Putting on My Oxygen Mask First

Yesterday, as I sat across the table from Brett, I welled with tears of regret as I apologized for a decade of anxiety, tension, and fear I’d caused in our home.  I sought forgiveness for ways I hadn’t trusted him in our parenting partnership and owned that my grappling for control has hurt our family.  I shared my revelation and sadness that me trying to do everything solo in the past has hurt our family and myself. 

“Since having Emilia, I have felt another invitation from the Lord to trust those around me even more and acted on it.  The more I have let go of trying to do it all myself, the more life and freedom I have felt.  It is also highlighting the stress, bitterness, and anxiety I used to feel toward those around me as I struggled to do everything myself.”  It’s sad to admit, but after my first three were born, I tried to carry the burden of having a newborn by myself as much as possible.  I know I am strong and capable.  I wanted to show myself (and the world) that I am a “great mom” by proving how much I can handle.  This wasn’t always a conscious thought but was certainly present.  However, every time something went wrong or I got too overwhelmed, I felt fear, anger, and resentment growing inside me that caused anxiety. 

When Esther, our 3rd child, was nine months old, I began having panic attacks again after years of freedom from that level of anxiety.  I stopped sleeping and insomnia only worsened the panicky stress.  I knew I needed help.  I inquired the Lord about it and He invited me to give up social media and sugar.  I traded that time for soaking in the Word and journaling.  I also got medical help for the sleep issues and signed myself up to do the second year of the ministry school at our church (its a program intended to help with inner healing).  I knew this would cost my family dearly, and had fear about it, but I also knew something had to shift.

That year of investing in me changed a lot of monumental thinking patterns.  I began to learn the importance of self-care or putting on my oxygen mask first so I truly was able to attend to those around me in a healthy, stable way.  I realized I wasn’t truly breathing under all the pressure, and needed to increase my oxygen levels to survive and thrive.  I had never liked the term “self-care”, as it evoked pressure to spend money I don’t have for a sitter to watch my kids while I spend countless days at the spa.  That doesn’t feel like life for me, my family, or my wallet.  Instead, the Lord started talking to me about self-care being as simple as using the restroom when I need to pee instead of holding it for 4 hours. He also suggested truly life-giving things like getting outside for 15 minutes a day, sitting down in a chair to eat, and making space for fun with Brett, friends, and my kids (and possibly the occasional spa day, too).  There were many other revelations:

First, I realized that while I was at school, my family did fine without me controlling every detail of every day.  Brett is an incredible dad who does not do things “my way” but his way works just as great, sometimes even better than mine. Also, our kids benefitted tremendously from seeing me honor, trust, and respect their father enough to allow him in.  Unwittingly, I had been undermining his authority and demeaning him as a man in front of our children.  Showing them I trust him began to restore our family to the order God intended it.

Second, God showed me how beautiful my process is.  I fell in love with the journey I am on and began to truly delight in my own messiness rather than focus only on the destination.  I began to see the beauty in the everyday humanity of me.  I started taking time to feel my feelings real-time and communicate them, sometimes through snot and tears.  I found affection for my awkward self (especially teenage Shailey), my clumsy self (the areas I do not feel efficient), and my needy self (acknowledging I am human and that is good).  

Third, I began to see how much life there is when I invite others in.  I began asking those around me to help and opened myself up vulnerably to lean on those God had placed around me.  Doing this more intentionally has proven so life-giving the past two years, it’s mind-boggling I didn’t catch on sooner.  I used to quote Sebastian from The Little Mermaid as a life motto, “You want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.”  At this point, I think my new personal quote would be, “If you want something done, share your vision and needs with those you trust and let them inspire you as you all work together to create greatness!”  Having another newborn and transitioning to a family of six has provided many real-time opportunities to practice these revelations and spiritual disciplines of self-care and I’m liking the fruit of it: a more happy, healthy, balanced, and alive mom and wife for my family.

I’m currently reading Parenting with Heart by Steven James and Chip Dodd.  They summarize this healthy idea of self-care beautifully:  “Self-care becomes an act of trust, and faith in God.  Practicing self-care is a practical way of living in obedience to the sixth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). We are made to rest. We are made to reflect. We are made to be renewed…The true benefit of incorporating this kind of discipline into our lives as parents is the emotional and spiritual benefit.  When we lean into risking self-care, we create the space for dependence on and intimacy with God.”

Overcoming Perfection

Photographer: Charis Sims

August 25th.  A date that holds so much emotion and history for us.  

In 2005, it was the day we went on our first date.  The evening was a train wreck and ended awkwardly, but the Lord had big plans for us so it was only the beginning.  Brett and I married nine months later at just twenty years old.  We weren’t walking with Jesus and both brought a myriad of dysfunctions, baggage, and pain to the table.  It wasn’t long before those issues began to manifest bad fruit in our marriage.  In 2008, after the loss of our first child, I encountered the living God and gave my life to Him.  Because Brett was raised in the church, he was able to talk the talk but was still living a secret life that left a disconnect between us.  Though I was now following Jesus, I didn’t know yet what it meant to have Him be Lord of my life.  I was still holding tightly to many things that weren’t life for me, including a destructive drinking habit.  

Then came August 25th, 2009.  The year prior had been a journey for me of learning how to honor Brett and pray for him.  His heart had been softened toward me and the Lord knew the right timing.  That night, while at a men’s Bible study, Brett listened to a message from John 8:31-32, “…the truth will set you free.”  In that moment, Brett made a powerful choice to risk everything and bring truth into the light.  He confessed all that he’d been hiding to the men in the group.  They graciously surrounded him, and prayed for him, but then the Lord instructed Brett that he wasn’t done.

Brett came home that night, sat down next to me, and proceeded to share all the lies he’d been hiding since before we were married and during our three plus years of marriage.  He confessed to taking off his wedding ring to go out with friends, secret struggles he’d hidden and more.  As he poured out his confessions, the tangible presence of Jesus was so real, sitting on the couch between us.  A supernatural grace fell on me to receive these nightmarish revelations and I sat quietly, listening, I was filled with compassion.  As Brett finished sharing, I looked over to our wedding photo and my heart broke.  I realized the perfect life I’d been working so hard to present to the world was forever tarnished, forever gone.  As I expressed this to Brett, he simply said, “I have been trying to change me for a long time and I haven’t succeeded.  I know I’ve given you every reason to leave me, but I’m asking that you’d stay and give Jesus a chance to change me and help us.”

In the weeks to come, we found a marriage counselor and went after our junk for the first time.  We got rid of all the alcohol in our home, finally admitting our drinking problems to ourselves.  We decided that for the time, worship music was the only thing to be played in our home as we needed the encouragement to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and not our problems or ourselves.  That first year was incredibly painful.  At times, I wondered if I would ever feel joy again.  One day, as I drove I was sobbing and crying out to the Lord.  I told Him that if He could promise me that Brett would never do this to me again, then I wouldn’t divorce him and I’d stay and work it out.  Jesus spoke to me in that moment and affirmed to me that I don’t get that promise.  He said, “I will not take away Brett’s free will.  What I will do is promise you that I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I will be with you in everything you ever face.  But you have to decide that is enough.”  That was the moment I realized what it really meant to ask Jesus to be the Lord of my life.

In 2012, at a conference, a prophet called us out of the crowd and gave us a word of encouragement from the Lord.  As he was prophesying, he looked at me and said, “the Lord says there is a date that represents immense pain for you.  He wants you to know that He intends to redeem and reconcile that date so faithfully that it becomes a day of celebration.”  Naturally, I lost it sobbing.  I knew He was referring to August 25th, 2009.  Although Brett and I were now happily married and working daily toward health, I still could not dream of how that day could ever be celebrated.  At that time, we had only ever shared with our mentors, counselor and pastors what we’d been dealing with.  At one point, our mentor’s pastor also prophesied that someday we’d share our story with the world and it would change millions of marriages.  Again, I simply couldn’t dream that big.

In 2013, we started a married couples life group.  Week by week, we grew closer to the other couples and the Lord asked us to begin to share our story.  We only shared small details at first but then the shame began to fall away and we began to share more and more.  We started seeing fruit of sharing our truth and over time, it became a delight to encourage others with what God had done for us.  In 2015, we were invited to share our story at the young adults service of our church and the response was overwhelming.  The freedom we now walk in encouraged everyone in the room.  We stayed for hours praying for others as they brought their issues into the light and asked us to believe with them for freedom.  It was exhilarating to share God’s goodness, then stand as a conduit of His Holy Spirit to connect other’s with the freedom and abundant life Jesus paid for for them.  We finally started to understand what God meant about His plans to redeem the date and work it for our good and His. 

As we started the year 2019, we knew God was prompting us to celebrate the ten year anniversary of our walking in truth, sobriety, freedom, and transformation.  God has so completely redeemed the date of August 25th that we only see it with gratitude now.  We are so thankful for His faithfulness to reconcile our marriage and restore our love to something far beyond what it ever even started with.  Our story is one of true love and the power of choosing life over death with truth, especially when it means the death of so many things we’ve previously held tightly to.  About a month ago, Brett reached out to a couple in our congregation and asked if they’d be willing to host a celebration at their home.  We were imagining something small and potluck style, given our lack of budget for the event.  They graciously challenged us to dream bigger and keep knocking on doors.  In the past three weeks, God and our community miraculously pulled together a vow renewal celebration that surpassed our wildest dreams!  Our people came together to make it happen and we are still in shock and awe at what beauty and blessing manifested.

In the spirit of transparency, I want to be honest that even this week, we weren’t sure our celebration would actually happen.  On Tuesday, Brett, Elle, and Johnny were diagnosed with the flu so we spent the week quarantined away from each other desperately trying to not spread sickness any further.  This meant I had the two little girls solo and all of us were exhausted and not sleeping well.  The weather was forecasting horrible storms for the weekend and at one point I melted into sobs asking the Lord for help.  He reminded me that the declaration of this being a day of celebration was His plan and it is simply my job to partner with Him in the fulfillment of that prophesy.  I reached out to my intercession friends and community asking for prayer and help.  Sickness cleared on Friday morning, the weather disappeared (as did a lot of the August heat), and the celebration went beautifully.  Standing with Brett at the alter, renewing our vows and actually understanding what weight our words carry, I was reminded of my fear that our “perfect” lives were ruined ten years ago when Brett shared his truth.  As Brett finished his vows to me, he said, “I have come to realize that while we are not perfect people, we are perfect for each other.”  I couldn’t agree more!

I want to end by giving thanks.  I am so thankful for God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and love.  Giving Jesus my heart and my life is by far the best two decisions I ever made.  I have come to truly fall in love with my husband and together, with Jesus, we have built a beautiful, imperfect marriage, family and home that we love to host others in as we do real life together.  I no longer desire to live a perfect life (that’s not even a real thing), but to live a real life, fully alive to experience every joy, sadness, disappointment and victory.  Today, I am celebrating that we have overcome perfection, or the idea of it, and we have embraced being real, choosing life, and being present enough to experience it all personally, together, and with Jesus and His people.  Today, August 25th, 2019, is truly a celebration of ten years of beautiful, perfectly imperfect, abundant life.  I couldn’t be more grateful.  

Photographer: Charis Sims

Remembering Breakthroughs

Two years ago today, we purchased our first home.  This was a dream we waited eleven years for.  Emilia is two months old today.  She was our only baby that took a while to conceive.  As I reflected on these promised fulfilled today, it got me thinking about how important it is to remember our breakthrough moments, and God’s creativity in it all, regularly.

When we moved into our former house, I asked the Lord how long we would be there.  I heard Him say “seven”.  I didn’t know if that meant seven months, seven years, or something else entirely but I knew I’d heard Him.  As the years came and went I started wondering if it meant seven years, and felt discouraged by that.  I was thankful for the living situation but did not like the house itself and dreamed of owning our own.  In late April of 2017, the HVAC system went out completely, the plumbing began having severe problems, and it felt as if the grace for the house and its problems was gone.  I prayed and asked God what to do.  We’d been there for nearly 4.5 years but I felt the Lord say, “What would you do right now if I told you you were moving in one month?” I knew it was time to take some action and start cleaning out the house, packing and connecting with a realtor.  By June, we were under contract on the seventh and last house we looked at.  Once we moved into our dream home, I realized we purchased the home in the seventh month of 2017.  I love the intentionality of God.

In February 2018, I asked Brett about discussing being done with having children.  We prayed and asked God to unite our hearts with each other and His.  Within a few days, a dear friend pulled me aside and said she felt released to share a dream she had a while back.  In the dream, she saw me with a new baby on my hip and knew it meant we’d have one more.  She told me to feel free to interpret how I choose but that she’d been holding it until the Lord asked her to share at that time.  This, and the fact that I felt excited about being pregnant one more time, we the two miracles we needed.  We decided to have one more and started dreaming of having a winter baby.  To our surprise, we did not conceive in the first month as we had with our others.  In fact, we did not conceive for a while.  After five long months we finally had a positive pregnancy test (yes, I know some mamas have to wait years, but for us, this was a lot longer than our normal).  That time of waiting was so confusing.  Also, we felt strongly that the child would be a boy and when we found out we were expecting another girl, it was a shock.  Then in May of 2019, we welcomed our sweet Emilia James, our perfect number seven.  She has been a dream baby and everything we didn’t know we still needed.

So today I am reflecting and expressing gratitude.  I am thanking the Lord for His plans and blessings.  Thanking Him for being in every detail and the honor it is to co-create with Him.  I am also using these testimonies of dreams fulfilled to encourage myself.  Reflecting on God’s faithfulness and good plans encourages me to dream today while I am feeling overwhelmed by some issues ahead of me.  As I wonder how I will manage a full-time job alongside four children (a middle schooler, a grade-schooler, a preschooler and an infant!), I remember what crazy seasons we’ve navigated in the past and how faithful He is to walk us through them, if only we will quiet ourselves enough to hear Him lead.  I think this is also why sharing testimonies of breakthrough, dreams fulfilled and promises kept is so important.  It’s remembering these beautiful breakthroughs that get me excited for what is next!

Explaining Abortion to My Kids​

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Our seventh child, Emilia James.

Yesterday, the topic of abortion came up in conversation with our two oldest children, ages ten and nine. I’ve mildly dreaded discussing this topic because our children remember two of our late miscarriages and how traumatic it was to have our babies die. I didn’t know how it would go for them to find out others have made that choice electively. Reality is- I didn’t give them enough credit.

The policy in our house is that no question is off limits. And while we may say, “I’m not ready to answer that.” we have promised our kids we will not lie to them. Often times, we will respond to their questions with, “What do you think about that?” to gauge where they are in their understanding or better catch the context of their question. As we dove into the subject and their questions, we could see heartbreak on the faces of both our kids.

I am currently 35 weeks pregnant with our seventh child. In 2015, we lost two children to miscarriage and I was far enough along, I had to go in to have their dead bodies surgically removed from my womb. These were traumatic experiences and we all grieved together.  This topic is not theoretical to my children. They connected immediately that abortion is the same sort of procedure in which a live baby is taken from the mama’s womb. We explained that this is a very sensitive subject and that there are political movements called Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. We explained, as unbiased as possible, the stances of both parties and their beliefs. One of the kids asked, “So what are we?” and Brett explained that each of them needs to take time to search their hearts with Jesus to make those kinds of big decisions but to remember that the issues are rarely as simple and black and white as people want to imagine.

As we navigated more, I asked the kids if they could imagine some situations in which a mama might feel abortion is her only option. They could both identify a few legitimate ones: divorce, no money, she isn’t safe, she’s young and not married, etc. I was so impressed with their ability to put themselves in a woman’s shoes in the midst of their clear distress of the killing of babies. In the end, we explained to the kids that it is important we do not judge and we are filled with compassion for women who have made this choice. I explained that I’m sure many women live with a lot of regrets and possibly shame, probably even women we know and love who have never felt safe to talk about their abortions.

I then asked them, “How do you think Jesus would treat a woman who has had abortions?”

Johnny responded quickly and said, “Oh mom! He forgives them and loves them, same as everyone else!” I agreed. Then Elle thoughtfully spoke up and said, “He forgives and loves them, but mom, I think He would also just sit with them and cry with them as long as they need too.” (Insert mom and dad losing it at this point.)

So there you have it. My preteens were not only able to have a great conversation about a difficult topic rooted in love and compassion but also understanding and a concrete foundation that Jesus loves us all- no matter what. Not only does He love us really well, but that He meets us in our grief, shame, loss, and all things. How different would the world be if we all kept those truths at the forefront of how we speak to and treat one another? On this Easter weekend, I hope we remember our Savior died on the cross and rose from the dead for every one of us, no matter our history.

Reasons We Date Our Children

Years ago, I had the idea of not only regularly dating and pursuing our kids (which we do) but annually taking them on a fancy date.  The kind where you get dressed up, go out to a nice sit-down restaurant and treat them to a lovely time.  I do not love celebrating Valentine’s Day between Brett and I (I’d prefer he and I pursue each other that way all year round when the cost of flowers and chocolates are not doubled) but thought we could use the annual holiday as a reminder that it is time to take the kids out.  Let’s be honest, if we aren’t intentional with things like this, they get away from us.  Also, February is a month without any of our family’s birthdays, etc so it’s a nice time of year to do something fun.  

We have been taking Elle and Johnny on these fancy dates for seven years now.  They have come to expect getting dressed up, taking pictures, and doing the whole romantic night out.  It’s become their norm that mom and dad would spend that kind of money on them and go to such lengths to spoil them with affection and adoration.  They know people (usually our servers and on-lookers at the restaurants) will compliment them on how nice they look and friends will honor them from social media posts.  Essentially, while this is not our normal dating ritual year-round, they have come to love these special times and are comfortable with the love and affection that comes with them.  They know they are worthy of it all.

And that is the point.  I desire for my kids to know that they are loved, wholly and completely, regardless of their performance, behaviors, successes, or failures.  I want them to know and expect that they’ll be treated with respect, kindness, and so much more.  Further, I hope to teach them that ALL humans are worthy of this same treatment.  This year was especially fun because it was Esther’s first fancy date.  She is two and doesn’t quite get the concept.  In preparation, we allowed Elle to go the night before so Esther could see what all goes down.  All the while I helped Elle with her hair, makeup, and outfit choices, Elle spent the time explaining to Esther that she would get to do the same tomorrow.  She described that daddy will likely have flowers or a special gift for her and to be sure to say “thank you”.  She told Esther that “you are a princess and daddy is like your prince.  He will take to you get some yummy food and tell you how wonderful and pretty you are the whole time.”  You see, Elle has already caught that there is more than enough love to go around.  She is not threatened that because Esther (and eventually Emilia) will have a turn with daddy that her time is diminished or any less special.  In fact, Elle even asked to add a movie to their date this year, fully expectant that Brett would love to do that with her.

Brett and I take our children out on these special dates to imprint in their hearts that this kind of love and affection should be their normal and that they can pass that same honor and abundance onto others without hesitation.  The Bible says that “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4.19)  Our children will have the ability to pour out extravagant love to others because they have grown up in a home where they are extravagantly loved.  Because of this, my children will be world changers.

Lastly, there is also the practical side of this.  Someday, my children will go to their first school dances and get asked out on their first dates.  I want my children to know how to expect to be treated and how to treat the wonderful person on the other side of the table.  I want Elle and Esther to know it’s okay to stand back and allow a man to open her door, pull out her chair, and show other signs of honor.  I want Johnny to comfortably navigate a conversation with a lady at the table while asking questions and listening to the answers.  I desire for my children to walk confidently into these rights-of-passage moments in life knowing they are a prize to be delighted in and that the person they are with is equally loved by God and deserving of their honor too.  How will they know this if I haven’t taken the time to teach and model this myself?  

Lastly, I want my children to feel empowered to boldly stand up for themselves and others when they’re not being treated with honor.  The only way they can do this is if they’ve experienced enough real love to acknowledge and spot a counterfeit for what it is.  We consistently have conversations in our home about protecting others who cannot protect themselves and standing up for what is right at the hardest moments.  We don’t always get it right but we are certainly doing our best to love big and teach our children to do the same. 

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.