The Truth About My Family (And Probably Yours, Too)

We argued the whole way to church.

It started with a grumpy kid and quickly escalated into a fight between all my children.

Halfway there, my husband and I were arguing over how to handle the arguing kids.

Ah…parenting.

By the time we parked, no one was speaking to anybody else.

Yes, we are a holy bunch.

I was half-tempted to ask Terrell to turn the car around, you know? Some days family life is just hard.

We walked through the front door and a familiar face said, “Well, look who’s back from Africa! There they are, that world -changing family!”

If only you knew.

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“Are you ready to speak today and inspire women?” The kind person asked about the event I was doing later that day.

I smiled and tried not to cry.

Because sometimes I think if people knew the truth about my family, they would be less than impressed. And they might understand we are just like every other family–messy.  None of us belong on a pedestal.

We yell.

We cry.

We fail.

We try.

We wonder if we are getting this thing right at all.

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And it seems the more we try to live on mission, the messier our family life gets. Or maybe it just becomes more obvious that we need Jesus.

I took my youngest daughter with me to the speaking event. Afterwards, she told me my talk “was really big.”

“Oh, you mean, like it was powerful?” I asked.

“No, I mean it was really long,” she clarified.

“But was it good?” I asked feeling a little vulnerable.

“It was okay, but the sugar cubes at the drink table–those were really good,” she said and skipped off.

God has a way of keeping us humble and he will use our family to do it every time.

If you run into us at church or the store one day and see anything good in our mess, just remember it isn’t us.

It’s God.

Our Favorites in Washington D.C.- Part 2

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of

We were regular tourists in Washington D.C. (We love Groupon Getaways!) We just couldn’t help ourselves.

. All opinions are 100% mine.

We were regular tourists in Washington D.C. We just couldn’t help ourselves.

We walked a mile to stand at the gate of the White House and get a picture. What you can’t see are the hundreds of people around us. We cropped out the crowd.

Our 8 year old has a small obsession with the grand place and this was definitely a highlight for her.

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The rest of us couldn’t get enough of the museums and historic sites of the city. It was a rainy day, so that made it even better. We got in a huge line to take a tour of the Capital. The lady in front of us turned around and told us it was her third time to try and visit the Capital, but they’d sold out of free tickets every time.

We took our chances and we were in the building in 30 minutes. They handed us the fancy headsets and a guy named Pete (who loved his job very much) talked in our ears for the next hour. Every room and history lesson accompanying it was fascinating.

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The view of  Washington Monument from the Capital.

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This was a special moment. Our family loves Lincoln and there was a sacred hush at this Memorial, with some of the beautiful words he spoke etched on the walls in marble. There was also a really old and cool corner bookstore with everything Lincoln. Terrell was drawn to this book and once we got home he ordered a used copy off of Amazon. He can’t put it down.

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I think one of our favorite places was the Library of Congress. It’s connected to the Capital building. It was gorgeous. It also reminded us of one of our favorite movies: National Treasure 2. I dared my son to ask the librarian at the Information Desk to show us where the President’s Book of Secrets was hidden.

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He did not let me down.

The librarian said, “Oh, it’s here, but I can’t tell you.”

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I think my son totally believed her. I might have, too.

Another highlight and sacred moment was visiting the Vietnam Memorial. People were searching for names and leaving flowers. My husband found a soldier with our last name and we took away his name to remember his sacrifice.

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The two museums we spent the most time in were the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. My husband was as excited as the kids. We saw the Wright Brother’s and Amelia Earhart’s planes and learned so much.  I really loved the Museum of American History. I mean, you can see Julia Childs kitchen, the first American flag and a display of Dorothy’s rube red slippers from Wizard of Oz.  I love America.

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Another highlight was walking everywhere (says the family who goes everywhere by car in Texas). The weather improved and we loved looking at the row houses and architecture everywhere we went.

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And while Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum isn’t the Smithsonian, we got free tickets when we bought a

And while Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum isn’t the Smithsonian, we got free tickets when we bought a Groupon earlier in our trip and walked through it. It was really fun!

earlier in our trip and walked through it. It was really fun!

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Washington DC, you were a knockout!

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Dear Washington D.C.:

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

It might be too soon in our relationship to tell you this, but I just can’t keep it in:

Our family loves you.

When Groupon  gave us the opportunity to choose a getaway destination, there were so many choices. We thought about snow-capped mountains and isolated cabins and exotic destinations.

But you did not disappoint!

(And kudos to Groupon Getaways for a straight-shot flight and adjoining rooms with a king and two double beds at a gorgeous hotel in the shadow of the nation’s Capital!)

Our hotel was in the center of the city with access to all the major tourist spots.

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We loved sleeping under the lights of the capital. And making silly faces, apparently.

v9iUHOLe7wPaofxxZt9HG-bGqc8OHRSXXvf3PVixCJgWe love your food. Within walking distance of our hotel, there were dozens of restaurants and honestly, it was hard to choose.

Who knew the family would take Asian Fusion food so seriously (it was delicious) Who knew my kids will literally try anything?

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Or that Chinatown restaurants known for their duck entrees, really have them hanging in the window. And that sort of changes your mind about what you’re going to order. Get the dumpiness, always the dumplings.

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And don’t get me started on this epic restaurant:

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(Friends of Mercy House own The Portofino, a family-owned authentic Italian restaurant, in Arlington, Virginia and sent us a gift card for our family to dine with them. I highly recommend it! How fun is that?)

We loved walking everywhere.

We loved catching taxis when we couldn’t take another step and meeting drivers from Ethiopia, Iran, Turkey and well, all over the world).

We loved your free museums. I can’t wait to tell you our favorites.

We loved your presidential bobble heads.

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We loved your cherry blossoms. Seriously, everywhere.

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Most of all, we loved your history. With 17 museums a part of the Smithsonian, that all have free entrance, how could I not?

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We loved the way the city shuts down for the presidential motorcade (okay, not really. But still, cool).

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Washington DC, you had us at hello.

We can’t wait to return. (And share more fun details about our trip with you!)

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The One Thing We All Have In Common {Giveaway}

Congrats to the random comment #25 Misty and #151 Nicki!

I’ve met women from all around the world.

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been amazed at the differences-from the foods we eat, to the way we live.

Some walk with jugs of water on their heads, while others scoop it from a river or catch it in rain containers on their roofs.

Some cook at stoves with propane tanks sitting at their feet, while others lean over a jako and stir their pots over charcoal.

Some go to the bathroom in pit latrine, while others use a concrete hole in the ground or a bidet.

Some wear scarves covering their heads, while others wear bright traditional fabric or second hand clothes from the market.

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There are more differences than I can count.

And yet, we share important things in common: We have hopes and dreams and we would do anything for our children.

harmony bracelet-1This universal language of motherhood is breathtaking. It’s the dance of sacrifice and bravery and it’s the same in every language.

I met an Ethiopian woman a few days ago who had given birth the week before in her tiny hut. Her little 8 year old was in the sponsorship program we visited and told us her mother was very sick. When we visited her home balanced precariously on the side of a steep ledge, she was feverish and desperately sick with mastitis in her infected and swollen breasts.

And yet, in her suffering, she continued to feed her newborn baby, even when she wasn’t able to feed herself.

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Because that’s what mothers do.

We sacrifice.

We put our kids before ourselves.

We give them more than we had.

We risk our lives if it means giving our children the chance to live.

Love in any language is the same.

And that’s the one thing we all have in common.

state leather cuff webToday, The Vintage Pearl, a long time friend and supporter of Mercy House, is helping me celebrate this beautiful thing called motherhood. Join me in remembering our sisters around the globe and this precious thing we have in common.

The Vintage Pearl is giving away two $50 gift certificates. Please leave a comment mentioning a mother in your life that has inspired you.

Use code “WATF15″ for 15% off through 4/24. Today is the last day to order to receive by Mother’s Day.

The First Yes Is The Deepest

More than eight years ago we sponsored our first child through Compassion International.

We picked Bereket, a 5 year old boy in Ethiopia.

We chose him because we had a new niece from the country and because our son wanted a brother.

It was a big decision for our little family. And it turned out to be the best one.

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We spent most of our time inwardly-focused, trying to create a great childhood for our kids, a happy home and we chased the American Dream like it was our job.  So, sponsoring Bereket, sending money every month for his care and school fees, cracked open the door to compassion for others that would soon overwhelm us.

In so many ways, this was our first yes.

It led to my blogging trip in 2010 with Compassion that led to sponsoring more kids that led to meeting Maureen which led to starting Mercy House.

Yesterday, my daughter and I walked the jagged, dirty path that led to Bereket’s mud-walled home. He’s nearly 13 now, just like my son. I knew when we made our travel plans to visit some Fair Trade Friday partners is bordering Ethiopia, we would have to meet him.

His mother ran to meet us and threw her arms around my neck. Her family stood close by taking it in.

“I knew you would come some day. God told me,” Two minutes in and I was already speechless.

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We sat in their tidy home and the proudly pulled out every letter and picture we’ve sent for the past 8 years. They showed us what they’d bought with the annual family gifts we sent. Bereket’s mother never stopped smiling and his dad listened intently. As I looked at this beautiful family, I felt like I was home. Only God.

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Bereket had many questions about my son while we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony. The boys have shared letters for years now. They are the same age, they both love math, football and want to be engineers when they grow up. We gave him a new soccer ball and Legos. Bereket’s family has lived in their home for 15 years and the joy of knowing Jesus was palpable. I have never seen a more affection or tender looks passed between a mother and father and their children.

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(Right after I took this photo of my sponsored child’s mother, I realized I was standing in a mound of black ants. I jumped away and shook my shoes off. But about 3 minutes later, I could feel them under my jeans up and down my legs. I literally had ants in my pants.)

After our visit in their home, my daughter and I took them to their first restaurant. It was such a treat.

The family ordered traditional Ethiopian food (raw oxen and injera). Well, everyone except Bereket. He ordered this:

IMG_9138He really might be my son’s brother.

They asked many questions about Mercy House and I showed them pictures of the beautiful girls we are trying to help. They promised to pray for us.

As we said our goodbye’s, we took turns speaking from our hearts to each other. (Yes, I cried). They asked me to bring the rest of my family back to their home and they offered the most gracious thank you I’ve ever heard.

As we drove away, my 15 year old girl burst into tears.

We will hold this day in our hearts forever.

This first yes has led to countless others. Including meeting Kalkadon, our newest sponsored child through Caring for Korah (a Fair Trade Friday partner and a ministry very close to our hearts) this week. She pointed out the chairs and double bed, pillows and blankets filling her 8×8 home that our small family gift paid had purchased.

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Sometimes we wonder if the sacrifice is needed. Or appreciated.

We question our decision and our ability.

We try to squeeze a little more money out of our budget to share with others.

And sometimes we wonder if our small yes even matters.

God told me it does.

Getaway to Austin, Texas: Part Two

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

I love old things- buildings, architecture, furniture. You name it.

I was excited to explore some of the history of Austin our Groupon getaway several weeks ago. The Capital did not disappoint.

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It was grand and it was so fun seeing it through my kids eyes. They had so many questions. My husband and I were born and raised in Texas and even though we spent the first ten years of our marriage in other states, we got back here as fast as we could.

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This was the view standing in the center of the room and looking up. Spectacular.

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We spent a lot of time exploring the old buildings, the basement, antique staircases and probably a lot of places we shouldn’t have gone. Oops. My girls took my phone and did a spontaneous photo shoot.

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They are so shy and timid. It’s funny because when I tried to get a great shot of my children on these epic courthouse stairs, this is what I got.

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After we finished our mostly legal exploring, we rolled down the great green hill in the front of the state building. And by “we” I mean my husband and two of my kids. My teenager and I are way too cool for that. We ended the day at Magnolia Cafe and ate our weight in gingerbread pancakes.

We headed back to the Omni Barton Resort and spent the last few hours of getaway at the beautiful pool. It was a great weekend away!

Little Girls Aren’t Supposed to Be Mothers

The room is filled with thirteen and fourteen and several sixteen year old girls.

Little girls who should be playing dolls instead of mother.

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We sat in a circle and talked about courage. The girls took turns sharing bits and pieces of their stories. I was in awe of their bravery.

“I was in class 3 and a nasty old man raped me on the way home from school. If I didn’t live here, I would be dead by now. I don’t take life for granted,” I winced at the hard, honest words. For the last couple of days, we’ve talked about dreams and the strength it takes to say them aloud.  She took a deep breath, “I want to be a teacher one day.”

And I swallow down the knot because I know she doesn’t know how to read or write yet.

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But I’m standing in a room full of the impossible and I believe her.

The stories are filled with loneliness, but they are not alone. It’s one of the beautiful tragedies of the rescue home in Kenya that Mercy House supports. Yes, there is pain and suffering and unspeakable sorrow, but when it’s what you have in common with your sisters and their babies, you feel a little less alone.

Sometimes it’s easier to find God together.

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We live in a broken world where little girls become mothers. And if we watch the news, no place feels safe. We dodge crowded markets and avoid tourist spots when we are here because no one knows when the next terrorist attack will rock this country.

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But God is the best at redeeming the broken places.

He creates family out of misfits. He binds the wounded. He reminds us again and again we aren’t alone and that he uses the weak to accomplish His purpose. I know this part too well. These girls can’t walk this road alone. It takes a united team.

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God keeps showing me there is no “i” in team. I can’t help these girls. I can’t fund the thousands of dollars needed every month to run a maternity home in Kenya. I can’t even get all my laundry done most days. I am a part of a team of people and we are all on God’s team.

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Yeah, so there’s no “i” in team, but there is a “me.”

Teamwork requires me to sacrifice my time. It asks me to give up my resources and lay down my will. Loving and serving others demands less of me, more of Him.

Because little girls aren’t supposed to be mothers.

But they are. And that’s why we need you.

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We would love for you to join our team.

Team Mercy is our family advocacy program that invites you to join hands with Mercy House. The task at hand–reminding impoverished and oppressed women they are not forgotten–is monumental. It’s overwhelming and we cannot do it alone. We need you! Team Mercy members participate by sharing via social media, representing Mercy House at local events, hosting family-friendly fundraisers and many other fun and educational service projects to help us spread the word. We also have  a brand new reward store that allows you to earn points by advocating to shop for free. Learn more and join today!

If you join today, use this code FREEMERCY in our reward store to get 10 love mercy bracelets for FREE to share with friends and family (a $50 value).

Facing Fear: What Scares You the Most?

I found the lump unexpectedly a little over two weeks ago.

In my abdomen, rolling under my fingers like it wanted to be found.

Fear covered me like a heavy blanket.

Terrell confirmed the golfball-sized mass and I made a doctor’s appointment.

We have several friends battling malignant tumors right now and immediately my mind starting asking the “what ifs?”  I didn’t realize how much I feared discovering something like this until I did and dread filled every corner of my heart.

I had to wait a very long three days for the appointment and I constantly pushed the thought I have a tumor out of my mind. I reminded myself over and over again that nothing had changed. God was still the same. He is writing my story and I love living it. I wouldn’t change it, even though I don’t know what the next chapter holds.

But y’all, I was so afraid.

My doctor confirmed the mass and was concerned at the size. She scheduled an ultrasound, blood work, and a cat scan in case the results showed abnormal tissue. Another long wait.

That night, I filled up the tub with hot water and played the worship song “You Make Me Brave” over and over.

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And I sobbed.

I did my best to act natural around my kids. I pushed bad thoughts away and continued to work and every time a negative thought entered my mind, I would pray. I’ve done a lot of praying lately. We went ahead with our scheduled Groupon trip to Washington D.C. (I can’t wait to tell y’all about it) last weekend.

I’m not sure when my teen daughter developed a fear of flying, but her white-knuckled grip on my arm and panicked look in her eyes, told me it was real.

The flight to Washington DC was turbulent and I felt my stomach roll with the lurches, but my daughter felt more than queasiness, she was deathly afraid.

“I’m so scared,” she whispered.

I tried to sooth and remind her that God holds us. Always. I tried to sooth myself with my own words.

“Don’t you ever get scared, Mom? What are you most afraid of?” she asked.

I couldn’t help but think of the paralyzing fear she didn’t even know I was living. I’ve never been a brave person. I’ve always struggled with worry and doubt.

“I’m most afraid I won’t be here for you and your brother and sister,” I could barely get the words out.

“I’m not afraid of death, you know,” she assured me. “Just the process.”

I had to laugh a little. I love honest kids. “Me, too,” I assured her. “Honey, sometimes we have to look fear in the face and remind ourselves God is in control. Someday, we just may face our greatest fear, but even there in that desperate place, God is with us. He loves us and He is glorified in our lives.”

We survived that bumpy flight and had a mostly-worry free, fun getaway Easter weekend.

But every time someone commented on how tired I looked (which was more often than usual), I just smiled. But I wanted to scream “You would look tired too if you were dying!” (Women, let’s not say that to each other, okay? It’s really a passive aggressive way to say “you look really terrible.” If we notice a friend who looks exceptionally tired, maybe we should say “Can I bring you dinner?”)

Monday afternoon finally arrived, I faced my fear and as the ultrasound tech measured the mass visible on the screen, I prayed.

Tuesday, I waited for the doctor to call all day long. And as my fear mounted, I pursued peace. But I discovered one is easier to find then the other.

I don’t think I knew how burdened I felt until I heard the doctor’s words, “Kristen, this mass is benign. You’re free to go to Africa tomorrow.”

I cried at the instant relief. I thanked God. And I continued packing.

Good news. Bad news. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know who holds tomorrow.

I don’t know why we go through scary times or just the fear of them, but I know God loves us and He is in control.

Today, my teen daughter and I are getting on another couple of planes and going to Ethiopia and then Kenya. We will be meeting with Fair Trade Friday partners and new residents at Mercy House and celebrating Maureen’s newborn son. I hope you’ll check back in to read the updates, see the amazing pictures and join us in our yes to God.

We are going to a country that is experiencing random terrorist attacks.We are both facing our fears because we know who holds us.

What scares you the most? Say it out loud. Leave it in a comment below. Name your fears and believe that He is greater than all of them.

Because He is. No matter what the next chapter holds.