Mass Shootings

“What can you do today to make a change to stop mass shootings?” -K. Cheney

Wednesday evening, as Brett and I met with our team of youth group volunteers, we were informed that 17 people had been shot and killed that afternoon at a Florida High School. We chatted about it quickly, prayed and headed out to greet our teens for Wednesday night church. As the night wore on, I was continually grieved to think about how close to home this is. Our students span over six different public high schools, and multiple homeschool tutorials. Any one of them could have had this horrific shooting happen at their school that day. Thankfully, they didn’t. But what can I do about it? My aunt in Colorado posted the above question to Facebook with rules about responses needing to be respectful, specific, and personally owned. Within our team, we call this being “Solution minded, not issue focused”. It inspired me to share some thoughts I have been processing about the topic of gun violence and school/mass shootings.

I grew up hunting my whole life. My dad taught me gun safety from as early as I could hold a gun up. I was taught to respect the weapon and the animal life we took with it for our food. I am in no way anti-gun, nor am I afraid of the guns themselves. I don’t actually think guns are the problem AND I believe we should have more wisdom poured into our laws for gun ownership. Personally, I believe hurting people are the problem. We have a saying at our church that our little family lives by, “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.” You’ll frequently hear us asking in our home, “Are you hurting or healing people right now? What does that say about what’s happening in your heart? What are you needing right now?” My kids will ask each other, Brett and myself this, too. We have committed to checking in with our hearts and others, and doing everything in our power to help foster a safe environment to work through our heart hurts and bring healing to pain.

Personally, I believe the problem we actually have at hand is that we have too many hurting people walking around lonely, tormented, fearful, disillusioned, and filled with fantasies of revenge because they have no safe place to face their pain and are isolated from healthy community that brings love and healing. We all face hard moments in life. Everyone has been embarrassed, bullied, experienced loss or hardship. Death and sickness are no respecter of persons. We all experience these painful moments of life. But the difference is do we have people and healthy community around us to help process it? Are we given space to grieve loss, with love to help hold us? Do you have someone there to validate your pain from embarrassment or loneliness at a new school, job, etc.? Or are you left alone to let fear build up, pain harden your heart, and bitterness to take over?

Are you a hurt person who is going around hurting people? Or are you a healed person, spreading love and fostering healing to those in your community? The truth is, you are doing a mass shooting of something to the people around you already, but is it a pouring out of love, forgiveness, kindness, and blessing OR are you spewing hate, condemnation, accusation, and making everyone around you walk on eggshells? Check your facebook posts, consider your most frequent conversations. Are they building others up and instilling confident love, or spraying others with slime of gossip and pointing the finger? None of us get this right all the time, but even when you do catch yourself making a mistake, are you humble enough to apologize and seek forgiveness?

Brett and I have dedicated our lives to Christ. In doing so, He asked us to spend this season of life loving our teenagers. We spend our waking hours praying for our teens and their families, planning safe and fun events where they can come enjoy life and feel safe enough to share their burdens. We create sermons and teachings about healthy community and call our teenagers, team, and ourselves to a higher standard of loving others well, even at the cost of our own comfort. We teach about healthy grief and make space in small groups for our teens and team to share their burdens with one another and allowing them to be exactly where they are in their process. We do NOT always get it right nor are we perfect at any of this. But our dream and goal is to point people to the love of their Savior and have a lot of fun doing it. I cannot tell you how many times teens have told me that they were struggling with thoughts of self harm, suicide, etc, but then when they came to youth and realized that someone cared about them, they realized they never actually wanted any of those things. They simply needed an outlet for the pain and didn’t see any other options in the moment.

So what can you do? It doesn’t need to be a huge grandiose gesture of political change, or even something public. Maybe start with yourself. Are you healthy, considering your mind, body and spirit? What’s one thing you could do today to be kind to your own heart? Then move on to your family. Do they feel safe to share with you? Maybe ask them how they experience you and what they need from you. Be safe enough for them to share and create a policy in your home of choosing to be healed people who heal people with love (this is a process by the way, not a destination or something we master). Finally, how can you get involved in your own community? How can you be someone for somebody? Each one of us has our own unique calling and purpose. Yours does not need to look like mine, nor mine yours. Ask God, “Who is my people group?” You may realize you already knew or maybe, like me, He will surprise you completely.

I never dreamed once that I would be a Youth Pastor. However, one of my greatest discoveries this year has been that I never loved myself as a teenager. Through this position, I am coming to the truth that teenagers are INCREDIBLE! Teen years are meant to be full of joy and adventure. As teens, we should be delighted in by our parents and the world. I now look back at teenage Shailey and have a joy and love for the hurting girl that had no clue how wonderful she is/was. As I have come to a place of healing for my own teenage self, I get to bring healing to my teenagers as well. It is a honor and joy. If you have never worked with children or teenagers, pray about getting involved. Sowing health, truth, and love into the youth of today will create a healthier and more loving future for all of us. So what can you do today to make a change to stop mass shootings?

Ten Years to Hope

Ten years ago today, I woke up hung over. I had been on a nearly forty day binge of drinking to numb my pain, confusion, shame, and heartbreak. As I sat up out of bed, I audibly heard the voice of God say, “Knock it off.” The fear of the Lord overtook me as I sobered immediately. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I’d never be the same.

I realized recently that I hadn’t yet written about this part of my testimony in depth. However, I have been overcome with thanksgiving this month as I have reflected on my ten year journey with the Lord and I know it is time to be released. Our God, the creator of the universe, is the most intimate and intentional person we could ever know or come to love. Jesus Christ changed my life forever and I am delighted to share.

In 2007, Brett and I were still in our first year of marriage. We both had some serious drinking problems and spent six of our first twelve months of marriage apart. In this time, we both got into mischief and our relationship was mostly non-existent. I worked hard to keep up a facade that everything was perfect. He’d signed a contract with the Jets and had moved to New York. I stayed behind in Utah to finish my degree. Brett was out living up the single life with the other rookie players and I was at home wrestling with jealousy, pride, control, anxiety, and much more. By the time I arrived in New York at the end of the summer, our marriage was a mess. I wanted to get into Law School as quickly as possible and needed to prove my worth to the world with my accomplishments, and Brett seemed to be in the way. Within weeks of my move, I was asking for a divorce. Then, I found out we were pregnant with our first child.

I was devastated. I cursed a God I didn’t believe in for giving me a child I didn’t want. I tried to show excitement on the exterior because that was the right thing to do, but on the inside, I felt like my life was over and that this tied me to Brett even further. God, in His Jehovah Sneaky way, began to plant seeds and water those He’d already been placing in my heart. We were connected with a married couples Bible study that was happening for players and their wives and even though I felt what they taught was crazy, I was willing to try something. As August, September, and October went by, I began to get excited about the baby and saw some small specks of hope for our marriage. We talked names and decided if it were a boy, we’d name him Nathan Darrell. (I knew it was a boy in my heart.)

Then, on November 8th, 2007, my whole world was rocked. The baby I had just started falling in love with was gone and so were the tiny bits of hope I had gotten excited about. The doctor told me not to worry, that this is far more common that people think. Problem was, I didn’t know ANYONE who had had a miscarriage like this and I felt completely alone. On the drive home, I clearly heard messages of shame in my mind. My own voice turned on me and told me lies about how it was probably my fault because I didn’t want the baby in the first place. As I started texting my family and friends to let them know I’d lost the baby, shame and fear consumed me. I couldn’t breathe and I certainly couldn’t face it all. As we pulled into our little neighborhood, I told Brett to stop at the liquor store. I purchased all the vodka I could and headed home to drown out the voices that were screaming of my failure.

Back then, I was a functioning drinker. I started the day with a vodka and orange juice (mostly vodka) and could continue through my day sipping to keep a solid buzz until about three or four in the afternoon. Then I would turn it on high and drink until I couldn’t stand straight. Typically, Brett was the only one who would see me this drunk. I was a master of hiding it. I kept a strong mask on for the world, then would fall apart and abuse Brett with my words. I would yell at him if he even dared mention my drinking. I hid a lot from him too, so it took him a while to figure out just how much I was drinking. The real issue was that I couldn’t handle the pain. I had no hope and needed to numb constantly. I drank non-stop every day from November 8th until December 15th, when I sat up out of bed and the Lord said, “Knock it off.”

Sobered and shaken, I started by walking downstairs and dumping every drop of alcohol I had down the drain. I had been learning about God from the other women at the Bible study Brett initially drug me to, but I didn’t know or trust Him. I was afraid He might strike me with a lightning bolt or something, and I didn’t want to risk it. Next, I called a friend from the Bible studies who had told me she had a drinking past. She came over and I outed myself. I told her about my drinking and she prayed with me. The next ten days I spent feeling pretty ill and wondering what was next. Then on Christmas morning, ten days later, I found out I was pregnant again, this time with our daughter, Elle.

I will never forget that morning. First, I had delight and relief. I could get pregnant again! Next, I felt fear of what would happen and what if I did damage to the baby with my drinking? Then the sobering reality hit me like a ton of bricks. God stopped me from drinking and ruining this baby’s life! I had no clue I was pregnant (nor how far along I was yet) and I was drinking myself away, thinking it only affected me. But here I was, carrying the life of another, and God in His incredible mercy intervened and got me to stop drinking! I had no clue what to do with that. At that time, I lived by the law of justice. You get what you deserve and you deserve what you get. You make choices and live with the consequences. I chose to drink heavily and should have had to deal with the consequences of possibly losing another child. Instead, He spoke to me, woke me up, and saved the life of this baby. I didn’t know yet that mercy is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve- but I was fully experiencing it! That day shook every paradigm I lived by at my core. I spent the next couple of months earnestly searching, trying to find this God that was clearly interested in my life.

In early January, we had our first ultrasound and found out the baby was healthy, growing perfectly and that it was due in August. We lived in constant fear of another miscarriage and never spoke of the child we’d lost. We didn’t know how. It felt best to simply move on, but neither Brett’s nor my heart actually could. In February, another couple sponsored us to attend a Christian conference for NFL players and their wives. At that conference, Erwin McManus spoke about a man named Jesus who came to save the lost. This Jesus spent His time with the sinners and rebuked the religious hypocrites of His day. It rocked my world, and my heart shifted. I knew this was the God I wanted to live my life for. So with urgency and excitement, I grabbed Erwin as he finished speaking and told him I wanted to give my life to Jesus! He prayed a prayer with me and encouraged me to get baptized when I got home. I told him I wanted to get baptized now and later that day he water baptized me in the hotel hot tub. I truly felt like a new person!

As my second pregnancy progressed, I found my heart struggling to attach for fear of losing the baby again, but I remained silent about it. In the spring, another wife on the team pulled me aside. In a small whisper she told me she was so sorry for my loss. She told me she knew my pain because she too had suffered a miscarriage before having her children. I thanked her quietly but inside, I raged. I was so angry that she waited so long to say this. I had spent months struggling with the lie that I was the only one who knew this pain. The shame of being the one defect woman in the world that lost a baby was swallowing me up, and here she could have said something, but waited for months.

I realized that day how important it is for us humans to know that someone else can relate to our experience, that we are not the isolated issue, but that someone else can truly empathize with our situation. I decided then that I would speak out loud about our loss.

Shortly after, I went in for the twenty week ultrasound. This is the one you find out the gender and ensure that growth and development is okay. I was nervous. What if they did find a defect of some kind due to my early drinking? Would I ever be able to live with myself? As the tech counted ten perfect fingers and toes, all the organs, and every other perfect little part of my beautiful daughter, my heart was overcome with relief, love, and gratitude. God truly had saved my baby and blessed me with a princess. That night, I had a dream of Elle. In the dream, I was holding her, nursing her, and protecting her. It was the first kiss of unconditional love I’d ever really understood, and I knew I’d never be the same.

That fall, on 8/8/2008, our precious Ellenor Shai was born on Brett’s birthday. It was truly the mark of New Beginnings. I’d given my life to Jesus, our daughter was born healthy and perfect, and our journey of coming to know the Father’s love was well on it’s way. In the years since, God gave us Johnny Brett, resurrected and redeemed our marriage, and took us on a wild adventure of six teams and six years in the NFL. Next, He introduced us to our greatest helper and friend- Holy Spirit, taught us about inner healing, called us to full-time ministry in Nashville, and invited us to have more children. Jesus walked us through two more miscarriages when Timothy Luke and Evelyn Ruth graduated to Heaven (which brought us full circle to actually addressing our loss of Nathan Darrell and healing our hearts fully from these losses) and eventually gave us our sweet rainbow baby, Esther Hope.

As I close, I sit here sobbing with thanksgiving and wonder. Ten years ago, I had no hope. I didn’t even understand what hope could be or mean in my life. Today, I have suffered more loss and endured pain beyond what I thought I could ever handle, yet I am fully alive, awake to the beauty of love and loss, and completely filled with a restored HOPE that I never thought possible. In a decade’s time, Jesus has saved me from myself and filled me with His love. He is my Rock, my Comforter, my Savior, and my Everything. There was a point in 2009 that I was faced with choosing my way or seeking after His (because I still didn’t really know what it was). It was time to make a decision and never turn back. I bought myself a wedding band for my right hand and had “I choose Him” inscribed on the inside. Hands down, seeking Jesus’ presence and His way is the best decision I’ve ever made. The past ten years have changed everything and brought a beauty to my world I never could have imagined. I cannot wait to see what He has in store for the next ten years, because I am truly filled with Hope: the confident expectation of good.

Don’t Deny Me

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The daffodils we planted in our back yard in remembrance of our Heavenly babies.

When we found out two years ago today that our fourth child, Timothy, had passed away, daffodils were in bloom everywhere. It was as if God was speaking to me about life in the midst of death. I cannot look at daffodils now without thinking of my three children in Heaven. Daffodils bloomed early this year in Nashville. We had an unusually warm winter and it confused everyone, including the flowers. The past month has had many thankful yet sad tears as I have continued to mourn the loss of our babies seeing these flowers everywhere, but simultaneously celebrating the sweet baby we do have.

Speaking of celebrating, Esther will be six months old on Monday! That is crazy to me. How have six months passed by already? The time has been filled with joy, delight, sweet moments, and constant celebration. All this goodness wasn’t just for our family. I have delighted in seeing our community, family and friends celebrate with us. Everyone who sees Esther loves to ham it up with her and tell us how happy they are for us. Genuine delight comes to everyone who remembers our journey of loss, life, and restored hope over the past two years. Why? Because they too experienced it all with us.

So many women do not share when they experience a loss like miscarriage. Don’t hear judgement in that statement- I absolutely understand why! It is so intimate, personal, vulnerable and comes with a plethora of emotions that take time to unfold and process. However, I can say that as we shared our journey with those around us, we found ourselves scooped up in their arms and covered in their prayers. Others cried with us, supported us, and lifted us up. After we lost our fifth child, Evelyn, I felt so broken. I didn’t want to be going through another hardship, let alone announce it! But we did. It is who we are and what we are called to. Living our lives out loud is what Brett and I do. And while sharing our journey did come with some bumps and pains, it mostly let people in to love us well.

Then came our sixth child, our sweet Esther. With her pregnancy came prayers and support like you cannot imagine. Because others knew the loss we’d endured, they saturated us in prayers and love. When we had lost our hope, others hoped for us. And when we burst forth from our season of darkness, the moment Esther took her first breathe and screamed out in that delivery room, all of our people cheered with us! We have been on one big celebration train for six months. Everyone loves to see God’s faithfulness, and when we let them see it in our lives they can delight with us.

I cannot imagine how different our journey would have looked had we decided two years ago to stay mum about our loss. We’d have walked through it with Jesus and He would have faithfully seen us through, but we would have had to hide so many emotions. The amount of stuffing would have been stifling. Even worse, we’d have had to grieve silently and alone. Then, when our moment of breakthrough came, some of the victory would have also been silent and alone.

My point isn’t that everyone has to do things my way. My point is that when we choose to walk our journey out “privately” we actually deny the people around us the opportunity to love us, support us, grieve with us and celebrate with us. I am asking that you don’t deny me this opportunity. As your friend, I would want to know what you’re going through. I want to climb down into that pit with you and cry with you. I want to love you well where you are and then celebrate big with you when Jesus comes through with your victory! Most of all, I don’t want you to go it all alone.

If what I am talking about seems foreign to you, then we humans have some room for growth. I know not all communities know how to walk through hardship together- but it IS possible! Jesus came to give life and life abundant. (John 10:10) We are not called to walk through life isolated and alone. He calls us to relationship with Him and with each other. I know for me, the most beautiful part of living my life publicly is the encouragement. I am encouraged when I hear other’s stories of breakthrough and have received so many private texts, emails, and calls from those who’ve been encouraged by sharing in my journey. I don’t have an answer to it all yet, but I know He does. And in celebration of the life of my son today, on the two year anniversary of his graduation to Heaven, I ask that you let someone in that you trust. Whatever you’re going through, don’t do it alone. Don’t deny me and others the opportunity to support you, celebrate with you, and be encouraged by His faithfulness in your life.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Hope Deferred

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Receiving prayer for our daughter Esther and this pregnancy by friends at our home.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13.12

Hope deferred. This is the state Brett and I have found ourselves in quite often the past year. Many days, we could come up for a breathe and felt we weren’t trapped by its grip. Others, we could feel it consuming our hope and making our hearts sick. Our journey of life and loss the past year has come with enormous waves of emotions. I am sure many of you have read my posts and heard them through your own filters and experience but the most honest truth is that it’s been a journey of uncertainty in myself while being completely certain of the goodness of God. I have a history of being someone who is run more by my logic than my emotion. I spent my younger years mocking people who were (in my opinion) overly emotional. As I have grown and matured a bit, I have come to realize my heart deserves a voice and while I don’t need to allow my emotions to drive me, I certainly need to validate and experience them. Walking through the past year of conceiving three times and miscarrying twice has brought a wealth of emotions I am ofter overwhelmed by and even frustrated with. Often in my grief, I find myself full of faith and hope knowing Jesus is still on the throne and I have nothing to fear. Other days, I am annoyed with the fact that my emotions are bouncing all over the place and I cannot seem to get my brain to slow down. Then there are days my hope seems lost, and although I know the sun will set and rise again tomorrow, I realize my hope is deferred and my heart feels sick.

I write about these deeply personal things to bring it into the light and encourage those who are facing trials that they are not alone, or a defect. The truth is that I can love and trust Jesus with all my heart while feeling absolutely hope deferred, weary, and even lost. Those feelings are not who I am, what I believe, or what defines me. They are simply that: feelings. Something I feel that I can choose to partner with or choose to experience and surrender to Jesus. The enemy of our souls wants to condemn us and make us fear that our feelings define our lack of faith or that they define us as “less than” what we hope to be. But this simply isn’t truth. Our emotions are not what define us nor are they the enemy. Our emotions are something God created when He created us in His image. With that in mind, surely, they must be important.

The dictionary defines hope as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”. Deferred is defined as “postponed or delayed”. So how do we handle life appropriately as a Christian when crisis hits?  When the thing we so hoped for is postponed or delayed, when our hearts are broken and the pain of life, or death, is consuming? I think we are called to face it, process it, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. In chapter 11 of the book of John, sisters Mary and Martha hoped for their sick brother Lazarus to be healed by their friend Jesus. Because of their history with Him, they certainly believed that what they wanted (their brother to live) could happen and that the events could turn out for the best if Jesus would show up in time. They sent for Him and hoped. Sadly, their brother Lazarus died and Jesus did not arrive in time. What Martha and Mary hoped for was postponed, delayed, and now maybe even felt impossible. When Jesus did show up, days later, they made some choices we can learn from and model. As Jesus approached Martha and Mary’s home, the sisters did not avoid Him, stonewall Him or even pretend nothing bad had happened. Instead, they rushed to Him and boldly approached Him with their feelings. Martha said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” I hear Martha saying two things here: first, she is upset that He didn’t do what she had hoped for the way she had expected it. Second, she is resubmitting her hope to Him and in Him, declaring her trust in Jesus. Next, Mary came running to Jesus. She was much more public with her emotions and approached Him weeping as she said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Verse 33 says “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,” then He wept with her! He didn’t scold her for being emotional in front of the community and showing a lack of faith. He didn’t shame her for displaying her disappointment publicly. Instead, He synced with her and wept with her, meeting her sorrow and disappointment with compassion, all the while fully knowing He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. This would have been an ideal moment to put her in her place in front of the onlookers, point out her faults to save face. But He didn’t. He stopped, he met her with compassion and love, and spent time with her in her grief before moving on to resurrect her brother (spoiler alert). How often do we think Jesus would never meet us with patience and compassion because the people around us don’t know how to do it, or we don’t know how to?

When I lost Timothy last year, I laid in bed one day crying and asking Jesus for help. In my mind’s eye, I could see Him laying in my bed in front of me weeping with me. For months, this is what He would show me every time I was crying out for Him. It got really old after a while and I got frustrated because I wanted Him to FIX my situation, not cry over it. When I threatened to stop crying with Him, he gently showed me it was what my heart really needed. We had been given many words about Timothy’s life being about redemption. Timothy dying in my womb didn’t feel redeeming but as I wept with Jesus over and over, He showed me that He was redeeming the time I never got to mourn the loss of our first son, Nathan, and so many other hurts and disappointments from the past that I didn’t know how to face. The thing is, we can run from our hurts and pain, but it doesn’t make them disappear. If we choose to avoid these hoping time will “fix” us, we end up with a heart of stone and cannot show compassion or love to others in their grief, loss, and pain. Time does not heal all wounds, the love of Christ and those around us does.

When something we have hoped for, prayed for, longed for is delayed and seemingly never going to happen, the temptation may be to give up, hide, stonewall or deny the desire of our hearts. I know for me, I used to believe if I didn’t hope for something to start with then I couldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t happen. (I can testify that did not work well for me but did make me a cold stoney hearted person who didn’t know how to dream.) Instead, what we can do is run full force into the arms of Jesus with our pain, our emotions, our disappointments and weep with Him. We can fix our eyes on Him and declare our faith that He can do all things. We can proclaim that He can work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8.28) until we actually see it happen. This is not to deny our feelings but instead to give power to Christ and His good plans for us. Our feelings are not meant to run our lives but they are important and meant to be experienced, validated, and processed.

I would love to say that at this point Brett and I are all good, we have no more difficult emotions and are not in a place of hope deferred. But that would only be part of the truth. We are doing really well, but we are also challenged from time to time with doubt and fear. Temptation to lose hope for our dreams for this child raises its ugly head here and there. In fact, I had a horrible dream a couple weeks ago that the baby had passed away and I woke up sobbing. Even this week, I had more physical complications that indicated miscarriage and we had do go in for our fifth ultrasound (everything is fine, again). However, I now have an established and deep relationship to take those fear filled, hope deferred emotions to. I can surrender it to the Someone Who can take it from me and for me. The enemy may come to steal, kill and destroy but Jesus came to give me (and you) LIFE and LIFE ABUNDANT. So I will process with Him, I will talk it out with Him, and I will continue to trust Him. This is not always easy, or fast moving, but it is worth it. Because I have processed our journey and my emotions with Jesus, I am now being freed up to truly celebrate our sixth child, our daughter Esther (and that feeling is really great)! My heart may have felt sick many times the past year, but I am trusting, declaring and believing that my dream fulfilled will be a tree of life. If I have learned anything through this, its that if we cannot truly grieve, we cannot fully release our hearts to celebrate either. And I am ready to celebrate!

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Our daughter Esther ALIVE at 18 weeks! Check out that beautiful heartbeat.

Vulnerability

vulnerable

I was surprised last month when I looked up the definition of “vulnerable”. But as I contemplated on it more, it think it is truly fitting. Brett and I have chosen to share our journey the past 15 months publicly. As we have done this, we have left ourselves open to being hurt, misunderstood, judged, and criticized. While each of these things have happened, I am pleased to report that has not been the majority of the story. For the most part, we have been surrounded by loving people who want to support us, pray for us, come alongside us, and even mourn our losses with us. Being vulnerable and sharing our journey of pregnancy and miscarriage has been scary and exhausting at times. But we have most recently been in a season of reaping its good fruit, and I’d like to share:

January 2015, we were thrilled to announce the pregnancy of our 4th child, our son, Timothy Luke. We had previously thought we were done having children but God had opened our hearts to more and we were excited to experience the journey again. Like my first 3, this pregnancy was physically difficult, but as we approached week 12, I was elated to move into the second trimester, and hopefully, better health. We were SHOCKED at our 12 week appointment to learn our son had no heartbeat. It was the week of Easter, a time of celebrating the resurrection of our Savior and we decided to ask the Lord for the same for our son- a resurrection miracle. We waited 3 days and went back in for another ultrasound to see that he was gone. Heartbroken, I had surgery the next day, the day before Good Friday, and held a Celebration of Life Service for him the day before Easter.

We were surrounded that day by 60 of the loveliest friends who dropped their plans to comfort and mourn with us. It was a day of absolute heartbreak, but we were completely overwhelmed with tangible love and kindness. In the weeks following, we continued to have friends, and even people we didn’t know well, show up with food, encouraging notes, and love. Months later, we decided to try again and were elated to announce our 5th pregnancy, our daughter Evelyn, the week of Brett’s 30th birthday. So many people reached out to tell us they were praying with us and to encourage us. Complete strangers wrote us and told us our sharing had touched them and given them the courage to share about their “heavenly babies” too. As I made it through more months of first trimester sickness, I continued to be encouraged by friends and comforted as we faced our fears in the journey. Then, at our 12 week appointment, the day after Timothy’s due date, we headed in for our regularly scheduled appointment and met our worst nightmare. For my 30th birthday, we found out that Evelyn, our beloved daughter, had also passed. It didn’t make any sense. I hadn’t had ANY signs or symptoms to tell me she was gone. I had continued to be sick, and to even grow all the way to the day of the appointment.

At this point, I was so angry, I couldn’t even fathom facing people with our loss. I remember crying to our beloved pastors that day, throwing an absolute fit, and screaming that I didn’t want to go through all this again. I didn’t want to tell anyone and I didn’t want my family to have to grieve again just 6 months after losing Timothy. As we notified family and friends, our closest people showed up at our home and just cried with us. They didn’t say anything, they didn’t try to “fix” us, they were just there. They listened, they validated, and they loved us well. More people showed up with food, love and kindness. One stranger even gave us a check that covered the entire medical bill for my second surgery. The pain was unbearable but the tangible love of God’s people somehow carried us through it.

Months passed and we worked our way through the holidays in a sea of huge emotions. The waves of grief came at unexpected moments and we wondered if we’d ever have the strength to “try again.” Brett and I both sought counseling and inner healing from pastors at our church. We faced our anger, our hurt, our disappointment and took it to Jesus. We didn’t run, we didn’t hide- even in the moments we most wanted to. We allowed ourselves to feel the pain and disappointment. We allowed our close family and friends to hear our hearts break and although they couldn’t “do” anything to make it better, they were there. And they prayed.

Come January of this year, we were thrilled to find out we were expecting our 6th miracle. We chose to tell our close friends and family right away and asked them to pray with and for us. We knew this experience would not be easy to process and that we would need our “people” there for us. For safety precautions, our doctor decided to follow this pregnancy very closely. During week 5, we got a call that my blood work revealed we would probably miscarry. We were sent in for an early ultrasound, only to find that the baby was fine! Then, during week 6, I began to have signs of miscarriage and I was sent in for another ultrasound, only to find I was having hemorrhage issues, that did not appear to be bothering the baby as the baby was fine again! I was then put on medicine to help strengthen my uterus and told it would likely “intensify your morning sickness”. This was difficult news as my sickness was already in full swing and I was more sick than I had been in any of my previous pregnancies. Week 7, 8, and 9 were horrible. I found that I could barely function physically, and I began to deal with bouts of depression. By the end of week 9, I reached out to a dear friend and told her I thought maybe the medicine I was taking was causing the depression. She suggested I see my doctor immediately and my doctor agreed I was having an adverse reaction and it was time to come off it. (During this time we had the typical week 8 ultrasound that, again, showed a perfect and healthy baby). By week 10, the depression began to fade, but I got terribly sick and ended up with a sinus infection on top of the continued pregnancy sickness that was 24/7.

During all this, I had so many moments that I would lose it to Brett and tell him I didn’t think I could do this anymore. I had so many days I felt that I was failing. I was discouraged and often felt disoriented in my own head and body. The past 7 weeks have been some of the most difficult days of my life physically and emotionally. As the Bethel song “We Dance” says, I was in a place that my “faith felt tired and my hope seemed lost.” BUT- those are the moments that so many of you have reached out and encouraged me. Every day, another person would text me and say they just want me to know they are praying for me. Every day, someone has reached out with love and let me know they are fighting for me in prayer and in love and believing for the life of my little one. Many times, I was too sick to even respond. But then, somewhere around the 11th week, Brett and I realized that BECAUSE we had been vulnerable and BECAUSE we have shared our story with others, all of those people have been praying in faith and hope when we could not. We realized that even though our journey has been hard, and intimate, and difficult to share, we are now reaping the good fruit of vulnerability in that we have a community of people who love us and are holding us up now, when we are too weak to do it ourselves.  Just as Moses needed his friends to hold up his arms, we have needed an army to help us in this season and they have!

Yesterday, I reached the 12 week mark. My 12 week appointment isn’t until Monday, so I have the weekend to process and prepare. I feel a range of big emotions from grief to joy, disappointment to thankfulness. The swirl in my mind is a wild storm that cannot seem to be tamed. But even in that, I was able to cry on the shoulder of my husband this morning, mourning the loss of my son Timothy. Shortly after, and friend gave me a long extended hug knowing I am sad I am not about to give birth to Evelyn in 2 weeks and it feels as if she’s been forgotten. That was followed by the loving and patient question of another friend asking me how I am really doing facing my appointment on Monday. All these wonderful, loving and sweet people are there for me and I know that while I am not in control of the outcome, I am not alone. God has sent His people to me to love me, hug me, and comfort me along the journey. It’s the Body of Christ, and although its imperfect and messy, it is necessary and I am so thankful for it.

So I want to end this with a Thank You to every one of you who have prayed, hoped, hugged, text, and reached out to me, Brett, Elle, and Johnny the past year. Never did I imagine what we would go through, but I also never knew just how wonderful of people Jesus had surrounded us with. Thank you, every one of you, for being the hands and feet of Jesus in our times of difficulty and hardship. I know being vulnerable and sharing your hardships, losses, and heartbreaks leaves you susceptible and open to being hurt or wounded, but I can testify it also leaves you open to be loved on and cared for when you least thought you’d need it. When we shared our journey last year at Timothy’s service, I never thought I’d be here one year later. But I am. And thanks to Jesus and His people, I am finding myself covered and loved in our toughest of times.