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.