This is normal.

Greetings from February 23, from overcast skies and wind whipping the neighborhood American flags, from a dishwasher whirring though a wash cycle, from the muffled clatter of jeans in the dryer, from a baby crying half-heartedly during nap time, from the squalls of two kids playing together after many days of doting grandparents and holiday weekends; greetings from a Thursday in this little life of ours.

Hello from coffee on it’s third reheat. Hello from three kids still in pajamas (a rarity at 10am these days, for better or worse). Hello to a “normal” I appreciate more than ever, when we are healthy and have jobs and happiness; when I don’t have a lot of emotional energy to write but I do have a lot of people I love; when being a grown up means a lot of things, but mostly it means figuring out the Tetris of needs and responsibilities that surround us, letting the false pressures fall away and the true pursuits build up.

I’m jotting off a postcard from this second, from right now, because if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that nothing is certain.

So I sit here in this hour and consider the absolutes: Bodies fail. Kids get sick. Marriages implode. Friendships are hard. Church stuff sucks. Faith is less an absolute and more a moving target, in which we are the ones who keep moving, and then expect God to look the same from every angle.

I can’t say I wish you were here, because I don’t. I’m happy to be in these walls with these people, my four year old and my three year old and my baby who will be one year old this weekend. I’m glad for the quiet, for scattered story books, for a pretend camping site, for the birthday decorations slung cheerful and bright over walls and doors, for the smell of this morning’s waffles, for Sammy’s laugh and Clara’s ever-so-accurate impression of me as she plays house, for Audrey’s screech as she toddles to and fro on those tiny legs of hers, for the faint wind chimes across the street and the way winter stomps out like a tantrum as spring pokes in like a nervous new friend. I’m glad for today. I’m glad for a normal hour. I’m glad for a reprieve.

Tomorrow is coming. I know. This February wind is blowing in a change of seasons, in every sense, and normal won’t keep. It is also a moving target. But, like our faith, we don’t chase old normals. We don’t look for God in old ways, because as we evolve, so does the way we know Him. Today is today is today. It cannot ever be again. I am learning to be content in all situations; to appreciate when a day is kind to us; to let normal move and shift like the weather, so that when this quiet dissolves and new worries rise up, and new concerns overcome: I have stored up past hours of goodness and peace from which to draw deep breaths. Waffles for breakfast. Babies learning to walk. Coffee in my own home. Kids happy. Spring coming.

Hi, from today, from this morning, from the only moment I am promised, which is right now.

Greetings. And blessings.




One place.

It’s dark and early and cold, snow piled in my front yard in heavy berms from Sam’s constant shoveling in the constant winter storming, my house a cocoon of sleeping children. I only make it out of bed before my kids a few times a week, and the silence is a rich reward. So is the hot coffee. And the silence, did I mention the silence? You could trade quiet as a commodity to people who live with small children, honestly; who needs bitcoins when you could buy or trade 30 minutes alone?

Christmas is just past, my table is lit with the candles I’ve been burning all month in anticipation of the season. I don’t know what we’ll do today. We don’t have many scheduled hours during these holiday weeks. Soon the baby will call for me from her crib, Sammy and Clara will shuffle out with bleary eyes, and we’ll begin our little life together again, easing ourselves into the routine of breakfast and questions and crane trucks and combing out curly hair and changing diapers, drinking warmed up coffee, playing in the snow, reading new books. Calling friends. Carrying ourselves through the hours of the day, trying to do what we’re meant to do, trying to keep up, trying to mean something.

Trying to mean something. Those words seem to be typed over our hearts from birth.

A few nights ago, as I nursed Audrey in my bedroom after a particularly chaotic evening and a disappointing day, I flung a desperate prayer heavenward. I couldn’t believe how badly I had done so few things, how many people I had left out of my loop, how many times I’d questioned my decision making abilities, how many untied ends my hours had produced. I’m more of an initiator than a finisher anyways, that’s a clear downfall of mine, but there are times when I go to bed by 8:30 at night because I can’t stand to face all the projects and ideas I’ve begun, with no clear path to an end in sight. So I bury myself in sleep and cross my fingers that everything will be different in the morning.

I’m a hider, through and through.

That night, Audrey warm in my arms, filling herself on my milk, I closed my eyes against the pressure of all my unfinished business and parenting mistakes and personal failures and cried out to God,

“I cannot be three places at once!”

I mean, I can’t. I try. But I can’t. And I needed to say it. I needed someone to know that I hate that pressure, to be and do and mean something; so I told God.

And then- this doesn’t happen all the time, and I’m sorry if it freaks you out when I talk about it- but then, God spoke back to me. Not like, a booming voice across my bedroom, shaking the lamps, but in a thought that didn’t sound like me at all, planted firmly in my head.

“Then be one place at once, Jessie.”

Be one place at once.

What a thought. Of course. One place. Wherever I am. That’s the one place.


I don’t have to hide when I only expect myself to be one place at one time. The pressure recedes. The demanding tide rolls back. I can breathe again. My failures, my shortcomings, my desperation to be and do; Those rising waters drain and I find my breath again.

This sounds impractical. Of course we must be doing many things at once, because we are many things at once. For me: mother, wife, friend, sister, writer, etc etc, of course I nurse a baby while I text you back and while dinner is in the oven and while answering a question from Sam and while contemplating what I’ll write tomorrow. Of course. The idea of being “one place at once” sounds ethereal, sounds like blog fodder, sounds like an idiotic bumper sticker.


When I find my life in Christ shockingly similar to a life outside of Christ, it always looks like this. Striving and struggling rule my thoughts. The voices of the world become my guide- “DO MORE. BE MORE. EARN MORE. SAY MORE. EXPECT MORE. CARE LESS. CLOSE YOUR DOOR. YOU MATTER MOST.”  If there is any one thing I want to say with my life, it is the opposite of all that: It is to cease striving. To worship a true God, rather than the gods of my thoughts and my legacy and my comfort. To abide and be in one place at one time, always in the center of the One who whispers when everyone else shouts.

My kids are awake now, of course, it’s midmorning by now, so they’re watching a show while I write this. The baby is napping. I need to call my friend back. I need to answer an email. I have laundry to fold, meetings to plan, books to write. Can I, should I, do any of that? Can I, should I, dream and plan while living here, in this space, one moment at a time?

I don’t know, you guys. I have no idea. But I’m going to listen to that still small voice, because the message is such a relief. It’s the only peace I’ve found in a chaotic world.
Abide. Be still.

“Be one place at once.” Not two. Not three.




Pressed to the Glass.

My mom used to stay up until dawn on Christmas morning, cleaning the house, wrapping gifts, creating a Christmas dream in our family room. I never knew why she waited so long to get everything done until I had my own kids, and now realize that anything I could prepare before Christmas Eve would need redone by Christmas Eve, because kids live here. I have 3- she had 7. It would be like preparing a special morning for a pack of wild dogs, and doing it while they were off leash.  It is impossible to understand our parents until we are parents ourselves, and while I know that I can’t possibly comprehend the pain and joy of a lifetime of parenting after my measly 4 years of doing that work; understanding my mother’s holiday rituals is a small step in understanding her and her love for us.

As the mother in this particular home, I also now get why people dread holidays. It’s a lot. The self-created expectations often suffocate the joy, and I’m beginning to see why some people (including my husband) hate Christmas. Or, honestly, just don’t “do” Christmas at all. But the reason I anticipate this time of year with such delight isn’t Christmas- it’s Advent.

I love Advent, the season of celebrating Christ’s coming. I grew up with Advent as the focal point of our year as a family. December was the one time we consistently spent together with our Bibles open as a family. My Dad was a pastor and our church was very small, and he and my mom didn’t exercise great boundary setting with their congregation, so I don’t have that many memories of my dad being my dad versus being my pastor. He was always gone. Besides the church, he also owned a remodeling company, and, of course, there are also 7 kids in our family. He was busy. He even told me recently that he doesn’t really remember much from our childhoods, so I know he felt that distance too. The most concentrated memories I have with my dad are when all of my siblings and my parents gathered in our big upstairs family room around the Advent candles, learning the story of Christmas and how it tells the entire story of our faith.

We lit 4 Advent candles over four weeks: a candle for the prophets, the angels, the shepherds, and the wisemen. We studied their purpose and place in the story- and I mean, we studied. My parents were not afraid to push us into the Old Testament, to ask us to fight through the sacred texts of Isaiah and then connect those promises to the telling in Luke; they made us work for our faith. We weren’t allowed to come by it easy, they didn’t make excuses for the Bible and how weird it is sometimes, or for the hard work it takes to dig through the word of God. Christmas in our house was a deep abiding in the promises from the prophets, the fearful glory of the angels, the unadulterated joy of the shepherds, the relentless seeking of the wise man.

Looking back, I know that these 4 weeks each year were what made me love the Bible. I’ve always been a story-teller, and I’ve always loved words, and the word of God is like nothing I’ve ever encountered.

My childhood faith was formed in an eccentric, tiny, conservative baptist church. We were pretty hip, using new fangled stuff in the early nineties, like praise books instead of hymns and overhead projectors in the sanctuary: we were real trailblazers. We rented a church each Sunday afternoon and every family had to help set up and tear down each week. Church was an extension of our whole life. But even as a child it all felt void of tradition, so the Advent season appealed to me in it’s liturgy, in the repetition, in the candle lighting, in these ancient stories and how they still meant something now.

There’s a weight to this tradition that calls to a deeper part of me. Advent. Jesus coming. It’s the nucleus of our entire faith, and it rings with the truth of who our God is and who we are- it’s the pinnacle of everything that matters, the point when everything changed.

Advent is when we remember that our God is a God of kept promises. And what I’m realizing as I learn to trust Him with more and more of my life, is that God works in layers, in layers upon layers, concentric and tangent and angled: an entire geometry of truths connected to truths. I love that the transparency of the Gospel, the message of that revolutionary love and sacrifice, works like double-paned glass. There are two visible planes, two equal and undividable surfaces on which He works: the sweeping narrative of a universal love story, God coming down and saving all of His people; but also, the intimate love story in each individual human heart. 

One side of the glass is The Story- the big story- of an entire human race in big trouble. Right? The sin of Adam and Eve stamped forever on our DNA, a darkness each of us is born carrying deep within. Although we are presented with great evil at every turn – we look around this world, we watch the news, we cringe with the harsh realities of what sin unchecked can produce – it’s hard to understand the destitution of a newborn soul, the cloud of poverty we live under when still sinners without a savior. It’s hard to look at my baby daughter and imagine that she carries in her very blood enough sinful tendencies to require the full blood of Jesus Christ.

It’s a little easier to understand when I look at my 2 year old and four year old, admittedly, because they clearly need saving. It’s also easy to understand when I examine my own heart, when I parse out my own past, when I consider the uncertainty of my own future: I need a Savior. While that truth, that all of us are born with such great need and hurt, isn’t a popular view, I think we all know. When we are quiet: we know. We have no peace. We are desperate for something better, something clear.

And that’s the other side of the glass. Each one of us. 

I am at this point in my life where I often feel fragile, worn to the bones by the children I’m raising. They’re little and they’re always with me, and they always need me, and honestly, sometimes I feel so alone in that weariness. Like, surely the Lord has bigger things to deal with, even in me, than this tired place of defeat I often operate out of. But I read this verse recently, and it made me cry, because it told me once again how tender and personal the Lord is to His people. To me.

Isaiah 40:11 says,

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

He gently leads those that have young. I just couldn’t believe it when I read that. He knows I’m tired. And he knows how often during each of my hours I fail my children. And how emptied I am in their needs. And he leads me gently. Because he knows I have young.

 And the thing is, I won’t always be in this place. Life will move and grow and change, these kids will grow up, my needs will change, and in that, He will move ahead of me and come behind me, and will give me exactly what I need in each season.

He will answer our calls. He will clothe the poor. He will care for the widow. He will comfort the bereft. He will guide the teachers. He will be faithful.


God promises to save the whole world from sin and sorrow, and then he does it. So we know He will also keep every promise he lays in our own beating hearts. He came to rescue all of us, but that’s just the harmony. The melody is being sung over you: He came to rescue you. 

This also means that we mustn’t look away from suffering. If Jesus was for all, we are for all. We cannot actively or passively avoid the pain around us. We cannot ignore our family we can’t stand, the stranger we don’t understand, even the person we sleep beside each night, while wondering how to stand with them at all. In fact: We must be advent to them. Caring for the widow. Comforting the bereft. Guiding. Teaching. Giving. We are Christ come, the kingdom in a willing pair of hands and feet.

God says in Isaiah 43, He says this to every single person, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.”

That is advent. That’s advent for me, raising my little kids, that’s advent for you in your season of life, that’s advent for all the kids who didn’t eat yesterday, for the men who are dropping bombs, for the leaders we love and the ones we hate: He gives people in exchange for their lives. 

The gospel story is in the entirety, and the story is entirely in the individual. Two panes. That’s how our God works. And it’s beautiful. It’s incredible. Advent reminds us that the long narrative of the gospel, told through the prophets and the angels, told to the shepherds and the wise men, is the story of all mankind; but also, it is the promises kept to each and every one of us. He saved every Jewish slave from Pharaoh: He also kept his promise to Moses. He made a nation from Abraham as numerous as the stars in the sky; but first, he kept his promise to Sarah. He saved all of us through his beloved son; but also, he would have done it for even just one. Just one of us would have been enough for God to sacrifice His only son. 

And that’s what we see in the movements of Advent. A gospel story that began the moment God breathed us into being; a story of kings and nations, of prophecy and war, a story that stretches throughout all eternity, the width and depth of which we cannot fully understand this side of heaven.

But also.

The story of Prophets who spoke truth through history. The story of a blessed Hebrew girl named Mary. The story of shepherds who heard and then shouted the news to all. The story of angels who obeyed and believed. The story of 3 magi who risked their lives to bow down to a baby. The story of that baby, played out in that stable, now present here, to all of us, each of us, our personal savior. He who came to save the world called my name. Calls your name. 

God’s love is that glass window, those two equally weighted planes of glass, inseparable- the story of us all; and the story of each one. 

I used to wonder if I love Advent just because it reminds me of my mother, up until dawn on Christmas, of my father and his steady belief, and if maybe my faith is too wrapped up in memories and my family to be valid. Then I grew up. And life got hard. And I had to find God on my own, had to burn my own idols before I could really worship the King of Kings.

But now, as a parent, as a woman being led gently as she leads her young, I can only hope and pray that someday, when my kids blow out a candle, the smell of that thin smoke will remind them of our family room and our Advent candles, and will draw them back to the story, draw them back to the window where they will press their faces to both panes of glass and know that they have been called to glory, along with everyone else who would confess that Jesus is Lord.

Merry Christmas, but really:

Welcome to Advent.


Tonight the world is crashing around me. I mean it. It’s bad. It’s like I’m standing in the desert, and the sky is black with night, ink black because clouds are muting the stars and I’m watching comets whiz by my face, burning and crashing into the scorched perimeter of the land. It’s hot and scary.
That’s how the world feels tonight. Like comets wrecking all around me.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m 30 now (are things more serious in your 30’s?) or because I’m paying more attention, or if life really is just a fire storm of problems, but lately I can’t seem to step around the blackened earth. The people I love are hurting. The whole world is burning. People are hurting something fierce, and my chest aches with their pain. Scorched marriages. Failing bodies. Sick babies. Burned bridges with our parents, torched dreams for our futures, quicksand swallowing our resolve. Local pain. Global chaos. Faith lost. God distant.

Comets burning.

Back in August, I stayed with my friend Claire for a mini-retreat, to gather ourselves before this fall season and pray for each other, as friends and mothers and leaders at our church. We worked together to speak intention over our lives, and we each chose 3 words that we wanted to describe our autumn once it was over. Three words to read aloud in December and say, “Yes- this is what the last few months looked like in my life.” My three words are:




I had no idea what that meant when I wrote it all down. I prayed and felt God telling me these three things, so I wrote them down and only a few weeks later, felt like a total failure.

Failure comes in many forms. For me, it almost always looks like disappointment. A slow, steady, constant stream of disappointed people in my life, from here to eternity. Amen and another sad amen.

I spent the first few weeks of fall gathering shame around me like a big lace dress. I was doing none of the things I set out to do. My three words were billboards announcing my failure to achieve them.

I had assumed that I was supposed to be disciplined in my writing- I’m writing  a book, which is such a foreign length and effort- and then my laptop was destroyed by a vase of water. I’m writing this, right now, on my sister’s laptop, which she graciously lent to me because I was starting to fade away because I literally cannot write. I have no tool (besides a pen but what is this 1998?) and it’s an insurance matter so you know it’s taking forever to resolve. So if I wasn’t supposed to be disciplined in my writing…what then?

Being still didn’t make any sense either, especially when we decided to move. Sam and I have lived in our little house for 9 years, since the day we got married, and this fall we knew we could make a decent sale and move our family into a bigger space. We procrastinated, we had a million reasons to wait on selling, and then we finally put our house up for sale. And it sold in 2 hours. How could I be still when this kind of movement was happening? How could I be still when I was making one million trips between our house and our storage shed and Goodwill? How could I be still with a full schedule and 3 kids and a house to move?

And how, how, how could I take joy in these things? Joy that I can’t write? Joy that we don’t know where to move, or that we don’t even think we’re supposed to move? Joy in failing at everything I set out to do this fall? Joy in the disappointment? Joy that I’ll never write a book, that I can’t keep any commitments, that I can’t make anything work because I can’t make decisions unless forced by outside circumstances and by then it’s always too late?

Discipline. Still. Joy. What a joke.

It is a joke, you guys. It’s so funny that I always think I know best, even when the Bible says stuff like this.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”

Even when I read that, I still think to myself, somewhere deep and small inside me, “I do. I know the mind of the Lord, and I can tell Him what would be best for me.”

I’m laughing while I write this because I truly truly believe that. I stand before the throne of the Living God and I hand over my plans scratched out on my crumpled piece of paper and say, here ya go God. I already did this for you. Sort of a paint by number situation. Just fill in what I left blank.

And then when the desert night comes; when the sand is sinking; when the sky is lit with burning dreams: I wonder how God messed up what I made so clear.

It’s a funny thing, these three words. These callings. They dart like fish in a stream, quick silver lines of thought that I can’t seem to catch. They’re wild, and they don’t depend on me, apparently. Because my imagination isn’t just limited by my own experience, it’s limited by the unknown. But God knows. God’s imagination is ever-expanding, a universe of dreams I can never fully understand. Here’s what I mean:

God keeps telling me this and I keep missing it, but motherhood is my ultimate discipline. Nothing in my life has required more of me, physically, mentally, spiritually: I’m wiped clean by 9:30 in the morning some days (a lot of days). But there is something happening lately in my house, with these 3 small children at my feet, that is good. That is holy. It has nothing to do with writing a book or having a platform or making huge steps in my professional career. It has everything to do with making me stay. Making me be still. My children will be little for a snap in time. An absolute snap of my fingers, and Clara will be in school. Sammy will be on a baseball team. Audrey will start sassing me (not my precious baby!) and everything will start moving so fast I won’t even remember the warmth of their foreheads pressed to mine, or their hair so sweet after a bath, or their tiny voices bouncing off the hardwood floors with my name. “Mama!” they call all day long. So I stay beside them. Day in and day out, I raise my babies and use my hands for small acts of faithful love. I make soup. I wash blankets. I feel trapped at home because naps never line up and then I consider the fullness of staying home, of not wishing away my life for other seasons yet to come.

And in the discipline; in the stillness; God is giving me so much space to be present for my people. My family. My neighbors. Strangers and alien alike, He is setting me apart and asking me for many small works of kindness and it is changing me, catching me and making me see the joy in what we all mean to each other.

We sold our house and then realized we didn’t want to move. But the people who bought our house? They let us sign a lease to rent it back. We sold our house, but we get to stay until we know where to go. Be still, Jessie. I thought I was supposed to write a book this fall. I thought I should press into that work, dig myself into the dream in my heart. But my laptop broke, and my timeline changed, and I realized that I had other work to do in my own home and the lives of people I love. Be disciplined, Jessie. Nothing I wanted happened this fall. My plans fell apart. And then my friends started to actually fall apart, and they needed me, and because I wasn’t moving away and I couldn’t write my book, I had a new sort of freedom to take care of people, and a new kind of joy in the caring. God gave me time. He gave me open space. And that wasn’t for nothing.

All these comets keep crashing around me and God says: Be a safe place. Be a steady friend. Even when you disappoint; try again. Be disciplined. Stand still. Find joy in a season of offering rather than taking. 

Tonight, I stand and declare under the canopy of a starless night that I know exactly nothing. May my plans dissolve in my hands.  May my disappointment in myself and in this world be the beginning of knowledge of the One from whom and through whom and TO whom are all things. To Him be the glory, forever and ever amen! Amen. So be it.

Let the comets burn. We worship the King of Living Water and we will not fear. We have each other, and we have a Lord who moves mountains, splits the sea, and climbs the cross for us. What a goodness I can claim for you, and for me, even in our darkest nights.

We are all so loved, dear ones. Be loved.






I saw God last night.

I talk about God a lot, especially with my kids. Pretty much every conversation we have is directed in some spiritual sense, because that’s who I am and because I don’t know how to leave that out of my parenting. My kids hear about Jesus the way they hear about the pancakes I’m making for breakfast and our plans for the weekend- it comes out because it’s on my mind. The thing about childhood theology, however, is that the stuff I’m telling them is (let’s be honest) super weird sometimes. Sharing your faith with a child, especially your child, makes you seriously consider your belief system. Try telling a 3 year old about a man who was actually God who dies on a cross and then comes back to life and who also knows you and loves you…and then brace yourself to answer some complicated (and justified) questions.

I actually love that- I love working through what God says and what I believe, out loud, with these young souls and minds that I’ve been entrusted. I tell them who my God is because my whole heart beats with that truth. I know my babies believe what I say about everything at this point in their lives, and I take that responsibility seriously. So we talk about God in lots of ways. We pray for our friends and neighbors. We “exercise thankfulness” (there’s a phrase they’ll laugh about later) even when we don’t feel thankful. When they are mean to each other, we talk about what real love looks like, and we try again to be kind and patient and slow to anger. When I am wrong or when I am mean or impatient (oh how I wish I never was!), I apologize and ask forgiveness, because I want them to know that God honors humility over self-righteousness. We talk and we talk and we talk, and nothing is too sacred to discuss.

One question that my 4 year old daughter Clara grapples with is the sheer size of God. Clara, like the rest of us, would like God to be quantifiable. She wants to measure deity between her outstretched arms, or perhaps in distance, like “as far as it is to fly to Hawaii?” or “from here to the moon?” When I tell her that God is so big, he could actually hold the entire world in his hand, she worries, “But what if he spills us?”

She also wants to know why, if God is so big, we can’t see him.

See? The theology of children. Not to be underestimated.

That’s a fair question, I tell her. And I wonder too. But sometimes, we want to see things in a way that can’t be seen. Like, can you see my love for you? I ask her.

Well, she says. You do love me.

Right, I nod. But can you see it? How do you know it’s there? Is it a real thing, like a toy we can hold, or like the rug we’re sitting on? How do you know I love you?

When you kiss me, she says. When you make me lunch. When you let me wear dress up to play outside.
All of that, and more, and I hope you know how much I love you, I say as I pull her close. And that’s kind of how we see God. I see God when I watch you learn. I see God when I hold my babies. I see God in the stars at night. He’s there. He’s so big that I can’t really understand, but He’s in the ocean and in the stars and in you.

She snuggles in close and that’s enough for today; enough to know that we can at least search and be satisfied in the vastness of the quest.

It’s a conversation worth having, one worth having for the rest of our lives, really. Where is God? And why do we care?

So now I think about this stuff all the time, because if I’m going to tell my kids about my God like it’s absolute truth, I better consider the gravitas of such a claim. And be willing to search with them for the face of heaven.

Well, last night, I am happy to report (to you and to Clara), I saw God.

Earlier this year my friends (you!) raised money to buy baby wraps for refugee moms in my town. Baby-wearing is a passion of mine, because it’s been a sweet experience for me these last few years, and because I think it creates a good and simple connection for new moms as they struggle through the madness of a newborn. Especially for vulnerable mothers, without solid support systems or helpful community around them, a baby wrap gives time and space to take care of other things, like older children or jobs or themselves. So I have a stack of baby wraps in my closet that I take to new refugee moms and help them learn how to wear their babies.

I took a wrap to an old friend of mine last night. She’s not a refugee, but she is housing several small ones. She is a foster mother, and currently has a home full of little girls who are not fleeing their country, but who are living in a strange land nonetheless; including a baby who is only a few days old. My friend reached out on facebook about needing a way to carry the brand new baby she had just picked up from the hospital, and I basically forced my way over to her house with a wrap, despite the fact that we haven’t seen each other since summer camp 15 years ago.

It didn’t matter. As soon as I walked in, I felt at home. Not just because her house was warm and peaceful, covered in organized piles of pink clothing, but because we both wanted the same thing: for her to have what she needed to raise these little humans until their parents or an adoptive family takes them home. I mean, I spent an hour over there. One short hour in this journey that she takes every minute of every day, accepting the burdens of other people’s mistakes and loving children who are not her own. The baby was two days old. Two days in this world, and already plunged into consequences outside herself. I held that just-born girl and cried, imagining her mother somewhere with empty arms. I held her and cried because I was so thankful that my friend could keep this precious baby safe for right now. I cried because this world is full of broken people, and it hurts.

So I spent an hour with this amazing friend of mine and we practiced putting on the wrap and tucking her newborn foster daughter into the folds against her chest. It’s like a swaddle with a heartbeat, I told her, and we laughed. I took this picture and then we hugged tight and prayed for the children in her home, and I left.

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I walked back into the summer evening, warmth floating off the suburban streets and up through the dipping maple trees, the sky soft with pastels of forest fire smoke lingering on the sun’s setting horizon. I got in my car and shivered as cold air blasted across my face. I shivered again at what I had just witnessed. I looked at the picture I took of my friend, with the other woman’s baby pressed to her heart, and I wept.

I am so relieved to live in a world where children still belong to us all. I am so relieved to know that although the world darkens – although the evil squeezes like a vice, and we want to explode or shrink or sometimes both – God is here. In this quiet neighborhood in a small town, in this little home tucked in an anonymous cul-de-sac, God is working. My friend’s hands are doing God’s work as she folds pink clothes and feeds hungry mouths and absorbs the pain of broken families. There’s God, front and center, weeping and saving and working.

That’s what I want Clara and Sammy and Audrey to know. When life frightens you with dark corners, when scary men and evil women shout their lies, and when the apathetic masses turn their faces away; God is still here. And once you know what He looks like, once you’ve seen that kind of staggering grace? You can’t miss it the next time. The brilliant light of selfless love is surprising in such a dark world. And I pray that, like Paul on the road to Damascus, you won’t be able to keep walking once that flash blinds you. You will have to stop, so startled by the Almighty, and you will be changed.

Because once we see what God looks like, we can’t just keep walking. Everything is different afterwards-

and my gosh, what a relief.




Audrey Elizabeth at 4 months

IMG_1332I used to blog about my kids all the time. Now they’re a little older and I don’t like strangers knowing things about them without their permission, and also I just kind of forgot how to blog without writing an essay. But Audrey is four months old and not only have I not started her baby book,

I haven’t actually bought her a baby book.

So I better keep track on here, for her sake and for mine.

Dear Audrey, 

I’m smiling as I write this. I can’t help but smile when I talk about you, because you’re the sweetest, dearest little thing. Here’s an example of why you’re the best baby in the world:

It was the 4th of July on Monday and we always go to a big pool party at my aunt and uncle’s house. This was your first year there, obviously, and there were a LOT of people who wanted to meet you and hold you and kiss you. But you’ve been sick all week with a fever and a cough, and I felt bad letting other people hold you. According to previous baby experience (looking at you, Clara and Sammy) that wasn’t going to end well for anyone. There would be tears and panic and then a bunch of guilt on my part because I didn’t keep you as close as I should. But you know what you did?


Nothing. You let my family hold you and pass you around, and you smiled and cooed in your raspy voice and you never cried. Not once. It’s truly amazing, your disposition. You are easy-going and happy. You smile when I swaddle you for bed, and close your eyes as I lay you down in your crib. Then you fall asleep on your own and you sleep all night.

You’ve been doing that since we brought you home from the hospital. I thought babies like you were a myth, but here you are each night, sleeping peacefully in your nursery on your floral sheets surrounded by sunny yellow walls and hanging plants. You’re a dream come true.

I know I’m not supposed to compare my kids to each other (is this even possible?) but I can’t help it. It’s not that you’re better than Clara and Sam were as babies, it’s that you’re WAY BETTER than Clara and Sam were as babies. I’m so glad you’re our third, because we appreciate you on a grand scale, built on the previous three years of babies who didn’t sleep and required constant maintenance and servanthood. Daddy and I just lay and stare at you, speaking in hushed tones about how wonderful you are and how happy we are that you are ours. 


Audrey. Do you know how badly I wanted you? I prayed and prayed for the right time to try for another baby. God kept telling me to wait, to be patient. And I kept waiting, kept dreaming, kept wishing for another daughter. And then, finally, it was time. I told Daddy about you on Father’s Day last year, and we were both amazed at how easy it had been to conceive you. It was such a foretelling of who you would be in our family: a girl we all dreamed about, who came easily and sweetly into our lives.

Audrey Elizabeth Horney, you filled a hole we didn’t know existed. We adore you. Clara holds you in her arms in reverence, amazed at every little thing you do- “She’s looking right at me, Mama!” “She smiled, Mama!” Sammy’s voice goes up several octaves whenever he talks to you, singing “Hiiiii Audrey Beth!” and then he presses his forehead to yours before he kisses every part of your face. When I give you a bath Clara always asks, “Is it because of Sammy’s slobber, Mom?” and it almost always is.

Lately, when I’m making dinner, I put all three of you in the kids’ room. Clara and Sammy work on puzzles on their thick rug while you lay on your blanket beside them, watching and gurgling happily. I get tearful when I peek in the french doors to their room and see my three kids cheerfully existing together, already a pack, already exactly what each other needs.

You are our baby, and we needed you. 


Beautiful girl, darling girl, sweetest love, our Audrey Beth: You have brought us buckets of joy the last four months. We love you so much that you are always covered in our kisses and slobber- we have to actually wash our love off you each night. But it doesn’t come all the way off. I know because I can see it in your eyes, a sparkle that comes from knowing you are absolutely, completely loved. And also, I imagine, from the goodness that spills out from your heart.

Happy four months old, baby. Thank you for filling our home with your special kind of warmth.

We love you,

we love you,

we love you!


the starlight of a new life still present (dear Alene)

My dear Alene,

I’m so jealous of you right now. You gave birth a few days ago and now you are riding that newborn baby wave, the one which crests and falls with different feelings  every hour, sometimes every minute. You are tucked away in your home, a place somehow new again, because a new family lives there. A family that did not exist last week now lives in your house; what a strange reality to face each morning. I daydream about those moments, about the three times I have woken up in a new house with a new family after each of my children were born, and in all of my dreaming the air has such a rose hue to it. Not the false rose lens of chosen ignorance, of intentional amnesia, but a haze that fills the house with wonder and smooths over sleepless nights and painful healing. It’s like when you wake up early on a camping trip, deep in a forest or beside a lake or in a meadow, and it’s not night but it’s not morning, and the fog sits steady on the ground as though it’s always there, but you know it’s not, it will roll away with the sunrise, so you sit very still outside your tent as the sun creeps up and you watch the stars become invisible again. That’s how I imagine you right now. Sitting very still in these precious moments with a newborn in your arms, afraid to move too quickly because you know the fog will lift and the world will come glaring back into focus, the starlight of a new life still present, but no longer visible.

It’s not glamorous, these first days after a baby is born. It’s the kind of exhausting that makes you weep. You cry and you bleed, you sweat in your sleep, you begin to produce milk, it’s as though every pore in your body is leaking, as though soon you won’t have anything left. And you can feel that, can’t you? That constant sense of depletion? I’ve always thought of those early physical changes, all that loss, as the tangible symptoms of a metaphysical casualty. A death of self. Because really, in every sense, birth comes with loss. A part of you died in that delivery room. You will never be who you were before your daughter was born. And even though you rejoice with every breath she takes, and you hold her up in awe simply because she is yours, there is a grief that must be allowed in the same space as your joy. Whether our babies come from our own womb or from the womb of another, we cannot remain the women we once were when we take these children into our arms. We say a breathless hello to the babies at our breast, all the while leaving behind the life we once lived. And even though we are happy; even though we weep with thankfulness; we still must learn to live again. In our new lives. With our new families. As our new selves.

I think that’s why my dreams of what you’re doing right now seem rose-colored, the flushed pink of love surrounding the newborn baby in your bed. You exist in a space beyond, impenetrable to anyone but you and your girl. The fog hasn’t rolled away yet. You are recovering. You are coming back to life. And as your daughter makes you a new mother once again, a new woman once again, a new person once again, death and life and grief and joy are so intermingled there can be no understanding of it except between the two of you. How lovely. How impossibly beautiful.

You, my sweet sister, have brought us a gift. A new life. In all the world of all the people, you have given us someone brand new. We needed her. Thank you for her!

Be well in your haze. Breathe in that rosy air. Sit still in the fog and count the stars, the ones that no one else can see. I love you so much, and I am so glad to be in a world where you are a mother.


2.27.16 (Clara and Audrey)      When my daughters met.