Unique and Unified

Last night, the Family Advisory Board of NC Children’s Hospital kicked off a new year with a fantastic session!

Truth be told – my nerves were high as this would be my first meeting as Chair, the responsibility heavy on my mind.  But as our members filed in, ease filled the air.  Individuals with unique stories, varying experiences, different personalities and a variety of skills.  Parents, patients, care providers, and clinicians. What an eclectic bunch!

I began by recognizing journeys in healthcare often include pain.  Yet within those trials exists what I have come to call the “treasure trove of suffering”.  Unfathomable gifts wrapped in unexpected packaging.

Resilient strength of children.
Fearless love of parents.
Pity replaced by compassion.
Counting each day as a gift.
Recognizing the miraculous in the familiar.
Beauty in the broken.

As everyone shared their stories and acquired treasures, eyes filled with tears, heads nodding with empathy.  Stories of strength, stories of trial. Stories of love, loss, and hope.  Unique journeys walked by one-of-a-kind individuals.

Through acknowledging our unique experiences, we found ourselves remarkably unified!  Unified by the treasures gathered along the way and respect for the trials endured.

How easily comparison could sneak in:
“But my child is still alive; yours died!”
“My journey was short; you’re still on this difficult journey!”
“My kids are healthy; what could I possibly bring to the table?”
“I’m just a healthcare provider.  I’ve never had a sick child.  How could I contribute?”
“I only…  I just…  But I haven’t…”

In one accord we voiced that comparison would have no place on our Board.  We acknowledge our unique experiences, roles, etc.  We honor the treasures our troves have wrought.  And together – parents, patients, and providers alike – unite with the common goal of serving the healthcare community that served us well.

NC Children’s Hospital Family Advisory Board: Unique AND Unified!

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Filed under Chapel Hill, Family Advisory Board, UNC

So God Made A Sister

As God looked upon the world He’d made, upon the family unit He established, He saw a heart cry for a specific life companion.

So God made a sister.

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He saw children’s desire to explore and dreams of adventures far and near.  He knew princesses would twirl, delighting in each other’s beauty as they wore dresses five times their size.  He knew outfits held more fun when worn in tandem with a close friend.  He created them to nurture and be nurtured, to inspire and to be adored.  Before they could even walk, kindness lavished was needed.

So God made a sister.

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He created daughters filled with joy, brimming over and longing to be shared with others.  Laughter needing sharing, victories (even the smallest ones) needing celebrating, and griefs needing carrying by strong, sympathetic hearts.  Secrets bubbled for entrusting as songs echoed in hearts craving harmony.  Joys to share and burdens to bear.

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So God made a sister.

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He knew this fallen world could be cruel, whispering lies stripping value and beauty from rightful beholders.  He knew a woman’s worst critic would often be herself and how desperately she’d need her vision readjusted by another seeing more clearly.  As valleys low loomed and high mountains called for climbing, He desired entrusted history and friendship to never leave her side.

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So God made a sister.

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From sidewalks to school halls, down aisles and through delivery wards, He desired she not be alone.  From Nana’s shoe closet to dress-up trunks, from prom dresses to wedding gowns, He desired her beauty be shared and celebrated.  From little league to Varsity, from summer camps near to excursions abroad, He longed that His daughters experience adventures, make memories, transform from girls to women together.

So God made a sister.

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In 1986, the world changed as a beautiful curly-headed ginger entered the scene.  Her bright green eyes and dimpled smile sparked inspiration as her contagious joy filled every darkened space.  Strangers became new-found friends and the insecure found encouragement.  She shone light as though she’d soaked up the sun.  Dance partner, adventure companion, sleepover snuggle bug, and persistent friend.

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Through life’s darkest valleys, she would inspire strength and resilience among her family, often giving them cause to keep going when it seemed easier to give in to cynicism.  Infectious joy, she would grow to hold wisdom beyond her years and compassion beyond reason.  Love for the broken, kindness for the downtrodden, and enduring hope through it all.

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God knew a family would need reminding over and again of His goodness, His faithfulness, His love through dark seasons to come.  As darkness sought to tear apart, He desired they be knit close together.  Someone to pray, someone to encourage, someone to inspire and trust. Confidant and best friend.

And when He looked upon this beauty, He smiled knowing His creation was indeed very good.

For God made my sister.

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Filed under Family, Friends, God, Patience, Photography

Fog Of Failure

She set out to conquer her morning run.  Shoes laced, water bottle in hand, her body stretched and fueled. The familiar path brimmed with potential. 3…2…1… Run!

No stranger to the road, this experienced runner girded herself for the task ahead.  Hills.  Turns.  The mental struggle to keep going right before that euphoric “runner’s high”.  Nothing seemed to phase her focus and stride. She was ready!

But then the fog set in.

imageOut of nowhere dense clouds descended upon her path. Her surroundings faded like intricate stones beneath snow – all detail, all guiding markers lost in a blanket of white. She’d run this path so many times before undaunted through rain, wind, blinding sun, and fading light. But as the fog fell thick, her stride slowed to a timid stroll. All experience, all previous runs faded like her surroundings as her bearings blurred to gray. Though she could not hold the fog in her hands, its presence surrounded her to a stop.  Which path to take?  Which direction to run?  Where am I going?  Where am I now?!  Frozen.

Whether we’re runners or not, we’ve all faced this similar dilemma. Course set, skills honed, yet become wary of taking the next step ahead.

When the fog of failure falls, how quickly courage fades.

Perhaps its a familiar road. Perhaps its a new trail. Perhaps its a path long traveled, preparations years in the making. When failure rears its loathsome head, everything goes gray. The fog of failure can render us lost, afraid, immobile.

What if it happens again?
What if you fail?
Remember when they betrayed you? How can you trust again?
Don’t get your hopes up. Remember when…
Do you honestly think you’ll get it right this time?
You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.
Failure……

Failure immobilizes like a fog. But thanks be to God who shines in our darkness, who lights our path! (Psalm 119:105) Like a ship lost at sea, the Truth of God’s Word and character will give us our bearings, guiding us safely to our destination. It may be slow going for a time but we need not be frozen in the fog. He has given us mileposts, markings, lights to guide our way out through.

What if it happens again?
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8)
What if you fail?
“My grace is sufficient for all your needs for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:)
Remember when they betrayed you? How can you trust again?
“For there is a Friend (speaking of Jesus) who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Don’t get your hopes up. Remember that past pain?
“”We rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Do you honestly think you’ll get it right this time?
“I lift my eyes to the hills from whence does my help come? My help comes from The Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:1-3)
You can’t.
“For I am The Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.'” (Isaiah 41:13)
Failure.
“The Lord is my light and my salvations – whom shall I rfear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear, though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will life me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:1, 3, 5)

Failures fog will fall. Rather than freezing in fear, we can fix our eyes on the unchanging One who stands strong, His faithfulness sure as the coming dawn. The going may be slow but with our focus set on the Light that shines in the darkness (and the darkness CANNOT put it out), we can navigate through the fog back to clear skies and full strides.

Keep moving forward, Beloved. You are not forsaken.

You are not a failure.

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Filed under Faith, God, Running, Thoughts

Take Me Back

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Take me back down traveled track
where sands stretch out to sea
where wheat grass grows in golden rows
on rolling dunes set free

Take me down to yonder town
who lights shine sparse each night
while ocean’s song plays on til dawn
‘neath heavens canvas bright

Take me where I breathed sea air
as eastern winds blew strong
their salted breeze, my soul, did ease
its breath a soothing balm

Take me east that farthest reach
of Carolina’s Isles
whose beaches sparse refresh my heart
whose sunsets stretch for miles

Take me back down traveled track
where sands stretch out to sea
where in the grains my heart remains
Salvo, I long for thee

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Filed under Photography, Poetry

When The World Goes Mad

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Chaos.  Confusion.  Crisis.
War.  Violence.  Hatred.
Disease.  Death.  Despair.

It seems the world’s gone mad.  Suffocatingly mad.

Mad to an astronomical degree.

Lately I cannot even glimpse the news without overwhelming dread.  Here. Abroad.  The downward spiral seems spinning faster with each passing day.

And the questions.  Oh the questions!  “Why?!”

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?  It has been already in the ages before us. (‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭1‬:‭9-10‬ ESV)

Evil runs rampant but this is not the first time.  Egypt.  Rome.  Slavery.  The Crusades.  World Wars.  The Holocaust.  Genocide upon genocide.  Human Trafficking.  Fallen people committing unspeakable crimes in the name of their proclaimed “truth”.

As it is written: “There is none righteous, not even one; (‭Romans‬ ‭3‬:‭10‬ NASB)

From the Garden of Eden, sin’s chocking grip has bound this earth tight.  Evil has been.  Evil continues to be.  But praise be to God – evil will not last forever!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭18-26‬ ESV)

God remains faithful.  He remains sovereign and just upon His Throne.  His lovingkindness endures forever.

He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.  And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.  This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭25‬:‭8-9‬ NASB)

Do I understand why He allows such pain to continue?  No.

Am I unscathed by the evil rampant on our planet?  Not at all.

Do I still have hope?  Always.

Why?

Because I believe in the living God whose ways are higher than mine, whose thoughts exceed my own. (Isaiah 55:8-9)  Because the devil’s days are numbered and soon coming to an eternal end! (Rev. 20:10)  Because Jesus has the ultimate, the complete, the all-encompassing, the final Victory!  (Genesis 3:15; Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

Grieve the cost of sin.  Cry out to God on behalf of the broken, the beheaded, the battle-worn and buried.  Rejoice in the life, death, and RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ!  Know that HE HEARS EVERY PRAYER! HE LOVES YOU! HE WILL HAVE THE FINAL SAY!

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.  But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15‬:‭51-58‬ NASB)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.  He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. (‭Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭1-7‬ NASB)

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Filed under Suffering, World Events

Learning To Let Go

Bright-eyed at 5:45a.  With a jump and a smile she leapt from bed.
The day had finally arrived.  Today everything changes. Today our home will never be the same.

Today Eliana Faith became a Kindergartener!!

I’ve never seen her more excited.
I’ve never felt such bittersweet ache at her gain.
My baby girl now an Elementary Student.

Last night she slept like a rock.
I slept like a restless child, tossing, turning, watching the clock tick slow.
Like the relentless tide so questions assailed my insomniac mind.

Did I do enough?  Where did I fail in preparing her?  How did the long days of toddlerhood pass in a flash?  Is she ready?  Did I do enough?!

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I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
(‭Psalms‬ ‭121‬:‭1-8‬ NASB)

Though she came from my womb, she was knit by heavenly Hands. All her days were ordained before one came to be. In God she lives and moves and has her being. His plans for Eliana brim over with hope and love. His thoughts towards her outnumber the stars. His mercies pour out afresh on her every morning.

On Eliana. And her momma.

Grace.  Grace.  God’s grace.
Grace that will cover and cleanse within.
Grace.  Grace.  God’s grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin.

Where I lack, His grace covers.  Where I fall, His arms reach low to lift me up.  Where I have failed my daughter, His love remains strong on her behalf.  He has not called me to be a perfect mother.

Just a faithful one.

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Today begins a new chapter of learning to trust God further, to lean on Him harder, to release what is ultimately His into His steadfast arms.

Eliana, you continue to teach me faith, to adjust my eyes to see God’s continued answered prayers.  Walk tall today, sweetheart.  You are ready for this.  Not because of me but because Almighty God walks with you wherever you go.  Listen for His voice.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Enjoy today, my darling girl.  You are ready!

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Filed under Eliana, Motherhood, Parenting, Struggles, Thoughts

Five Years Of Answered Prayers

Eliana – Hebrew origin, translation “my God has answered my prayers”

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Five years ago today our world changed forever as Eliana Faith was born! Bright-eyed from the start, she has filled our world with light, joy, laughter and adventure! As our eyes met for the first time, I knew my life would never be the same.

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She opens her beautiful blue eyes wide every morning anticipating what adventures the day may hold.

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Eliana fills our home with love overflowing. She is kind, generous, nurturing, imaginative, compassionate, hilarious, energetic, brilliant, and all-around amazing! She loves people, gives generously, feels deeply and shines brightly.

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Joyous. Full of life. Nurturer. Friend to all. Protector. Tea party hostess. Adventurer. Builder. Performer. Story-teller. Runner. Sister. Daughter.
Answer to Prayer.

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Sweet girl, the past five years have blessed me more than I can express. My joy, my honor, my blessing is being your Mom. I love you, Eliana Faith!

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Change Is In The Air

It’s coming.

A cool breeze greets my sleepy eyes this morning. Crisp. Serene.

‘Tis a morning for bundling blankets and hot tea, for thick socks and quiet reflection.

My heart swells with anticipation at things to come:

Scarves.
Chunky sweaters.
Changing leaves.
Cider.
Anniversaries.
Football (go Gators).
Harvest and Holidays.
My favorite time of year.

This morning brings signs of coming change and I fill with excitement.

Autumn is on its way!!

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Filed under Photography, Thoughts

Foundation Of Celebration

For the past 5 years, I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at UNC Healthcare’s Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill. From advising to PICU quality improvements projects, publications to resident curriculum development, it has been a joy to give back to the hospital that gave our family so much in 2007.

Recently I transitioned to the role of Chair of the NC Children’s Hospital Family Advisory Board after 3 years as Vice Chair. Our founding Chair, Larissa Muchnick, is a phenomenal woman, mom of three (including brave Ryan with kidney disease), fitness coach. She led our Board incredibly well and taught me much by her example. I’m excited/humbled for this next season of taking her place over this incredible Board!

This week, I challenged our members to reflect on their experiences in healthcare and find the things worth celebrating. I’d like to share and extend the same challenge to you! Your journey may not involve healthcare or diagnoses. Perhaps its a relational valley, a financial hardship, an unexpected change of jobs, location, friends. In order to be effective in producing positive change, we must build on a foundation of strength and celebration. Otherwise the cost of making improvements will be too great for our already weary souls. I hope this FAB challenge strikes a chord in you and gives you cause to celebrate something in your own life today.

Share your stories!

“As we look to the year ahead, I’d like for us to spend the next few weeks getting to know each other’s stories better. We all have been impacted by healthcare in a personal way, whether through receiving pediatric diagnoses or providing care to these tiny undercover superheroes. While their journeys have been marked by unexpected difficulties and some undesired outcomes, I want us to celebrate how truly courageous and strong they are!

Its easy to focus on the disappointments inherent in healthcare.
After all, that’s why we’ve gathered as an Advisory Board – to make our hospital better through our experiences and expertise. BUT! I want us to build from a solid foundation of strength and celebration.
Our kids are superheroes! They face mountains every day and keep on climbing! Let’s celebrate their victories together. Let’s share the lessons they’ve taught us with each other. Each patient represented in our Board carries invaluable lessons and treasure troves of inspiration for us all!

20140729-124038-45638169.jpgPlease reply all and tell what lesson(s) your child/patient has taught you. Share how they have changed you for the better. If you’re faculty or a clinician, share the impact your patients and their families have made on you!

Caring for chronic illness is hard.
Together we can lighten one another’s loads by sharing the silver linings, the little miracles, the blessings in disguise!

For me, Isaac taught me more in his 24 weeks of life than I ever imagined possible.
Isaac replaced my pity with compassion.
He taught me joy in little victories.
He opened my eyes to strength I never knew I had.
He showed me the wonder of the human body, how remarkable it is to be able to simply breathe, wake, live each day!
He taught me how strong babies can be and how fragile life is.
Isaac taught me how to redefine my dreams rather than become stuck in disappointment of original dreams destroyed or deferred.
He opened my eyes to the true heroes of this world: those physically broken yet strong in spirit, the parents who live out persistent love, the uncelebrated loved ones who sacrifice sleep, comfort, plans for the good of the broken ones.
He showed me trauma can become triumph if we don’t give up and open our eyes to see the good hidden within the awful.
He taught me EVERY child is a blessing no matter the form in which they come!

While I wish Isaac had never been sick, had been born with a whole heart, and was still with me today, if I were given the choice to trade it all to skip my own heartache, I wouldn’t trade a single second of it! My brave boy changed my world. I cherish every wonderful, heart-wrenching, precious moment of his life.

I am forever grateful.”

What treasures have your children/patients/trials/unexpecteds brought you?

Bring on the stories!!

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Filed under Family Advisory Board, UNC

Taking Stock

This week has taught me a simple yet profound truth: familiarity can blind.

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Twice a year, the NC State Fairgrounds fills with the gianormous Kids Exchange Consignment Sale. Thousands come to sell their used goods from kids clothing to computer systems, books to bikes, furniture to furbies. Run like clockwork, this huge sale brings an awesome opportunity for families to sell outgrown items and purchase others for a fraction of store costs.

I’ve attended this sale in years past but this time around, I decided it was time to purge our house of everything outgrown. As the gathering began, something caught me off guard to a stagering, humblingly degree.

In a culture of excess, I confess how easily I fall into the lie of lack. Comparisons, complaints, kids growing faster than my clothing budget. Without due diligence the slide into dissatisfaction grows slippery and steep. Like quicksand, the more I see, the more I want, the more others have, the more I feel I lack. Ugh. ‘Tis a dangerous cycle.

But as I sat amongst boxes and boxes and boxes of my children’s used clothes, reality reduced me to tears. I’ve been surrounded by this striking evidence of God’s tangible provision yet its familiarity blinded me. God has truly taken care of our family!

“My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

What amazed me most was the sheer amount of clothes from the seasons when we had stepped out in faith, leaving a salaried/benefits job to start a business, when we had to completely trust God for every new student, new client, new child born. It was from the seasons of smallest income that the tallest piles of clothes stood.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

As I sorted this massive collection of clothes, memories overwhelmed me as the majority of items had been gifts. Memories of kind strangers, generous friends and unexpected finds flooded my mind. God truly had provided for our little family. He not only clothed my kids – He clothed them in style! This evidence of grace had sat unnoticed in my home for years. It wasn’t until I stopped to take stock of it all that I saw clearly.

God has been faithful.
God will remain faithful.
God can be trusted with the needs of today and tomorrow as I hold evidence of yesterday’s provision in grateful hands.

Familiarity blinds. Stop and take stock today of all He has already done, already provided, already shown Himself faithful and strong. You’ll be amazed by the treasure trove of blessings already in your grasp.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25-33

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Filed under Comparison, Faith, Generosity, God, Motherhood, Struggles

Eyes To See

She walks with strength unknown.  Her eyes bright, she smiles at her precious children.  While some stay-at-home moms wear their fatigue for all to see, she displays joy and delight in her children, her role, her current season of life. This friend of mine inspires me with every posted picture, every interaction, every generous gesture. Truthful and kind, her example challlenges me to grow as a homemaker and mom. I admire her so.

Yet these strengths she does not see. She looks at my writing and her own desires of blogging and concludes it not worth her while. “I can’t write like you. What would I have to say?”

Oh my beautiful treasured friend…

I know another, one who walks with poise and grace. The quintescential hostess, she makes every individual who enters her home feel like an honored guest. Her work ethic inspires me daily, her relentless pursuit of wellness for her household saturates everything she touches. With ease she transforms dated, ugly things into renewed pieces filled with artful charm. She takes simple ingredients and creates mouth-watering meals. I don’t know how she does it all. But she makes it look easy!

Yet theses strengths she does not see. Her might is commonplace in her beautiful eyes. She ponders her worth and concludes herself lacking.

Oh my wonderful, precious friend…
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What if we had others’ eyes to see ourselves?
What if we spoke observed strength to each other and actually believed these words from trusted friends?
What if we took stock in our own strengths and rightfully concluded ourselves strong?
What if we tore the damning lens of comparison from our gaze and saw through the only lens that matters? The one worn by our Creator?
What if we believed His stated worth in our lives?!

We are ALL beautifully and wonderfully made. (Ps 139) We ALL are created in the image of the One who spoke galaxies into being, who mastered mountains high and values valleys low. (Gen. 1:27) Upon every single one of us have gifts and talents been bestowed. (Rom. 12:6) We each have a significance in and because of Jesus. (1 Cor. 12:27)

Friend, you are significant.
You are capable.
You are woven with seams of strength and bear a priceless story of worth.

May we resolve to view ourselves truthfully, gratefully celebrating our strengths and the strengths of each other.

What lens are you wearing today?

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Filed under Comparison, Friends, God

Voyage

imageCast off and away, my darling one
Full sails, stern set, abide
Within the bellows, this ebb and flow
Shall rock you as the tide

Sails set securely, catch strong headwinds
Pulled swift upon this sea
As billows roll with rhythmic droll
Lay safe within and be

Gathering clouds veil starry night’s sky
Heaven’s lights dimmed still shine
Beyond surrounding storm’s rage, their light
Ablaze with strength entwined

Fear not the towering waves nor storms
Dark vanquished by rising dawn
For longest night’s chill melts at the sun
New mercies bestowed beckons song

Wonders abroad silently stand watch
Eagerly awaiting your gaze
Vast treasure troves nestled long ago
Shall set your soul ablaze

Cast off and away, my darling one
Full sails, stern set, abide
Within the bellows yon horizon calls
Onward to distant skies.

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Worth Of Words

“Words are life, Liesel.”

Profound words simply stated by a Jew hiding in the depths of a Munich basement during World War II. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my all-time favorite books. Brilliantly written, Zusak transports the reader into the heart of Nazi Germany through the eyes of an unexpected narrator, Death. He follows the life of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, as she meets her foster parents in Munich and later an endearing Jewish man in hiding, Max. This incredible story weaves truth, bittersweet hope and love through the dark Nazi canvas of the 1930’s and 40’s. So much can be said about this book yet any attempt of mine would be inadequate. In truth, The Book Thief stole my heart.

As Max wisely stated, words ARE life. They have the power to build or to tear down, to instill hope or bestow despair. A word spoke or written holds power beyond comprehension. How many times have words lingered minutes, years, decades in your mind after their first hearing? Like a redwood seed, a word can take root in the soul and its results grow beyond comprehension in a person’s life. With words we condemn, with words we forgive. Words name, claim and project over every aspect of life.

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Our words bring life or death. (Proverbs 18:21) The wisest king, Solomon, wrote, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4) Why, even all creation came into being by words! “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) Jesus was God’s Word to mankind. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things cam into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-3, 16)

Words are life! The question is: what kind of life are you creating by your words’ spoken, thought, ingested and imputed? Do you instill hope and blessing over your children by the way you speak to them, about them, over them? Do you view yourself by what this failing world says or by what God says about you? Do you whisper words of gratitude or entitlement about your circumstances, your belongings, your very existence?

From a dark German basement, a Jew imparted wisdom to his young friend. May we all heed his wisdom and be ever mindful of the worth our words carry . Speak life today.

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Anchored

This may surprise you. It certainly surprised me. You’d think after nearly 5 years, the truth would have sunken in by now. But my eyes opened wide this week to new knowledge of myself, a perspective I’ve long yet unknowingly carried deep. Watching my children run strong and bubble over with laughter, it struck me as never before.

Eliana and Evan are growing up.
They’re alive!
And I’m.
Completely.
Shocked.

In an instant fear and wonderment collided as my children’s growth hit me afresh. As if scales had fallen from my eyes, I saw my children as the little man and young lady they’ve become and the babies they will never be again. Sounds odd, I know. But in awe I watched them converse like little adults, laugh at each other’s jokes and console their sibling’s occasional boo-boos. They’re growing up.

They’re still here.

Loss lingers long past its welcome, tucking itself down deep to rear its worrisome head when you’d least expect. Startling defenses, it stalls progress and silences hopes at their onset. Like the rolling tide, you may jump over the first big wave but if you don’t continue forward, the aftertide will quickly follow. You’ll still get wet. You’ll still feel its pull.

Loss leaves you changed. No matter if its death or disease or disappointment, loss is loss is loss. By His grace and faithfulness, God has bound broken heartstrings, cradled my woes and shone hope into darkened places of my soul. But I realized stark this week that the tides had continued to roll deep within long past its initial breakers. I never fully believed these days would come and had braced my inner depths for the assumed “worst” to follow.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I fear it
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, Lord
Take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

As the tide of truth rolled in, realization reduced me to confession. Confession of walls built within from loss that in turn had inflicted loss – they had held me captive from fully enjoying each gift of today, from fully committing to daily now of my children, from dreaming of days to come.

Loss has marked me. Its tide will ebb and flow until my breath fails and pulse stills. BUT. Truth understood renders choice. Every fearful impulse, every braced breath, carries on its back the choice to succumb OR to offer it full to the only One with grace enough to make it through. Loss acknowledged can breed gratitude and faith-filled trust in the One who bore our griefs, who carried our sorrows to Calvary. Its a journey. A most humbling journey. But one worth traveling. As we offer our fears into trustworthy Hands with honest confession and resolve to see through grateful eyes, hope sinks down deep. Amidst the turbulent tides of this worrisome world, we can cling to our Anchor, firm and secure. Sure as the rising dawn, the hope found alone in Jesus will always hold fast and true.

My children grow before my eyes. I breathe deep in gratitude, trusting their tomorrows to the One who has renewed my hope today.

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Thank You, Jesus, for all You’ve redeemed. Thank You for loving every wounded place, for pursuing every fear-built wall with love strong enough to breech boulders. Thank You for grace to see beauty in ashen spaces, for joy in mourning’s place, for patience while we learn to trust You. Thank You for redeeming what You allow. Thank You for all my children. You have taught me much through them with lessons more in store. I am grateful.

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Filed under Eliana, Evan, Faith, God, Isaac, Motherhood, Struggles, Thoughts

Lessons From The Blueberry Patch

imageSummer finds me bent low often, stooped in search of something sweet. Tiny treasures hidden in foliage green. Gathering bites of blue has become a welcomed habit, gleaning far more than berries in a bowl. The yield of lessons has surprised me.

My mom, or Maima as my children call her, is an avid gardener. Since childhood, she has nurtured life and beauty all around her, creating lovely homes and providing for those within. Lining her backyard is a delicious hedge of blueberry bushes, three gleaning berries through June and three bearing fruit through the end of July. What a scrumptious sight! Her estimate of thousands of berries adorning the branches was no overstatement. Nearly a gallon-sized basket fills every few days with plump blues. Every year since their planting, these bushes have produced exponentially more berries than the year prior. Their first harvest was sparse, the berries somewhat sour. But rains came, Maima pruned and nurtured, God brought the growth.blueberry

While gathering today’s harvest, I sensed the Lord near. He who breathed life into creation, who began all things within a garden, dealt truth to me through my simple task: picking ripe blueberries. His voice came inaudibly, more as a stirring within, nudging my heart by truth reflected consistent in Scripture.

“You see,” I sensed Him say, “these bushes did not stop growing nor producing fruit based on comparison. They did not grow discouraged when their first berries weren’t just right. They simply kept doing what I created them to do: be fruitful. They’ve grown sweeter with time, more plentiful each passing year. Had they ceased to bear fruit, they would have been pruned, cut off, disposed of. But they bore down – against winds, through rain, enduring snow, standing against heat. They simply persevered.”

Another handful of dark delectable dropped into the bucket. I wedged through the densely fruitful branches, not wanting to miss a berry. Again He nudged.

“Do you see these? Shriveled and hard? They once were ripe, sweet and plump. But they were never harvested so their sweetness was wasted. Some remain stuck in place while others fall to the ground, slowly rotting away. Had the gardener come in time, they too could have been enjoyed.”

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A still breeze blew through the air and my soul, quieting all around.

“My child, you are this blueberry patch. I have planted you with intention, creating you with purpose. Your job is not to pull back based on a less-than-perfect outcome nor grow discouraged with early sparse harvests. Your job is to keep on, to grow deep roots, to do what I’ve created you for and trust the outcome to Me. Maturing comes with time. Be fruitful with what you’ve got now. It will grow sweeter, more plentiful as you endure.”

“My child, you are the gardener. Realizing the berries at their ripe potential keeps the bushes strong, feeds your family and provides enjoyment to those you share your harvest with. But when you neglect to gather what I have brought forth – your talents, your gifts, the opportunities I bring – then they shrivel like these hardened berries, once plump with potential now dropped to the ground. Don’t miss what I have for you nor neglect the harvest for fear of failure, of imperfection. If you never picked a berry from worrying that it may not be the sweetest, you’d miss out terribly and the bush would go to ruin.”

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“But oh my child, how great is My grace! Even those berries fallen to the ground can nourish the soil. Be not discouraged. Learn. Grow. Reap the harvest I have planted and TRUST ME with the outcome. I am the Great Gardener.”

Today I came to the blueberry patch to gather fruit but left with so much more. Oh how sweet the harvest!

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Blindsided

20140626-232500.jpgLife can jolt you sometimes. Jolt you so hard from your bearings that the world around seems spinning and you can barely catch your breath.

Perhaps its a diagnosis. A phone call. A freak accident. An unexpected complication. A conversation. A change of someone’s heart. A death.

Sometimes your journey from mountain high to valley low feels more like being blindsided with mactruck force that sends you tumbling with ferocious speed to the depths below. When the wind gets unalterablly knocked from you, when well-laid plans become nothing more than memories, when your life’s trajectory shifts forever by circumstances beyond your control, what do you do? How do you cope? How do you even breathe?

There is pain. There is heartache. At times even despair. My path has shifted unchangably multiple times throughout my life by things beyond my control. Family changes. Job changes. Deaths and diagnoses. Hopes dashed and dreams deferred. I’ve seen such shifts occur in the lives of loved ones and those known at a distance. The struggle is real! Questions, cries, tears when they can’t be held back any longer. What do we do with this?!

Breathe.

Cry with honesty and reverence to the God who is WITH YOU moment by moment of this awful, painful, terrifying mess you never asked for and prayed would never happen.

Breathe.

Beloved, even now – in the confusion, in the fear, in the pain – He holds you with love in His eyes and unfailing strength in His tender grip with desires for your good saturating His heart. God is the ultimate Author and sole Redeemer of things allowed through His sovreign hand. He is writing your story to stretch far wider and richer than anything you could have dreamed, drawing you to lean fully on Him because after all, He is the only One with strength enough to carry us through. He bestows significance on our stories.

Breathe.

I’ve seen God turn mourning into joy.
I’ve seen Him bring beauty, hope and blessing from barrenness.
I’ve seen God knit together the fractured, the demolished, the destitute into creations more beautiful and strong than anything they could have been if they had remained whole.
I’ve seen Him take diagnoses cloaked with despair and make them stories of strength and impact, taking small life plans and stretching one’s touch round the globe.
I’ve seen His love resurrect dead hearts.
I’ve seen His grace make formidable the weak.
I’ve seen His faithfulness mend the unmendable.
I’ve seen God breathe new life where all hope was lost.
I’ve seen Him turn blindsiding tragedies into awe-inspiring victories, tragectories, powerful testimonies.

Over and again since the beginning of time, God has been finding the lost things, the broken things, the dead things with a fervent, seeking love that names them precious, significant, His.

I know because I’ve not merely observed; I have tasted and seen firsthand that the Lord in fact is good.

Hang on, weary one. You are not forsaken. You are not forgotten. You are being held this very moment by the One who holds all things together. Breathe. Cry. And trust what is True: He who began a GOOD work in you WILL BE FAITHFUL to complete it.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:14

“As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good…” Genesis 50:20

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, ” It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:1-3

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How They’ve Grown

Summer.

The auburned boy has turned three, the boy whose name means “brave messenger”, whose eyes reduce my soul to puddles of joy and delight.  He climbs everything, breaks many things, fears NO thing, and makes his mother a bit more gray with each passing dare-deviled day.  He greats me with a “huug and a kiss” morning and night and many moments between, this snuggler of my heart.  He softens the rough places I didn’t know I had and overwhelms me with the tangible goodness of God.  A boy.  A ginger boy.  A boy who rests his head safely on my shoulder with secure breaths and contented sighs.  He delights in his sister, melts his mother and follows closely after his father’s every step.  Oh this boy of mine.  How I love him so.

Longer days, shorter nights.  July quickly approaches.

Her dark hair cascades down like sheening waves of chestnut and ebony.  Just shy of five, this beautiful Answer To Prayer shines hope and joy through her bright blue eyes, eyes like sapphires surrounding a glowing orb of glacier blue. Simplicity delights this boundless dreamer who sees a friend in every stranger, greets each new day as an adventure and has never known a dull moment in her existence. She bestows gifts from the mundane to the imagined extravagant, all boasting of her affection and placed value in people. How she loves to give gifts to others! Her nurturing heart tenderly cares for every wound in the Leino household – those seen on our flesh and those hidden in my aging soul. She has lavished love and joy into places long tucked away in me. This blue-eyed beauty sees beautiful in the plain, the broken, the misshapen and forgotten. She sees through innocent eyes with a courageous love that knocks fear off its feet. Protector of her brother, admirer of her father and kindred spirit to the child her mother once was. This sweet girl of mine. How I love her so.

Summer’s heat will quickly give way to autumn. Autumn to winter. Winter to another year to another decade to a life fully lived. May I drink it all in and savor every drop.

These precious children of mine. Oh how they’ve grown.

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Filed under Eliana, Evan, Motherhood

In The Midst

Its everywhere.  With each new bend comes another story of loss and heartache, of the agonizing question “why?!”  Like the ocean’s tide so comes tragedy these days. In waves upon waves, thrashing their pain on the helpless shore.  A mother’s arms empty as she walks behind a tiny hearse.  A grandparent gone too soon from sudden cancer.  Wars waged.  Jobs lost.  Lives lost.  So many lives lost.  Whether by lack of breath or lack of hope, death’s dirge plays all around.  We are the walking wounded. We are the walking dead.

“What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?” (L. Story)

These days of overwhelming darkness shows the radiant light of Jesus all the more.  How desperately we need Him!  How our broken world needs Him!!  Nothing has assured me more of the hopeless state of our planet and the true hope, the ONLY hope, that can be found: Christ and Christ alone.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Come quickly, Lord!  Bring pain to its final end!  Oh for that day when mothers no longer grieve with empty arms, when bodies remain unravaged by disease.  When peace finally comes: true and eternal.  Rest assured of His coming!  The Prince of Peace, the King above every king, the Redeemer.  The Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world.  Jesus.

But what till then?  Until that glorious day comes when He returns for His own…oh beloved reader…do you know Him??  Jesus.  The Son of Heaven brought low in earthly form who lived a perfect life and died an undeserved death so that WE, born imperfect, slaves of sin and bound to die a deserved death, could have LIFE!  Not just in eternity before the holy and righteous Creator God but now!  In the midst of all the pain, the injustice, the sorrow.  Jesus Christ and Him alone has bought our peace for now!  Sorrow comes as surely as the tide rolls in but we can mourn as those WITH HOPE!  I speak as one who has walked death’s valley, met sorrow upon sorrow, and in EVERY instance have found Him faithful with comforting strength as sure as the dawn.

Though these may seem like hopeless times…
Though darkness creeps in…
Though the inexplicable occurs and we are simply left with asking “why”…

Because of Jesus, we need not be hopeless.  We need not be alone.

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him and by His scourging we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:4-5

Do you know Him?

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Fickle

“Fickle” barely scratches the proverbial surface of this winter’s weather in North Carolina.  No exaggeration – we’ve enjoyed sunny 70s one day then blizzard-like snow and temps well below freezing the next!  Just yesterday we opened windows, pulled out flip flops and played in the sun.  Tonight a thick ice blanket has Raleigh wrapped tight.  One certainly cannot gauge tomorrow’s weather by temperatures today.

It’s a lot like us, isn’t it?  We soar high on successes one day only to wake to struggles the next.  Today’s experiential climate does not guarantee the same tomorrow.  Perhaps the kids screamed all day.  They might wake tomorrow all smiles.  Did you hold your ground against that tugging temptation today?  Fantastic!  The fight to stay steadfast begins again in the morning.  Just as the snow tonight does not predetermine the sun’s warmth tomorrow, so previous missteps and misfortunes cannot dictate circumstances to come.  We are fickle creatures.

Oh what blessed comfort we find in the steadfast love of God!  Surely as the night’s black will light with the coming dawn, so He lavishes fresh mercies upon us every morning!  Even the most unpredictable weather screams this truth for no matter the day’s forecast, the sun still shines.  Whether warm or cold, windy or still, that magnificent orb of light remains, keeping all elements in our galaxy circling in precise orbit.  The darkest places on earth will never determine the strength of this celestial saturating light.  Snowfall here cannot negate the sun’s consuming heat; it simply stands as a temporary barrier to us experiencing warmth.

Has today wrung you out like a discarded rag?  Rejoice that God’s abundant mercy offers you a fresh start tomorrow. Did today go better than you could have hoped?  Thank Him for His generous grace!  So long as breath fills your lungs, He purposes hope on your behalf. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Come balmy breezes or ravenous storms, may we rest assured knowing the sun remains.  After all, only He knows what tomorrow’s forecast may hold with grace strong to cover it all.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

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Well Worn

ImageThey fray quickly now.  Within weeks deep denim hues begin to fade towards white.  This quick progression from new to used marks every pair of jeans I own, a pattern which began four years ago when I found myself knees-to-floor daily.

In a world of lofty ambition and heads held high, nothing has brought me low like motherhood.

Diapers.  Tummy time.  Playtime.  Wiping away spills.  Diapers.  Desperately looking for that other shoe.  Cleaning up toys.  Bath time.  Diapers.  Cleaning yet another mess.  Diapers!  I’ve spent much of the past four years on my knees and have the holey jeans to prove it.  Truth be told, this has frustrated me far more than it ought.  Couldn’t just one pair of jeans not look nearly spent?!  Vain, I know.

This simmering continued until last week.  As I put on a relatively new pair of jeans, I noticed the knee wear was much less than normal and smiled in delight.  But then an unexpected sadness set in.  I’m not on my knees as often.  The floorbound days are quickly fading with my children’s growth.  Less crawling on the floor.  Fewer spills to clean.  Nearly diaper-free with everyone now playing upright.  Our home will soon be baby-free forever.  How did this happen so quickly?!  The unending days of toddlerhood seem like a wisp now as I’m beginning to feel a mother’s pangs at her child’s increasing independence.

My grieved gaze looked upon the dark denim covering my knees.  Suddenly all the fraying jeans of the past four years no longer brought frustration.  Rather than carrying the marks of a weary mother, they bore weight like an honor badge, bestowed by grace and held in high esteem.  Oh the privilege of faded knees from hours spent earthbound with the most precious gifts given this side of heaven.  Forgive me, Lord, for not seeing their significance sooner.  Please open my eyes, soften my heart to delight always the wear and tears of this life You’ve entrusted to me.  Thank You for making my knees well worn.

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