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Faith Featured Loss Motherhood

I Hope You Choose Joy: A Letter to my Kids

October 14, 2017

I hope your life is full.

I hope your days on this planet consist of unspeakable joy, adventure, and love so deep that it takes your breath away.

I pray that you may never know the sting of crushing loss or betrayal.

And yet.

I also hope you experience enough adversity to know what it is like to uncover joy. True joy.

There is a joy that is burried beneath the soil of adversity-its siblings are perverence and positivity,

and it is only unearthed by the fingers of hope.

Many people never experience joy.

Oftentimes, the soil of life so completely encapsulates the seed of joy that it stays buried forever

but it is there, nonetheless.

Living, actual living is uncovered in the aftermath of trial.

The joy of abundant living is often found in the satisfaction of walking out pain… not immediately, but eventually.

Happiness is dependent on your circumstances, but joy is a posture of your heart.

I hope your life is characterized by the resilience of being an overcomer and the gratification of having chose joy in the face of bleak circumstances.

I must tell you, at times you might feel like YOU are burried.

But you always have a choice.

You can stay burried. Or you can climb out. It might take weeks, even months to push through the dirt, debris, and ground.

But I hope you have the strength to emerge from the soil,

because you will be better for it,

and your life is too precious not to live it to the fullest.

I pray you always fight so that the soil of your heart is a perfect garden in which to cultivate joy.

xo, Mom


Photo by: Tori Vandament

Faith Loss Relationships

lean in

July 17, 2017

Reflecting on life’s journey, I become aware of the highs and lows. The present can feel chaotic and random, but when held up in light of the past, I see purpose in every step. Each moment has brought me to this place.

The turns and twists, the ups and downs, have taught me that there are indeed rhythms, but often we can only discern them in retrospect. The loss, the change, and the struggle have yielded great fruit in my life. I find myself surprised to discover I may actually be grateful for the way hardships have transformed me.

For I have learned to lean in.

The ability to lean in is a conscious choice, an act of the will. To lean in is to embrace discomfort with the knowledge that surrender facilitates healing and growth.  The energy once expended resisting pain is instead channeled toward allowing said pain to enable advancement of character and faith.

To lean in is to have the courage to stare pain in the eyes until the trappings of selfishness, frivolity, and vanity have been burned away and we are able to truly live life to the fullest. To take from pain its power and realize our own strength.

To lean in is to be fully attentive to the experience of joy without bracing for its ending. To root ourselves in the present. To allow ourselves to be affected. To posture our heart for change.

To lean in is to reject emotional shortcuts. To refuse to rob ourselves of the gift of today by numbing the sensations of pain, but rather to glean and learn from them, for the aggravations of struggle refine our very souls.

To lean in is to accept.

To lean in is to surrender.

To lean in is to trust.

To lean in is to hope.

We lean in to pain. We lean in to joy. We lean in to life because it is ever-changing and evolving. We lean in because the only moment we have is the one we presently behold.

Photo by: Tori Vandament

Featured Loss


March 27, 2017

Loss. The longing for what could have been or the aching over what did transpire that you couldn’t avoid. For you, loss might present as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a career ending, family heartbreak, dashed hopes and dreams…the list is endless. But it boils down to:

This isn’t how you pictured your life.

Many elusive factors feel like sand, shifting slowly yet persistently through your clenched fingers.

You know you can’t stop it, but you grip tightly anyway.

Grief comes in waves. You feel adrift as the tides rise and fall.

You discern the loss -the affliction- and become familiar with its pangs and edges. You must allow yourself to rise and fall in the frothy waves.

Certain moments you have the sensation of drowning, but you keep going. For a time, you live beneath the surface of the breakers.

You’re not sure if you will ever emerge. So dark is the vast and murky pool in which you find yourself submerged, that you begin to forget the feel of the sun’s warmth.

And then.

Your feet finally hit the sand buried deep beneath the ocean’s current.

And you push off from the bottom.

And your head shoots out of the cool water.

And you see the sun.

Though you lived for a time below the ocean, you break free to find that parts of you died during your plunge to the depths.

Some aspects of you are no more.

There are pieces of your old self that you miss, and others have lent you freedom in their departure.

Though you are the same, you are different.

Unmistakably so.

It’s as if you’ve been recalibrated, for your heart is more tender… larger. Your insights are more elevated and precise.

Your time of nearly dying has stripped away enough that it leaves you bare.

You must choose what new adornments with which to clothe yourself. It is a terrifying, yet noble task. You sit squarely in the conductor’s chair of your own destiny and the notes all lie before you. They are fully at your disposal.

Will you choose bitterness or empathy?

Compassion or hardness of heart?

Despair or hope?

Will you strive to connect with and care for those who enter your circle, or will you isolate and fortify the truest parts of your being?

The ocean doesn’t have to have the final say.

Loss won’t claim the last word.

For beneath the surface of every sea lies a floor…. which leads to shore.

*Photo by Tori Vandament

Featured Loss Motherhood

kiddie pool

March 16, 2017

1,825 days.

That’s how many 24-hour periods of time there are in five years.

These days are profoundly formative in a child’s life. However, if most of us think back to our preschool years,  we most certainly do not have one thousand memories; some hardly even have one hundred recollections!

We rarely retain a vast number of distinct impressions, but what does shape our early childhood years is the tone of the environment in which we were raised.

As a parent or caregiver, this brings great freedom to focus on the overall atmosphere of the family versus each small, isolated interaction.

Focus on the tone of the home.

As parents, there are moments of feeling stretched too far, fatigued, and over exerted. Not every instance will be handled in a textbook manner. But that’s OK. An environment rich in relational warmth will help cover those occurrences.

Think of your relationship with your child as a kiddie pool. Each time you affirm and breathe life into his or her little heart, you dump a cup of water into the kiddie pool. Every “I love you,” and each snuggle is another heap poured right into the container.

Some days you will add a lot of water to the kiddie pool. Others, you may splash a little out with a snappy reply or an irritated manner. But because of the water you’ve poured into that pool, there will be a reserve and basis of love and understanding with which to safeguard your connection to your child.

The tone of your home can add to the pool or drain water right out.

In times of loss or trauma, it is vital to be intentional about cultivating the tone. Do less. Engage more. Play. Know that there will be seasons where you need to designate more effort into creating a peaceful atmosphere. Music is powerful.  Dance parties are engaging. Hugs and reassurance all add water to the pool.

You don’t have to bat a thousand every day, but be intentional about making deposits every day. My own children have different activities that greatly raise the watermark in the kiddie pool of their hearts. Violet loves to read. Theo loves to play ‘dogs’. Engaging in their interests fosters connection and love in our relationship.

And let’s be honest, I regularly pray that all my efforts would be their most prominent memories and that God would ‘fill in the cracks of their heart’ in any areas that I might miss.

So get to filling those pools!

*Photo by Tori Vandament

Loss Relationships

When You Hate Christmas for a Year…

November 29, 2016

It would only be fair to warn you that I still love Christmas. I actually adore it. Minus the great debacle of “pregnant-and-just-lost-my-parents-Christmas of 2015”, the holiday has been a shining beacon of joy in my calendar.
But last year knocked the wind out of my squished, pregnant lungs and I will never forget what it feels like to freaking hate Christmas.

I hated that everyone was so happy (so I thought) while I was dying of grief.
I hated that the holidays so highlighted the relational fixtures I DIDN’T have in my life.
I hated that I actually had to buy my children and siblings Christmas gifts for the first time EVER to compensate for the presents Mom and Dad would have given.
I hated the Christmas parties.
I hated cold weather.
I even hated freaking Santa.

Last Christmas, I was so overcome by the reality of loss in my life that I took a nap… On Christmas day… and it wasn’t short. I wanted it to be over.

The birth of my third child, Beatrix, a few short weeks later served as a healing salve for my holiday-hating soul. She was born on my dad’s birthday. The first birthday he was gone.. and Beatrix arrived….

My therapy baby, as I affectionately call her.

The months following sweet B’s birth became less enveloped in pain and more full of gratitude. Her entrance into my world jolted me awake from a fog of grief with the great realization that I have a choice… No one can create my happiness other than myself….I began to keep a journal on my kitchen counter and would jot down things that brought me joy during the day…. Somedays I recorded pages… other days, the journal sat empty… but I determined to keep fighting because I didn’t want my kids to grow up with memories of a mom who was always sad.

The more I recorded in my journal, the more I realized life’s gifts are coming at us faster than we can take them in… and if you doubt me, just grow conscious of that last breath you drew… pure gift. Are your eyes reading my words? Gift. Has your tongue tasted food today or your ears heard the sounds of Christmas music? Gifts abundant….

There has been a shift in my mindset since the holidays last year. I am devastated by my parents’ absence. I miss them everyday. But in many ways, their death has forced me to live with greater intentionality than I otherwise would have. I make decisions differently. I love my kids and husband more. I am more sensitive to hardships in others’ lives.

I have already determined life is beautiful because I see it as such. I see the gifts. And the more I see, the more I become aware of. Not without the absence of pain, but alongside it. Pain and beauty, grief and hope, loss and love link hands to comprise the human experience. Sometimes it’s sheer joy and other moments, it hurts… but I am wide awake to life.

And some years, it’s ok to hate Christmas a little.

*Photo by Tori Vandament

Featured Loss Motherhood

“It Might Not Be For You, Momma.”

May 4, 2016

 “It might not be for you.”

The thought rings loudly through my mind as I change my “potty-trained” 2-year old’s pants for the 2nd time before 10 am.

My son is throwing a fit again because he wants to eat out of “the orange bowl and green is not my favorite color”..

The baby fusses. This whole scheduling/Baby Wise thing just, (can I say it?) sucks.

I change another diaper, mediate a sibling scuffle, and take a moment to say aloud, “I love being a mom,” in order to facilitate healthy brain pathways and gratitude when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

I hear it again, “It might not be for you.”

I sit down on the couch and read aloud to my two toddlers while feeding the baby while mustering up some brain energy to ask them questions about the story that will engage their minds. #multitasking

I pay some bills, call my husband to ask if we should register the kids for swimming lessons tonight, and make a mental note to give a speech on self-control the next time I’m driving with my little people in our glorious minivan, where I have a captive (i.e. contained) audience. I try and intentionally pre-teach during moments of non-conflict.

I’m hit with a wave of exhaustion and realize I need to eat lunch.

I sit down and the moment I have a reprieve from the hustle and bustle, I feel the dark blanket of grief tug at my heart. Mother’s Day is THIS Sunday. My mom is gone. Her void is immense and I carry it’s weight everyday. I cannot believe that this month marks 9 months since the car accident that took my parents’ lives. They are missing it all and countless things I want to share with them.

I would tell them:
“Mom! Dad! The kids are so big! Beatrix is my easiest baby yet! You’d adore her!”
“You guys will never believe it, but Paul took the COO (Chief Operations Officer) position at Abide. We went into ministry/nonprofit. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!”
“Mom, you’d be SO PROUD of Jade. She is standing by Turner so faithfully while he grieves losing you. We learned all we know about being wives from YOU!”
“And TURNER, seriously, he is a rock. He might not always feel like it, but he is doing something with his pain. Dad, you’re gonna faint…Turner’s a youth pastor.”
“Tyler and Jaclyn, they are such hard workers. They are industrious, motivated, and such a dynamic couple. You both would BURST with joy.
“And Annie, she is the definition of selfless. She helps out with the kids all the time, gives Paul and me date nights, and organizes sibling gatherings. We cry a lot, but you’ve trained us well. We love each other deeply…”

I sigh. There is so much they have taught and imparted to us that they aren’t seeing the harvest of…


It hits me like a slap in the face. A Mother’s Day epiphany if you will:

Mommas, the seeds you’re sowing day in and day out might not be for you…. they might be for an audience far larger. The love, care, and correction that you pour so imperfectly, yet fiercely, into the very souls of your children you may never fully see the fruit of . The seeds you’re planting may be for:

the books they are going to write
the countries they will visit
the lives they might touch
the babies that they, themselves, might raise
the families they will love
the careers and industries they will affect
and the mountains they will climb

But you can be sure of this: those seeds are so deeply embedded with your DNA and fingerprints that it is as if a piece of YOU will be…

writing those books
visiting those countries
touching those lives
nurturing those babies
loving those families
bringing change to those careers and industries
and climbing those mountains

even long after you are gone….

You see, that’s what legacy is all about. It’s living for something beyond ‘the now’ so your life has impact even after your years on this earth. Legacy is equipping your own kids to sow even greater seeds than the ones that were (or weren’t) planted in your own life.

The hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
–  William Ross Wallace

So rock those cradles, Momma.
Sow those seeds.

And the generations that follow will be stamped with the beauty of your care. Some buds may bloom before your very eyes and others will grow in the aftermath of your love.

Happy Mother’s Day.


When Hope Feels Hard

October 26, 2015

“Ok…. I’m doing it today,” I tell myself. I have avoided the luggage haunting my living room corner for almost 2 weeks. Mondays are one of my few mornings without commitments, so I decide to tackle the dreaded task.

Today I unpacked the bags that my parents took on that fateful trip that took their lives, as well as the life of their beloved friend Ryan Hrubes… his wife Emily being the only survivor.

It hit me so strongly as I sat cross-legged on the floor, and it seems so obvious, but they had no plans to die. Each neatly folded clothing article stands testament to the future they planned to live. This trip was but one pit stop on the journey of their mapped-out future.

The realization that they didn’t plan to die was quickly replaced by the smothering sensation that I- no, WE weren’t prepared for them to die. There is no way to fully articulate how much we have relied on my parents’ counsel, friendship, and guidance even as adult children. We each talked to them every single day. So what do you do when the bottom of your world drops out? I’m figuring that out. Unfortunately, I am an involuntary participant in my worst nightmare. The best way I can describe it is: someone learning to function that has lost an appendage. You never realize how much you use your hand, foot, leg, or arm until it’s gone (I imagine). We (my siblings and I) are learning to live without a piece of our lives that is as engrafted as using our own arms and legs. Let me just tell you: it’s not fun.

“I know how important it is to hope,” I told my cousins this morning… “But I’m not even sure what to hope for. I feel lost.” Darkness clawed at my heart. I called my husband. I wept into the phone. I tried to wipe the tears off my face fast enough that my 2 and 3 year old didn’t see me crying as they came down the stairs. “Mom, you miss Nonnie and Tyty?” My perceptive 3 year old’s question ripped at my heart… I don’t want him to grow up with memories of a momma who is always sad. I’m careful to not be too sad in front of him.

Sweet baby. Yes, I miss them. I’m glad they are in heaven, but you have no idea what you will be missing out on your whole life. That’s why I cry. I cry for all the times I will miss them to come. I cry because this pit of grief feels too deep and dark and long.

“Theo, I do miss Nonnie and Tyty, but I’m happy they are with Jesus…” is my 3-year-old appropriate answer… “It’s ok to cry because we love someone.”

A tiny sliver of light breaks off some of the heaviness I’m carrying when my cousin Joy sends me a link to Ann Voskamp’s blog. It’s about hoping when you just feel like giving up. I read it quickly, devouring the idea that I can feel even the slightest hope today… on a hard day.

Joy texts me back. Her instructions for what to hope for read: “hope that it will get better, hope that Jesus will be enough, hope that you can really live fully again, hope that you are and will be a powerhouse for the Lord, hope that the heaviness and sadness will go away… because of Jesus we have hope…”

It sounds like a pretty comprehensive list to me. I’m too tired to hope on my own so I simply allow myself to use her text as a guide. I remind myself that the very darkest night of the soul in the Christian faith was when Jesus died. He stared death in the face. And beat it once and for all. This is truly the cornerstone of what I believe, what my parents believed: because He died, we don’t have to be afraid of death- it’s power is broken. Death isn’t the final destination. I feel a little better.

The sting of finality is a bit lessened, but the waiting still unfolds before me. Life feels long, and I feel young to carry what I carry. I wonder to myself what life event will cause my pain to lessen. Will counseling and care help to temper the ache? Perhaps holding my newborn baby in a few months and the gift of new life will cause my heart to live again. Maybe, just maybe, after the first full year following Mom and Dad’s death I won’t be agonized by all the special calendar dates…birthdays, anniversaries, holidays… Sigh. Probably not. It takes longer than a year I’m sure.

I flip open a daily devotional: Henri Nouwen’s “The Inner Voice of Love”. My favorite entry is entitled “Love Deeply”…. I read his thoughts, “The more you have loved and allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you… Every time you experience the pain of…death…you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds… Thus the pain…of death…can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

Got it. Love is the reason for grief, but grief becomes fruitful when new love is born out of it. That’s the only thing I can do. Respond in love. Love my kids, love my husband, love my siblings. I can do that. Even though my heart is breaking, I will learn to love more deeply than I ever have before. This is my lifeblood. I must cope with love.

I put the book aside as two sets of eyes prod me from behind the pages. “Mom, will you snuggle me and hold me like a baby?” Yes, Theo. Yes, Violet. I pull them up on to my lap and stroke their little blonde heads and smell their sweet fragranced hair and my heart is a little bit healed by love.

*Photo by Tori Vandament