Friday, June 1, 2018

The gift of...finding out what you really believe.

Trauma and tragedy have a way of bringing everything into sharp focus.

I will never forget where I was driving when I realized I was at a cross roads.

 What do I believe? Who is God? Is God...? Can I trust Him? Him?  Is He good? Really good...? Only good? Am I safe? Does He have me? What do I really believe?

This is raw. Real. Transparent.  Hard.

Many of us (as believers) live our lives ... quite safe.  I suppose that couldn't be said about us for many years. We were living...loud.  Out there. Boldly.  Took many many leaps of faith.  Yes I knew what I believed...I was rock solid in my faith.

Yet something happens when life falls apart.  Ever been there?

Everything you know to be true...isn't.  You are free falling. I felt like I was in space. Upside down. No gravity to pull my feet firm onto strong footing. Floating, flailing, floundering...falling. Every conversation was like I was in a fog.  My head hurt. My chest hurt. I didn't want to eat anymore. I hated night time. I was so tired but I couldn't sleep. And once I was awful. I would scream, thrash, relive horror and wake completely exhausted.  

My faith was tested.  I can still feel all the feelings of a world that came to screeching halt. Yet... it didn't.  I remember standing in our bedroom, looking out the huge window at the stunning view at night...and begging Jesus to return. The world was much scarier than I ever feared and I just begged Him to come. Take us away. Please, Lord.  I would sob and sob at the window...truly begging Him to come.

I had never done that before.  Ever.  Life held so much promise. So much excitement. So much beauty that I was nervous of missing out on. Until...then.

I remember that day...that day I was alone in the car driving when my faith became choice. There was no pretty feeling. Nothing fuzzy. No. My vision was question...but neither could I see the goodness of God in my life anymore.  I saw betrayal. Loss. Pain. Horror. My worst of my worst nightmare. I didn't even fear something so horrific.  I didn't comprehend its existence.  But..

Decision always trumps emotion. It must.  I couldn't change what I believe based on my horrific and life altering as it was.  God was good. Jesus never left me. (Oh...the wails that came from that one...)  I couldn't comprehend that He left or abandoned us ever...yet I couldn't comprehend that He was there.  I knew that I knew His promise was sure that He would never leave...yet I couldn't fathom how He was there.

That day...what was easy for me to believe up until that point...was a choice.  And it was like a 500 lb weight came off my shoulders.  I was in pain. I felt like I was dying.  In many ways...I did die.  Parts of my heart were shattered beyond repair.  Yet my feet were firm.  I knew my foundation.  I chose to believe He never left. Not for a moment.

My fingers have shaken just trying to type this post.  To be able in any way...any...way....say that gifts came from such super human, honestly.  Yet they did.  The gift of finding out what I really believe.  The gift of watching everything fleeting and temporal in my life blow away...and seeing what remained.

I am forever changed. There is no question.  And I know what I believe.  I know who is always with me. I know who kept me breathing...I know who opened my eyes to each new tomorrow.  I know He is good.

Only good.

Though my circumstances were anything but.  I know who said "it's is enough" and brought it all to light.  When I think of how long it went on...I try to think of how much longer it could have...but He said "no more".

My faith was the very core.  And anyone who has 'passed through the valley of the shadow of death'...will tell you a similar story.

Tonight I'm thankful for the gift...of finding out what I really believe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The gift of 'mundane'.

Today was a Wednesday. A normal, everyday, average... Wednesday.

Middle of the week.  Nothing too exciting about a Wednesday right?  School day.  Rainy day.  Washed my floor day. Did a boat load of laundry day.  Cleaned the kitchen many times day.  You know...just a

Oh...I prayed and prayed and begged God for this day.

I loved it all.  I loved waking up early and singing obnoxiously to our children as they weren't quite as spry. I loved when Dean put music on as I was cooking pancakes for breakfast.  I loved the silliness, the structure, the frustrations, the smiles.

Mid afternoon, Dean was out at a business meeting and we all did a 10 minute burn (a timed blitz) on the house and left it shining.  I then did a 10 minute burn for business and when I came back to the living room the dining table was all set. Juice, snacks and a piece of paper in front of every seat. Today was going to be an art contest!

All their idea. I just picked the theme. We all had to draw something Disney related and could only look online at an image for 10 seconds.  (I guess I had no clue about Minnie Mouse's features!).  We laughed, we ate, we had a great time.

As we were wrapping up, I grabbed my 3x reheated coffee (it's that good, I refuse to dump it out and start over) and walked out the front door, leaving it open behind me.  The grass was drenched from the downpour a few hours earlier. The sounds like we are in a forest! I've never heard birds like this in my life.  The dog was running to chase a squirrel.  The air was sticky.  I can still hear the kids giggling at the table as they clean up from our contest (Daddy was to be the judge later).  I got to the mailbox and I looked back at the house.


Today was such a normal day.  Perhaps one that even I would have dreaded and merely endured a few years ago.  You know...Wednesday. The ultimate 'land in between' in your week.  The excitement of the weekend is well in the rear view mirror...and the next one is just a tad too far ahead.  Isn't that how we live our lives...?

Sadly.  Yes.

Today...I got a letter at the mailbox from a friend.  It mentioned something about "the boring life" and  it hit me right in the heart. That's it. Boring.  I stood looking back at the house and my eyes filled with tears.

Boring. Mundane.

Out loud...I heard myself say "Thank you, Lord. Thank you."

See...I begged God for boring and mundane.  I used to dream of it.'s true.

And if you know anyone going through any level of pain or trauma...I'm pretty sure they can relate.  Like my high school friend who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.  We were chatting last night and he has a new found appreciation for life.  Just for a day. A day without pain. A day without fear of the future. A day without wondering what his family's life looks like without...

As I sit here tonight...typing my thoughts as fast as my brain processes them. I look up and see my wall...from desk to ceiling...covered. It's one of my favorite walls ever.  It's bright. Colorful.  And I didn't design it.  I see drawings of dolls with straw looking hair, castles, our family in a row boat, many renditions of "mommy and me" days, pigs, pigs and more pigs.  One of my most favorites was just drawn by the most precious 7 year old girl on the planet.  It's all blue except for a bright orange sun...a multi colored rainbow and underneath it is Jesus, a little girl with blond hair and Big Piggy.  I think that picture is deep. I think it says what I felt today.  The new found joy in the once-taken-for-granted.

Tragedy and trauma gives us a tremendous gift.  I know as much as anyone how difficult it is to see it at the time. But squint, lean in, put your glasses on, turn the light up a little brighter...because you need to see. You need to see the gift in the storm.  The fact that you long for boring and mundane.  That you refuse to take that for granted.

One of the most unexpected gifts out of the storm.

The gift of the mundane.

Today was no ordinary Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I get to be the one...

I'm a big JJ Heller fan.  Her lullaby album was...well...yeah. Pretty instrumental in a horrific time of our lives. When babies couldn't sleep because of profound trauma and PTSD and the silence allowed way too much noise for all of could hear this album.

It came to mind for a few reasons in the last few days. JJ Heller (in honor of Mother's Day) introduced a necklace with the stamped "I get to be the one..." from her own song.

Tonight as I was rocking my baby to heart was so full it felt like it could burst.  Not just normal 'mama feels' but ... of all the things that trauma brings a heightened sense of gratitude for ... all of the things.

One of the small ways that God redeems the broken moments of our life is the changed perspective...flooded with gratitude of what we once, most certainly, took for granted.

The moments of staying with our little girl while she's having a bath mid-afternoon...because...well...PTSD.  The moments of praying for all the things...all of the time...because there's so much fear around a dream that reminds them of their past.  The moment when you have just gotten the baby to sleep only to hear a shriek of terror from ten feet away because your seven year old didn't see her teenage sister around the corner.  The moment of being tired and done for the day but your daughter cannot stop giggling and you scrap your "I'm done" for "this is bliss" because hearing that genuine, from the belly giggle after what she's survived is ... well...yeah.
The moment when I walk into a beautiful public bathroom that happens to have lower lighting, and even though I'm holding their little hands, their feet come to a screeching halt and they both scream they suddenly don't have to go potty because...well...PTSD.

But...I get to be the one.  I get to be the mama to lead them through all the hard. To pray the prayer again because you were yawning the first time.  To walk out of the bathroom with a million stares because no one could ever understand why a toilet flushing would scare you so severely.  To give you a piggy back ride up the stairs to bed.  To hear you ask for hugs many times a day.  To feed you snacks which seems like every 20 minutes all day long.  To see you overcome your deepest fears and not only let go of our hands...but actually go out on the floor in front of the rest of the class and show everyone what you've learned so far in Self Defense Karate.

I get to be the one.  To welcome you into bed in the middle of the night where there's no room.  To see you snuggled into Zoe like she's your personal guard.  To race you to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. To let you dance with glee in the pouring rain in your Sunday best.   To see you almost tip off your bike because you are so proud your training wheels are off and you can't stop looking back at me smiling.  To see your face when I open a letter I helped you me.  To let dinner simmer just a little longer to come hug your overtired-self one more time as Daddy is trying to get you to bed and you just melt into my arms.

In all of motherhood...and most definitely in post extreme trauma's easy to ask why.  How am I equipped to help them overcome...? Why us...? Why me...? How...can...why...?

But the focus changes entirely when I hold you close in all of those moments and thank God with a lump in my throat...that I get to be the one.  In all the all the all the hard...horrendous...victorious moments...

My heart is so thankful...that I get to be the one.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Letting go.

I think I've spent most of my life...holding on.

Controlling the few things I could...because...well, don't ever let go.

I remember sitting by the fire on the deck in our dream house in WA. The house we built. We designed, we dreamed, we built.  Literally.  We were out for an afternoon drive one day and we pulled up this dirt road, walked forever up the trail and stood looking out. I looked at Dean and said "we will live here one day..." he laughed. Ummm not likely.  And that's exactly where our house was built.  By us.  Yes we subbed much of it out, but Dean helped frame it, he roofed it and him and I installed all the hardwood and tile.  What a wonderful feeling to build something with your own hands and really be a part of seeing a dream come to life.  But now.  Now here we were...with preparing to list our house. The house we were going to raise our family in, and as our daughter would say..."all your kids and grandkids will come home to"...yeah. That house.  I grabbed a piece of paper to just write. And the words came.  That everything I was desperate to hold on to...was holding us back.  That it would be so very hard to just ... open my hand.  Just...let...go.  Yet my heart knew...that's where the freedom was.

As events unfolded over the next few months, my willingness turned to all out begging God to sell our house.

And it was true, letting go was what brought the most healing.

I've always said our story was about Surrender.  I've been criticized along the way for not advocating for adoption when I had a platform to do so. Of course I'm for adoption. Clearly.  But I never felt our story was about adoption.  From the very beginning in 2009...God made it clear that our story was about surrender. I believed then, and I believe now...that not all of us are called to adoption.  But every single one of us as Christ followers are called to surrender.

Never...ever...ever...ever could I have known or predicted just what that meant for our family. Surrender. I thought I could see it so clearly then. But no. Not even sort of.

The greatest surrender was to come.

One of the greatest motivators over the last year for me has been what I've heard my dad say often growing up. That we each will stand before God...alone.  There will be no one to point to that they pressured me one way or another.  No. Alone.  When you are conflicted on what decision to make...I challenge you to get alone with God and enter in to that moment. Alone.

The second motivator was that we...I...will have to look into the eyes of my little girls for the rest of their life.  Will they know we did everything humanly possible to help them heal? Or will we have to explain away obvious choices that had lasting effects...because well..."what would people have said had we done that...?"

Those two things have kept our vision clear.  Standing before God alone for the choice we make ... and being able to look into the eyes of these precious little people as they navigate through deep trauma and pain in all the phases of life, that it will continue to surface.

I find my self wanting to still...hold on.  Just grip a little tighter. When I know...and have learned through life's hardest lessons...that freedom comes in letting go.

This week I was reading and something really jumped out at me...Romans 4:18 (ESV) In hope, he believed against unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.

I know what it's like to believe against hope.

And to still be fully convinced that God is able to do what He promised.

Letting go.

Traveling around the world to bring children into our family...? That was only the beginning.  It's so much clearer now...our story really was about surrender.  Giving Him full control.  Opening our hands.  Letting go.

My friend sent me this yesterday and I had chills from the start.  I honestly wish I had seen this over a year ago.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


What if you began to see people differently?

All people.

People that are very different from you. People that you love and think you know well. People that annoy the heck out of you. People that you just met.

What if you chose to see them as...stories? Walking...talking...often hiding...stories.

I promise you when you look at our are looking at stories.  Behind those smiling faces and twinkling eyes (we always get told that)...there are deep stories. Stories that you would struggle to believe.  Pain.  Loss. Betrayal.  Hurt.  Confusion.  Pain. So much pain.

During our most recent 'story', I consciously made a choice to look a little deeper.  Listen more intently.  Get past my own judgements and predetermined ideas about people and see stories.

What has really blown me away that the moment you share your pain in the slightest sense, people open up with their story. And woah...we are all stories.  But have you ever noticed that it takes sharing your pain for them to share theirs? Who wants to be vulnerable with someone who lives a picture perfect, got-it-all-together life? Not me.  And likely, not you.

And yes, I know. Few of us have that life, but we love to try to convince everyone...and perhaps even ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I was very vulnerable with my business leadership team. And what blew me away was how vulnerability...wins.  It does. It's the scariest, and we fear it the most...but it wins. People cried. Opened up. And definitely saw me differently. But not in the way I had feared.  They saw me as real. Approachable.

You are a walking, talking story.  Full of beautiful things, hard things, painful things, horrible things.  But you are not alone. We are all stories.

Just yesterday our boys came running inside and one had tears. I think he's lived hundreds of days in fear of what happened. It was a little child, not a peer...but the pain seemed just as deep.  The child made fun of his cleft lip scar.  Ouch! Then as he braved through the lump in his throat to tell him nicely what it was...the boy cut him off and said "I can't even understand you!" and walked away.  Double ouch.

Azlan knows why that scar is there. And he knows why he has to work so hard to speak clearly. He is not confused about this, he knows. But this little boy played upon all of his insecurities.  The track in Azlan's head that he fights through is "I look funny...and...I talk funny..." and he's never had someone say it. Until then.  In his mind...he was not consoled that the boy was so young. He didn't care.  We gave him lots of ways to kindly respond to the overt lack of kindness.  And there's no question we will have to gently push him out the door the next time he sees the child outside...instead of hiding.

Our words matter...because we are stories.  We didn't wake up one day with a random scar and not know how it got there. quite.  The reason the tears are right beneath the surface for Azlan and for me...and likely because we lived that story.  We worked hard to get here.

Recently there was a news reporter who was criticized publicly on Facebook for wearing knee length skirts.  She was told her legs are way too big and it doesn't do her any favors. I loved the reporter's reply...she said she was so thankful for her legs...they were strong legs and she was amazed they were still working.  Hmmm. A story. When she spoke of the story in more detail later, she revealed she has MS and that all these years later, she was not supposed to even be walking.  Large calves? She was so proud of those legs. They told a story for her. A story of overcoming. A story of strength.  She had to fight through  the perception. She had to stop herself from comparing to those around her with thin legs. Sure she did. But she made a daily choice not to hide.

Ahhh. So much inspiration there. And I have to wonder if this changes the way you interact with the world. The people you meet briefly.  The person in line.  The lady you sit by watching your kids play soccer.  The one who barely looks up from the floor. The young cashier in the fast food drive through.    The one with visible scars. And...the one with invisible scars.  

We are all stories.  Me...Azlan...and yes, you.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Where was God?

It's a question we hear often.  Where was God when...? I've heard it my entire life.  So have you.

And honestly...I had never asked it before. Until...

There are certain pains that, though heartbreaking and oh-so-hard, we comprehend.  We somewhat comprehend sickness. Death. Betrayal.  Perhaps only because of exposure.

We live in a broken world. Full of broken people and broken...ness.  And though we don't fully 'get' it...we are familiar with it, so we comprehend it.

Then there are some trials...that...we simply don't get. They are beyond our scope. Beyond what we feared in the long lists we record in our hearts.  They just...are too big.

Ten years ago...yes, ten...we went through something with my husband's family that fit this description. While on vacation together at a neutral location, his mom suffered with back pain. No big deal, right? Chiropractor, acupuncture...then ER.  In a blur of confusion, lack of information and a quick decline in her health that left everyone begging God for answers...we were in that place. That place of "wait...what??" When you have heard of such a thing but only on the news with total strangers, in freak incidents... but was it something we ever thought about? Considered? Feared, even? No.  And was our reality.  We stood around his beautiful mom's bed side and sang hymns as she entered Heaven just a few days before Christmas.

Yes...we know diseases and horrific diagnoses come and are no respecter of persons. We get that.  We feared those. But this? What? No. The entire long drive to her hometown to prepare for the funeral, we were left with spinning heads, more questions than answers and total shock.

We still talk, ten years later, of the ways God showed up during that time. Beautiful ways that left us with no doubt God was still in control.  Yes...when our world appeared spinning out of it...we didn't just blindly believe, God showed us so clearly...that He was in control.

Here we a place with enough space to look back and what unfolded in our lives, and finally... exhale.  And then go "wait..what??"  As parents, as a mom...I admit I had fears. Many were unrealistic.  We all have them.  Yet...this?  This was deeper and darker and so much worse than my heart could ever fear.  I could not comprehend this happening...ever. To any family. In any reality...let alone ours.

Two nights ago, I sat on the couch and had a vivid flashback. Suddenly I was back to that place, I remember it so clearly.  I had just woken from a light, barely-there sleep.  I remember sitting up in bed only to be quickly aware that my nightmare was indeed a nightmare...but my reality.  I stumbled out of bed to the bathroom and leaning over the sink, just hunched in front of the mirror. My eyes still puffy from a few hours before. Deep stains of mascara under my eyes, why I bothered to put it on those beyond me.  I remember hearing the quiet of our house. The deep breathing of my husband and two little girls.  Out loud, I spoke the words I had been trying not to ask.  "Oh God...where were you?" and with that unlocked yet another part of my heart into deep wails.  I remember looking up at my face in the mirror and seeing the horror in my own eyes, affirming this was now our story.  This was not someone's story...not one we could walk beside and empathize with...not one we could shake our head in disbelief at, as our pretty life went on. There would be no days in the near future where our brains and hearts and memories were not tormented. This was our story.  I looked back to the mirror and again, the wails came. Not tears. Wails. If you've been somewhere in that valley of deep grief... you know.  You know.

And then my heart softened. "Did Heaven cry...? Did you weep? Did all of Heaven mourn...?" My pleas now got louder. I was begging God to somehow show me He was broken for us, long before we knew.

Instantly I remember thinking of the injustice of living in a place with three hundred days of sunshine. How wrong that we would wake each morning to clear blue skies and sunshine and birds chirping as if...there was peace? As I looked back in that moment I fell to the floor saying over and over "why didn't it pour day after day? Why? Why didn't Heaven mourn and wail as it witnessed horror upon horror?"

Suddenly my shoulders were held.  My husband's warm touch. He picked me up, pulled me into a hug and said "come on Janice. We need sleep..." and back to bed I went.

I've never forgotten that night.  I remember waking the next morning and texting my dad. My preacher-dad.  He sent me verses to comfort and for the first time I took so much peace from the fact that Jesus cried at his friend's death. Knowing He was about to raise him from the dead, he still cried. He fully entered the pain of death. Loss.

As I sit here tonight...with thoughts racing, confusion still the darkest of valleys...God was present. He was so near.  Oh...don't think for a moment that I didn't have moments of extreme doubt. I did.  I would be far from truthful if I said otherwise.  I did.  But faithfully, gently...over and over and over and over and over...He showed us how near He was.

I sit here tonight, still with a fragile heart.  Sewn so loosely together with frayed threads. And I know He is good. He was there...and He is good.  Though our situation was anything but good...He walked with us every step.  In the many, many moments that I could not see Him and began to sink...He was still there.

Pain. Deep, deep pain.

Brokenness so much beyond what I ever feared.  Yet a faith that is on a solid rock.  A choosing to believe, with eyes wide open, that He was and is...fully in control.  He took us through the fire.  Wounded? Scarred? Oh..yes.
But not burned.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Alive...even though a part of me has died

So many have asked how we are doing.  And I can't get this song out of my head...I think because it perfectly describes where I am.  Thank you for praying us through.  

The question that is never far away
But healing doesn't come from the explained
Jesus please don't let this go in vain
You're all I have
All that remains

So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I'm alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Sometimes I feel it's all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I'm alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

It's the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all the scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say "It's over now"

I'm alive
And even though a part of me has died
You take this heart and breathe it back to life
I fall to your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here