Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Siblings Fight

I realize I am about to enter into an extremely personal topic here. Please know my heart. Please DO NOT HEAR what I'm not saying (Thanks, Dave!)

I know so many of my readers have been and are currently wounded by sibling relationships. I know that many of you have suffered great pain at the hands of your siblings. I know many of you can not stand the sight of your siblings, and it is work every single day to muster up any type of "warm" feelings for them. I hear you. I am so sorry for your pain and I am not in ANYWAY writing today to punish, diminish, or correct your burden. Today, I am writing from MY experiences, knowing FULL well your experiences are different than mine. I am very aware that your "happily ever after" might not ever see fruition when it comes to your siblings. I write from a humble place, knowing that I am on the receiving end of a beautiful gift.

I am the youngest of five children; 3 boys and two girls. There are seven years between my brother and sister, who are twins and who are the oldest, and myself. So as to not disclose the sensitive information of our ages, I will tell you how old everyone was when I born. Jonathan and Joanna:7. Andrew 5, Zach 3, Sara...completing the Clint and Valerie Hall line with perfection : ) Once, when I was at the prime age of awkward adolescence, my dad announced from the PULPIT one Sunday that he and mom were like rabbits when it came to reproducing. Perks of being the daughter of a man with a microphone :) But really they reproduced nicely.... I inherited that gene with a gaggle to prove it.

So as to diffuse right away any misunderstanding that my siblings and I held hands peacefully all the way through life, I tell you now; we fought. Oh yeah. Ugliness. Screaming , yelling, hitting, punching, name calling, door slamming, hair pulling, oil pouring, UGLINESS. There were five of us, we fought about stupid and about real. We said really unkind things that we can never take back. We did really hateful things to one another that we can never take back. We fought.

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was ease drop on my mom when she was talking to her siblings on the phone. They talked very regularly, often early in the morning (because Mom would call and wake them up :) Without fail, my mom's siblings caused her to laugh the hardest and smile the biggest. In addition to talking to them on the phone, Mama saw her siblings very often. To this day, her family loves ANY excuse for a get-together. Every holiday, every non-holiday, and every "it's Sunday let's see each other!"  I adore that about my mom's family! My mom's side of the family has grown to nearly 40 people when just the immediate family gets together. That makes my heart so full.

I tell you this about my mom's family because I am convinced that one of the reasons I adore my siblings is because my mom AND dad both adored/adore their siblings. Watching them together, studying them together from a very young age confirmed over and over again that siblings are worth the war.

One of the most powerful moments in my entire life was watching my mom's siblings say goodbye to her. I weep now just thinking about. Their final touches, their final words, their final moments with her are engraved on my heart FOREVER. I wish everyone who is estranged from their siblings could have witnessed that exchange. Because their touches, their words, their lingering presence communicated, "siblings are worth the war!"

Yes, my siblings and I fought, still fight when someone's being a complete butt, but that's not where the story ends. My mom and dad had very little tolerance for our ugliness towards one another. If you want to see Clint Hall get fired up, be ugly to your siblings. My dad would not allow for hatefulness to reign in our home. He and my mom often went to war on behalf of our relationships with one another because deep down they both knew the prize. Mom pasted bible verses all over the house about love, peace, honor, respect, and selflessness. They broke up endless arguments and fights, they tore down bitterness, and insisted we love one another. "You don't have to like one another, but you will LOVE one another!" I cannot tell you how many times my dad said this. We didn't always like one another, but each of us had this profound love and admiration for our dad, so when he said, "ENOUGH!" it stopped. And as I type, I swear to you, when my dad puts to rest an issue, makes a decree on behalf of our family, insists we let grievances go.... WE DO IT! That is the sweet persuasiveness of Daddy.  Dads, you matter. How you allow your children to speak to one another and treat one another matters. I know so many times my mom and dad felt they were losing an uphill battle, but they kept on.. day after day, night after night, fight after fight!

There is an incredible thread on my phone that includes my entire family; dad, hubby, siblings and outlaws... It brings me the biggest laughter and the biggest smiles day after day. In 72 hours, Lord willing, I'm going to be with all my siblings for the first time in 15 months. Tears spill over when I think about it.

When we were asked to walk the road of Alzheimer's, there was ZERO room for selfishness among us. Each of us, over and over again, had to consider each other higher than ourselves. We had to pursue love, peace, honor, respect and selflessness. We made mistakes along the way, but the  overall message stood, WE ARE FOR EACH OTHER! Hatefulness WILL NOT reign in our relationships.

I have an 11 year old, 9 year old, 7 year old, and 5 year old. They fight. Every day we break up mini wars. Every day someone gets corrected for a bad attitude or hateful words. Every day I feel like I am pushing a major boulder up a hill only to start over the next day. IT SUCKS. You want to see Mark and Sara Littlejohn fired up? Be ugly to your siblings. We reserve the harshest discipline for hatefulness towards someone in our home. We tell our kids all the time, "this is a forever relationship you guys are going to have with one another, you HAVE to figure it out. You are called to share with your siblings FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! We will be dead and gone, and the only thing we can leave behind for you is your siblings! Make it work!"

I realize the end of their story is yet to be told. But I pray and beg the Lord, when they have to face each other on their death beds, love will reign! That they will stand upon a life time of being FOR one another. Being each other's biggest advocates and fans. I blubber all over myself when I think about having to say goodbye to one of my siblings. But I know that when that day comes, I will have NO REGRETS. I will have loved them to the fullest and deepest places my heart can go. And what a gift my parents were hell bent on giving us! Thanks Mom and Dad for not giving up, for pushing the boulder up the hill and fighting one of the most important wars on this earth!! Your war was not in vain....

To siblings, the BEST siblings!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Public School?

Before you even being to scour this article as ammunition to use against all your friends who home school or have their kids in christian school, you can find the exit and see your way out before I sit on you. :) Before you even begin to scour this article to bolster your artillery as to WHY you keep your kids at home or WHY you send them to christian school, you too can find your way out before I sit on you :) For five seconds, let's just all lay down our weapons and take off our shoes as we tread on sensitive and IMPORTANT territory.

You should know I am in my seventh year of home schooling, I attended Christian school my entire education, and now am half way through my third year of having some kids in public school. My best friend, who happens to be my sister, home schools. My eldest daughter will attend Christian school next year, my son will begin his six year journey in public school next August, and at any given moment, Mark and I are completely open to changing the education path of each our children based on their specific academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. We do not swear allegiance to any ONE type of education. We have seen up close and personal all the pros and cons to each type of system, and we FIRMLY believe each of our children are exactly where they need to

In order for me to fully release the care and keeping of Katie, the Lord, through a very long and personal journey, had to pry Katie from my almost cold, dead hands. You see, I had a control issue. It was this sleeping giant in my life that I didn't know existed until I had to let Katie go. Until the Lord made it ABUNDANTLY clear that YES, He was asking me to let Katie go to public school. And He used all kinds of circumstances to land me in this position. The story is sweet and sad and hard and stunningly SUCH A GOD THING!

With that said, the entire first year Katie was in public school in Kansas, I dealt with this overwhelming sense of guilt and shame.  After being completely engulfed in the home school movement I felt I had committed the greatest atrocity ever by throwing her to the pack wolves of public school. I just knew putting her in public school would automatically make her compromise everything we had fought to instill in her, and bankrupt her of every good characteristic she possessed. I just knew she would be a sexually compromised, prodigal-daughter by the time she completed third grade. Y'all, I do not joke. These lies nearly suffocated my heart. Some how, public school had become the enemy, and sending Katie made me the devil in disguise.

During this first year, I found such enormous freedom in reading stories about children who had successfully navigated the public schools and were changed, while simultaneously changing the sphere of people around them. I CLUNG to the stories. I began to pray in a way I had never known. Every second of every day for months, I prayed without ceasing for Katie. And the MOST beautiful thing happened before my eyes; we changed... Mark, Katie, and I being the most heavily impacted by the change.

Kids are mean. It's just reality. Katie had grown up in a very soft environment. Gentle friends, gentle adults in her life and her discipline, while not always comfortable, always ended in restoration. Every day for several months, Katie came home crying. Every day she seemed to be the victim of "bullying" and the victim of "my teacher yelled at me!" Every day we were given a very clear opportunity to process with Katie the uncharted waters she was surfing. Katie was learning first hand how NOT soft people and adults can be. While it was crushing to see her hurt; we, she, I learned so much. We learned that we cannot label every act of unkindness as bullying. We learned that we cannot control other people, only our responses. We learned that every unkind act is an overflow of insecurity and brokenness. We learned in a up close and personal way that hurt people, hurt people. And whether we like it or not, Katie's skin thickened. She learned how to function with hard people and in hard places, and consequently her heart has developed into one of the most other's focused hearts I know. Can home school hearts and christian school hearts develop into "other's focused" without the harsh realities of unkindness? Absolutely. But at some point in each child's life they will encounter cruelty. They will need to know how to appropriately address it, ignore it or confront it. Public school offers us that opportunity EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I love that. Because when the rubber meets the road my kids will be doing life with broken people EVERY.SINGLE.DAY when they leave the protection of our home. (SHEESH, they have to do life with broken people INSIDE our home Me, the most broken of all). We get to debrief in the most beautiful and raw way every afternoon. We get to talk about circumstances that they have ACTUALLY walked through, not circumstances they might hypothetically walk through someday.  This is huge, because sometimes the reality of a situation verses the hypothetical of a situation conjurers up very different emotions and responses. The door that public school has opened has allowed us to explore things I could NEVER make up on my own. For that I am grateful.

In one day alone, I had to define pervert, explain why sexy is only a safe and sweet word between a husband and a wife, hash through the details of drug usage and needles, and wash hair for lice. YES! All in a day's work of public-schooling :) But I wouldn't trade it for ANYTHING!

I could write for days all the wonderful, hard, delicate situations our kids have already encountered. I could tell you ALL the ways the Lord has grown them up physically, academically, emotionally, and YES, SPIRITUALLY!  I cherish every moment of debrief as an opportunity TEACH, instill, and REMIND my kids of the WAY bigger picture.

At the end of the day, we aren't consumed with our children being Rhode Scholars and top of the class brain-O's. We want their education experience to assist US (Mark and I) in encouraging them in the ONE thing we preach every day in our home; love people well, they are the only eternal thing.

Public school has done that for us. And it might not do it for everyone, and that is SO ok. But this post is for the parents struggling with guilt and shame, believing the lie that God has left the public school while their child sits in a public school desk. I will testify from the deepest places of my soul; HE HAS NOT LEFT THE PUBLIC SCHOOL. He will NEVER leave the precious corridors of your child's heart. Therefore, God's presence in the public schools today is everlasting to everlasting, JUST LIKE HIM!

Oh friends, take off the guilt and shame. 'Shake It Off' as Taylor would have you. Rest. Our God is moving.. He always is. And yes, He is moving in the public schools too!!

Please do not share this article if your intent is to harm someone with the opposite educational choice as you. Only share this article in a spirit of encouragement! It was written from that place. And if you misuse it in anyway, I will hunt you down and sit on you! :) Big peace and lurve from the doublewide....

Monday, December 1, 2014

3 Tricks To Combat Holiday Hangover

Monday morning bliss after a holiday weekend. It's 8:47 a.m. and I'm wandering around the house with zero idea of where to begin. 10 loads of laundry, 10 pans with sticky junk slathered all over the bottom, or 10 days of back logging the budget? Decisions. Decisions.

Happy Holiday Hangover Day, was created when I had wee children wrapped about my ankles, pulling on my skirt tails, and growing in my womb. It was, without fail, the day daddy went back to work (or school in our case) and everyone just fell apart. Everyone needed concentrated discipline and reminders of how life happened before the holiday had arrived. I remember one day clearly crying while thinking as Mark walked out the door, "Oh! The amazing bliss to go and get to sit in Differential Equations with other adults who spoke in complete sentences and wiped their own butts!" I'm not joking.

Holiday Hangover Day morphed when I started homeschooling. It was the label I used for the way everyone felt as we trudged back into the curriculum and fought to find the "normal" rhythm of school again. Inevitably some one would tell me how much they hated me and school, and everyone would be completely confused about the math concept we had mastered the week before. They would just stare at me when we would review and say things like, "I have no idea what you're talking about. That makes NO SENSE AT ALL!" Hence the reason, as my girls left this morning I said to them, "Hug your teachers BIG this morning. Tell them how thankful you are for them, and PLEASE DON'T BE DIFFICULT! They are too tired to deal with that non-sense!"

And then Happy Holiday Hangover morphed again when the girls started going to school. The hangover shifted from concentrated time together with a lot of discipline to "OUCH! It hurts to watch you leave!" With a side of, "Sweet baby Jesus, goodbye!" :)

I'm not a formula person. There are very few things I do the exact same way everyday. Really, there is only one thing I do the exact same way everyday; the way I make my coffee. Honestly, that's it! Other than that, life is wwwwaaaaayyyyy too short for formulas and boxes. That's why the title of this post is more humorous than anything. There really are not "3 tricks" to combating ANYTHING. Just like there are not 12 steps to a better marriage, 365 devotions to  a better Jesus, or 7 workouts to a better butt.

BUT (not a better BUTT) just BUT, I do appreciate ideas, tips, and suggestions for different circumstances. The majority of my marriage and parenting is built on other people's fabulous suggestions and real life advice. We are not an island, none of us are called to do this life alone. Believe or not, we actually do NEED EACH OTHER. And each other's "tricks" to better butting.

Here are my 3 tricks to combat holiday hangover day.

1. EAT WELL! There is nothing more discouraging then an already difficult day paired with poopy eating. Last night, I prepped the girls favorite lunch and put our favorite dinner in the crock pot. More for my sanity then their happiness. But it's all the same. Now I can plow through my 10's and not have to worry about dinner, and it gives them something to look forward to ALL DAY LONG!

2. BE GRACIOUS WITH YOURSELF! For real, keep the expectations looooowwwww. Especially, if you are all alone in a house with little people whining at you and needing you like every 23 seconds. I swear the turkey gave my children short term memory loss this morning, "Mom, I can't find my shoes, my back pack, my clothes, or my glasses! MOM! Where are you?!!!!"

3. I plan NOTHING for the Monday after a holiday weekend. No appointments, no guests, no nothing. Just regroup your brain, your house, and your rhythm.

When 3 o'clock hits I could have some tired, weepy, cranky kids on my hands. Their brains will be fried, their bellies hungry, and their homework plate full. We will take a deep breath and plunge ahead. Not like we used to, now in a totally different hang over way. But nonethemore, a hangover!

God bless the mother's of ankle biters and womb growers!
God bless the working moms who had to ALSO look good at 7:20, when the children left and are not still walking around in their PJ's like some sloths I know! :)
God bless the homeschool moms whose children have forgotten addition!
God bless the SAHMs who are folding their tenth load of laundry, and soaking ten pans!
God bless my children's teachers!
God bless everyone in differential equations!
God bless those is cubicles!
God bless those in crowded doctor's offices!
God bless customer service agents!
God bless grocery store workers!

I mean, GOD BLESS US ALL and our hangover!!


Friday, November 21, 2014

Dear Mom, Two Years Without You


There sits a tree just outside my front window that is a powerfully-bright orange color. I've been watching it for weeks, as the changing color started at the top of the tree, and has now cascaded all the way to the bottom. It sits among some other trees that too have changed colors, but they seem dull and boring compared to this staggering bright orange.

Two years; some days it feels like decades and some days it feels like seconds.  My heart has been unusually in tune with the changes of the season. The fall season so poignantly reflects what's going on internally; everything begins to slow down, and inch by inch the chlorophyll of life is drained. I watch the trees release the leaves and they dance their way to a soft landing, "Hey leaf! That journey you are on as you linger between the breezes, I FEEL THAT!" It's actually, incredibly peaceful to watch the world around me fall into a season of stillness and rest. The cicadas give up their dominant and piercing song, while the gentle crunch of leaves begins to fill in.

Year two was so different for me. It wasn't so smart of me to move just months after you died. I think it intensified my grief, loneliness, and isolation significantly. But hindsight is 20/20. I think year two was automatically more bearable because my life here in French Camp began to settle and become more familiar. Year one felt merely like a survival in the fog. This year felt like survival without the fog, and a little more like living in the raw. More real feelings surfaced during year two that I had to combat without the protection of the fog.

Memories of you are like that bright orange tree. Since you died, parts of me have been hibernating. Hibernating out of survival. Just this month, for the first time in years, a familiar twinge of excitement pulsed through my body when I thought about Christmas. Excitement about Christmas? For two years, it has felt like betrayal to be excited about anything let alone a holiday your fingerprints are all over. But I felt it and I embraced it as a gift.

The kids are so big and so full of life. You would not believe the amazing creatures they are becoming. You would praise them often for being so deeply-wise and staggeringly-kind. Like you always told me, they are raising me. They would be the honor in your crown! So many times this year I wanted to call and talk to you about them as I sipped my amaretto and coffee and wept. We've entered a completely different season and I need your advice; I need you. Sometimes I need to hear you tell me it's all going to be ok and I am not the worst mother ever, because so often I feel like I'm screwing it all up entirely. Sometimes I need the affirmation only a mother can give. Sometimes I need to hear your laughter and your calm. Sometimes I need a safe place to go where I am fully known, a place without judgement, rules, and expectations. Sometimes I need you to speak to my heart in a way only you could and whisper, "let it go, Sara!" Sometimes I do not want to do this without you any more, and my anger comes up and out. Sometimes I become so deeply jealous of all the people whose mothers are alive, and I want to shut them out. Selfish, I know.


I miss you most when I least expect it. Like when Daddy calls to sing "happy birthday" and my ears naturally listen for your voice.  I miss you when people say things like, "you were so blessed to have a great mom and a great relationship with her" and I want to hit them, as if having a great mom some how nullifies the pain of losing you.  Maybe it would be easier if you wouldn't have been so great :)
The other day Anderson said from the back seat of the van, "Mom, I miss Grammy. I miss her voice. I miss when she would sing to me. She is our family, I want her back!"

Over these two years, (and so many years before then) I've been so grateful for those who were willing to just sit in the uncomfortable with me. I'm more aware than ever how people run from the uncomfortable. You were really good at sitting in the uncomfortable with people; over the phone, in a hospital waiting room, in a Sunday school class, at a funeral home, a nursing home, a women's meeting, and more often than not, in the sweet solace of your warm home.    

How you and daddy chose to deal with your sickness and your death, taught me just as much, if not more, than your healthy lives did. Any time I encounter someone whose suffering any type of loss I feel like my heart is automatically softened and likened towards them, and then I pull a Val and tell them how shitty it can be. 100% of the time I get tears and/or smiles of complete agreement. People are always drawn to someone who uses real words about real pain. Sometimes "shitty" is the only word appropriate for the pain and suffering on this side of Jesus. Thank you for giving me permission, freedom, and grace to use it. There is power in a well placed expletive.

There are moments of stillness when I am sipping my coffee..... or merlot, and I envision you with Jesus. Sitting at His banqueting table and being fully satisfied in His glorious presence. You do not limp, you do not wince, you do not question, you do not wonder aimlessly, you do not function under the weight of flesh and guilt any longer. You do not struggle, long or desire. You do not feel insecure, unworthy, or without.  You exude abundant light. You possess abundant LIFE! I know on my darkest, hardest days of sojourning with Sorrow, that you are more alive than you have EVER been. It's one of the few ways I have chosen to combat the despair. The hope of knowing that even though you are absent from us you are FULLY with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You know them in a way that is still mysterious to me. You revel in their unique and delicious personalities. You reside in the Holy of Holies! You, in all I knew of you and all that you are, comfortably abide with the Almighty AND.....AND..... the saints. Those who have gone before you. A great multitude of precious friends and family who dine with you, do eternal life with you, worship with you, and wait for the next weary warrior to arrive in glory.

Oh I miss you beyond words, but I would not have you back. I would not steal you away from the wholeness that indwells you. And with every ounce of hope and joy that fills the cracks of the worn road of pilgrims, I KNOW you wait for me.

So to Him and HIM ALONE, who is able to keep me from falling apart, and who will present me before His GLORIOUS presence without fault.... AND He'll do it with GREAT JOY!! To the ONLY God our Savior be glory, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:24 &25

A dear friend posted this prayer to my time-line yesterday. It's just PERFECT!

Dear heavenly Father, though Isaiah used the image somewhat metaphorically, mothers and fathers do forget the children they have brought into the world. I know this quite well, having lived through the journey of watching my dad forgetting my name, then my face, then everything about me. The process was very painful, yet you met us time and again, with your mercy and grace.
I am so thankful that the gospel is a living hope, not sentimental hype. I am so thankful that long after dad forgot you, you never forgot him. I am so thankful that dad’s memory has been healed, and that he now knows and remembers perfectly. Above all, I am envious that he now knows you perfectly, while I am bound to the world of knowing-in-part.
As someone who found you to be the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, in a story of dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s an honor to pray for others in that same painful journey. Father, grant spouses and children, family members and friends, a profound sense of your presence, and courage to love well.
Grant them freedom to grieve their mounting sense of loss; the grace to accept the changes in their loved one; and power to stay as present as possible, when doing so becomes increasingly difficult. Grant them wisdom for each stage of the journey, trustworthy and compassionate medical care, and the necessary financial and emotional resources.
Lastly, Father, I pray you will help all of us, impacted by memory loss, to treasure being known and remembered by you. If we should forget you, in our journey to life in the new heaven and new earth, we will never outlive your love and grace for us. The only things you’re not going to remember, is our sins against us. Hallelujah, many times over. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ strong and loving name. ~Scotty Smith

Friday, November 14, 2014

When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, ISN'T!

I felt it roll over me when the calendar flipped to November. I was trying to plan a meal with my life group before the end of the year craziness ensued. November 13th , was the last possible date we could meet until January.  I called to make reservations for a Thursday night for five people, the restaurant was already full. "What is happening?" I thought.  It wasn't like I was trying to make a reservation for DECEMBER 13th, but somehow December is rewinding its bossy, insane pace into November.

The day after Halloween, Walmart was packed to the brim with Christmas, Starbucks switched to the holiday cups,  and 98.3 started playing Christmas music. I LOVE CHRISTMAS! I DO! I love so many, many things about it. But every year, I feel the increase of SO MANY expectations threaten to rob us of these VERY sweet moments. I don't want to get to December 26th, and feel like a worn out, drowning rat. I know, I know that might be too much to ask, but a girl has got to at least try.

Over the years, Mark and I have found a few helpful tricks along the way that seem to provide more savoring and less souring during the season.

When the kids were little-little, I came across one of the most BRILLIANT parenting ideas EVER! And my heart just KNEW it was something I wanted to implement with our kids. The idea was to only give each of our children 3 gifts at Christmas; a need, a want, and a book. The idea mimicked the 3 gifts Jesus received from the wise men; gold, frankincense and myrrh. I loved this idea for a million different reasons! One, this naturally has allowed our family more time and space to process and marinate the life altering truth; God came to be with us. He left HIS GLORY to slip on humanity for eternity, so that in doing so He could communicate to our individual hearts this incredible love letter; YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!! Each of my children will face loneliness, isolation, pain, betrayal, boredom, and bondage, and I want nothing more than this truth to rise to the top when those waves of despair come knocking.  Two, it was a clear and simple expectation from an early age for our children to KNOW that they would receive 3 gifts from Mark and I each Christmas. Three, it has forced Mark and I to be extremely thoughtful and aware as we purchased each item. We want each gift to be intentional. I have already spent hours thinking about just the PERFECT book to buy each kiddo at the current stage they're in. Katie is totally into biographies, Julia cannot get enough of Jack and Annie, Lucy is loving some science, and Anderson is rocking Dick and Jane. Over the years we've switched "book" for other themes like games.

I cannot tell you how PRECIOUS it has been to experience Christmas this way. While some day my children might sit on a couch and tell their therapist how neglected they were, I can testify that my children have not gone without, their current joy has not been diminished, and their hearts have learned something.

My father-in-law likes to ask my kids each Christmas what they received LAST Christmas, I LOVE THIS! It makes them think, it makes them remember, it makes them TREASURE what was, and was is coming.

I AM FOR GIFTS! I love them!! I think they are such a special way to communicate the way we feel. And I know that I have some readers who love to lavish people with TONS of gifts, and I am SO appreciative of you. I love that about you, and if that's how you choose to do Christmas, YOU GO!

But ten years ago, when that Mama blogged about her idea of 3 gifts, it unlocked a freedom for me that I CHERISH! Today, I'm just blogging my experience, and if it unlocks a freedom for another mama, daddy, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend then ROCK ON!

But for realz, whatever "it" is, try doing something that maximizes the joy this season and shut down the voices and avenues that suck out the life and meaning of such a glorious season.


The Ghost of Christmas Past: Circa 2009

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why People With Disabilities Make Other People Uncomfortable

We are a short 7 weeks from the conclusion of 2014. 7 weeks away from pausing and reflecting on the tracks 2014 will have left on our lives. Without a doubt, one of my highlights from 2014 was a quick but lingering trip to Houston, TX. I was hired as a creative writer to visit a non-profit facility and write their story. If Houston was a highlight, then the absolute necessity of story telling, has been the theme of my 2014.

The facility I visited in Houston, TX, is called The Center. The Center has dedicated its entire existence to helping people with mental and physical disabilities. For the last 65 years, The Center has zeroed in on working with people who have Down's Syndrome. However, as the rate of children born with Down's Syndrome decreases, The Center is beginning to assist clients with Asperger's and Autism.

My assignment was to tour the facility looking for stories that would clearly communicate the fulfilled and projected goals of The Center, motivate donors to give or continue to give, and remind each person who is apart of The Center, (whether by working there, living there, or giving to the cause) of their irreplaceable value and worth.

I feel like a MAJOR part of my own personal story has continually intersected with the lives of people who have a mental or physical disability. My oldest brother Jonathan, was born with Beckwith Wiedemann Syndrom. He was just hours old when the doctors told my parents to say their goodbyes to their first born child. Instead, my parents circled the wagons and begged the Lord to spare Jonathan's life. It was always an incredible story to hear my parents tell, and now it's an incredible story to see my brother live day after day. God wrote His story of FAITHFULNESS on Jonathan's infant, 3 pound body, and continues to whisper in his ear, "My name is I AM, my name is faithful!"

From the age of eleven on, I would often visit my grandfather in a nursing home. At first, it was incredibly awkward and disturbing, nursing homes are hard, gut-wrenchingly HARD! So I simply acted, said, and mirrored everything my mother and father did. My mom was always calm, deeply sincere, never appalled at what she saw and always pushing the envelope of what other's felt comfortable with, (especially when it came to her Jesus :).... So I just moved forward with the understanding that loving people meant loving people well.... even if it was messy and awkward. It especially meant loving those in a nursing home.

Now, at 33, I cannot count the number of visits I have had to nursing homes. The number of times I've said "no" to my natural inclination to run away from "different", but insist my soul embrace the raw beauty in front of me.

And then two years ago, you could not keep me from the nursing home that housed one my most my precious possessions: my Mama. There was not a hint of hesitation, not a moment of considering the alternative, come hell or high water I was going to take up residence in that nursing home with my Mama. And so we did. Day after day, week after week, month after month, we were drawn to her, to this place that many are appalled to enter, we couldn't say no.

In addition to my other experiences with people who have mental and physical disablities, my brother Zach spent numerous years working with children with mental, emotional and physical disabilities. To visit him, his co-workers, and their inspiring students was a life altering experience EACH TIME. You want to find a hero? Look no further, these people pour every ounce of life and brain power into elevating the place and position of these amazingly, often marginalized, spirits.

In so many ways this assignment of writing for people who literally could not write their own story, was one of the most professionally-altering experiences I've had. More often than not, it is smooth sailing to write my OWN story. To tell each of you about my own experiences is easy because I own them, I feel them, I walk through them, but to write what other's are living, feeling, and experiencing took some serious gut checks along the way. I very much feel like I have been walking on sacred territory these last few months, trying to piece together something worthy enough to represent them.

I spent one day with 600 men and women who are physically and mentally disabled, and it was by far one of my sweetest days of 2014. I sat and listened to The Center's employees laugh and cry when they would introduce me to their dear clients through personal stories. I never seen a group of people swear such deep allegiance to one another as co-workers, and an unwavering loyalty their CEO, Eva.
Eva, oh Eva, if every CEO exhibited her class and commitment the world would be a very different place. Eva is powerfully-confident and unspeakably-humble. One of the most inspiring women I have ever studied. Her employees and her clients flocked to her as we toured the facility. They wanted to hug her, wave at her from across the court yard, and tell her all the details about the 30 minutes they had gone without her. "EeeeeeVVVVVVaaaaaa" one sweet, little client yelled! "EEEEEEEvvvvvvvAAAAA!" "Yes, yes, Glenn how can I help you?!"

His arms stretched out and his lip curled, "Huuuuugggggg!"

Y'all I can not tell you the number of times my eyes filled with tears as I swore to myself I'd return to The Center, but next time my entire family was coming!

There are so many stories I wrote, so many stories I witnessed, so many moments that I wish the world could see. One blog post could not even GET CLOSE, to conveying the beauty my eyes and heart beheld that day. I am not who I was. I changed because of the single day I spent at The Center.

One of my favorite stories took place in the wee hours of the morning. The Center has a high-rise, hotel-like, building for their clients to be able to experience independent living. Most of them would never be able to live on their own, but The Center has mapped out a perfectly precise way for them to each have their own apartments. Each are the size a hotel room, decorated and lived in like any other 20 year old would want. I got to stay the night in this jaw dropping facility. I had my own room, but the coziness of the clients surrounded me. I sat in the beautiful designed lobby, and watched a group of 3 girls, all with Down's Syndrome, check out with the "hotel receptionist" because they were going out on the town. They were dressed to the nines and grinning ear to ear. I went to bed long before they returned, but around 1 am, just outside my room, I heard them return. I quietly got out of bed and sat leaning against my hotel door. I wanted to hear what the commotion was.

"He, he, he does..does..not lllliike me any more" one broken soul sobbed.
"It's. it's, it's OOOO.KKKK" her friend consoled. "If he do not like you for YOU, than NO, NO WAY!"
"But, I SOOOOO sad!!!!" the crying one replied.
"Then I BEAT him!" her faithful friend replied.

I could hardly soften my hysterical laughter as the tears slipped over my eyes and my head slid back to rest on the door. Men, broken hearts, fighting words, and total girl drama filling the hallways of a independent living center for the physically and mentally disabled. It's miraculous, it's the unattainable story attained. Most would never believe it was a possible. Most would never believe that these girls with "disabilities" had the capability to even hold this classic conversation that every woman in the world has had. It was so real, it was so sweet, it was so unforgettable.

Speaking of unforgettable, I'll end with this... As I sat with Eva and listened to her tell me her story, she said something that wrote itself on my heart forever, "After working for my clients, for as long as I have been working for them, I have decided that after all these years we might have it ALL wrong; I've decided that they are the "normal" ones and we are the disabled!"


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Personal Non-Revival

"Baptizing lost people and teaching them how to vote Republican is not a revival" Moore.

I'm so glad I'm not who I was, and I am so glad I will not stay who I am.

I've been digging through picture timelines, letters, bills, and art work of old. Something about walking through yesterday that helps us better face today. If you needed a headline for my digging it would be "SMH" (shaking my head)...

When my fingers ran over the tiny faces of my once tiny babies, I shook my head in disbelief as the years have been swallowed whole right in front of my eyes. Oh, those babies who sucked every ounce of life out of me for years, but THEY WERE MINE! And those were MY YEARS, and MY MOMENTS, and MY MEMORIES, and MY TRENCHES, and MY STORY! Now those babies are my BIG KIDS and I am hell bent on making these MY NEW YEARS, MY NEW MOMENTS, MY NEW MEMORIES, MY NEW TRENCHES, the NEXT STORY!

Then I sorted bills and shook my head as I remembered how God has been SO faithful to us all these years to meet our EVERY need. The first year Mark went back to full time engineering school, we had a 2 year old and I was 8 months pregnant with Julia. We remained committed to me staying at home with our kids while Mark pursued his career. While we did have a couple of partial scholarships to help with tuition and Mark worked a minimum wage job at a radio antenna station; our W2 for that year slid in at a whopping 12k. Twelve thousand dollars to pay rent, buy food, pay our electricity bill, put gas in the car, pay bills and live. We ate out once a week at Taco Bell for twelve bucks, and during November and December we didn't eat out at all. All of us, minus Mark, were on Medicaid and we rocked WIC like nobody's business. I spent hours sitting in the DHS building filling out paper and jumping through the complicated system. We went without fancy vacations, pedicures, cable, newer cars, new clothes, internet (we had dial up til 2010) retirement funds,  and other "luxuries" we now have an option to choose. We weren't victims of anything, those were ALL strategic decisions to accomplish two things; Mark's degree and me staying at home with the girls. And actually, they were some of the absolute most simple and precious years of our lives. Not once did I feel "deprived" of any good thing. Oh, we "struggled" and longed for less penny-pinching days....but we were exactly where we wanted to be, and there is not a price tag for that!

Then I came across old speaking notes for MOPS talks, bible study talks, and personal testimony talks.
Y'all I'm just so sorry!
So many formulas.
So many be-good, do-good behavior modifications for change. 
I'm just so sorry. 
So black and white.
So dogmatic.
So seemingly together and not nearly broken enough.
So, SO naive.
Bless it.

I read this quote today and realized how far I've come and how much further I have to go,
"We are soaked in an ocean of His (God's) grace, and we don't want to give a cup to anyone." 
Jim Daly

I'm not nearly where He wants me, but I am humbled God has determined to change me into a person who is filled with MORE grace. And He primarily used one tool to strip away my self righteousness and pride; pain, suffering, and grief. At times, it felt like an unbearable surgery of the heart. Like at some point I would cave under the weight of brokenness. But what He did with it, what He redeemed out of my pain, how he refined my horror into hallelujahs, is what makes me fall on my face before His throne in adoration.

Oh how we cling tightly to rules, laws, traditions, and methods instead of frolicking in His grace. Afraid others will abuse the freedom in Jesus, and commit and embrace lawlessness.  From one who speaks from experience, fear is NEVER a good counselor or motivator. But there is unspeakable freedom that awaits us there if we are willing to hand out a cup.

So come drink here friends, ALL friends! I have a cup for you because I live in the ocean!

Southern Belles
Breast fed
Bottle fed
Organic fed
Junk food fed
and in Remission....

There's a cup for YOU! And there is a cup for a wretched soul like mine. And so I live! 

My Jesus.
Oh! He is the sweetest thang that ever was or will be!
He changes hearts, lives, and stories.
Everyday He performs miracles before the eyes of those that are watching, and those that are not.
Everyday He meets every need for the desperate.
Everyday He is faithful to gently weave His way into our stubborn wills.
Everyday He is moving.
Everyday He is sailing His oceans of grace and letting us drink in life until we are satisfied.

You need a non-revival? I recommend grace, I recommend Jesus...
It's your own SMH kind of experience :)!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Don't Be Thankful Project: Part 1

Day 1-4

Who knew the absolute freedom one could possess with no dings and pings?! The first two days, out of habit, I caught myself looking down at my phone for new notifications, however, the blank screen was oddly relieving and comforting. My girls and I had a total chick-day-only on Saturday, and it was SO NICE to feel completely engaged with them ALL DAY LONG! (I did however check the football scores during the movie.) And this house? Well, it's never been more put together, well...... it's not now because we just got through with the manic Monday sprint, but yesterday it was like sparkling. I actually had time to download all 918 of my pictures to iCloud and make the definite decisions, next time I'm getting a Samsung! At one point yesterday, while Mark was napping off MAN TRIP 2K14 and the kids were chilling, I had this moment of complete boredom. I sat in my chair and stared out the window. I began to recover the ability to think in sentences as opposed to thinking in sound bites. I thought through some topics I needed to further discuss with Mark when he woke up, I thought through some decisions I needed to make this week, I updated our schedule for the entire months of November and December, and I met with my friend Barbara Duguid in the final chapters of her book.  OH!!! And I misplaced my phone numerous times over the weekend and it felt SO GOOD! 

Even the marriage bed has proven to benefit from a less distracted Sara. I'm just saying.

Not going to lie, at some point I caught myself wondering what everyone on social media was doing and thinking. I wondered if I had missed an engagement announcement, a "we're headed to the hospital" announcement, a relationships status change, a cute Halloween costume, a lively theological debate with a naive seminary student or an over-eager graduate, with zero people experience but a lot of head knowledge, that ends in pointless ramblings. I wondered what Armando's WOD was and if he put up a video for all to see (you know I only have love for you Mando!)  I wondered if Zach had posted a new dragon picture, I wondered if Jen had finally finished her book, I wondered what David Burge was tweeting about, I wanted to know how everyone was feeling about the MSU game, I wanted to know if Scott was going to survive the Ole' Miss game and if Tonya was selling some serious jewelry at her sell.  I wanted to make sure Liisa made it home safely from Florida with my little Spider Man in tow, and if my family was enjoying Lego Land. I was curious if Chris made it out of King George alive, who's baby rolled over, how much sleep everyone did/did not get, if everyone in KC was going to come through their World Series hangover, and OF COURSE..... I was totally anxious to see everyone's gym and food pictures :)

Ok, so maybe I'm over exaggerating a little, but really I LOVE my people!!! I enjoy knowing fun things about them. It makes all the miles shrink, and for someone who loves so many people across the globe; I LOVE the ability to connect with people on social media. It's why I'll never give it up. But I do feel even after 4 days I've struck a way better balance! In a very strange way it felt good to be unreachable. It felt good to say to my family through my actions, "I'm fully here! I'm fully yours!" But it also felt good Saturday night, after I put all the girls to bed, to come and find ya'll. It was nice to read through your posts and see your crazy, unreasonable, pot-stirring quotes and links, and realize that the world does continue to spin out of control without me having to be notified every time something goes down. It made my world feel small and manageable again.... and I like it here. So I remain.

Ok, I KNOW some of you are joining me on this project. Let me hear from you. How's it going? How's the detox? Are you twitching and sweating yet?! Or are you reclaiming moments that have been missing in your everyday life?!

Can't wait to hear from you! 
(when it's convenient for me to hear from you, not the other way around :)


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't Be Thankful This November

Ahhhh....What an incredibly wild October! Starting by turning 33 in San Diego, CCEF conference, celebrating 13 years of marriage with my lover, Poppo coming to town, Royals captivating the post season, Mississippi State and Ole' Miss clenching college football headlines over and over again, hosting watch parties, crashing other people's watch parties, spontaneous trips to fill our love buckets, blowing up text threads with my hilarious and passionate family, planning fall festivals and trunk-or-treats, and staying up way too late way too many nights doing all of the above. It was such a sweet-sweet month!!

Immediately after the Royals lost last night, I started deleting apps on my phone. This has been my plan all along, win or lose, after the World Series I was going to hibernate during the month of November.

October has been so intense, with SO many moments of random activities tilting my chin and pulling my attention in different directions. I knew if November kept paced with October, I was setting myself up for another ADD kind of month.

I have mostly appreciated the whole "list one thing a day in November that you are thankful for on social media" trend. I like to see people affirming one another and taking the time to focus their energy on gratitude instead of platitude. It's a nice break from statuses typically filled with first world whines. I was thinking about thankfulness, who and what I'm thankful for, and how I wanted to intentionally convey and express that thankfulness this month.

Eighteen months ago I upgraded to a smart phone, if you remember I was NOT happy about it. I can be a little resistant to change and I felt like the iphone was a dirty thief trying to wreak havoc on my life. Eighteen months later, I have found some things I absolutely LURVE about my iphone, and I've discovered ways that, in fact, my iphone is a master thief.

So I've got me a plan. Twice in my recent history, I've taken a technology/iphone break. Each time has proven to be very beneficial. Once, I did a week long fast with my tribe of "7" from ALL technology. We fasted from computers, tvs, and phones (I had a flip phone at the time so I wasn't sacrificing much), and then again this summer when I was clear cutting my life.

I've decided during the month of November to return to a modified fast. I feel like the best way I can show my thankfulness this month is to see the eyeballs of people more and my screen less. That's a daily, minute by minute, hour by hour, way of communicating to the people I'm actually doing life with, "I'm thankful for you!"

So I'm deleting a butt load of life sucking apps that are far too easy and accessible. Every ping, every beep, every notification is far too distracting for my soul. I know, I know, I can turn off all the notifications etc.... But I work best when it's just gone, cause even when I'm not beeping, vibrating, notifying, I'm checking to see IF I will be notified.  UGH! REAL. LIFE.

I'm setting myself up to have to make an intentional decision to walk to my lap top and check in on the world, instead of the world checking in on me at dinner, in the bathroom stall, at the stop light, in the meeting, etc...etc...

In order to better protect the five people I have permanently written on my heart to say yes to, I'm putting up a fence of "no" and "not now" to the clamoring noises coming from my iphone. (Thanks Dawn for the reminder ;)

When I first got my iphone and was pouting about it, my sister in law very gently said the best thing, "make the phone work for you, not the other way around!"


So what has made the cut?

Text Messages? STAYING! I'm just so sorry, the love texts I get from my hubby everyday makes this app a non-negotiable. I love the way we can flirt all day long with a simple emoticon or word. Also, everyday I get to text with my entire family on what has to be one the best threads in the universe. There are 9 of us on the thread, and everyday I look forward to seeing how/what everyone is doing. We are spread across the entire nation, and for a few minutes everyday it feels like we are a little bit closer.

Google Maps? Adore! As much as we travel, this little feature is a dream come true. From finding Starbucks and re-routing around massive accidents, this little jewel tops my favorite iphone app.

Camera? Video? Weather? Clock? Calendar? Calculator? Compass? Progressive App? Notes & Voice Notes? Facetime? Tune In? Instagram? MapMyWalk? Music? K-LOVE? Pic Stitch? Sky Map? All staying. I use them, but they don't use me, that's why they get to stay.

A+ Spelling? One word, Julia. It's a keeper.

Bank App? Bless it. The ability to check my balance and deposit a check without having to talk the teller, AMAZING! Never deleting.

One game? Yep. One game for Anderson. For the moments he has to sit through PTO meetings doctor's visits, and lunch meetings.

And that's it folks.
Email? Gone.
Facebook? Gone.
Twitter? Gone.
Fox News App? Gone. * GASP* I know. :)
And so much other white noise.... GONE!

I'm not giving those up entirely, I'm just only accessing them through my lap top when I'm at my work station.

And now my iphone is smart but not thief-LY.
And now my iphone works for me, not me for a device.

I already feel a million pounds lighter!
I already feel more free. More available. Less ADD. More present.

So who wants in? Who wants to try this with me? In lieu of words (which you know I'm a big fan of words!) who wants to DO something this November?

I know the hesitations, I've thought through them. I've been anxious about them. What if work needs me RIGHT NOW? What if the paper trail has to be attended to this second? What if the assignment or the breaking news is life shattering? I can assure you, it's not. It's not that important. It really isn't. Remember when we only just checked our email when we were at a PC? Remember when people CALLED us when they absolutely needed to talk to us? Remember when we all had a little more patience and A LOT more natural space to live and breathe and move?? Remember when we used to drive around and listen to music and talk to our passengers instead of Siri? Ah.... the glory days! Ah... the good ole' days. I'm going back, and I would LOVE to have some company along the way. Leave a comment so I can know you are in. And prepare yourselves for a little more blogging this month as my way of saying "thank you", and because I'll have the time and space to do it!

Thankful and less stolen!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The One Thing No One Tells You About Grief

It absolutely astounds me how out of tune I can be with my very own flesh and blood. For real, after 33 years I thought maybe, just maybe I would understand the ebb and flow of my own heart a little bit better. Some how I thought I would be astute enough to know when all hell was about to break lose in the inner chambers of my soul. After these last few weeks, I can assure you there is still work to be done in the intuition department. I didn't see it coming, I was completely blind sided....until this morning.

My soul has been restless; stirring, sifting, churning, with no conclusion and no clarity at the end of the day. And so the next day, I would continue stirring, sifting, and churning. After several days and nights of restless stewing, opining, and processing with no results, my body finally clued me in this morning.

From the outside looking in, I'm sure I have appeared irritable (asked the child I paid money to leave my presence) distant, indifferent, numb, scattered, unmotivated, and aloof. I kept thinking, "today will be different, today I'll turn the corner and my innards will settle." 

My bones hurt when I woke up this morning. As I survived the morning chaos, I kept looking at my feet to see if someone had tied weights around my ankles. Every move felt delayed like I was walking through sludge. Every word spoken felt forced and rehearsed, or worse; reactionary and painful. The back door gently closed as the girls headed off for the day. I found my cup of cold coffee and sat in my green chair as I watched them climb the hill. I sat, I stared, and I went to my book shelf to read someone else's words. "The Healing Path" by Dan Allender is a balm every house hold should contain. I flipped through the obsessively marked pages, pages I had drunk in two years ago when we said goodbye to mama. I reread the words about sorrow, suffering, grief, and loss, and what had been stuffed deep down inside, currently masquerading as a million different other emotions, began to come up and out.

I had been feeling a whole bunch of nonsense about a whole bunch of random areas, instead of feeling the one thing my heart was trying to tell me to feel, "Sara, you are missing your mom!"
Substituting worthless busyness of the heart, instead of intentionally walking through the desert of grief. The desert sucks. It is uncomfortable and incredibly draining. Sometimes so uncomfortable we stir up fraudulent feelings to deflect reality.  But if we refuse to walk through the desert, we cheapen our experiences with self-help and self-reliance. We fill our emptiness with substitutions and idols, only to be left constipated and limp.

I wasn't listening to what my heart was trying to get me to process, and so my bones began to cry out to me. My bones began to bear the brunt of my screaming soul.

Grief can be so damn tricky and bossy, and when it is left unattended and unheard, it spreads like death and muck. 

So today I am attending to my grief. Not fanning it, or cleaning out a guest bedroom for it to take up residence; but attending it, acknowledging its presence and footsteps on my heart and life, and intentionally calling it out and giving it tender space and time to run its course. 

Oh dear friends who are grieving,
I hear you. I see you. You do not walk alone. The banner over our lives will not be penned as loss, but there are days we walk thru that are deeply scarred with it's imprint.    

Tend to your grief dear friends. Take a moment, take an hour, take a day, take a season, and walk through that desert.    


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Nine Years Ago I Gave Birth To You!

"I'm just a little uncertain about the baby's heart rhythm today," my doctor said as she gently ran the doppler over my 38 week, bulging belly. "I honestly don't think anything is out of order, but I want to order a 45 minute stress test just to make sure."

I was so tired from keeping up with my VERY inquisitive two year old Katie, while simultaneously preparing myself mentally, emotionally, and physically to love another child. I was convinced it wasn't possible. I had already labeled myself  "Rachel" because I just knew I couldn't help but show favoritism to my Katie. "I guess this is what all parents feel when they add a second baby, but no one cares to tell you about it, just like the forget to mention the football sized pads you wear after you deliver a child! Abhorrent!" I thought.  

How could any other child steal my heart the way this dominant two year old had done? Katie had changed our lives with an equation we never knew existed. For real, how in THE WORLD were there enough hours in the day to completely and utterly care for TWO BABIES? Katie was all consuming, or so we thought..... (ah, such a familiar sentiment! :)..

The stress test revealed a stress-less, "perfectly" healthy heart beat, "strong and steady!" the nurse reported, (I should have known then). They unplugged the heart prongs from my belly and sent me home.

October 20th, 2005, my mom pulled into the driveway from the airport as I reached down to grab a skillet from the bottom kitchen draw, and VOILA... a real contraction took me over. I smiled, "this baby might just come tonight."

All night I contracted. I paced the halls, not wanting to wake any one up until I "knew". I took a bath, laid on the couch, and ultimately was so relieved I was feeling real pain, because real pain meant something real was going to happen.  At some point, I was unable to calm myself through the contractions, so I woke up Mark. "Are you sure?" he said. "Yes, please take me to the hospital!"

It was the Friday before fall break at MSU, Mark was a freshman in the engineering school. We decided 3 babies during 4 years of engineering school sounded like a challenge. :) Lunacy!

When we checked in early that morning, I was already dilated to a  4. So thankful to be progressing! My birthing plan had specified that I wanted to receive the epidural around a six, to assure that when transition took placed I was nice and comfortable.  "Birthing plan" should indicate to anyone reading, that I was still young and naive after this whole birthing process. :) Around 10:40 am, I remember a distinct change in the way the contractions began to feel. Really, really uncomfortable. The nurse came in and I told her I was ready for the epidural. She checked and very calmly told me I was at a 6 and 100% effaced.  I was elated. My plan was going smashingly.

About ten minutes later, right around 10:55 am, a fully masked and scrubbed out doctor entered the room. I thought it was the anesthesiologist. I wanted to kiss their face. I kept thinking, "relief! sweet relief is coming!" At one point, I recognized the eyes peeking out from behind the mask. "Dr. Furniss, are you giving me my epidural?" "How sweet!" I thought, "she left her practice in the middle of the morning to give my epidural. Wow! Such great customer service!" Before I could offer my thanks, Dr Furniss laid her hand on my leg and gently said, "Sara, the baby's head is pushing directly against the amniotic sac, and the minute the sac breaks this baby is going to be here. There is no time, nor is it safe, to give you an epidural at this point." "But, but, the nurse just said I was a 6! Please, please, give me an epidural!!" I begged.  "Sara, you can do this! You are 10 now and the baby is right here!" the doctor encouraged. "No, I can't. I can't do this. I can't do this!" I wailed!

Right around this time Uncle Zach called to check in on the progress. Uncle Zach heard one contraction and hung up praying that sounds from the pit could some how be erased from his memory. 9 years later, and he still suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome :) 

At 11:05, Dr. Furniss broke my water and it was time to push.... The pain of child birth cannot be described, but the combination of child birth pain plus fear and unpreparedness, equals the worst kind of pain. I had not even given ONE glance at the possibility of NOT being able to have an epidural. I had spent ZERO time mentally preparing for a natural birth. And that was a HUGE mistake. When I had Anderson, I had a drug free birth, it was a million miles different because I spent concentrated time on preparing. 

I pushed once, twice, three times and baby's head came out... "Wait, wait, wait, Sara, don't push again! The cord is wrapped around the baby's neck, once.... twice..... yep, three times" Dr. Furniss's voice was so level and neutral as she unwrapped the cord. It wasn't until later I realized the seriousness of the cord being wrapped so tight around baby's neck. "Alright, one more push and we are going to figure our what this baby is!" My eyes rolled back into my head on my final push, and the greatest sensation of relief consumed my body. "IT'S A GIRL!" Dr. Furniss erupted. "A girl!" I thought. "I love girls!" I sobbed.

They wrapped up the tiniest bundle my eyes had ever seen and laid her in my arms. I was having after shocks from labor, my arms were so weak and shaking, but that baby girl in my arms made EVERYTHING better.

Her name was Julia Waitz, and the second our eyes meet all insecurity disappeared. "Oh, I can do this. I can love two babies. I can love two girl babies. I already love this Julia with every fiber pulsing through my bones," I thought.

Nine years later, I would describe Julia the exact way the nurse did, "strong and steady heart beat".

Nine. Years. Old! Our hearts can hardly handle it. Your face got narrower this year, your legs lost any sign of little-ness as they stretched so long and tall, and your heart matured in beautifully-crazy ways. I love loving you! I am so mesmerized by all I'm learning about you! Your creative brain exploded this year in ways I never knew existed and I'm so impressed. We are SO glad God gave us the indescribable gift we find in you.  Enjoy your final single digit year; it's simple and undefiled just as it should be!
We delight in YOU, Jules Vern!!
~ Mama and Daddy

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dear Daughters, Don't Marry A Pastor

It was a summer evening, and the Hall house was unusually quiet. I was 14 years old, and on a mission to find something to eat. I am sure that mom had completely stocked the pantry and refrigerator, but in true teen fashion I claimed, "there is nothing to eat in this house!" (I.E. I am the laziest creature functioning under the sun and my appetite far exceeds my reasoning.) Because I was all alone, and couldn't' "legally" drive any where without a licensed driver, I did the only thing I knew to do; page dad. In the season of pagers, we all had our own secret code that we typed in at the end of the phone number to signify who it was paging. #5 my was special code. I guess it's a number that will label me for the rest of my life, and you know what? I just love it!

So I paged, not really sure where dad was (a safe guess was and still is; sipping coffee some where and chatting up a crowd :).
He immediately called:
"Oh hey dad, where are you?"
"Hi kid, I'm sitting in an elder's meeting. What's up?"
"Oh dad, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bother you!"
"It's no big deal! Is everything ok?"
Me, a little more sheepishly, "Yeah, everything is fine... I'm.... just....hungry!"
"Oh ok, well I'm almost done with my meeting and I can swing by Taco Bell and grab you something. Does that sound ok?"
"Sounds perfect, thanks SO MUCH DAD!"

I'll never forget that day, because it solidified what my dad had communicated through many small and large decisions my whole life; I was more important than the church. I was important enough that my dad excused himself from an elder's meeting to answer the page from #5. It wasn't a 911 page, (that's the other code we used for emergencies) it wasn't a page from Val, it wasn't a page from a congregant, it was a page "from the least of these" :)

I cannot even begin to tell you how important this message was for my very young and impressionable heart. At the end of the day, my dad chose me.

We live at the bottom of a hill, and every afternoon if I step outside onto my almost finished front porch, I can hear three recognizable little voices that I cherish beyond words. I can always hear them before I see them, but as soon as my ears soften, my eyes can capture little glimpses of them sprinting towards me. Lucy, a little more like Phoebe Buffay, running through Central Park, than Florence Griffith-Joyner running the 100 meters.

One day, after a particularly rough morning, when everyone decided they would protest the hot, homemade breakfast I had prepared, in addition to the hot, homemade lunch I had prepared; (don't be impressed, the day before they ate stale toast and pizza bites..... I was functioning out of mom-guilt!) I went a little ballistic on them before they left for school, "I am so sorry, but this is not a short order kitchen where you get to complain to the manager about the condition of your food. This is a home, MY HOME, and I am your MOTHER not a full time cook and maid! Your unkind, complaining, voices discourage me and make me THIS (holding my finger just a quarter of an inch apart) motivated to get out of bed and do it all again tomorrow. Do you KNOW how many times I complained to your Grammy about the food she prepared on my behalf? Oh, I didn't! A WHOLE LOT OF ZERO-NESS (that's probably part lie, part drama...but really Val did NOT do complaining!) Lucy, under her breath, hoping I wouldn't hear, but desperately needing to correct my incompetent math-ness, "zero-ness is not a number!" I let her comment slide, in fear of losing complete control.

They stared at me, collected their back packs and silently prayed Grandy would pick them up early that morning. I kissed them as they left, because in my insane brain I feared an alien attack at the local elementary school, and I didn't want them remembering the final words their mother spoke over them being from a place of complete temper tantrum. "I love you deeply, but sometimes you drive me bananas! Let's try this again tomorrow with a different result, eh?" "Yes Ma'am!" they collectively said.

That afternoon, as I saw them sprinting for me, I wept. They were running home TO ME; a complete and utterly weak-vision of motherhood. Eight hours after losing it on them, they still were running towards me, not away from me.  Oh my stars, the total deprivation that still lives and moves in me when it comes to motherhood (and all other "hoods") still plagues me. I'm eleven years in, and y'all each night I just beg God to cover the multitude of my sins with His love. Sometimes, I pray for slight amnesia to infect them. :)

My dad came to visit this past weekend. When I saw his red car pulling down that exact hill, I slipped my shoes on and ran to him as fast as I could.

My dad was incredibly intentional when it came to conveying a message to ALL who were watching; my family wins, my family wins, MY FAMILY WINS. My dad fought tooth and nail against having an affair with the church under the banner of "full time ministry." My dad's full time ministry was loving and serving my mom like crazy, and then loving and serving the snot out of us kids. I never felt like my dad was serving us left overs. I never felt like I had cheapened encounters with my dad because the church got to buffet him first. My dad chose us. My dad chose us. My dad chose us. The confidence, the peace, the pride that grew out from this understanding cannot be bought. In exchange for this firm foundation, it was easy and natural to let dad have the freedom and the grace he needed to shepherd God's people. Inconsistent schedules, late night hospital runs, heavy days with messy relationships, tight budgets, emotional moments of discouragement, and Sunday's not exactly oozing "restful", but ALWAYS deeply joyful.

Dear Pastors,
Don't buy the lie.
Don't cheapen your finest, most beautiful responsible in exchange for the alluring mistress.
She's not worth it.

Dear Congregations,
Don't promote and assist in the lie.
Protect your pastors and their families by always redirecting their eyes homeward.
You will only gain when your pastor pours his life out for his bride and family first.


This is a message for all of us. Not just pastors. Not just men. ALL OF US! You want to change the world? Start in your home. Don't sacrifice the moments you'll never get back, in exchange for the less than. Be a home at the bottom of the hill that people sprint towards, even if it's a home that's far from perfect, far from Martha Stewart-esque, far from Southern Magazine ready, far from reaching the Jones' unrealistic standard; but it yours, ALL YOURS! Filled with perfectly-imperfect people, who choose one another above all else (even the church) everyday.

Dear Daughters, if you marry a pastor, make sure he is just like your Poppo!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How Professional Counseling Saved My Life

It always feels like an impossible task to come home from a conference and recount the things that happened in my heart. I think on many levels, I cannot and should not try to communicate ALL that actually transpired over our time away. It seems that in an attempt to try and transfer all my excitement and passion, I cheapen my experience and am often met with a less than enthusiastic response; to NO FAULT of my reader or listener, just a false expectation I unfairly lay at your feet. But since I process so much through my writing, I've learned to just give small sound bites of my take-aways, and store up the rest of my experiences in my own personal "holy of holies" and revisit it in the stillness of the night.

Mark and I have attended three CCEF (Christian Counseling Education Foundation) conferences. CCEF exists to support and supply resources to professional counselors, people in full time ministry, and lay counselors. Out of 1600 attendees, Mark and I make up a small minority of neither professional counselors nor people in full-time vocational ministry. So why the heck do we go?! Mark and I desire deeply to do relationships well. It's a non-negotiable for us. People, our time with people, our relationships with people, our encounters with people, rank very high in our personal life agenda. It became very apparent, very early on in our lives and in our marriage, that in order to do relationships well we needed to be well equipped. Being in relationships with people is EXTREMELY difficult, complicated, heavy, messy, and SO AMAZINGLY WORTH IT! When a friend's tears spill down her face and into her coffee mug because her marriage is falling into a million pieces and she has zero desire to remain in her marriage, Romans 8:28 just doesn't cut it. This dear woman comes asking for prayer, advise and support to go on. It is helpful to have an inkling of an idea on how to receive this news, process this news, and by the grace of God maybe say something. Although, as I am learning, speaking is RARELY the correct answer. If you do life with people AT ALL, you will be asked to enter into some situations you are unfamiliar with and have ZERO answers for. If you intend on loving anyone over the course of your life, if you intend on ever speaking into someone's pain, joy, or mundane, then you are acting as a lay counselor.
90% of counseling is done in lay terms.

A friend 911 calls you in the middle of the night, because the fear is paralyzing her and she is trapped within her thoughts. She calls begging for you to speak truth over her heart and her situation... LAY COUNSELING.

They were so excited when they found out a baby was on its way, and in a matter of weeks the dream comes to a screeching hault when the mom notices the flow of blood; a great sense of loss ensues. If you are in relationship with this person, and you rightfully choose to speak into this painful situation through actions or words; you are a lay counselor.

Life, death, joy, sorrow, happiness, sadness, peace, chaos, depression, ecstasy, captivity, freedom, boredom, security, insecurity, doubt, rage, guilt, shame, love, affirmation, numbness, indifference, ambivalence, and value are a small selection of the range of human emotions you will encounter over the span of a single lifetime.

We deem it "necessary" for children to receive at least 13 years of formal education about math, science, reading, and language arts, but somewhere we decided everyone should instinctively know how to decipher and navigate this small minefield of human experiences without anything more  than a formal how-to book no one reads, and a 50 minute exegetical sermon no one listens to.


So that's why we go. Because we don't know it all. Because we routinely encounter life situations we don't have all the answers to nor ever will, but we know there is more to learn, more we can offer by simply being intentional, training our minds, ears, and hearts; and to not resign ourselves to be satisfied with the current way people do community, church, and relationships. There is so much more to be had!

Not only do we go to restock our arsenal of helpful skills, (you totally drown in counselor lingo for 3 days) but deep down WE GO FOR US. WE are ALWAYS changed individually and as a couple. We go because we come away renewed, refreshed, and inspired.

This past weekend was no different.

A conference on loss? Hey, there's an upper! Who needs Eeyore when you have CCEF :) Total. Joke.

Truth? ALL OF US have lost something, are currently losing something, or WILL lose something. So maybe in light of this guarantee, we should educate ourselves on how to walk through it and help other's walk through it.

Brilliant, eh?

Our marriage was founded and tried early on with great, great, loss. The dance floor of our "I do's" blended inexplicable joy and impossible pain. I remember clearly sitting outside on my parent's deck, just a week before our wedding, carrying the weight of Mark losing his only brother, our nation seemingly losing its innocence on 9/11, and now the news of Mark being laid off. "This is NOT how I intended on feeling the week before I am to wed my best friend!" I told God. "Where is my happily ever after?"  Wasn't I suppose to be flying high on cloud 9 with only visions of sugar plums and fairy tales dancing through my head?! Wasn't I suppose to be playing the part of the blushing bride, not the bawling bride? My mom very gently told me at one point during this process, "Honey, your wedding day is not all about you! It's so much bigger than that!" At first, I was mad at her for saying it. Thirteen years later, I now know I needed that kick in butt, I needed that reminder. I needed to start the journey of my marriage in a posture of humility and servitude NOT selfishness.

We are pretty intimate with the ways of loss in the LJ double-wide.

Here are some sound bites that are taking up residence in my thoughts right now. I don't have the time or energy to explain each one in depth. Feel free to follow up with me if you'd like further explanations and context.

CCEF has been a HUGE blessing to us. If you are in full time counseling or full time ministry, these people should be on your speed dial. They are so solid in their understanding of brokenness and grace. They never distort the truth that sets people free, they NEVER confuse faith with behavior modification, and they never leave you with a twelve step program to "be good, do good!" They consistently offer you one thing, no matter the topic of the conference, they offer you a close up, zoomed in, clear vision of Jesus Christ; His promises, His comfort, His incomparable ways, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His scandalous pursuit of being in CONSTANT relationship with His adored creation.

Quotes by David Powlison:
Current, American Christian culture, has made loss an isolated, private, solo journey. There is so much danger in this kind of thinking.

The Bible consistently weds genuine faith with genuine experiences of ALL KINDS!

The poor in spirit are blessed because the kingdom is theirs. In their weakness, dependency, neediness, and vulnerability they have found the key to the kingdom of heaven; poverty of spirit.

Grief always goes somewhere. It is either transformed or transferred. Grief never ends with acceptance. It ends with a deepening and clarifying of one's faith.

"Faith doesn't mean we don't feel pain" Winston Smith

"The banner over your life will NEVER BE LOSS! The banner over your life will always be Jesus Christ!" Heath Lambert

Barbard Duguid: People are in bondage to this idea that God is constantly disappointed in them. They spend their lives in a cycle of depression and defeat. In addition, misleading and hurtful leaders often motivate people to holiness by insisting God is disappointed in our failures. In other words, "be good, do good!"  I beg to differ. In order to be disappointed, one first must be naive and not well acquainted with another. GOD IS NOT NAIVE! He knows all things. He sees ours hearts, He sees our ways.... AND YET, He loves. (paraphrased)

"Trauma is terrible. What we need in the aftermath, is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us. and just let it be terrible for a while" Catherine Woodiwiss

Matt Mason:
If our songs of worship are only one dimensional, we teach our congregations to only speak one language. Let people LAMENT! Are the songs you sing in worship resonating with the broken, hurting, dying people who are held in captivity and fill your pews?
In the same breath, faith and worship doesn't have to look like stoic emotional fortitude. This poorly describes the Jesus of Nazareth we see in the New Testament.

Said about Martin Luther, and the undeniable, irreplaceable, importance of worship through song, "We can burn his books, we can burn his sermons, but the people are still whistling, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God!"

Again, this is like one millisecond of our time there.
Nonethemore, it left huge impressions on our hearts and minds.

We are so grateful for the ministry of CCEF, and we are so grateful that we are called to be in relationship with people, and we are amazed we get to do this all TOGETHER as husband and wife.

Counseling in ALL forms is what we were made to be apart of. In the hallways of counseling, impostors offering counterfeit forms of life are called out and transformed into life-giving, human experiences.

Find you a counselor, thus sayeth MOI!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Four Scandalous Secrets About 13 Years Of Marriage

In a little less than a week, Mark and I will ring in THIRTEEN YEARS OF MARRIAGE! Zach said recently, "you made it to the teens, that should count for something!" I'm all, "HECK YEAH IT SHOULD!"

A blog post will have to do.

One of the most romantic movie lines that I just ADORE, is from Sweet Home Alabama.

Two young kids, Jake and Melanie, are standing on a beach while a storm is blowing in. Melanie asks Jake, "why would you want to marry me anyhow?" Jake responds, "So I can kiss you any time I want!" (that writer made his/her career with that one line :)

1. Mark first kissed me on beach. It was quiet, soft and slow. After thirteen years of marriage, and 15 1/2  years of being in relationship with one another; I want to kiss him. Parts of me go missing when our lips stop finding each other in the early morning light before work steals him away, or when the daily grind collaborates to create a ravine in our paths crossing. 
Truth: don't stop kissing each other.

2. Marriage is the most painful work on the planet. The vulnerability created between two hearts that are fully exposed, substantially increases the amount of pain you can cause and receive. Say, "I am sorry!" Oh my gosh, the number of times you MUST say these words EVERY FREAKING DAY to sustain the very life blood of two people's worlds colliding. We were barely out of the womb when we said, "I do!" Completely clueless to the way we would be called to beat our way forward in obedience to our love story. There is never a, "happily-ever-after" that doesn't require deep, scandalous, beautifully-messy, and sucky hard work!!
Truth: Holy, moly, crap-o-la, it's a knock down, drag out war to preserve the precious places of any marriage. 

Fight on!
Fight on!
Fight on!

3. Before you get married, take your shoes off. I know some of my scandalous readers are on the brink of getting married themselves and are hoping to take off a lot more than their shoes... ;) and I just get all hilariously, giggly because that is SO WHAT GOD INTENDED! Why, but OF COURSE, you are anxious to consummate your marriage and put into action all that you desire and feel. Holy moly cow, if we cannot talk about and celebrate the intimacy of a married couple, than this is dead to me. Back to your shoes. Marriage, while incredibly painful and hard, is one of the most hallowed places we can walk. Do not tread like you are on eggs shells, but tread as if the ground you walk upon is sacred, and to be held with the utmost awe, wonder and honor.
Truth: naked feet are necessary.  

4. As this last year settles into the history books, one thing specifically rises to the top of what I learned about my marriage, well... what I learned about my husband and the way he feels towards me. At the end of every day, I know down in my gut and into my toes, that my husband is FOR ME! I have had so many new and stretching opportunities placed in my life this year, and the first person up to bat to encourage and support me has been Mark. "You can do this, I can think of no one better out there to do this EXACT thing you are called to do. You are more capable than anyone I know!" Those words plastered themselves all over my insecure heart as I left for Houston last week. He is for me, he has ALWAYS been for me, but this year that truth became our reality, and it has required deep sacrifice on his part. 

Truth: if you want to communicate to someone that you love them... you have to find a way to clearly communicate to them that you are FOR THEM!! Loving someone and being FOR someone are two opposing pieces of one part.

I am humbled everyday that I have been given the great and mighty task of being in relationship and in a covenant marriage with my husband. It IS the most sacred ground I walk on this side of eternity. Without a doubt, I am the source of the deepest and darkest wounds that lie on my husband's heart. Without a doubt, I carry scars of encounters that are rooted in being in relationship with Mark. 
Without a doubt, the dance floor we step on is littered with unspeakable brokenness and screw ups.


WITHOUT A DOUBT, I choose him.
I choose Mark.
I have everyday for 13 years of marriage, and I have ZERO intention of stopping.

Mark Adam,

Tears pour, as I think about the story we have written and the story we are beating forward, in great sacrifice, to tell. Our sacred marriage is the sweetest, most delicate story I will ever pen.

I totes adore you!!