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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

Featured Motherhood

A Mother is Born

May 11, 2017

We are not unaccustomed to new life. 4.3 babies are born every second. And with each entry into our world comes endless possibilities, hopes, and potentials wrapped up into one tiny bundle.

But every day, something else is born, and it arises and enters in that very same place in which a child is delivered.

Something powerful.
Something fierce.
Something strong.

Immediate is this awakening that quietly alters the course of civilization, society, and even life itself.

Alongside every birth, adoption, and new addition to a family unit
something else is born.

Or rather, someone.

A mother is born.

And with her arrival a guardian, keeper, and protector is born.
A nurturer, teacher, and developer is born.

Much like a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, the metamorphosis of a woman into a mother is momentous. Beauty, strength, and splendor already reside in the fabric of her being, and motherhood more fully draws it out.

The birth of a mother is laborsome, yet miraculous. The breaking forth of new life into HER life is disruptive though necessary. There may be pain and discomfort in the process as she stretches and grows, but this enlargement leads to the actualization of new life and of her very personhood.

Within her is power vast and endless, for her gift is this: she cultivates and shapes the very being she just took into her arms.

Her beauty lies not only in her strength, but also in her delicacy. For alongside her competency lies vulnerability. Her ferocity is matched only by her tenderness, and her strength is accompanied by love so strong it leaves her defenses down and her heart susceptible to great pain.

But she loves anyway. She can’t help herself.

And she is a miracle.

She guards the new life that she so cherishes. She is a keeper of treasured memories and milestones. She is a protector of childhood, innocence, and joy. She pours out of the depths of her soul to nurture those under her care. Every treasured morsel of wisdom entrusted to this teacher is faithfully deposited into the hearts of her young pupils.

When a mother is born, a developer emerges. And much like a gardener, she plows and sows, tends and prunes. She plants seeds she may never see bloom, but she plants them anyway.

When a mother is born, hate and fear tremble for they know full well they cannot match the uninhibited, deep, wild love that resides within her heart. A mother is the nemesis of death, for from a mother comes all life.

When a mother is born, our cities, nations, and the world rejoices.

A mother links arms with her sisters and together they are a force to be reckoned with.

Countless women conceive and bring forth a child, but a mother leaves an imprint upon the very fabric of our souls, our earth, and our time.

Humanity longs for the care and affection a mother provides.

For when a mother is born, a token of healing is offered to a weary world.

*Photo by: Tori Vandament

Featured Motherhood

mother the mothers

May 2, 2017

“I will be your best friend in this season, Emily,” my mom whispered in my ear as she hugged me goodbye in her driveway. I loved Wednesdays. It was the highlight of the kids’ and my week. We always spent that day at my parents’ house.

This particular day, I found myself lingering in the driveway before my departure, and emotion filled my heart. “How can I possibly be lonely, day to day, when I’m never alone?” I asked her quietly. I felt fatigued from the constant demands of raising toddlers while pregnant. She leaned through the open window of my minivan and wrapped her sun-kissed arms around my shoulders. “I remember feeling that way when I was in your stage of life. It can be hard to maintain close relationships during the baby years. I adore you, Emily. I will be your best friend in this season.”

Neither of us could have possibly known she only had a few days left on this earth.

My best friend and mother was gone before she had a chance to keep her promise.

And the truth is, while her death has created layers of loss, I mostly miss being mothered.

Becoming a mother causes you to need a mother in a whole new way. The experience and knowledge of practiced moms are a treasure. Their words are like rain on the soil of young hearts who are raising the next generation.

Seasoned mommas, grandmothers, and women of generations before mine: don’t stop mothering the mothers. We desperately need your counsel, nurture, and friendship.

The other week, I was dressing in the YMCA locker room after a workout. I heard an older woman say to a friend, “I’m 67 and it’s wonderful. I wouldn’t want to go back!” I quickly struck up a conversation with her, hungry to have a vision of hope for my golden years of life. “Excuse me! I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but I want to learn from your experience. What is it about your age that you enjoy?” She smiled through our introductions and replied, “Wisdom. You get to my age and you’ve learned so much. Life gets easier with the knowledge you glean along the way.”

Wisdom.

Young moms: Put a demand on the wise women in your life. You will feel less isolated if you learn from those who’ve gone before you. There are resolutions to the very parenting battles you are fighting, and they reside in the more mature mothers around you. Ask and inquire. They have gleaned wisdom they will share with you. They can lighten the load of your heart.

Mommas and grandmas: I want your wisdom. All of it. I want you to tell me what has worked for you and what hasn’t. I want to learn how you’ve succeeded and failed. What would you tell your 20 and 30 year old selves? Please. Don’t feel irrelevant. Invest your time, talent, and insight into us younger women because practiced moms, you are a treasure. I’m not foolish enough to think that 5 years of being a parent makes me an expert. I’m just doing the best I can with what I know. I need you. We still need you. Even as mothers, we need to be mothered.

In the words of Anna Jordan from The Magic of Motherhood, “It turns out, one of the most wonderful joys of motherhood is the other mothers.” How true this is. Mothering was always meant to take place in community. May we each seek to add joy to our fellow mothers. May we also purpose to lighten the burdens from one another as we raise our children.

*This blog post is dedicated to our and my parents’ wonderful friends, my beloved in-laws, and supportive faith community. You all have been part of my healing. In this current season, Lee Porter and Brigit Elliot, thank you for all you’ve done. Your persistent, extravagant, and practical demonstrations of love towards me and my family have been some of the most incarnate forms of kindness I’ve ever experienced.

*Photo by Tori Vandament

Featured Motherhood

motherhood: am I doing something wrong?

April 6, 2017

Motherhood: “am I doing something wrong?”

This I wondered every day.

I wondered about this not only every day, but several times a day.

I wondered about this not only every hour of every day, but several times an hour.

I was pregnant (not the most stable phase of my existence either psychologically or emotionally) and raising two toddlers who were 18 months apart. I was home full-time and my husband worked long hours. I hated cooking (still do) and my propensity for being a clean freak was not a conviction shared by my two miniature companions.

Frequently, I would remind myself of my fortunate situation. “I am healthy. I have healthy babies. I am married to my best friend…. etc.,” but the thought still nagged at me.

Is being a mom supposed to be this hard? What am I doing wrong?

Being a parent in the early years can feel like a case study in constant over-stimulation (if you happen to have busy toddlers like me… For crying out loud, my children have zero interest in watching television).

Motherhood is hard, because the weight of my role is so impactful.

Motherhood is hard, because pieces of my heart are literally walking around in bodies separate from mine, and I can’t be everywhere at once.

Motherhood is hard, because I must not grow weary of doing good.

Motherhood is hard, because no one will love and care for these baby humans the way I do…. and care deeply I do.

That’s it.

Motherhood is hard because I care.

If you don’t care, then motherhood isn’t hard.

Mommas, you care. Therefore, it’s hard.

Different seasons are especially trying. But the intensity of the difficulty will wax and wane. Being a parent for five years hardly makes me an expert, but even that short amount of time has allowed me space to find my motherhood rhythm. The more you love, the more you grow.

But it is STILL challenging and will continue to be so….

Because I care.

And anything worth doing has a cost.

I can’t imagine anything more meaningful and worthwhile than to give my life away to love another.

So… is motherhood this stretching, trying, and arduous for other mothers? Yes. It’s beautiful and hard.

*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

Motherhood

pilot post

March 1, 2017

I find myself in a peculiar position.

 I am in the throes of motherhood.

I am exhausted, continually questioning myself, and reaching with all my heart to find my motherhood rhythm.

The rhythm of peace amidst chaos…

calm alongside wild…

inner solitude amongst constant stimulation…

I am in the dance of young motherhood.

 I grapple daily with the wills of my children which strain against my deep intent to instill virtue in their little hearts.

And it’s hard.

So very hard.

And yet….

Something calls.

From deep within me.

A call to step out… to pick up my “pen” and write. To pour forth everything inside with transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity.

“Should I even do this?” I must think this thought every hour.

“Do I even have something to say? Who will listen? Does it matter?”

I don’t have all the answers.

But we are in a most divisive time in which discord reigns.

Something whispers within me, “but we aren’t all that different… after all,  love, that which we have, and that which we desire, binds the human race.”

And I know of love.

I know of loss.

And I know of love amidst loss.

So I pick up my ‘pen’ and with trembling fingers begin to write.

 We are not alone. If you have ever loved or been loved or wanted to love, this blog is for you.

 Welcome sisters.

May you find encouragement and hope within these ‘pages’.

*Photo by Annie Schenzel

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 MIGHT NOT BE FOR YOU! “

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.

Motherhood

Remembering My Parents’ Parenting

September 16, 2015

Let me just begin by saying this post is such a goal for the parent I (we) aspire to be. I am praying that as I begin to compile nuggets of wisdom from Mom and Dad’s lives that it will sink in even more to my heart and character. I still remember what if feels like to hug them. I can still picture my dad’s smile and hear my mom’s voice as if she were right beside me. In blogging, I chronicle them and freeze their impact in a concrete way.
So that being said: In the aftermath of losing my dear parents I have been reflecting on what they instilled and taught us kids that made them such exceptional parents.  I want to remember for myself as much as share with the people whose lives they impacted. It must be a universal desire to live life well and leave one’s children at a greater advantage. I know it burns within me. My prayer has been, “heal us up… and then, raise us up.” The lives of Ty and Terri Schenzel provoke us all to not waste our time or talent, but to reach out in love and embrace everyone in our path.
I consider it such an immense privilege to have been raised by them. I, along with you dear reader, know it is all of our prayer that our own children may someday say that of you and I…

1. Their lives gave them credibility and influence.
We valued my parents because their character and who they were behind closed doorswas dynamic and provoking. They were not just instructing and teaching us how to live with their words and through discipline, but they lived passionate, adventure-filled lives that made faith look attractive- exciting even. Growing up, I never thought the Christian faith was just a set of rules or regulations, but rather, an invitation into one of the most fulfilling journeys one could live… I remember, even as a teenager, I told my dad one night that I needed to marry someone slightly dangerous because a dull, religious guy just wasn’t going to cut it. HE was the one who gave me an awareness that men like that even existed… and I’m forever grateful… It led me to my own faith-filled, slightly dangerous husband 😉

2. They were careful to keep their dreams (even those from the Lord) from being too high of a cost to us as a family.
The inception of the Hope Center dream began in my dad’s heart during my early elementary years. We lived in the West Omaha suburbs and after several years of ‘incubating’ the dream my parents moved us to mid-town. I was in 4th grade, Annie in 2nd, and my mom was probably trying to keep Tyler and Turner alive at home (kidding). I know my dad would have moved into the most gang-ridden street possible if my mom had been game, but she wasn’t and he told her that he would never make a decision that she wasn’t completely on board with.
When we did move, we lived within 10 minutes of the Hope Center, but my parents still drove us to our same Christian elementary school that we had always attended 25 minutes away. The friendships and community of our childhood were valued deeply by Mom and Dad. In this, I learned that just because you have a dream from the Lord or a mission, your family/spouse might not have the degree of grace that you do. Mom and Dad were careful to obey the Lord, but be sensitive to each other and their young children as they lived out their God-given destinies.
Even from a ministry perspective, my siblings and I always felt that Dad’s first love was his wife and family. I never had any resentment towards my parents being in ministry because the ministry didn’t steal from what they poured into me.  We knew we were the most captivating priority of their hearts. I once read somewhere that the people whose options matter most are that of those who are closest to you- who know you best. Well, Dad, Mom, the people who knew you best give you rave reviews.

3. Their parenting focus valued heart connection and relationship over religion and performance.
Hopefully this encourages some family out there, but: my dad gave up after a while on family devotions after dinner. There was a brief blip in history where my parents bought the “Dangerous Devotions” book and tried to have us kids do some of the ‘biblical learning activities’ around the dinner table- it failed miserably. Who knows if it was spiritual warfare, conflict of interests, or puberty, but it just didn’t impart the intended pearls of wisdom. I can remember we were always unreasonably wild, antagonistic, or uninterested with the devotional content. We have teased my dad about the “Dangerous Devotions” season as adults (don’t worry, he thought it was funny too!). Obviously, we all regret that now, but not doing consistent family devotions didn’t stop us from noticing my parent’s own unrelenting pursuit of Jesus.
I distinctly remember Annie and I (as little girls) would play outside the door of the basement where my dad had worship music blaring and we listened to him singing and praying. He even had a prayer room in the last two homes they lived in.
My mom would sit in a ‘cozy chair’ in the living room reading and journaling every morning. Sometimes she would even sing (off-key) because she had headphones in… I miss the sound of her sweet voice.
And it was not lost on us. We all saw they way they lived and their commitment to the Lord…and in the Lord’s kindness, that was the most impactful form of “quiet time” we were ever taught.
For the record, I’m sure Paul and I will try and implement family devotions, but it’s nice to know not every time has to be a home run…

4. They were fun.
Anyone who has spent anytime around our dinner table knows how extremely hilarious my parents were – and they fed off each other. And then we fed off them… and pretty soon we all believed we were much funnier than we actually might be.
It is so important to laugh. They showed us the importance of having good, clean fun (the kind where “you can wake up with a clean conscience in the morning”). And mostly, it revolves around hearing the highs and lows of each others lives and sitting around the dinner table.
My parents were so enjoyable, in fact, that they were my preferred crowd to hang out with all through high school. All us kids loved being with them… They went from being just our parents to some of our favorite friends. I think knowing how to have fun as a family is a spiritual necessity.

5. They were human and humble.
Our family is emotional. We are all feelers. So it’s no surprise that my parents worked to manage their inner emotional world all the time. They would frequently tell us “they were in funk” or processing their hearts. They worked very hard to take care of their hearts and be emotionally healthy. I know they always resolved conflict with each other as quickly as possible so that there was not a build-up of negative emotions.
They also were extremely humble. They apologized to each other and us kids if they were short or impatient. I can remember how quick my mom especially was to notice wrong thoughts or actions and make it right. My dad frequently said mom was the most humble person he knew. I’m grateful they modeled a forgiving heart to each other and us kids.

5. They parented us according to our “bent” and were love-blinded cheerleaders.
Dog shows, basketball games, dance recitals, football games… they were there… cheering in the stands… screaming our names…. Eyes only on us. I remember my mom would miss big plays during my brothers’ basketball games growing up because she said “I never take my eyes off my boys.” She only watched them.
In this season of mothering my young son, I can remember multiple times being at a loss for how to handle the amount of physical energy Theo displayed and occasionally, his outright defiance. I called my parents. They said, “let him be a little boy, he is so normal, stay consistent… you are loving him so well. You and Paul are great parents.” And I believed them. They taught me to notice what his interests and talents are and fan them like crazy. Pour kerosene on the fires of his dreams… And I know that when I do that in the future, I will feel them cheering me on… I will feel myself walking in their legacy and hearts and they will feel close.
I said in my tribute at my parents’ funeral that they were our love-blinded cheerleaders and they truly were. While I’m quite sure that they were proud and thrilled of the adults we grew to be, I know that what/ who we decided to be/become wouldn’t really have mattered. Being loved mattered- because love always wins. Love won through the tumultuous teenage years of my brothers. Love won during my first year of college where I questioned my faith. Love won over and over because they were always there saying, “you have what it takes, you can do it, we believe in you.”
There have been times during the course of our lives where I have observed my parents respond in love even when one of us made a life decision they were strongly against. This is who the bedrock of who they were. They faithfully spoke truth, but loved us no matter where we were in our faith or what decisions we decided to make. They maintained a deep heart connection with us through the highs and lows of our growing up.

I think it is such a shock to the community that my parent’s are gone because they were so beloved. I know as their adult child, I have enjoyed warm reception because of my parent’s good name and reputation.. It has brought blessing and favor into my life because of the integrity my parents lived with. They are truly a picture of a couple who lived their own lives well, cared for others, and left the world better than it was before them. It is such a comfort to know their impact as I journey through this tunnel of grief. There are some moments I want to call them so bad and I feel like I might die from sadness, but I keep digging deep and allowing myself to grieve and heal… because I want to be the kind of parents they were. My parents weren’t perfect, but the magnitude of their love almost made it feel like it.

*Photo by Tori Vandament