The Stain of Beauty and Brokenness

Once Africa’s red dirt gets under your nails, it’s hard to get it out.

The red clay is caked to my shoes and the cuffs of my jeans and it has stained my heart.

There are majestic animals roaming wide open spaces and breathtaking sunsets filling the horizon.

Vibrant colors wash the city. It is a constant contrast to the extreme poverty that desperately works to strangle out hope.

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Gridlocked traffic jams and thick exhausts plagues the city. Suffering tinges this country.

Today we stopped at a gas station on the way home from a quarterly Mercy House board meeting, next to a bright, outdoor market where handwoven rainbow bags swayed in the breeze, inviting us to behold their beauty.  An elderly beggar was asking for money outside the window. The gas station attendants told him to leave and when he wouldn’t, they took his walking cane and beat him with it.

He limped over to our van and asked again.

It’s not just this land. It’s the people that capture. It’s their resilience. It’s their beauty. It’s their brokenness.

Beauty and Brokenness–built on red soil–that’s what brands the heart.

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We spent 4 hours in our meeting today talking about just that.

I was reminded again of the impossibility of what we seek to do. Rescuing a girl and her unborn baby from the clutches of evil is audacious work.

It is heartbreaking. It is heartwarming. It is both at the same time. The magnitude wrecks me. We are believing God for the impossible, the improbable.

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We take two steps forward and one back.

We make slow or no progress at all, but we are faithful and when we look behind us, we can see how far we have come.

We have 4 guards, protecting two houses, two dozen moms and babies with more coming. A gardner who also serves as a driver, and a social worker and a counselor and . . .  and I felt a wave of panic today at this responsibility.

Rescuing and redemption. But again, this is God’s work, not ours.

Today we played ball and laughed and chased toddler boys, who randomly stopped to pee pee in the bushes and on the rocks every chance they got.

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Sitting in a circle, we asked shy new residents what they wanted to be when they grew up. I can hardly reconcile listening to 12 and 13 year old girls whisper their childlike dreams while a baby kicks in their wombs. My kids, the same age, sit next to them.

And I am undone.

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One of the residents at Mercy House painted my fingernails red today. Crimson polish stains my nails and my skin.

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It’s the worst manicure I’ve ever had.

It’s the most beautiful one, too.

When we look again, we see something impossible-we see both.

The breathtaking stain of beauty and brokenness.


He Is Not Safe, But He Is Good

Tomorrow we leave for Kenya.

My husband and I have been watching the news closely.

These are not safe times in our world.

And I keep reminding myself God has not called us to safety. 

Even though it’s my favorite.

Some days the very title of my book mocks me.

Sometimes –often– our yes to God is scary.

Obedience is risky.

But when I shut out the what ifs, I can clearly see that God holds us close.

You may be standing on the dangerous precipice of your yes. The unknowns are terrifying, the fear tangible, but the peace palpable.

God is with us.

And when we ask, “Is He safe?” The answer is no. But He is good.” CS Lewis

Would you pray for us?

  • Pray for peace in Kenya.
  • Pray for protection over our homes, the staff, girls, babies.
  • Pray for wisdom and direction over key decisions that will be made in meetings.
  • Pray for the dozens of young, pregnant and single mothers we will be inviting into our new community outreach in the heart of two slums.
  • Pray for me? I’m a big baby and I just need a lot of Jesus.

I’ll be blogging from Africa. Follow our journey on Instagram.


And Now I’d Like to Talk About Food

Remember that one year we went vegan to try and control my husband’s diabetes?

Shudder.

It was the season where my kids lost the ability to discern real meat from meat-like substances.

I’ve never been known as a health nut.

As a matter of fact, I recently discovered that my junior high son was at the top of the, um, food chain when it came to unhealthy lunchbox snacks…as in everyone wanted to trade their veggie sticks and rice cakes for his Little Debbie’s and Doritos.

I told him that was embarrassing.

He said, “Yes, for you.”

[Hangs head in shame].

For a long time, I’ve felt compelled to clean up and out the pantry and feed my family less processed foods. But I didn’t know where to start. Because let’s be honest– eating bad food is cheaper and more convenient than eating good food.

But after confessing my food-related guilt to my friend Jessica, a.k.a. a real health nut, she encouraged me to start slow and small and the very next day, that’s exactly what I did. For the past month, we have radically changed our pantry and refrigerator. I thought my kids would rebel, but instead they thanked me. And instead of beating myself up over their gratitude, I said you’re welcome.

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Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. I buy a large assortment of fresh vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, etc)
    and fruit (blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, watermelon, etc) every weekend and then have my kids help me chop and divide them into portion-sized zip-lock bags.
  2. I do the same with an assortment of nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, etc) and dried fruit (craisens, mango, etc) and popped popcorn in olive oil and sea salt.
  3. I am working hard to only buy from the outside aisles of the grocery store (where the fresh, unprocessed food is sold).
  4. I buy plenty of avocados, granola and yogurt and we are starting to pull ripe items from our garden.
  5. I also boil a dozen eggs every week and leave them in the fridge for snacks or breakfast.
  6. Oatmeal and yogurt with fresh fruit and granola are a favorite or veggie-stuffed omelets.
  7. Family dinners have always been somewhat healthy for us, but I’m working harder to plan ahead. We are grilling a lot more, too. Our current favorite meal: black beans with cumin and garlic, salted brown rice with fresh cilantro and a fresh chunk of avocado.

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After the first several weeks, my kids didn’t mention chips or pop tarts. But I did notice we wanted more snack choices, especially with them home for lunch this summer.

A friend sent me a $10 off coupon plus free shipping for NatureBox and I couldn’t wait to try out this fun idea.  I just got my first box and I’m hooked. NatureBox is a monthly subscription club that sends healthy snacks (you can choose from more than 100 or be surprised). I love the variety! Here’s my affiliate link and if you try it, use this code for $10 off: share10off 

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We still have some vices like toaster waffles and sweet tea, but we are trying.

Not only do I feel better about what we are eating, I feel better about what I’m feeding my family.


Building A Strong Family That Lasts

What started out as a conversation about putting up a swing set in the backyard turned into a conversation about building something.

There was talk of power tools and large pieces of wood. I’m pretty sure I even heard a grunt or too.

It seemed like the perfect project for father and son to start when grandpa came to town.

Three generations. Wood. Power tools.

My mother-in-law and I watched from the window as our men worked on the “treehouse” also known as the 8th wonder of the world. We tried not to laugh as they measured and drew diagrams and leveled the ground and measured again… all day long.

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They were building something to last.

Grandpa left and every other night or so, my two boys went and worked a bit on the treehouse. As I watched father and son, I could see they were building much more than something in the trees. They were making memories, sharing stories and building a relationship that would last through the storms of life. Something sturdy.

Just like Grandpa did with his son, I’m watching my husband do it with ours. Teaching and guiding.

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Since the family is God’s means to tell His story, our goal is to build a strong family who lives with intention and isn’t sucked into doing what everyone else is doing just because it’s a cultural norm. We spend quality time together. We keep important things important and we try not to chase what doesn’t matter.

Here are 12 other things we are trying to do to strengthen our family :

1. We have a family mission statement.

2. We resist spending money we don’t have. Kids watch you even if you don’t realize it. We try to be an example of someone who has good spending habits. And if we should overspend, it’s important to attack the debt immediately because debt becomes an encumbrance.

3. We tell our kids no if what they are asking for or wanting to do isn’t right for our family. We strive to be intentional with our choices.

4. We expect our kids to work. Hard work creates a sense of pride and ownership. It encourages kids to work for what they want. Don’t just buy them everything. Keep a job jar in the kitchen and reward their effort.

 5. We decipher between needs and wants. There’s a lot of pressure as parents to give our kids the best of everything but it’s important to determine what your kids really need. Never skimp on what God says they need unconditional love and grace. Laugh every day and be grateful.

 6. We make family meals a priority.

 7. We don’t overschedule our kids. It’s not uncommon to hear moms in my community talk about shuttling their kids around for hours every day after school. I think kids need unscheduled time at home. We limit activities outside the home.

  8. We encourage alternative choices to what others are doing.- Challenge your kids to creatively express themselves and think outside of the box. One example that I loved was a group of kids giving the $100 to charity that they would have spent on a homecoming football mum. They let everyone know by wearing t-shirts that said so. There’s nothing wrong with a mum or splurging for a special occasion but the average family spends a thousand dollars on prom. I think money can be spent more wisely.

 9. We limit screen time (video games, computer, and TV). There are different ways to do this: You can set a certain time limit for each day, make it weekends only, or have a “no technology day” once or twice a week—whatever works for you. At our house, we limit the kids to thirty minutes of individual screen time a day. We try hard to enforce this during school and are more lenient in the summer. Last year, we started screen-free Sundays. When we told our kids, they flipped out. Their reaction reinforced exactly why we needed to do it. The key is consistency. Before long, we noticed our kids expected it. But we aren’t legalistic about it. Some of our best memories are when we break our own rules and pile on our bed and watch a movie together on a Sunday afternoon.

10. We expect more from our kids than culture demands. Society says kids need stuff and all teens are lazy. We read the book Do Hard Things as a family. The authors, Alex and Brett Harris, challenge kids to live above what the world expects of them.

11. We let our kids make their own mistakes and see ours. We don’t fix everything. It’s important to teach children responsibility by letting them fail sometimes. If we always rush to bail them out of problems and mistakes, they will continue to make them.

12. We splurge. It’s fun to surprise the kids every once in a while by breaking one of the rules.

 Excerpt from Chapter 8, Rhinestone Jesus

Last weekend, my guys went on a father son retreat in the woods. They returned dirty and tired, mosquito-bitten and sunburned.

I didn’t hear much about the trip, but this framed prayer to God that they wrote together, turned up a couple of days ago on the counter.

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I cried as I read it because building a life and legacy together is a beautiful thing.

Oh, and about that treehouse?

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My mother-in-law was right. It is the 8th wonder of the world.


The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Yourself This Mother’s Day

I’m no parenting expert, but one time my child did say that I was the best mother she ever had.

So, there’s that.

I love being a mom. At the end of the day–no matter how many mismatched socks are in the laundry pile or how dirty the van is or how many kernels of corn are under the kitchen table, I am glad I said yes to motherhood.

But it’s no surprise that motherhood is hard.

Hard like crying yourself to sleep. Hard like second-guessing every decision. Hard like someone else’s bodily fluids on your person. Difficult mothering days are like a suckerpunch in the gut. And like a mood swing gone wild, the next day is beautiful and tender it takes your breath away and makes you want to do it all over again. And again.

Moms do it all.

We fish the icky things out of the dark scary disposal.

We sniff diapers.

We clean and trim other people’s finger and toenails.

We give up the other half of our bagel so our child can have a second breakfast.

We smell socks to determine if they are clean or not.

We wait for hours and hours and hours in car lines, doctors offices, at dental appointments, practices, rehearsals and recitals.

We clean up messes we don’t make.

We give up our bodies, our beds, our figures, our very lives for other people.

We sacrifice something we really want for something our kids really need.

We say yes.

And then we say yes some more.

We say yes without getting anything in return.

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Because that’s what moms do.

And the most important thing you can for a mom in your life this Mother’s Day?

The most important thing you can do for yourself this Mother’s Day: remind mom (even if she’s you) that what you do is important. The unseen, unknown hard work of motherhood is changing your kids’ world.

Even if no one recognizes it. It matters.

Small service may feel small, but size doesn’t matter. What you do matters. It has long-lasting, eternal significance.

And there isn’t anyone else in the world who needs to hear this more: Mom, your small daily acts of service, your mundane–it matters so much more than you think it does.

Because when we embrace our yes–as messy and undervalued as it may seem some days it gives us the passion to keep saying yes every day.

It reminds us why we love being a mom:

We love that our teen daughter wants to borrow our clothes (Keep telling yourself it’s the highest compliment).

We love it when their feet are no longer the same size as ours though. Whew.

We love that our son who will be 12 next week, still grabs our hand when we are walking together.

We love that he mumbles sorry when he drops it quickly-just in case anyone’s looking.

We love that our baby still acts like our baby. But not to be confused with acting babyish. Some things are not meant to be loved.

We love the handmade cards and the small collection of homemade pottery.

We love the noisy car filled with arguing, fighting kids (everywhere we go). Ok. we don’t really love this.

We love the hope that one day our kids will sleep in on Saturdays (This is also when you know that you have ARRIVED).

We love that our children don’t hold grudges and are easy forgivers.

We love that no matter how hard of a day it’s been–no matter how much we yell or mess up, our kids still want us.

On this messy parenting road, we can always find something good to be thankful for. No matter what. Always.

Because deep down, we know one day there won’t be anyone asking to borrow our clothes, reaching for our hand, making us handmade cards, filling our car, our home, our lives with noise, leaving a trail of mess and mayhem in their wake.

We love that even though we don’t love every minute, every phase, every hard mothering day that leaves us weary and wondering if we are doing it right–we love that God chose us to mother our kids.

And that makes even the hard moments, so good.

 

 

[Click to download the above 5x7 Mother's Day Printable]

And you might want to click over to the SUPER FUN contest I have going on at my FB page!!