Round 2.

Last week, I turned 38.  I was fortunate to spend the day with my family and my parents who were visiting from Georgia.  On Friday, my children said their goodbyes to Gigi and JD.  After I tucked them all in, I quietly descended the stairs to find my husband praying over my precious mama.

In 2015, my mama battled breast cancer.  She boldly faced weeks of chemotherapy, surgery, and all that goes along with each of those.  A few months into her own battle, she walked through the same nightmare with her mother.  This year would have been her two-year mark, the one everyone pushes towards.  Some high numbers in her bloodwork sent her on a roller coaster the next few weeks.  There were some "we think it could be something"s, followed by some "it's probably nothing"s, that led to a "maybe we'll wait a test again in a few months," that ultimately led to a biopsy.  The biopsy made things clear, and tomorrow, she'll begin Round 2 of a road that no one wants to travel twice.  

A few months before our family moved to India, I came across this verse:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

While I can't see the future, I can see the past.  And my mama has exemplified this verse. At a time when she could have wallowed in self-pity, she saw her affliction as an opportunity.  A chance to pray for others who were suffering from cancer.  An opportunity to speak encouragement into the lives of struggling friends.  A time to make items and send to a cancer facility for those who'd come after her and could use a little sunshine in their day.  I've watched her help nurse my grandmother back to health when she herself was struggling physically and emotionally.   And I've seen her be transformed by a disease that could have stolen all of her joy, yet strengthened her in ways I couldn't have imagined.  

Tomorrow she'll undergo surgery for breast cancer a second time.  If you know me, chances are you know my wonderful mother.  There aren't many people in our lives that haven't been touched by her generosity and love.  Maybe she's cooked for you, sewn for you, or just helped you out at school during her many years of being a secretary.  Maybe she's a neighbor to you that goes above and beyond sharing some milk and sugar.  Maybe she's your fellow church member that pours into your little ones on Wednesday night or during VBS.  Maybe you sit in Sunday School with her or share a pew in worship.  Whatever your tie is to her, I know she's been a light to you.  

My family would so covet your prayers and encouragement for her tomorrow.  That she'd have a peace that comes only from the Lord.  That the doctors would have steady hands and make wise decisions.  That she'd walk away from this a second time, healthy and strong.  But most importantly that she'd be a light for Christ along the way.  

Here's to Round 2!  And clinging to the promise that He's got the whole world in His hands... even my precious mama! 


Christmas. 2017

Today is Christmas--- December the 25th in all its’ glory!  As I look outside my Missouri window, I see beautiful white snow covering every horizontal surface.  I’m slowly taking down years of accumulated Christmas decorations, doing laundry from last night, and nursing sick people, including myself.  Actually, I’m supposed to be sitting around a room with family that we don’t see very often.  But this year, five out of six of our clan have fallen victim to the flu!  It’s been eventful, but not at all in a good way!  All the same, it seems to be what makes Christmas for us!

When I was growing our Christmases were so predictable and safe!  I literally knew every step of them long before they happened.  Each year, we drug out the exact same Christmas decorations… the blue-faced angel my brother colored as a child, the trio of porcelain Christmas mice, the collection of Belkie bears, and a wide-variety of others.  We visited grandparents like clockwork, opened our one present on Christmas Eve, and then awoke to a full room of Santa’s delivery on Christmas morning!  It was perfectly perfect and it never ever changed.  And I liked it very much.

And then I got married (which was a good thing, by the way!)  But that little Georgia Christmas changed.  I lived six hours away from them, and although I still made it home, it looked different.  And nothing about our Christmases has ever looked predictable.  I can’t help but ponder them all today.

There was the Christmas in 2005 when we were waiting on a judge in Ukraine to sign over rights to a two year old and make us the parents we’d dreamed of.  We came home to a house where a church family had put up and decorated a tree for our new family of three! 

In 2008, we were waiting on yet another addition to our family.  Not knowing when Max’s mother might give birth, we were hesitant to drag out lots of decorations, so we pulled down a small tree on Christmas Eve and a few balls.  It was our last Christmas as a family of three. 

In 2011, we spent our first Christmas abroad!  Not thinking Christmas decorations were a priority, we didn’t bring any with us.  Instead we lucked up on the saddest tree you’ve ever seen at a mall in India.  We paid almost $100 for it and loaded it up with homemade ornaments.

In 2012, the same tree was in place, but an accident with a saw would leave our little family of four sitting in an Indian hospital praying that Jason’s arm would be okay.  Luckily, he would heal, but it scared us all!

In 2013, we sat on a beach in Thailand.  I was VERY pregnant with twins.  We buried a little tree in the sand and shared our last Christmas as a family of four.  It was an absolute dream.

And then there’s this year.  The flu.  Lots of laundry, Tylenol, and Tamiflu.  Hopefully Jack will remain standing!  Fortunately, in preparation to head south for Christmas, we opened presents with our kids last week.  So everyone had a few days of health to enjoy all of their toys! 

Maybe we will make it south soon, but there’s a chance we won’t!  All the same, this is what Christmas is made of for our family of six!  And each of them… the good ones, the bad ones, the scary ones, the exciting ones… they are perfectly perfect!  And I like them very much!



a teacher's fingerprints.

I'm a teacher.  I began at the age of four with a few lifeless dolls.  I've taught in church, covered a variety of grades in public school, and have even taught my own children.  I'm in a new season these days... substituting a little on the side.  I have forgotten so much in the last few years.  A teacher's job is so difficult.  Meeting federal mandates can often be tricky enough, but don't forget that states, districts, and even individual school administrations have their own plans for you.  Much of your day is spent managing individual behavior plans, modifying lessons to meet ALL students, and somehow trying to keep your own sanity.  And even after my short, infrequent days of substituting, I often recall those feelings from my past of "Why did I choose this?"  Much of a teacher's time is spent dealing with anything BUT teaching.  And let's be honest... we've all found ourselves one discipline referral away from complete burnout!  But every afternoon I pick up a nine year old.  He may not be nine or a boy, but he's in your class.  His presence is often overshadowed by all that is going on, but he's there. And on the days that you go home and begin listing all the other possible professions you could take on tomorrow, I wanted to remind you about him!

He's the kid that cries on the first weekend after school starts.  Real tears.  Because he wants to go to school.  Every.  Day.

He often calls his mama "Mrs. Johnson," because you actually spend more waking hours with him than I do.  When I make him fresh, out-of-the-oven muffins in the morning, he always wants to know if there are enough to bring one for you!  Often times he comes home and is deeply troubled at the way another student treated you, struggling to understand the actions of a student that has wronged you.  The little seed that you buried in class and sent home as a tiny seedling--- it's sitting on our kitchen counter.  It's a seventh member of our family, and I sweat every time it begins to droop.

When you do a project in class, he's quick to come home and duplicate it for us all.  He is eager to share your joy of teaching with his entire family.

His bulletin board is littered with things that bring him joy, and so many of them are from your class.

When he makes his birthday list, you are at the top.  In fact, he thinks to invite you to almost anything... because you've showed him that you value him and that means surely you'd want to see his three minute shepherd performance in the church Christmas program!  And when you actually show up--- well, that's enough to explode his little heart (and his mama's!)  When you read a book aloud in class, he begs to check it out from the public library so he can follow along as you read each day.  At dinner, rather than chit chat about his day, he takes time to tell us all how our hamburger is like a main idea and everything else on it is a detail... certainly something he's heard from you.  A chance meeting with you in the grocery store is equivalent only to meeting an extinguished dignitary!  You are so much more than an 8 AM to 3 PM figure in his life.

He says that one day he's going to be a  doctor or a preacher.  And maybe he will be.  But whatever he becomes, your fingerprints will be on it, because you loved him, encouraged him, and taught him.  He'll be better next year than he was last year, because you stayed the course and made learning fun and engaging!

So heads up, Teachers!  There are a lot of these boys--- and girls--- counting on you.  Tomorrow when you correct that child for the fifth time and the tardy bell has yet to ring, when that student still can't do long division even though you've shown her just shy of a thousand times, and your administration sends out one more thing that has to be done today, just remember how powerful your fingerprints are!  Place them carefully and remember why you do what you!  And know that he wakes up every morning wondering what incredible thing you have planned for him today!  No pressure... he already thinks you are amazing!


more little things.

{a list of gratitude.}

1.  Fall weather and homework on the porch.

2.  My future Picasso.

3.  His determination to do things his way (and boots that have been around for all three boys)

4.  A husband that prays over his children.

5.  The way she always asks her to "paint [her] toes!"


6.  His creativeness with my blush.

7. His amazing growing skills.

8.  The way she loves a baby.


9.  Partners for life.

10.  Tomatoes that grow a little too close, but sweet neighbors that still love little thieves.


11.  His ability to tap into his "girly side" when she asks him to play.

12.  Toothpaste.  Lots and lots of toothpaste.

13.  Long chats with an eight year old after some hard days.  And the notes he leaves for me in "our notebook."  Praying he always keeps me in his loop!


little things.

I love the phrase "It's just a phase."  I've used it so much in the last ten years of my life.  It seems that being a parent leaves you with this longing to see certain phases pass away, coupled with a deep desire to freeze time in the more endearing moments.  I longed to be a mom for so long- even as a young girl with baby dolls scattered around my room.  I didn't foresee a future of infertility, adoption, or twin babies.  And despite this undeserved gift of four children, I can still find myself longing for a retreat from it all on the hard days.

My days are no less than a marathon.  Beginning with two early risers that don't wake up slowly, but rather at full speed and into everything.  Not long after, our full army joins the fun and it's on!  Meals, laundry, discipline, schooling, cleaning, discipline, encouragement, entertaining, more meals, more discipline, and more, more, more!  

Despite the craziness of what looks like utter chaos to the outsider, I love this little life.  It may not seem like much to some, or maybe it's too much to others, but for me-  it's a perfect mess!  I'd also be lying if I didn't admit that I am constantly reminding myself to love this little life.  My days are filled with all the junk that we all face.  But I have a choice of where I place my focus.  The last thing I do each night is ask my boys, "What was the best thing that happened today?"  It's always fun to me to know what specific thing stuck out as memorable and meaningful.  It's rarely anything big.  Often times something I didn't even notice.  Which reminds me that someone was right when they said, "It's the little things in life!"  

So because I'm stubborn, I want to be more intentional about celebrating "my little things."  Those sweet little blessings that the Lord sprinkles throughout my day to remind me just how much he loves me.  To be thankful for the "good days" and the "hard days" and the "I'll die if I have to live through another one of these days"!  To say that "He has blessed us" would be the greatest understatement.  We are sinking in His grace, love, and mercy.  

So here's to all the little things in my life... an on-going list of the little things that add up to mean EVERYTHING to me each day. 

1.  The missing front tooth phase and forgetful tooth fairies that scrounge up extra change on the third day of forgetting.

2.  The trains that all three boys have played with.  And reminders that this one is no longer a baby.

3.  Family worship on our back porch.  A place where you can literally "come as you are."

4.  Fathers who are worthy of imitating.

5.  Celebrating a new teenager.  And his graciousness to be okay with the only candle we could find in our house!

6.  Little girls who are too big to hold hands but will compromise at holding on to your shirt.  Always on her terms!

7.  Friends who offer to watch your kids while you enjoy a lunch with your husband.  Friends like this are priceless jewels.

8.  Pigtails.

9.  Big brothers and bull rides on a summer night.

 10.  A chair that is big enough to hold them all.

11.  And one girl in a houseful of boys.


when her no meant yes.

If I had to ere on one side, I'd say my parents were strict growing up.  Not in the Cinderella way.  I can rarely recall ever having consistent chores (although I did a few occasionally.)  But when I think back to the years when I started asking more permission for bigger things, my mother often answered with a very firm "No."  It wasn't a surprise.  Fortunately, my mother and daddy were pretty consistent.  They didn't change much based on other parents' decisions for their children.  If I felt a little leery in asking, I usually knew the answer before I asked.

But isn't growing up a funny little thing?  I read a quote recently that said, "By the time a daughter knows her mother was right, she has a daughter who thinks she's wrong."  This resonates so much with me as my children grow and begin to question me more.

As Jason and I seek to raise children that truly love the Lord, I often think about the choices my parents made for me.  The tough calls.  The "everybody else is doing it" pleas.  And most importantly the "Nos."  I recently told her that I never ever thought of her decisions for me as too harsh.  Somewhere along the way I learned to see her "nos" as more than that.  They were full of "yeses!

When I was in elementary school, Levi came out with their new "Button Your Fly" slogan.  All I wanted was a t-shirt with that plastered across the front.  She said, "No."  I even got one from a friend for my birthday.  She said, "Take it back."  But she also said, "Yes."  "Yes, I will teach you to choose words carefully.  Even when slang is not being used, I'll teach you that there are just better choices and what we wear [and say] matters."

When I was venturing out of elementary school, EVERYONE (and I still mean E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E) went to movies on Friday nights.  My mom said, "No."  But she also said, "Yes."  "Yes, you can rent movies, invite friends over, stay up late, and whatever else makes a sixth grade girl happy.  But I'm here to protect you and that's what I'll do. Even if it makes you angry."

When I started junior high, a new crop of people entered my life.  I asked if I could spend the night with these "new friends."  She said "no."  But she also said "Yes."  "Yes, invite them over here.  Invite them into our home, to sit around a dinner table with us.  And know that we love these new friends of yours, but we love you more.  Our number one job is to guide you, until you are ready to make good choices for yourself!"

When I was in junior high, I wanted a tight-fitting mini skirt.  She said, "No."  I bought it myself.  She said "Take it back."  She won.  But she also said, "Yes."  She said, "Yes, you are beautiful and no doubt look cute!  But you are being looked at by more than me.  And our bodies aren't meant to show off.  We will wear clothes that honor ourselves and the boys around us.  Modest is always best."  

Off and on in these years, I looked for reasons not to go to church, because I was too tired and wanted to sleep in.  (I laugh even as I type that.)  She said, "No."  But she also said yes.  "Yes, you can stay home, but you'll spend the rest of the day in your bed.  (true story) Yes, we will make church a priority.  Yes, it will come first and if you are too tired from the previous nights, we can help you get to bed earlier by keeping you home!"  (I am probably most thankful for this "no" than any other.)

When I was fourteen, I crossed paths with a very cute guy in high school.  So cute I happened to marry him.  I asked if I could date him.  She said, "No."  I was probably mad.  But she also said, "Yes."  "Yes, I will let you be fourteen.  You'll never be this age again.  You'll have lots of dating years.  But now is not the time.  Be a young girl.  Spend time with friends.  Cheer.  Live the life of a fourteen-year-old."

When I was fifteen, I showed persistence, but this time that now senior boy asked her instead.  She said, "No. She may not go on dates with you."  But she also said "Yes."  "Yes, you may come to our home each weekend and sit in our family room with her.  You may show us that you will respect her and respect us.  And in time, when we are ready, maybe, just maybe, you can actually take her away from our home!"

When I was sixteen, I asked if I could stay out as late as everyone else.  Eleven seemed so early.  But she said, "No."  But she also said, "Yes."  "Yes, I'll trust you to be out longer than is probably necessary.  Yes, I'll give you a chance to make good choices.  Yes, we will give you a car that is too nice, more spending money than you need, and also, more privileges than you might be ready for.  But we are trusting you to use them all wisely and make good choices.  And to be home promptly at 11:00."

As I closed my bible this morning, I stopped at Proverbs and chapter 2 caught my attention.  "My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for the length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.  Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart."

My to-do list includes putting that verse where each of my children can see it daily.  So that when they hear the many "nos" I give out each day, they are consumed with all the "yeses" that are hidden behind them.  "Yeses" to pursue God, His love, His goodness, His ways.  "Yeses" to keep His commandments and grow into men and women who will one day say "no" to my grandchildren with full of intentions of saying "yes" to Him!


the c word.

Nineteen months ago, just three short weeks after Maggie and Gray were born, I left my house early one morning.  I hailed a taxi, checked myself into a local hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, and I awaited my turn for surgery.  While pregnant with Maggie and Gray, a technician noticed "something unusual" on my bladder during an ultrasound.  Even as they wheeled me into the operating room alone, I remained unconcerned.  But when that sweet Thai doctor stood over me in the recovery room and said, "It is looking like the cancer," my world shook slightly.  Fortunately, it was followed by words like "completely gone," "no treatments needed," and "low probability of recurrence."  In my mind, it seemed small.

But two weeks ago, I found myself on the other side of that conversation.  The boys and I were deep into a study of cells, drawing and labeling the parts, discussing our cells' amazing ability to decipher what belongs and what doesn't, and the phone rang.  It was both of my parents, and the conversation began with "We don't want to put a damper on your day but...."

They begin to replay the last few days of their lives.  "Doctors' appointments... mammogram... mass... biopsy... almost positive it's cancer."  The words just kept coming and none of them were lovely.  In those moments, all I could think of was what we didn't know.  

Two weeks later, we know more.  It's Stage 2 and will require chemotherapy for starters. Some sort of surgery will follow, but that has yet to be determined.  And while my earthly, sinful side wants to focus on the questions still at hand, the Lord is slowly reminding of all the things that I can be confident of.  He's softly whispered Isaiah 55:8-9 every day to me since that dreaded phone call: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.  "As the heavens are higher that the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  Though I don't understand why that spot showed up in her breast, I am confident that He does and He will use it for His glory.

He's shown His face in small and big ways already.  The sweet lady at the wig shop that asked my mom if she could pray for her before she left. The God-fearing doctor that had already prayed for God to direct His hand on the day that he placed the port, but also prayed with my mom before he even began the procedure to still her heart and her nerves.  Sweet prayers from my twelve year old for a "Gigi" that he loves dearly.  And reminders that life is short and to treasure every opportunity with her (and my dad!)

Most of you who read this have met my mom.  You know that she is one of the most generous people, always going out of her way to serve others and does it to the best of her ability.  If she's got it and you need it, she'll give it to you.  If you need help and she is able, she'll fix you up!  She's hard-working, caring, and loves people.  She's a gem, for sure.  But the thing about her that I've thought of the most since all this surfaced is that she loves Jesus.  And honestly, knowing that makes all the difference in how we face cancer.  It is not bigger than our God, it is not stronger than her salvation, and it is not going to thwart His plans for her!  In that I have confidence.

Today is Day 1 of a grueling couple of weeks for her, so I'm praying extra big prayers for her this morning- prayers of peace, prayers of healing, and prayers of comfort.  We go way back... 35 years and 6 months to be exact, and I'm planning on 35 more.  As I sit here hundreds of miles away, I can't do much physically to help.  But if you hear the faint sound of cheering and yelling, know that we Marlins are covering you in prayer and cheers today.  Here's to kicking cancer's behind!  I love you, Mama!