little lady!

When I went back to the operating room, the most wonderful nurses and anesthesiologist walked me through each step with clarity and gentleness. An angelic woman came to me during my prep and explained that her name is Madonna and she’s going to hold me while they put in my spinal. She fixed my hair net, made eye contact with me, talked me through the whole process and held me with her arms. I’m honestly not sure she wasn’t an angel as I never saw her again after that and no one else ever spoke to her. Once I was situated on the table, we had a quiet moment while they waited for medicine to start working and I prayed aloud and asked Jesus to show me where He was in the room. I immediately saw Him on my left side with one hand on my belly and the other behind my neck, holding my head. I heard Him explain He had both Esther and me covered and we had nothing to be concerned about. I immediately felt tension leave my body and peace overwhelm my mind! I knew this was going to be amazing and my only job was to receive the incredible gift He was about to give me. Brett and my doctor came in at that point. Brett put on the worship music and selected all the songs we’d depended on to get us through our losses. As they began the surgery, my anesthesiologist explained she would walk me through every thing they were doing. She quietly told me what was happening the whole way through. As she explained everything, I realized I didn’t feel at all like these things were happening to me, but that I was a part of it. I felt involved and that this was a team experience led by Jesus. Everything was filled with peace and acute awareness of every detail that was happening.

During my first two c-sections, my body shook uncontrollably during the majority of the surgery because I’d been in labor for so long prior. I prayed and asked Jesus for none of that this time so I could enjoy it and actually hold Esther once she was born. So many little details like that (that were big details for me) were answered and taken care of in this birth. The peace truly surpassed understanding. It was incredible! By the time they were ready to pull her out, my amazing doctor told Brett to get the camera ready and allowed him to photograph Esther’s actual birth. “Emmanuel (God with Us Forever)” by Bryan & Katie Torwalt was playing when Esther was born. She began screaming before they even had her body out and the entire room erupted with laughter and celebration for a healthy and beautiful little girl! They allowed her cord to finish pulsing and handed her directly to me for skin-to-skin cuddles. Brett and I wept with joy and doted over her the entire time our doctor was finishing up. The room was filled with His Presence. It was one of the most supernatural moments we’ve ever experienced!

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Esther was placed on me for skin-to-skin immediately after delivery.

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Our private time in recovery was so special! I couldn’t stop weeping.

As we were moved to my recovery room, I was able to nurse Esther and she immediately took to it. After nursing for 20 minutes on one side, she did another 26 minutes on the other. We spent the full two hours holding her, blessing her, and enjoying her. I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t exhausted or traumatized, I was simply full of love and delight! Contrary to how cesarean births are often described, I delighted in the most joyous, peaceful, presence-filled, birthing experience and recovery. As soon as we were moved to our actual room, Elle and Johnny were brought to meet their new baby sister and they joined in the incredible moment! As a family of five that has been through hell and back, we fully received and delighted in the gift of life together for hours.

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The moment they’d been waiting for!

Our King is truly the most wonderful person. He is intentional and always at work on our behalf. He doesn’t miss a single detail. He is in the business of redemption and restoration ALWAYS! No matter what you’ve been through, no matter the disappointments, traumas, or heartache you’ve endured, He is currently, and always has been, at work to bless you and resurrect your dreams and hopes. Don’t let the pains of your past hold you back from the freedom promised in your future. And, ladies, do not box in birthing experiences by saying that only “all-natural” and/or pain free births are supernatural. The word supernatural, by definition, is about being above or beyond what is natural, unexplainable by natural law or phenomena. By nature, I should have endured many hard issues going through a major surgery such as a cesarean delivery. Instead, I invited the King of Kings, Prince of Peace, my Savior and Redeemer to lead the way and He created a beautiful and supernatural birthing experience for me that not only redeemed my previous disappointments in birth but also restored joy where we had endured horrific loss. He is THAT good and He is not limited by any boundaries. His goodness is empowered by our words, however, so please speak life, celebration, and encouragement over every woman and her birth experience and choice, even if it’s one you don’t understand.

In closing, I am writing about my birthing experience because it was simply wonderful and I want to share the goodness of God! But also, I have noticed a trend of upholding natural births above others and heard comments that (I trust) are not meant to put others down but may carry a tone of superiority. So my sharing my story does have another purpose. I would love to see women be intentional to encourage and to celebrate every birth experience equally because it brought LIFE into the world, and not because we did it without pain management, surgery, or other medical intervention (that often times saves the lives of baby or mama as it did in my case with Elle). If we did this, how many women would feel empowered and celebrated for their victory of co-creating and birthing life rather than somehow less-than because their experience didn’t look like someone else’s? 

Much love and blessings to all the mamas out there: those who are raising their children, birthing their children, have lost their children, or are desperately awaiting their children. I hope to see us all partner with the freedom Jesus paid for to celebrate our individuality as we share both our triumphs and trials in vulnerability and love!

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She was so worth the wait.

 

Running Toward Fear

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Tomorrow I will turn 31 years old. I couldn’t be more excited! In my last entry, I mentioned that I had huge hopes, declarations, and excitement for my 30th birthday. The past year has certainly had its victories and beautiful moments. But if I could really sum it up, I would describe the past 365 days as an intentional time of running toward my fear and trials, all while hoping they wouldn’t eat me for lunch in the process. Here’s the ugly truth of what we have faced, and our process, this past year:

On the day of my 30th birthday, I awoke at 4am petrified that we wouldn’t make it financially. It was an obvious attack in the spirit realm but it was so consuming and unexpected that it gripped me hard and I was unable to shake it. It was accompanied with fear of losing the child I was carrying at the time and I found myself in tears the whole day instead of enjoying the beach vacation we were on. I had to choose to get on my knees and seek help from my Savior to come back into truth that He is my Provider and I have nothing to fear. Looking back now, the whole thing was pretty silly but in the moment it overwhelmed me.

Just five days later, we headed into a routine doctor appointment for my pregnancy with Evelyn. It was the same appointment we’d found out we’d lost our son, Timothy, at just six months prior. The kids wanted to come again, but I was fearful of what kind of trauma it could include if anything went wrong. That morning, I journaled with the Lord and He told me He had Elle and Johnny in His hands and I had nothing to fear. That I could entrust Elle, Johnny, Brett and my hearts to Him and He would never leave or forsake us. I boldly entered the doctor’s office that day full of faith that my child lived and all would be well. After having an ultrasound done, it was confirmed she was no longer alive in my womb and our worst nightmare had come true.

After that day, I felt broken. I was less than a week into this new decade of life and instead of being filled with joy and redeeming hope, I felt shattered and wanted to give up. I felt confused, lost and the pain was truly unbearable. I went back in for another surgery and declared we were done trying for more children. I went through the motions as we navigated the holidays but my heart was filled with too much pain to bear. I spent days and days in tears. By the end of the year, Elle and Johnny started asking if we would please try for another baby. I was shocked and confused. They’d had to face the same agony I had and yet they were hopeful still. I realized I had a choice: I could remain in my pain, bitterness, confusion, and resentment for what we’d all endured, running away from the promises we had not seen fulfilled, or we could run back to the cross and let the King of Kings walk us through what He’d originally put on our hearts.

We’ve never shared publicly why we decided to try for more kids. It wasn’t because I was suddenly baby hungry or we felt “incomplete” as a family. Instead, it was because Jesus started talking to us about new life He had planned for us. When I asked Him if it was okay for us to just be done, He said “Yes, but did you make that decision partnered with the life I have for you or partnered with the fear of not being enough, not having enough, etc.?” We realized that for us it had been a decision made partnered with fear and even though more kids seemed a bit crazy, we wanted every ounce of LIFE Jesus was promising us. Reflecting on the loss of two children in 2015, none of that year long journey was feeling like life, so we knew there had to be more.

Come January 2016, we decided to choose to trust again. We decided we’d rather run toward our fear, and possibly fall again, than run away and always wonder what Jesus may have had for us. We conceived right away and by February I was more sick than I had ever been. My doctor put me on some medications to help protect the pregnancy and I had an adverse reaction that caused me to literally feel crazy in the head. I dove into such a deep depression for a few short weeks that I couldn’t even function. Again, fear was consuming me and ruling everything. I knew I wasn’t winning and had no idea what to do about it. In this time, because we couldn’t think of anything else, we simply worshiped. We play worship music in our home 24 hours a day, and have for years. But now it was time to turn it up. To declare with our mouths everything we couldn’t see or feel in our current circumstances. Between conception and six months, we were told five times that this baby would likely not make it. I had complication after complication, scare after scare, and nothing in me had the hope I needed to remain positive. It was during this time our community and family became Jesus in the flesh for us. They listened to us cry, prayed when we couldn’t udder words, and hoped for us when our hope was lost. They held us up (sometimes literally) and prayed for us unceasingly. Everything about this season was hard and confusing. So often, I wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend none of the fear covered hardships were actually happening. I was tanked emotionally, spiritually, physically and more. But, I didn’t know what to do other than keep crawling toward the fear, toward the thing that threatened to destroy me. We kept moving toward the promise that now seemed faint as a whisper, knowing it might all implode and we could be let down and made a fool again.

After we reached six months in the pregnancy, we had announced the gender and name of our sixth child, Esther. God started speaking to us about her future, her destiny, and the call on her life. We stopped having medical emergencies threatening her life over and over. We started to realize we would actually be giving birth to this child- alive- and began to walk our hearts through new healing and acceptance. I got really sick again by the 28th week, but we realized we were actually on the downhill slope of the journey. Allowing our hearts to stop trembling and start celebrating seemed like learning process all in its own. When you’ve spent so much time grieving and struggling, it becomes a very intentional journey to let go of the trauma and begin to really experience joy again. And if I’m really honest, the beautiful celebrations that have been thrown for me the past six weeks have been a huge part of my healing process in learning to hope again. As I’ve been surrounded by those who love us and see the genuine delight, hope, and celebration on their faces, it helps me to do the same. So thank you. Thank you to everyone who has intentionally blessed and loved us well. It is a vital part of our journey and we are forever grateful.

A few weeks ago, a gentleman who Brett meets with regularly sent him an article about this running toward fear concept and made a point that he sees that is what we’ve done. The article talks about lions and how the females do the hunting but the males assist. Once the females are set in their hiding places, the male lions will release their mighty roar, startling all the prey and causing fear that drives them directly into the mouths of their predators. By nature, when we feel pain or fear, we run. We run as far away as possible for survival. However, in the Kingdom, with Jesus as our mighty Lion, we have nothing to fear but the submission to fear itself. No matter what trial we face, no matter what loss or disappointment we experience, Jesus’ plans do not include us running and being devoured. We are promised that we will encounter trials in this life, but we are also told that we need not shrink back. “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 10.11) “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10.39) This past year of my life has not been pretty. I have found myself at my weakest at moments, physically for sure, but also spiritually, mentally and emotionally at times. I’ve seriously wondered how I’d get through many tough days and hours. At times, I’ve looked Brett in the eyes and confessed I wasn’t sure I’d make it. But in my weakness, Jesus’ power has shown through. His grace has been sufficient and today I am able to boast of His faithfulness, not my own. (2 Cor 12.9)

Johnny asked me this morning if I am sad to say goodbye to today “because its my last day as 30”? I smiled and said no. This year has shown me how faithful He is regardless of how faithless I feel. It has refined me, deepened my faith, and produced in me a new level of trust and hope that is no longer swayed so easily by my circumstances. This year was nothing like what I expected, but its been everything I needed. I am not a finished product, but I am one that’s endured the fire and been made more pure than before. I am happy to say goodbye to this chapter and move into the next. Today, on September 30th, I say goodbye to 30, kind of like a backward golden birthday if you will. And tomorrow, on October 1st, I say hello to 31 and I am looking forward to meeting my daughter, my little Esther Hope face-to-face within days. This past year has not been pretty. But I can look back and say that I have not run away, I have not shrunk back. I have faced my fears of disappointment, pain, loss, and unfulfilled promises. I have run toward the fear, stumbled at times and kept on crawling till someone helped pick me back up. But I have not shrunk back and you don’t have to either. No matter the trial, no matter the hardship, don’t turn and run away. Face it head on. Let Jesus and the people He sends you help keep you up, and run toward it. With your King before you, fear cannot devour you. He is our Protector, our Provider, and He will never let either of us be destroyed.

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9 months pregnant and elated to welcome this new baby and season!

Take a Moment to Remember

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One year ago today, Brett and many lovely friends threw me a party to celebrate my 30th birthday. Due to sickness and weather, lots of the party details changed last minute and it was a bit stressful, but we choose to have fun and stayed up into late hours of the night dancing with some of our closest friends. I was pregnant with our daughter, Evelyn, at the time and was filled with delight and expectation for the coming year!

Days later, we headed into the doctor for a routine prenatal appointment. My greatest nightmare came true: we found no heartbeat in our daughter’s tiny body. Only six months earlier we had lost our son, Timothy, the same way. It was as if I were reading a tragic story about a couple going through the worst thing imaginable, but it wasn’t fiction. It was my real life. As we did ultrasounds and prepared for another surgery to remove my baby’s body from my womb, we asked at what point had Evelyn’s heart stopped beating. “September 26th” they responded. It felt like salt in the wound. I had been celebrating my 30th birthday, dancing and rejoicing with friends, thanking God for the new life that grew in my womb, all while having no idea my baby girl had passed that same day.

I had a dream of Evelyn before we knew she had passed where I got to meet her. She was a gorgeous baby, with brown hair and adorable features. It was a long dream where I held her, nursed her, and sang to her. She was full of peace and I knew she was such a gift. I was smitten. I think back to that dream often and am filled with sadness and gratitude. It’s such a gift to have met Evelyn in my dreams, and I sometimes wonder if my third daughter, Esther, will look at all like her big sister.

Today has been an emotional day. In just one week, I will be holding my sixth child, alive, in my arms. I am ECSTATIC! I am over the moon excited for her birth! But today, I can’t help but think of my other sweet children I won’t get to birth. The children I won’t get to take pictures of and post to social media to show the world. I have three precious children I only know in my heart, and for that I am a bit sad.

After Timothy passed, we did a community Celebration of Life service. I’d also had a dream where I met him and needed to share how real he is/was with our friends and loved ones. After Evelyn passed, we couldn’t bring ourselves to put another service together. I don’t know if it was the losing two babies in six months that was too hard, or the fact that she was a girl, or what other things factored in. But after losing Evelyn, Brett and I were broken. We just couldn’t seem to pull it together, and in a way, we didn’t care to try.

There is a song “We Dance” by Bethel Music that I have listened to hundreds of times the past year. The lyrics have sustained me through hours and hours of crying, heartbreak, and helped to reset my heart to truth: “I’ve been told to pick up my sword and fight for love. Little did I know that Love had won for me… When my faith gets tired and my hope seems lost, you spin me around and around and remind me of that song you wrote for me and we dance…and I will lock eyes with the One Who’s ransomed me, the One who gave me joy for mourning. And I will lock eyes with the One who’s chosen me, the One Who set my feet to dancing.”

I hoped, declared, and believed this past year was going to be one of immense blessings and joy. I literally danced my way into my 30s and then crashed hard to the floor and, at times, wasn’t sure I’d ever actually get up. But here I am, five days from my 31st birthday, seven days (or less) from the birth of my daughter, and I find myself completely alive, completely hope-filled, completely faithFUL of the goodness of God. This past year has been one of my toughest and most trying. Between heartbreak, pregnancy complications and sickness, and the process of mourning and battling fear, this past year (and more) has felt like one low valley. But I am still here and with every passing day that I have chosen to worship and praise Him, He has faithfully walked me through the valley and restored my Hope that seemed so lost. He’s truly given me joy for my mourning and set my feet to dancing again!

As excited as I am to welcome my birthday, the next year of life and the amazing life that is about to be birthed, it felt important to take a moment to remember those we have said goodbye to and also the faithfulness of God that has walked me/us through every tear. Jesus is good, He is faithful, and He is worthy of it all.

Nathan, Timothy, and Evelyn- I cannot wait to see you all face to face when I get to Heaven. Mommy loves you and remembers you every day. I will never forget you.

Esther Hope- thank you for being our sixth child. We are beyond excited to welcome you to our family this week and so appreciate the hope that you and Jesus have restored in our lives.

Community: A Mother’s Blessing

Some blog posts are written and posted in the same hour. Others, I sit on for a day or two before making public. This post is so dear to my heart, I originally wrote it months ago and am now reforming it with my continued process (and it is lengthy enough to prove it). I don’t have community all figured out, but I do have some passionate thoughts and incredible experiences with it that I’d like to share:

I have found that the word “community” is too vague for all the meanings it carries for me. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone and my community was filled with judgmental attitudes and left me feeling unsafe to make mistakes or show my weaknesses. After leaving home for college, my community became the people I socialized with at school. They loved to party as much as I did and our bonds were built on agreement of fun and kept very surface. After marrying Brett and heading to the NFL, my community became NFL wives. We all had a common plight, we knew the unglamorous side to pro football and we had the ability to validate each other’s hardships while the world accused us of having the “perfect life”.

These communities I described were all inner circles of people that I did daily life with. People I faced in the workplace, classroom, in stores and at events. For years, I lived my day-to-day life with people that I kept at bay and carefully chose which parts of me you could know and see. Very few people (like three total) were let into my most inner circle and shown my weaknesses. In fact, I enjoyed that I didn’t have to be vulnerable with people- I could selectively choose who knew what about me for a long time. I remember having a neighbor who really hurt me when we lived in Ohio. Instead of choosing to pursue any kind of reconciliation, my thought was, “Oh well, we’ll be moving soon anyway and I’ll never have to see her again.” (Mental facepalm). Let me give context: we moved a total of 14 times in 7 years because of football. If Brett and I wanted to have friends and community, we had to dive in quickly because those people could be gone in a matter of months, sometimes weeks. There were times we tried too hard and scared people away. There were times we didn’t put ourselves out there enough and spent months with a team, lonely. We tried everything.

By the time we found our current church in 2011, we were a bit traumatized in the community department. We felt everyone we met would “want” something from us. We had experienced the football super fans, the people who think we owe them free tickets and memorabilia simply because he’s a player, and those who just wanted to show others they knew you. As we started the school of ministry, we began to dive deeply with our small groups and leaders. We found a place of safety to share our pain and mistakes. As we let people into our private lives, they didn’t use and abuse us, but instead celebrated and loved us. By 2012, I began praying intentionally and asked the Lord to send me a “best friend”. Around the same time, the Lord asked me to share Brett and my testimony of our marriage issues at church. Only a few people in the world knew that story and it felt like the biggest risk EVER to put it out there for people to hear, judge, criticize, and spread. I was shaking as I told the PG version of our story to our congregation. Afterward, countless people began to come thank us for sharing and said they had a similar story. I was shocked.

Opening up to others in a way that they could really know me seemed like the worst thing in the world for so long. Partly this was a learned behavior but some of it was due to trauma. When I was 19, I struggled with depression and a boyfriend who treated me terribly. My coping mechanism at the time was alcohol and I eventually drank far too much for far too long and decided ending my life was better than facing the pain. I tried to commit suicide one night and he found me unconscious and without a pulse. I was taken to the hospital where doctors worked tirelessly resuscitating me and by the time I miraculously regained consciousness, the entire town had been informed of my actions by the 911 dispatcher who I’d gone to high school with, as she had found it worthy of risking her job to share the gossip. I spent a few days in ICU and each day hospital employees who worked with my mom would come in and berate me for my actions, telling me I’d shamed my parents and my actions could never be forgiven. My experience of people knowing my mistakes was a nightmare. Opening up my life for others to see the less attractive parts was not my dream. Keeping on my masks seemed far more appealing for a long time.

In 2012, Brett finished his football career with the Buccaneers. When he played his final game, we wanted to head back to Nashville, to our church community, with every ounce of our hearts. There we had found unconditional acceptance. The leaders there knew our shortcomings and loved us anyway. Within this community, we were no longer “the quarterback and his wife” but known solely as Brett and Shailey. We moved back to Nashville and worked on getting jobs and settled. By 2013, we were asked to lead and host a Life Group. This meant we would open our home to other couples every week and do intimate life with them. This meant further vulnerability in daily life, not just the context and safety of ministry school. We said “yes” before we could chicken out. Within a couple weeks, we had seven other couples coming to our home every week to discuss marriage and parenting and every other intimate topic young couples face today. As we worked through each chapter of a study we did, Holy Spirit would ask Brett and I to share our story and what we’d been through. At first, I was filled with fear that we were overwhelming others and were too dramatic. But as time went by, the other couples began to confide in us the struggles they were facing. I began to see that our vulnerability was breeding more vulnerability. It was creating a safe place to not have it all together but to be in process.

Having the freedom to be in process and fully accepted is exactly what Jesus modeled for us with His disciples. He chose the people around him who were not qualified and often even social outcasts. In our world today, we would look to people with a shiny platform, millions of “followers” and who are well put together and call them “leaders”. However, that wasn’t the standard Jesus used to form His community of intimate relationships. He chose ordinary people and walked out intimate life with them day-to-day. He corrected them when needed, loved them unconditionally, and pressed in when He knew they’d betray or deny Him. Jesus’ idea of covenant relationship is a whole new level than what we do today. But what if we’re called to that kind of relationship? The kind where we press in continually. Where our connection is based on understanding and love, not agreement.

We have now been hosting our Life Group for over three years. Couples have come and gone, seasons have shifted and we’ve changed how we run it. But we love it. The other couples who attend regularly have become some of our closest friends. We are all now parents and are digging through the trenches of parenthood together. We challenge each other to press into our marriages, we sympathize with each other’s struggles and we pray for one another. We rarely agree in our opinions, but it doesn’t matter as we all seek to understand one another, not agreement. It is a group of people who truly bring me life. I am 100% transparent and vulnerable with them, and they are the same with me. It hasn’t come quickly, its taken time to gain trust, but it is absolutely worth it. Recently, the Lord gave me a revelation about this group/season that rocked my world.

Last year, our group consisted of five couples who all got pregnant within five consecutive months. Each of us ladies was due one after another. Due dates fell in June, July, August, September, and I was due with our son, Timothy, in October. By April 2015, we were dealing with the loss of our beloved son. The other couples in our Life Group were those who showed up in our living room with their pregnant bellies to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I am here.” Couples who’ve been in our group in the past were included in the people who helped us make Timothy’s Celebration of Life service happen on such short notice. Those people, staff members, and other amazing people at our church were the ones who showed up and were there for us (as well as our family, obviously). Our hearts were broken but we pressed on. June came and the babies in our Life Group began to arrive. By August we knew we were expecting our daughter, Evelyn, and were excited to be a part of the expectant parents again. It is still a process though, and the babies kept coming and every week, all the new parents and new babies would show up in our house and I would face the loss of our son that should have been, over and over. In many ways, all the babies, all the showers, all the constant baby talk felt inescapable. But I tried to stay encouraged, knowing my time would come! Then, in October, when I should have been giving birth to our son, we found out we’d also lost our daughter Evelyn. It all seemed too much. The pain, the heartache, the grief- it was too big for a person to bear. And to make it worse, as all my closest friends showed up to comfort us, they had living babies with them, the same babies my children should have been growing up with. I questioned ending, or at least taking a break from, our Life Group more than once. Thursdays felt like a torture session in my own home. I didn’t know if I could bare it.

But God kept encouraging me to press in. Multiple times, the group would show up and ask how we were doing and before I knew it, the whole night had passed and all that had happened was Brett and I bawling and losing it before them and it ending in them praying for us. This made me uncomfortable because now I felt like they were showing up to the Brett and Shailey Grief Show. But the other couples reassured us again and again they loved us and wanted to be here. When we conceived our sixth child, the couples in our Life Group were the first to know, first to celebrate with us, and those who prayed with us through every “scare”. One night, when they all arrived for Life Group, I was so sick I just sat in the corner dry heaving over a trash can. Each woman took a turn getting me a cold cloth, praying for me, and encouraging me. This was SO vulnerable and difficult to let them love on me, but I was so physically weak, I had to simply receive.

Recently, I have been processing with the Lord about the past two years and all the difficulty. One of the things that really bothered me is why He let me host a bunch of pregnant couples and their new babies at my home while I went through the death and loss of two of mine. His answer was simple,

“They were a part of your healing process. They were the ‘best friend’ you prayed for. The fact that none of them ever ran away, shied away, or avoided you showed you true love and acceptance no matter your life situation. These relationships modeled unconditional love in response to your discomfort, pain, loss and weakness. They returned to you what you’ve been building in vulnerable, deep, covenant relationship. This was a part of your healing.”

img_0518These same women recently threw me a baby shower of sorts called a Mother’s Blessing. Their attention to detail was astounding. They intentioned to not only shower me with love and celebration, but they took the time to recognize me as a mother of six children and bless me in all that encompasses. Every detail from the food served, the blessing spoken, the decor and the things they asked to guests to prepare to bless me, blew me away. These women know me intimately. They have seen my good, bad and ugly and still choose me. They are Jesus with skin on in my daily world and I am forever grateful.

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Betsy, Katie, Me, and Mary at my Mother’s Blessing

I know now the Lord wasn’t just pointing to the healing of our child loss, but the healing of all the rejection and hurts we’ve received over the years. Yes, pressing into imperfect people will guarantee you pain and disappointment. However, I now see that that process of intimate relationship with others is exactly what grows, refines, shapes and molds us into deep lovers and makes us reflect more of Him. If you’re still reading this, I am guessing you too are looking for people who will love and accept you unconditionally. Instead, BE a person who loves and accepts without condition. Don’t go looking for the perfect people, be the person you would want to be in relationship with. The Golden Rule will absolutely lead you to a place of loving people that will disappoint and hurt you, but you reap what you sow. Sow unconditional love. Even though sharing who you really are is super scary and hard, the community you build around you is waiting for you to be you, so they can be them. Invite Jesus to lead you, guide you and teach you how to love as He loves, and you’ll find there is amazing fruit awaiting. It will take time, and everything you have, but it is absolutely worth everything you pour into it.

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The only time I have seen all six of my children’s names printed together.

Choosing Grace

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The past three months have been filled with adventure, blessings, and frustrations. As a family, we have traveled to many exciting destinations, dealt with multiple unexpected hardships, and experienced huge transitions. To name a few major moments: we went on a mission trip as a family, Brett traveled to South Africa, we’ve endured quite a few housing repair issues, I’ve entered into the third trimester of pregnancy, the kids have started public school for the first time, and much more. I consider us to be an incredibly blessed family and even as we face hard circumstances, we encourage one another to choose a good attitude knowing we cannot always control what goes on around us, but we can choose our response.

With that said, I realized recently that in the hustle and bustle of working through these major transitions, we may have unintentionally invalidated the level of stress and trauma we’ve actually been in. In the past 20 months, we have conceived three children, but lost two in late miscarriages. These were literally life and death events that rocked our world and broke our hearts. Each of us had to work through levels of grief and disappointment that, at times, felt crippling. Somewhere along the line, I believe I may have made a “point scale” if you will, of which traumas matter and which don’t. For example, I subconsciously decided that if you have a child die (or similar loss) that would be a 10 on the scale and worthy of pausing and needing to be dealt with intentionally. Sadly, I think I also subconsciously decided that all other traumas (leaking sewage pipes, fallen trees in the yard, pregnancy sickness, financial distresses, etc) all scaled much lower and simply needed a “good attitude” to be dealt with until Jesus provided an answer or time moved us past it.

It’s funny how when I consciously think about this “scale” I’ve created in my head, I see it as insanity, lacking all needed mercy and grace, and is absolutely unhelpful in the long run. However, I somehow adopted this belief enough to operate from it the past couple of months. So much so, that I have allowed trauma to build up and I have had physical manifestations this week in the form of a panic attack and multiple meltdowns (I also recognize that pregnancy hormones are probably contributing). By Thursday this week, I was able to acknowledge I needed to take some time to connect with the Father and work through releasing the trauma I have been carrying unintentionally all summer. Then our daughter had her meltdown…

All parents have been there: that moment when your child has the completely uncharacteristic public meltdown that makes no sense logically and everyone in the universe seems to be in attendance for the show. We got to the dance studio that Elle has been taking classes from for two years. She knows the teacher, has been excited for fall classes to begin, and loves to dance. However, as we headed in, we had the perfect storm of stressors that positioned her heart and mind in fear and frustration and when she made it to the door, the class was filled with new (slightly older) dancers, and she was paralyzed by fear and couldn’t enter. To start, I was shocked and harshly told her to “just go in”. Then the contraction I was breathing through intensified, her insistent “NO, I can’t!” got louder, and my patience disappeared. We went the rounds for twenty minutes. That’s right, TWENTY MINUTES! It evolved to her crying, me trying to force her in the room, Brett trying to intervene, and other dancers/parents trying awkwardly not to watch. I literally felt like I was in a bad movie scene of someone else’s life. The whole thing was foreign for all of us and completely uncharacteristic to how she behaves and we respond as parents. By the end, my contraction settled down, I was able to make eye contact and lovingly tell her that she may not run away but she doesn’t have to do this alone. We held hands as we calmly (but still upset) walked into the class and she hesitantly joined in. Once she was settled down more, we talked again and I was able to step back outside the class (per the studio’s policy of no parents in the classroom) and watch from the door window.

As I finished watching the final twenty minutes of class from the window, I could hear voices of condemnation pointing to how horribly I’d handled myself, that she had embarrassed herself in front of her peers, and I probably defiled her into the whole thing by not handling myself well recently to start with. The other moms in the hallway were avoiding eye contact and I began hearing how disgusted they must be. You name it, the shame began piling on. THEN- in one fraction of a clear moment I had the thought, “None of this sounds anything like my Jesus or something I’d ever want Elle to believe.” That one thought gave me the courage to pray and ask Jesus to help take those thoughts captive and replace them with His truths. Immediately, I started hearing a loving voice reminding me of how if this had happened to one of those other moms, I’d have been silently praying for them, extending grace and possibly even a verbal encouragement at the end. Jesus started reminding me that He suffered on the cross so that I do not have to live under condemnation and shame, but rather I get to receive unending grace and a love that casts out all fear. As I watched Elle, I repented for partnering with fear and control and began to forgive myself and receive His forgiveness. I allowed Him to remind me that I am not needed to be a perfect parent, but simply one who faces her mistakes and shows her children what it looks like to clean up a mess and walk out grace and forgiveness, cloaked in intense love. Right there, in the hallway, I choose grace for myself. I wasn’t excusing my poor choices, but rather allowing the Prince of Peace to come wipe them away and replace them with a peace that surpasses understanding. As I sat and dealt with what we call Kingdom Business, I watched Elle fill with confidence and peace on the other side of the door too. You see, as my daughter, under my covering of authority, she receives whatever inheritance I hand down. As I stood there choosing grace for myself, I watched Holy Spirit fill her with the same love and boldness that was pouring into me. Parents, when we choose to partner with His promises, they are not just for us, but all those within our sphere of influence.

I’ll be real, this was only one example of me falling apart this week (it happened way more than I’d care to admit) but it ended with a big win. If I can encourage another mom, parent or human to remember that they are loved regardless of their behavior and that choosing grace for themselves in the midst of blowing it is possible, then here you go. Great parents are not those who are perfect in public and who’s kids (seemingly) never act out. Great parents are the ones who can make mistakes, allow their kids to make mistakes, and continue to prioritize love and connection over public appearance. It would have been much easier to just give up and walk out, flustered and embarrassed. It would have been easier to hide in the bathroom as I give my child a piece of my mind or squash her into submission and show everyone in attendance that I am a parent who is in control of her child (not a real thing, by the way). Instead, I cried with my daughter and showed her that together we can face fear, hardships, and our mistakes. We can be bold and hold hands as we press into a scary situation that we’ve already embarrassed ourselves in. I showed her that we do not have to partner with shame but we can clean up our messes with Holy Spirit and each other.

At the end of the class, another teacher/parent we know came and asked me how I was doing and if Elle was okay. Because I was able to choose grace for myself, I was able to hear her question through a filter of care and concern, not condemnation. I explained what had happened, that I’d blown it initially but where I had landed and that Elle was now doing fine. Just then, Elle walked out and announced she’d made a new friend and liked the class. The teacher looked at me with kindness and sincerity and said, “Wow, you all have endured so much and yet you do such a great job of prioritizing love. Great job mom!” I was shocked and blessed to realize that is her perspective from the outside looking in on my chaos. I am so grateful I didn’t let the enemy convince me otherwise.

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