New Season, New Do 💇🏻‍♀️

When my hair gets heavy enough that I’m getting headaches, I cut it. Otherwise, I let it grow because I love having it long.

Last week, out of nowhere, the Lord gave me a vision of chopping my hair. It was clear, short, and the message was simple. I waited for a few hours to say or do anything because it was so out of the blue and not something I had thought of AT ALL. Later that day, the same vision repeated in my mind’s eye and I knew He was up to something, just not what. I positioned my heart with a yes and moved on with my week wondering if I’d get more revelation on the significance.

Yesterday, I felt like I needed to act on my yes so I called to book a hair appointment, assuming it would be weeks before I could get in. Instead, they had an availability at 10am today- so I took it. Last week I spoke to my teens on the importance of denying fear by giving the Lord a hearty “Yes!” in immediate obedience because everything He has for us is for our good. I figured it was time to put into practice what I preach.

This morning in my journaling, I asked the Lord about this haircut. He said many things, but I’ll share a few: Jesus sweetly revealed that cutting my hair today is symbolic of the pruning He’s been doing this year while I’ve been at school and that the old things are being stripped away and cannot reattach, just like cut hair cannot be put back on. He spoke to me about self care and the new freedom I will walk in to care for myself in love without shame or apology. Finally, Jesus spoke honored me for having grieved well and said this is a point where I can close the door on my grieving chapter and move forward, not forgetting my Heavenly children, but living freely and fully- in honor of them.

I have never been more excited, childlike, and joyful about a haircut and the story it tells about the past decade. Today, I am looking at my future with a smile and anticipating New Beginnings of Abundance, Adventure, and Dreams Fulfilled!

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.

Esther’s Heart

I’ve waited to post because I needed a moment to process the sanctity of yesterday. Six months ago our perfect rainbow baby was born and we thought we were closing the chapter of hardship we’d been in for 21 months. Ten days later, Esther’s pediatrician found a heart murmur and sent us to see a pediatric cardiologist. At 13 days old, Esther was diagnosed with a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD). Thankfully, hers was small, and didn’t seem to be affecting her health. However, this felt like such a joy stealer. We didn’t want to have ANOTHER issue, more medical bills, or another diagnosis to announce and deal with. 

Despite the discouragement, we chose to stand in a place of peace and hope even though we didn’t feel like it. At her 1 month appointment, the murmur was still present. Again, we chose hope and continued to take communion daily as a family declaring her healing. In late November, I was at a meeting with ladies from our church who wanted to pray for Esther. As they prayed, the Presence of Holy Spirit became tangible in the room. Toward the end, Esther manifested physically and I knew in my heart, in that moment, she was healed. At her 2 month appointment, the murmur was gone. 

We’ve had to wait until yesterday to return to the specialist to run another round of tests to medically confirm Esther’s healing. After the initial EKG, the cardiologist felt the VSD was likely closed but wanted to check that her blood flow issues were resolved. We then went in for another ECHO. The last time we had this test done, Jesus showed up in the room and held Esther and I throughout the test. As I waited for Him again, I noticed Esther began to look up and reach for what appeared to be nothing to the naked eye. Again, I knew Jesus was there, showing Himself to my baby and closing this chapter for us for good. 

We returned to the exam room and waited a long time for the cardiologist to return the second time. When she walked in, she smiled and said, “The only bad news I have for you is that you have no reason to ever return and see me again!”

Esther’s heart is HEALED!! We shouted praise and thanks to Jesus right then and there. Brett and I went to lunch to celebrate and cried as we embraced each other, the good news and our miracle. The past 2+ years has been a testing season, a refining season, a season of being broken and restored. All day yesterday I heard my Savior whispering to me “It is finished” over and over. At times, we thought we couldn’t make it through our heart break, our losses, the challenges, and deep grief- but here we are. Hope restored, hearts literally healed and full of genuine joy! Only Jesus can do that. Today, on Good Friday, I am beyond ready and fully connected to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. No matter what we’ve lost, endured, or been through- He can exchange joy for our mourning. I am so very thankful! ❤ 

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 Supernatural Cesarean Birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting ready to meet our little lady!

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

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

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

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

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

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The moment they’d been waiting for!

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

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

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

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She was so worth the wait.

 

Running Toward Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a Moment to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community: A Mother’s Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was this the big oops?

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Baby Esther, alive and well.

God is so smart in giving us nine months to prepare for a new baby. Not just physically grow and develop, but to emotionally prepare, grow, stretch, and process. Some days I cannot believe we’ve actually made it past the half way mark of this pregnancy, and other days it feels like we have been on this journey forever. I am now five months pregnant with our sixth child, our daughter Esther. She is active most every morning when I wake up and after I eat sugary foods so I am using that as my excuse to indulge in my sweet tooth. I love feeling her kick and move around. I love feeling the life that grows inside of me.

I know all of my children are alive and well, including Nathan, Timothy, and Evelyn. They are alive in Heaven and I will get to see them again someday. But for now, my heart still grieves the time I would have liked to have with them here. Sometimes I even imagine the chaos we would have with six children in our home and smile as I shudder at the thought. I miss them. I miss the time I would have had to hold them, raise them, hug and kiss them and even discipline their wild personalities. Today, as so many in our nation remember those who have fallen in battle on Memorial Day, I am grateful I do not have a loss such as that to grieve. But I find myself, instead, reflecting on the loss of time I dreamt of with my littles.

This past weekend, Brett and I had the privilege of officiating a wedding for some dear friends. After the ceremony, we took Elle and Johnny and headed to the reception. During the dinner the four of us were seated next to two other couples we didn’t know. Regular conversation ensued and the starter questions began. One of the women mentioned she noticed the age gap in our children: Elle and Johnny being close in age, and me pregnant again six years later, then asked if this baby “was the big oops? You know, like we have a plan and God laughs sort of thing.” My logic totally understood the question, the context (she had just shared that they are expecting baby number two and are absolutely done after he comes) and the innocence of her asking. However, my heart wanted to scream. No, this child was not an oops. This child has been dreamt of, desired, fought for, prayed for, and waited for. I have been through hell and back in our journey of child bearing. This child is a gift from God and one I cherish. Every moment I get with Esther is a blessing, no matter if it is short or long. (Don’t anyone panic. I did not lose it on the poor unsuspecting woman, I simply smiled, said no, and let Brett take the conversation from there).

When I speak to people who have not lost a child, they often admit miscarriage leaves them confused and heartbroken for the person who is hurting, but they don’t know how to support them well. Obviously, I cannot speak for others, but I do love sharing my process to help validate those who have experienced loss, and to help encourage those who have a loved one they want to support. I have found that once you have had a child taken from your life, your arms, your womb or your heart, you truly treasure every moment God gives you with your children. You know it can be gone in an instant and never see it again as a burden or curse. Don’t hear me wrong though- pregnancy, birth, and parenting are HARD! I will be the first to admit that, and in saying I don’t take it for granted I am not denying the hardship that comes with bearing and raising children. But what I am saying is it is worth it. Every moment of sleep deprivation, every day that ends in frustration and exhaustion, every tear shed has a payback that comes in hugs, kisses, and relationship that is worth it all. Even the short time of horribly hard pregnancy I had with Nathan, Timothy, and Evelyn was worth it. Each of those pregnancies were unique and special in their own ways. I treasure the memories I had with each one.

Nathan’s pregnancy was my easiest and I like to think he would have been my easy child. Timothy’s pregnancy was filled with unique cravings and wild dreams. He would have been my fireball. While pregnant with Evelyn, I didn’t want a single ounce of sugar and craved pickles and vinegar all day long. She would have been my unique little lady who ran to the beat of her own drum. Many don’t know this, but in His mercy, God has given me dreams of each of my children. I have met them, seen them, spoken with some and experienced all of them. If you have lost a child, I encourage you to ask God to show them to you in your dreams too. After all, they are alive and well and waiting to greet you in Heaven some day.

Back to the clouded remark of whether this pregnancy was an oops, I am not angry with this woman for her question. It was totally understandable. Shoot, I used to make similar remarks before I experienced what I have. But what I wanted to highlight was that I was shocked how quickly my heart reacted to the comment and I realized that I had a new invitation to walk through another wave of grief I didn’t see coming. It would be easy to write it off and invalidate my heart by saying it was harmless and I shouldn’t be upset, or even shove down my emotions and deny them because emotions can be exhausting. Instead, I have found allowing myself to cry when needed is key. I let the emotion physically manifest and come out, rather than trying to hold it in. This is a big deal as I have never liked crying, especially when I can see logically its “silly” or unnecessary. But crying is cathartic. Even just one tear. As I allow my heart to feel what it needs to feel, Jesus tenderly validates the hurt then begins to comfort me and fill me back up with His joy as I reflect on all that I am grateful for. I have a choice in these moments. I can deny my heart and allow the hurts to build up and create in me a heart of stone, or I can take a moment to walk through it with Jesus and come out more healed on the other side. Some may see this as whining or getting stuck on the past. However, I am seeing that the more I do not deny pain, the more I can also receive joy and see how truly blessed I am:

I am grateful for the short time I got with each of my Heavenly babies. I am grateful to get to raise Elle, Johnny, and Esther this side of Heaven. I am grateful for a husband who is not afraid to walk through the fire with me as we sort through our journey. I am thankful for a Savior who isn’t afraid of my emotions or grief but delights in processing through it all with me. I am thankful for community, family, and friends who love us well and stand by our side. I am thankful for all that God has entrusted us with and I look forward to an amazing, intentional, blessed, and surprising future!

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.