Tuesday, October 19, 2021

When Our Children Suffer

It’s been many months that I’ve thought about what to write here. I have this desire inside to write out the formative happenings of my life, this internal prompting that always nudges me towards transparency, openness, and sharing. I mostly see it as good, a manifestation in me of God’s craftsmanship and I could fight it and try to live outside of it, or just embrace it as part of who I am.

I’ve landed on embracing it. Bring what it might.

But sometimes, the stories in our hearts need time to unfold, to bring the grief they bring, to be honored for the holy and hard work they will do. This story needed time.

I needed time.

I will tell you before I begin that my heart is so tender, my feelings raw, and my hope feels fragile. I feel an ache in sharing this that I won’t do justice to any of it and that my words, that often come so easy, will fail me. So I will just start typing and see where it takes us.

Let me start at the beginning.

When I was very little, my older sister began to notice that it was hard for me to keep up with my siblings. Among other things, we would head to Ocean City, Maryland for two weeks every July - my family’s annual beach vacation. After splashing in the waves day after day, my Mom would choose one night and she would take all of us to the boardwalk - all of my siblings burnt to a crisp, but me? Perfectly tan. Never burnt. I would head out with summer hair blowing behind me that my grandfather said looked like spun gold when the sun drenched it. And I would laugh that my siblings all looked like blond-haired lobsters and I was golden brown.

I got the good summer genes.

We’d walk two blocks from our condominium on 30th Street to 28th Street where the boardwalk began, and we’d walk all the way to the inlet - thirty-six blocks in total. My older sister noticed that after a few blocks, I would tire. I’d need to sit and rest my legs. Never much of a complainer, I’d rest a while, then pick back up and keep going. Rest. Walk. Rest. Walk.

This was how I spent much of my childhood. I didn’t think much of it. It was all I knew.

My parents decided when I was age nine that it was time to see why I was having trouble in the many situations that mirrored the scenario on the boardwalk, so my Mom and I began a series of doctor’s appointments that eventually led to a stumped pediatrician, baffled specialists at our local university hospital, and prompted my Mom to take me from our hometown in West Virginia to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD for me to be evaluated by a team of medical professionals there. I went through a week-long series of tests and exams, and was diagnosed with a rare genetic orthopaedic condition that was causing my pain, inability to walk well, and fatigue. There was only one doctor in the world at the time who was treating patients with my condition, and he was based in Baltimore - but he had a year-long waitlist to see him.

So we waited.

One year later, when I was twelve years old, I had my appointment in Baltimore and it was there that I got the news that would change the trajectory of my life:

I would need surgery. Lots of it.

I would need double hip and knee reconstruction surgery over the course of many months (which subsequently turned into years), a full body cast for 12 weeks, many months of inpatient and outpatient physical therapy, and a whole lot of courage.

My family moved to Baltimore shortly after my diagnosis that also coincided with my parents divorce (which brought about many complications, trauma, and heartache) and I began my surgeries in 9th grade, when I was fifteen years old. Over the course of my high school years, I had more than ten different operations on my hips and knees, and three different 12-week stints in a body cast.

Here I am in my body cast in the hospital in 1990 with my sister, Cara, who came to visit me from Virginia Beach.

This wheelchair would become my second home throughout high school along with my hospital bed that was set up in the basement of our rented townhouse.

These were HARD years. I was, after all, a fifteen year-old girl full of life and dreams whose friends were skipping off to the pool, going to movies and the mall and out on dates and I was either confined to the basement or in the hospital. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would ever want me - wheelchair bound, can’t do things, can’t walk, can’t possibly be worthy of anyone’s affection. This is a recipe for teenage depression, deep sadness, and loss of hope.

But, isn’t it like God to take the ingredients of disaster and fashion them into a masterpiece of His choosing?

I was desperately lonely, but God lit a small flame in my heart and a flicker of hope began to take root. I began to believe something I had always been taught about Him: He would never leave me. I wasn’t alone. I learned to talk to Him in the dark night of my basement life when I heard the swift pounding footsteps of real life going on above me. I learned during those many years of solitude that we call this prayer - an open conversation we get to have with the God of Heaven who sees us, loves us, and wants to be close to us. He offers his presence wherever we are.

These were the years that God formed, fortified and forged my faith. I learned to trust Him in my loneliness, in my pain, and in my deep sorrow and loss. I saw His faithfulness to me firsthand, in the fresh baked Portuguese bread my best friend Sandra’s grandmother baked for me. I experienced His goodness in the hours my sister Anna would play Mario Brothers with me and in the brief evening minutes when the sun would cast beams of light through the basement windows.

It was during those long, lonely days when I wondered if anyone cared that I was alone that I began what would become a lifelong hobby of hunting for joy in little things - because I could not find it in the big ones. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t turn over. I couldn’t go out with my friends. Did I even still have friends? I couldn’t do anything physically, but lay there.


I could delight in the prisms the sunlight brought through the window. I could savor every bite of the toast and jelly my sister made me after school. I could refuse to be defined by a situation I hadn’t chosen, but that was mine nonetheless. I began to dream about life outside of my suffering and I didn’t know what it would look like. But I knew I wanted God - my late night listener, my true friend, my confidant - with me when I broke free.

God drew me close and revealed himself to me - this young girl who needed a Comforter for her broken, lonely heart. But he gave me what he knew I needed more - a Savior for my soul.

He saved me in my darkest night.

It was in those months in my body cast that God became my constant companion. If you know me and read my words from time to time, you’ve likely met him here. His name is Jesus. We are tight. He’s never let me go.

That was thirty-one years ago. And there is much more to that story. But, I’ve lived a lot of life since those days in the basement. I had double hip replacements when I was in my mid-twenties and I married Jason, who has only ever seen the scars that cover my legs as evidence of God’s faithfulness to bring me through suffering. And I’m a mama now - to five beautiful souls who are pure joy to me - such undeserved gifts of God’s grace and mercy on my life.

And this is where today’s story begins. Me, as a mama

About a year ago, we began to notice that Lincoln, our third son, was having trouble walking. He complained of knee pain and would often feel stiff and sore and would have trouble keeping up with his siblings. I took him to his pediatrician, only to be told that he likely was experiencing growing pains typical of boys in their early teens.

You know how mamas know when something isn’t right?

I knew.

I researched and googled and called places and took him to an orthopaedic specialist here in Raleigh and it was the sunniest day in March when I heard the gut-wrenching words that would rock me to the core:

“Lincoln has a rare genetic orthopaedic condition. It is the same one you have.”

I felt gut-punched. Crushed. When I was pregnant with my first son, Jack, seventeen years ago, I had genetic testing done to see if my condition could be passed on to my children. I was told no.

So, how? 

Lord, HOW?

And how did I not know? What didn’t I see? I could feel hot tears making their way to my eyes but I looked at Lincoln and I saw he was looking at me...

Lord, make me brave. Give me courage. I just cannot do this.

I shoved deep down and away my feelings of panic and fear and put on a plastic face of “It’ll be ok.”

It wasn’t ok. I wasn’t ok. Was my boy ok? 

We were referred to a pediatric orthopedist at Duke who specializes in this condition. And then we went home and I avoided talking about it, even when Jason tried to engage me.

Lincoln’s appointment with the pediatric orthopedist was two weeks later and the doctor came into the room with Lincoln’s x-rays and began to speak.

I knew what was coming. But I didn’t want him to say it.

Please Lord, don’t let him say it.

“Lincoln will need hip and knee surgery on both legs over the course of the next year. We need to begin as soon as possible.”

I looked out the window to try to will the heartache rising within me to stay put. I could not look at Jason. I knew that would be my undoing. His heart is entwined with mine and I knew his was breaking, too. So I put my hand on Lincoln’s leg and told him we’d get through whatever was ahead.

I didn’t believe it. I just said it. It’s what mamas do.

I was so mad at this doctor sitting in front of us for not giving us different news. Wasn’t there another way? Surely medicine is more advanced now. Wasn't there another way?  

Is there anything as desperate as the internal pleading of a mother’s love?

Jason and I rode home mostly in silence. Lincoln wanted a treat, which is what kids in big families always want when out alone with their parents because they’re used to having to share everything and well, big canisters of oatmeal are cheaper than Cocoa Pebbles so they milk you for junk when you’re out. It’s a whole thing.

I was in agony. I wanted to cry and I wanted to make it go away. I wanted to turn around and tell him that the treat wouldn’t fix this and that it is going to be a horrible and hard road for him and he doesn’t even know how much it’s gonna hurt. I sat in silence instead. I knew I’d regret anything I said and hated the thoughts I was thinking anyway. Lincoln happily drank a Chick-fil-A milkshake and seemed unbothered by any of it. He was so brave. I was so heartbroken

Only my pillow knows the grief I experienced over the next several days. Only God knows the heartache I felt, the memories and trauma that came flooding back in those late night hours - the basement windows and the bed sores and the loneliness and my parents divorce and how mom wasn’t around much to help me and the confinement of my body and heart. The relentless beeping of hospital machines for weeks on end and the horrible smell of anesthesia and the nausea and the pain. So much physical pain.

I cried so many tears. I wanted to run away. I would go to sleep and then wake up in the middle of the night and remember that laying upstairs was my son who had no idea what was ahead of him and I’d start crying again at the thought of him suffering and Jason would reach over but I didn’t want Jason. I didn’t want anybody. I wanted to run away. I wanted this fixed. I wanted to go back to life before Lincoln was in pain every day and he could run in the yard with his brothers.

I was absolutely grief-stricken.

Why was God asking this of my child? Wasn’t asking it of me enough?

For all of my life, I have never begrudged God asking this physical suffering of me. I have never shaken my fists at him for asking me to suffer or spend my teenage years staring blankly at the wall and alone in a cast or for giving me a life where walking is hard for me sometimes. I accepted it. I was at peace with it.

But this? Now my child?

I won’t accept it.

I cry instant tears now when I think back to those early days of getting the news about Lincoln's surgeries and the road we're on because I remember how I felt then.

I felt it all.

I let myself grieve. And boy, did I grieve. I sobbed. I gave my heart permission to cry out in agony. I made myself wrestle with the good God that I love. I knew that He could handle all of my pain, all of my disappointment and fear and heartache and well, so He should, I thought. He, after all, allowed this to be. I was so angry with him.

But it was this grieving, the permission to feel it all with absolute abandon that created a tear-stained pathway for where I am today.

My tears and wrestling? They pointed me back to what I learned as a young teen in my own suffering, to what I know is true about God: He will never leave.

Over the weeks that followed, God drew near, just as he had those thirty years ago. My heart began to rally. I could feel hope welling up in me and it was as fierce as the grief it was replacing. I called my sisters and I finally reached out to my tight community and I told them. I told them what was ahead for my boy and for me and my family and that I was heartbroken and grieving and so deeply sad. Just stating it in all of its cold truth felt simultaneously like a relief and like a fresh new wound. Each conversation held a new wave of grief. I will never forget how they cried and carried this with me. They promised to be here for me, to be here for us and the gift of not feeling alone in it anymore fanned the flames of hope within me. They spoke truth to me...and I believed them. They told me I’d never be alone in this, and that Lincoln would never suffer in a basement alone. They told me I was his mama - the perfect one to care for him and love him. That no one was better equipped, better chosen, better worthy of the calling God was giving me to walk through this with my boy. His story would be different. 

I believed them. And God used them to comfort my heart from the initial blow of such hard news and to fortify it for the journey I’m embarking on. I will never forget their words of hope and care and love for me.

So here I am. Sharing it with you, my beloved friends and family from all over. I wanted to write this out for me, because it’s how I best process my feelings, but also for you - because you are somehow, in some way, part of our family’s unfolding story, too.

Some of you brought me flowers and cards and candy baskets and balloons in the hospital when I was going through my own surgeries as a young teenager. You went to church with me and you wrote me cards of encouragement and I still have them. I still have all of them. Your words were life to me in the darkest season of my life.

Some of you are my high school and college friends and you pushed my wheelchair or carried my backpack or walked slower for me on the way to class. You signed oversized cards at the lunch table at school and sent them to me and you called my hospital room and you took me to Chi-Chi’s in my reclined wheelchair. Your kindnesses were never unnoticed and I will always be grateful.

Some of you are my mom friends, that I met in a hundred different ways from a hundred places. You have parented your babies alongside me from Baltimore to Michigan to Raleigh and you’ve read my blog and made my recipes and you’ve always cheered for my kids and for me in every season. You and your children have suffered in some of the most difficult, heartbreaking ways and you have lifted me up with your example of faith and with your encouragement and sharing of your own lives. Your comments on my posts have fed my soul and helped me feel loved this year when I sat behind my computer or phone with tears falling and wondered how I could ever do any of this, if I could ever write or share about it. I am so grateful for a larger community that loves me and my family.

Whoever you are, however you’re getting here to read this, I need your courage and I ask for your prayers. Please keep cheering for my family. Please keep cheering for my Lincoln. Please keep cheering for my other kids, who must sacrifice as they watch their brother go through something so difficult and painful. They are the tightest pack of kids - best friends who are fiercely protective of one another. They feel this all so deeply for their brother.

Speaking of my other kids, I am so wildly proud of them. They have rallied for their brother, come alongside him and protected him and encouraged him and both Jason and I see compassion and empathy taking root in their hearts in the most beautiful way. They are being molded into people who are seeing suffering and pain firsthand, and are tender hearted because of it. Lincoln is giving them an unspeakable gift.

And Lincoln? I asked him if I could share this with all of you and he quickly repsonded, "Of course, Mom." I don't have words for the courageous way he has walked through all of this. I am in awe of him. What a gift that I get to be his mother and love and care for him through this. He will never suffer a lack of love.

I have asked myself this same question over and over these last few months:

Would I will out of God’s hands for Lincoln the very thing He used to draw me to Him those many years ago?

And yes.
I don’t know.

Would I take away from Lincoln the very thing that drew someone like Jason to me - a man of compassion and kindness and tender care?

Would I remove this suffering from Lincoln’s life - the very suffering that has tethered my heart to the heart of Jesus?

Would I fix it all with my own solutions if I could? I actually know how that goes so that’s a big no. I am a horrible fixer.

I can’t answer those questions with any depth of honesty right now. But, I know they are good questions to ask. My heart is fragile and I don’t need to know the answers, but to trust the God that never leaves as I’m walking out this hard road with my child and family. I do know that He will never leave me or my boy. I know this because when I laid there in my own cast, He never left me. He was always there. Faithful. True. Present.

It is no accident that underneath the layers of plaster of my own casts God was building in my heart the faith and resolve and courage to face the casts that await my son. In that dreary basement, he was forging truth in me that would help me bear the heartbreak of watching my child suffer.

Suffering is a good and faithful teacher. OH, how I wish that wasn't so.

Lincoln has his first set of surgeries in a couple of weeks. He will come home from the hospital with a hip to toe cast for six weeks. We will find our way together, and I will get to be the mom he needs, the one I didn’t have. We will cheer for him, care for him, celebrate him, dote on him, and love him with all we’ve got. And we’ll keep doing that until he has more surgery in late winter and then we’ll do it all over again.

He will never walk through a single bit of it alone. He will never live alone in a dark basement. He will never wonder if he’s getting dinner or if he’s loved. He will always know love.

I keep clinging to this verse:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…” Hebrews 6:19

The anchor will hold. Though the storms rage and batter the vessel...

The anchor will hold.

Thank you for cheering for us, for loving us, and for praying for our boy.

And his mama.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

This Mother's Day Crushed Me. And Made Me New.

I've been looking at photos of my Mother's Days past these last few days. I remember each one of them - when I picked out the kids' clothes, and hoping I'd have time to get ready myself so we could catch a photo together. Sometimes I had a newborn in my arms or a squirmy toddler on my lap. I scanned the images as my babies turned into big kids in a flash and I've thankfully, gratefully come to a place where I don't long to go back to those days, but I cherish the memories in each photo. I am a mom. I am unspeakably grateful.

This Mother's Day was different than every one before it. This Mother's Day crushed me.

I don't want to tell this story. But any writer will tell you that when the story is trapped inside of you, sometimes the only way to freedom is to let it loose. I need to let this one out. I am writing not from the end where this story has a ribbon wrapped around it, but from a place where my heart is still raw and the wounds are fresh. Sometimes, most of the time I might argue, this is the best place to write from.

The week before Mother's Day, we went to the beach. This is the ONE week a year we deliberately unplug, set our phones and computers and devices aside, stay off social media which is GLORIOUSLY soul-refreshing, and soak up family time together. We begin planning six months in advance and the anticipation of lazy days by the ocean and late night card games and sun-kissed faces falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves fills my mama heart to the brim.

The week at the beach started rainy and colder, so we put together a two-thousand piece puzzle and ate all day and played mini-golf in sweatshirts and made the best of it. Mid-week, the sun broke through and it stayed - bringing warmth to our faces and sand between our toes and lunch by the pool. We were in and out of the water together, digging sand holes and judging cannonball contests and Whit murdered his paper Flat Stanley who'd come along as part of a school project by burying him in a sand hole and decapitating him upon retrieval. The kids showered off in the outdoor showers before dinner each of those days and we all collapsed into bed late at night - bellies full, swimsuits drying on balcony ledges, hearts full.

I had wrapped my girl's hair in two buns earlier in the week and as she played all day and was exhausted by the time we settled in for the night, I decided I'd wait til we got home to untwist and untangle them and fully wash and comb through her hair.

We returned home on Saturday afternoon and she and I headed upstairs to give her a warm bubble bath, take out her buns, and comb out her hair before church the next morning. I put her in the bath, tried to remove the elastic bands holding her hair in place, and they wouldn't budge. I soon realized that her hair was matted against her head in two rock hard, twisted balls of hair that normally hung past her waist - twisted, tangled - two impossible webs of her beautiful, long hair that had never been cut even ONCE - the hair that still held her baby curls at the bottom.

It was 7pm. I set her up on our bed and began trying to separate her hair. I worked on it for three hours until she could no longer hold her head up from exhaustion. At 10pm, I laid her down in her bed, kissed her rosy cheek, and fell into my bed and sobbed.

Gut-wrenching sobs. What had I done?

The next morning, Mother's Day, I awoke and hoped that a new morning would bring fresh perspective and her hair would come apart and comb out and we'd head to church. I sat my girl on my bed again, with new information from Google on how to untangle and loosen the two twisted, mangled balls of hair before me, and began to work on it again. Tears streamed down my face as I realized after three more hours that I was going to miss church completely. Jason went without me and dropped off our boys, came home with a coffee in hand for me - a small shred of comfort to what was becoming a full on crisis in my heart - and then returned to church without me. He had to tell our dear friends that we couldn't make it to their house for lunch with them that day - which we'd had planned for weeks. I sat on our bed with tears that would not cease and watched him walk out the door - trying to decide how to tell him to handle the inevitable question:

Where's Sarah?

She's sick.
She's not feeling well.
She's tired.


She's working on Holly's hair because she let it go and she's an awful mother.

Ahhhh. There's the truth. Finally. Now everyone will know the truth about me. I'm a farce. A fake.

I began to panic and a rush of terrifying anxiety came over me. I had been working on her hair - trying to separate it into something that could possibly begin to be brushed or combed out - for SIX HOURS. I had coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil and conditioners and sprays that Jason had run around and purchased at my request that morning. After SIX HOURS of my girl sitting in front of me, her holding back tears from all the pulling, tugging and desperate attempts to untangle it and me sobbing non-stop, her hair hardly looked any different than when we started the night before.

I wiped the oil off of my fingers enough to text a friend. Will you come sit with me tonight when you're finished celebrating Mother's Day?

I texted my wizard of a hairdresser, who is more than that to me - a treasured friend: Here is what I've done. Do you know what I might be able to do?

This is when my tribe showed up. They didn't just show up, THEY STORMED IN.

I started getting texts:

How is it going? I saw Jason. What can I do? How can I help you?

I know what you are battling. It's lies. All of it is lies. You are a GOOD mother. 

I am on my way. My plans changed today. I'm coming with coffee and we'll fix it.

Thirty minutes later, a friend arrived and she sat next to me and coated her hands in oil and began working on my girl's hair alongside of me. My hairdresser (AB), a mama herself, left her lunch, and busted through my front door that afternoon with understanding tears and a bag of tools to help fix the mess I'd made.

Every Mother's Day before, I had sent out texts to my friends and my sisters and responded to theirs. I posted a photo of my babies and how proud and grateful I am to be their mama. This Mother's Day, the messages kept dinging on my phone and my hands were coated in oil and I was sobbing uncontrollably and couldn't respond to any of them. No photo. No celebration.

I wept all day. My girl would turn around and see me crying - three of us yanking on her hair, pulling, tugging, trying to untwist the absolute untwistable and she never once complained. She would turn around and see me crying and put her tiny hands on my cheeks and kiss me and press her cheek against mine and turn back around for more of the same torture she'd been enduring for hours on hours.

At 7pm that night, we called it quits. FIFTEEN hours of working on her hair, and it looked only slightly different than it had the night before. None of it had come loose. I hadn't seen my sons all day because they spent the afternoon at the pool with their Dad at my request - because I couldn't handle them seeing me in the condition I was in. They came home at 7pm, saw me, and our house fell silent. They all stared at me - blankly. I looked and felt like death. A helpless, relentless feeling of shame and guilt had fallen hard on me and darkness was closing in.

But, it's just hair, Sarah.

Here is the interesting thing about those of us that have experienced childhood trauma. It can rear its ugly head at any point at such seemingly small things and before you know what's happening, a scab has been ripped off to reveal a gaping wound underneath. This is where I was. I was bleeding. The guilt and shame were crushing me.

Here was my beloved girl - wearing on her head the same neglect I'd felt as a child.

This is what the Enemy does. He never comes at us announcing his arrival, wielding a visible weapon to destroy us. He comes in with past hurt, cutting into deep wounds and releasing his fury where and when we least expect it. His intent we cannot immediately dissect because he doesn't directly accuse us - he asks questions. Just like he did to God's very first children in the garden:

Did God really say...?

And to me on Mother's Day...

How could you let this happen?
Look at her, do you see her wearing your neglect?
Do you think she'll ever forget?
What will your friends think?

I collapsed into bed after putting my girl in hers and I sobbed. Gut-wrenching pain. My boys would creak the door to my room open, lay a handmade card or note on my dresser and I'd see but their shadows and then they'd close the door again. What it must've been like for them to see me like that.

Accusations flew around the room as if attached to the spinning ceiling fan:

Will they ever forget what you've done to their sister?

I sobbed all night long. I would sleep for an hour and wake to this horrible feeling and then remember. And I'd start sobbing again.

I woke at 6am the next morning, and a dear, precious friend arrived at 7:30am without even asking me, with kindness behind her eyes, my favorite coffee, and to take the boys to school. She only said three words to me that morning: God sees you.

She took off work to be there for me all day - whatever I needed. AB opened her salon that day - the day it's closed and her day off, and told me to bring my girl in at 9am.

We drove to the salon and all day long, AB blasted Bethany Dillon's soul-stirring music overhead and she began to work on my girl's hair. I knew at that point that we would lose most of her beautiful hair and both me and AB cried together at the loss and grief I was feeling, but we hoped to keep enough that we wouldn't have to basically buzz her head.

I texted my husband: "What if she gets bullied in Kindergarten because she has a boy haircut?"

He immediately responded: "I'm not answering that question because I know that's not you talking."

Satan's lies are rich in death and sorrow, devoid of life, and they are POWERFUL.

At 6pm, AB finished. My girl had endured with supernatural, Holy Spirit-powered strength and patience EIGHT more hours that day in a chair as AB calmly, patiently, and methodically made cuts into the webs of hair attached to her head and worked out tangles and more cuts and more tangles and because of AB's persistence and sheer will, she saved an amazing amount of my girl's hair.

My girl lost 24 inches of hair that had been growing since she was in my womb. I lost her baby curls. Remnants of her baby-ness strewn in rope-like, tangled strands on the floor. It felt like a death. A loss that was cutting me deep and a goodbye I wasn't ready for. We never want to surrender our idols and lay them at the feet of the cross.

It was never about hair. The gut-wrenching sobs came because every Mom has this easy-access door to guilt. We have HEAPS of expectations we carry around - real, from actual words we've heard spoken to us; or imagined, fashioned from years of innuendo and assumptions. They come from our own mothers and the way they did things and we want their approval - even if we don't see them or have relationships with them as adults. MOUNDS of internal expectations come from watching other moms and knowing we'll never measure up because we all play the comparison game and we don't wanna be the failure mom who doesn't have her crap together. They come from fake ideas of perfection on Instagram accounts and what we perceive to be the "right" way to do things. They come from trauma. They come from walking this world in bodies that were not meant to carry the weight of sin.

A mom's heart is a ripe playground for the Enemy's rompings. He doesn't need to be a physical presence to crush us. He can smugly and delightfully look on as we do it to ourselves with his favorite poison - a bloody cocktail of guilt and shame.

This is why and when the people of God need each other. My tribe - they came in fighting with the only cure for guilt and shame - the truth of God's word. They brought words of life and they SHOWED UP carrying their own shields of faith because I could not pick up my own. The Enemy's arrows were flying, and THEY FOUGHT THEM OFF with the Word of God and they were fighting to "extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" that were headed straight at my heart.

A friend stopped by with a bag full of new girly hair clips and bows before we ever got home from the salon. Another drove over that night with a bottle of sparkling wine and a Yeti full of orange juice, looked into my tear-stained face and served me up a mimosa - the one I'd missed the day before on Mother's Day when my bed held me and my girl and the ashes of my heart that had been scorched by the burning fire of lies and crushing guilt

They started asking questions filled with truth and light - the antidote for the lie-filled questions I'd been hearing.

Did God really say you're His beloved daughter? YES, He did.
Did God really say that there is NOTHING that can separate you from His love? YES, He did.
Did God really say He will fight for you and that he put His spirit within you? YES, He did.

We didn't get her hair free.

Instead, my girl's hair is helping me break free from lies that are buried deep inside of me: That somehow her long hair defined her. That the lack of it somehow defines me. That little girls should have long hair and ONLY long hair, that women wear their femininity, or lack of it on their heads not in their hearts - Satan's lies I didn't realize were buried deep down in me from hearing them 35 years ago.

These lies buried deep in us that come bleeding out when heart crises hit is why we need our tribes that are willing do the hard things with us and speak truth to us. They come over with coffee and hair tools and shoulders offered up as a means of grace and carry us through when we cannot see the way out. They come on Mother's Day, when we've miscarried or are in the throes of postpartum depression or are childless or single and deeply sad or have lost a baby and they weep with us over the death of our dreams. We claim TOGETHER that the lies we believe about ourselves are NOT true with to-go coffee with plastic lids and mimosas from Yeti cups and fingers dipped into bowls of olive oil while tears fall fresh into our laps. We defy the lies with texts full of Scripture and phone calls filled with hope and WE SHOW UP and we declare that Jesus DIED for ALL of it. We help each other break free from Satan's grasp and we run together HARD after Jesus, knowing that in his arms we will find the only identity we ever need and the only love that won't let us go.

I sat on the bed this past weekend and all I could see was my girl sitting in front of me wearing my neglect, shame and guilt on her head. I am seeing past that now. God NEVER leaves us in the valley of the shadow of death. He didn't stay on the cross. He blew the door off the tomb and gave us in his resurrected body the key to our own resurrected life. If he can wrestle actual DEATH from the hands of Satan and claim victory over it, then He has already defeated him in the battleground of my heart as he makes me new and calls me to live deeper and more fully in the light of His love and mercy.

This is what redemption looks like on Mother's Day.

This is what a fiercely loving and loyal community looks like.

This is chains of childhood trauma broken and laid fallen on the ground. This is shields of faith gathered and raised around a mama and her baby girl sitting on a stool for HOURS on end in a family room in suburban Raleigh declaring to the Enemy, "Not this girl. And NOT her mama." This is a picture of the glory of God the Father who calls us to the deep waters of suffering then lovingly pulls us out, freshly made new and into His image and experiencing the joy of living in light of the Resurrection.

This is my new girl. The one who wears the crown of being a beloved daughter of the King, a cherished and adored child of God, never defined by her outward appearance, but fashioned by Him and bearing the unbridled beauty of the Imago Dei.

The same crown her mama wears.

This is my Holly.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The night my husband slept outside the bedroom door.

And, I laid there in the hallway feeling utterly forgiven, grace-lended, and more loved by God than I had in a very, very long time. God's presence swelled into a glorious forgiveness song that filled our home and relationship with His peace and love.

That is the end of the story. It just seemed like the best place to start.

Last night, after our pastor, J.D. Greear posted on his blog what my husband had shared with a friend's 15 year-old son on dating and marriage, a friend asked us what was behind one particular point:

"Never ever sleep on the couch. If necessary, sleep on the floor outside the bedroom door."

He asked if that had ever happened to us. Well, it has. And this one moment was paramount in my life as I began to understand what true love and forgiveness could look like inside my young marriage.

Now that I've shared the end with you, let's start at the beginning.

Just a couple of months into my marriage, I stood in our bedroom shouting across the bed. My husband tried to reason back in what would be our first and most heart-wrenching argument. I cried. He clammed up. I shouted some more. I cried some more. And, he just shook his head in frustration.

It was late. I was devastated and angry and hurt and so very prideful. I ran down the hallway and slammed and locked the door to the guest room.

Please, Lord. Let him come after me.

I cried as hard as I could cry into the pillow. I cried because I knew I was wrong. I was so stubborn and would not yield, and my pride and I were now laying alone in the twin bed in our guest room.

He gently rapped on the door.

"Go away. Just leave me alone."

Please, Lord. Let him rap on the door, again.


A few minutes later, the light in the hallway went out, and I wept into my pillow until I fell asleep.

Early the next morning, I awoke alone. I woke up with that awful feeling that something was wrong, but wasn't sure right away exactly what it was.

And, then I remembered.

The fight. My shouting. Our first argument. The bed that usually brought us together separating us like an ocean between two continents.

I felt the tears start to well up in my already puffy eyes, again, and I moved the blankets aside to head down to our bedroom to find my husband and ask him to forgive me.

I opened our guest room door, and there it was.


It was laying on a pillow on the floor in the hallway. Right outside our guest room door. Covered in a way-too-small blanket, and sleeping.

It was my husband.

I knelt down next to him, and he opened the blanket and I crawled under and as close to him as I could get. We talked about what had happened, and I asked for forgiveness. The sweep of his fingers across my cheeks as I wept was just one of the many signs of his true and heartfelt forgiveness I felt that morning. He forgave me without hesitation.

I asked my husband why he slept outside my door. "To be as close to you as I could", he responded.

He was the offended. I was the offender. His love for me, his love for Christ, his desire for restoration and healing caused him to pursue me when he would have been justified in waiting for me to come begging for forgiveness.

And, I laid there in the hallway feeling utterly forgiven, grace-lended, and more loved by God than I had in a very, very long time. God's presence swelled into a glorious forgiveness song that filled our home and relationship with His peace and love.

This picture of forgiveness plays over and over in my mind as I walk through life. It was such a powerful tool in teaching me that repentance and forgiveness are at the cornerstone of every successful relationship - marriage, friendship, siblings, parent/child.

For the forgiver, what an opportunity to extend God's love and grace to someone who doesn't deserve it.

It could change someone's life. It changed mine.

As my young sons grow into men, they will be hurt, offended and betrayed more times than I can bear to think about. And, most frequently, by those close to them.

It is how they respond to those offenses that will reveal the true depth of their character.

My hope for them is that they learn to respond in love, servanthood, forgiveness, and grace.

Their father modeled this for me early on in our marriage. It was something I didn't understand, but the night he slept outside our bedroom door showed me a beautiful picture of what true, Christ-like forgiveness looks like.

After almost 20 years of marriage, I'm still learning. But, I pray that I can model for my young daughter a life and marriage characterized by a willingness to forgive - as I teach her how to be a pursuer of forgiveness as well.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why Good Friday Matters For Our Messy Hearts & Lives

I have ALWAYS had a hard time finishing ANYTHING.

I'm easily distracted, I fly by the seat of my pants, I'm a professional procrastinator, I'll get to it sometime is my life-long motto.

If it weren't for Good Friday, I'd say I'm a quitter.

Good Friday? What's that got to do with it?

I have this distinct childhood memory of my sister and I staring at the disaster that was our bedroom after being told we had to clean it up or we'd get no supper. We both flopped on our side-by-side twin beds and plotted for an hour (or hours - who was counting? We weren't.) about how we might go about cleaning the mess before us.

We wrote out our plan on little wooden chalkboards. Erased it. Then wrote a new plan when we realized Plan A would mean we'd have to get up and actually do something. Then we were so worn out from all the planning that we sat down on the floor amidst the mess and created a lavish Barbie wedding with a roll of toilet paper.

I'm sure hours passed before either of us ever gave a thought to the fact that all the planning, the chalkboard lists, and the really, really good intentions would mean the eminent banishment to our bedroom for the rest of our lives.

Sometimes I think I was just never taught. I didn't have organized parents. I didn't grow up in an organized house. When my mother said, "Clean under your bed", I threw everything in the closet. When she said, "Clean out your closet" - (worst scenario EVER for a kid who was told last week to clean under the bed), I shoved everything under the bed.

I'm a wife and mom of five kids now. But, wow - I am still that eight year-old shoving messes from one place to another. When I clean out my closet - now, as a grown-up, a mother of FIVE children - I put everything in my bedroom. If I need to clean my bedroom, everything goes back in the closet.

Mess shuffler? Does that sound right?

Sometimes I feel like I'm a prisoner of what I can't be, don't know how to be, wasn't taught to be. And in today’s world, we get to put on an instant, public, filtered, snapshot-worthy display of ALL the things we are and ALL the things that we do well. We never have to expose or allow others to see all that we are not. It's easy to share successes, right? Take pic, edit, filter, post. Repeat.

Repeat, again.

But, behind that perfect photo, we’re all full of doubts about who we really are, aren’t we? I am. I'm scared and overwhelmed by all that I'm not. I look around and see what is unfinished in my life and all that is unworthy and unwelcome about me in this Pinterest world we live in. I see the secret closets and the drawers full of yesterday, yestermonth, yesteryear. I see a mess of stuff I shuffle around in my head - things I want to do, to be, to actually complete.

But, more than ANY of that, I know the secret places in my heart. The places that are dirtier, messier, and unlovelier than any bedroom, any closet, any drawer.

Can I tell you why Good Friday matters to a messy sinner like me? Why it matters deep down - in the places that define me?

Because of Good Friday, because of the cross - when God looks at me, He doesn't see all that I am not. God sees Jesus on the cross. The one who died instead of me. The one who bore my shame, carried the messes of my heart on his beaten and bloody back, and I live free of judgment and shame because he died in my place.

When I feel like a quitter who just. can't. get. it. together, I cling to the message of hope the cross of Jesus declares for me: God gave his only son for sinners. Like me. Like you.

Because of the cross, I have THIS promise:

And I am sure of this, that he who began
a good work in you will bring it to completion
at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

God is not a quitter. He carried his own cross on his back and died for me in the most glorious finish in history. My life is his work. And, he doesn't give up.

He isn't giving up on me. He isn't giving up on you.

I may not be organized. My bedroom might be messy. And, the drawers and closets and secret places in my heart that I don't want anyone to see scream out, "You are not good enough." And you know what? I'm not.

But, the cross of Jesus is. I have God's promise - that he began something marvelous in me when he made me his, and until I fly through the ribbon at the end of my life and finish this race, I will cling to the grace and promise of knowing that I am his project, his plan, his girl.

And, He's not finished with me yet.

So as Good Friday approaches, it matters to my messy heart and life because the cross is where Jesus declared that that my sin and my failures and my “not enoughs” and the work I could NEVER do for myself no longer define me. The righteousness of Jesus is my victory cry.

He finished what I never could.

The cross for secret closets.
The cross for messy hearts.
The cross for quitters.
The cross for little girls with chalkboard plans.
The cross for mamas who can't get it together.

The cross of Jesus – the hope of Good Friday for me.
The hope of Good Friday for you.