He's Back from Iraq

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness...
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted... 
Isaiah 58:6 & 10 (ESV)

The last two weeks I’ve been quiet about our real life because the love of my life was leading a medical relief team in Iraq.  For security reasons, we were asked to not mention the trip while it was happening.  The reality in the Middle East…and specifically Syria and Iraq is heartbreaking (click here to learn more).  I actually avoided reading detailed news reports while Val was gone, simply to keep my heart at peace trusting God with my man serving in the midst of such profound suffering and persecution. 

While Iraq is technically considered a war zone, Val was not actually serving in the middle of the conflict, but was offering medical, emotional and spiritual care to Syrian refugees who had fled from Syria to Iraq.  I have yet to hear all his stories, but am waiting to hear how the God of the Universe touched lives through this medical team. 

While Val was away, my mom spent a full two weeks with me helping me take care of my three boys.  We both worked so hard.  I kept telling her that she was just as much a part of what Val was doing over in Iraq as Val was because there is no way that he could have gone over without her helping me.  So, indirectly not only was my mom helping me, but she was actually making this medical trip possible.  (Thanks, Mom!).

This is my part of the story:

A year ago, Val went to Iraq and I stayed home with our two big boys while I was also in the midst of that dreaded first trimester of pregnancy.  It was awful.  I was impatient, unkind, edgy, sick, and beyond exhausted.  I felt alone.  I hated how frequently I lost my patience with my boys while Val was gone on that trip.  Even with a friend helping me for the last half of that trip, I was pretty certain I never wanted Val to go on another one of these trips.


God has been so at work in me that I am a different person this time.  Not only am I not pregnant which makes a huge difference in my ability to handle caring for our boys while Val is on a trip like this.  I am also no longer trying to hold everything together.  I asked for the help I knew I would need.  Not only was my mom here for two weeks, but a good friend also came out for a few days.  I haven’t attempted to cook more than simple things like grilled cheese and hot dogs.  This trip has still taken a toll on me; however, I am still at peace.  This was not the case a year ago when Val went to Iraq.  I was at the end of myself by the time he came home a year ago.  Now, I just want a long afternoon to recoup. 

God has been working in me.  He has been working in our family.  He has been resetting us in healthy rhythms and relationships within our little family.  I am learning my limits and living within them.  Our little family is also more at peace.  It’s hard to put into words, but us slowing down our life and going so very slow these past few months has been the best thing we have ever done for our family.  Our boys are so much more at rest in themselves.  I am so much more at rest in myself.  And there is a renewed life and energy in Val.

In stopping and slowing down and taking a year to rest, we have melded together as a family in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined.  I used to say my dream was for our little family to be at rest with each other…our home as a place of peace.  I think it is beginning to happen.  The peace is becoming a lasting reality and not momentary dream between events and demands.  This peace has remained almost entirely even with Val gone for ten days. 

For the first time, we as a family might be truly stepping into the wind of the Spirit in our everyday reality, rather than running on a hamster wheel of just trying to manage our life. 

Photo credit: Valerie Monson


Still Trying for that Girl?

The other night, I was rifling through the dollar bins at Target with my boys.  Silas was squealing in delight as I wore him in a front pack, and the other two (4 ½ and 3 years old) were pulling various items out of the bins to show me treasures that we definitely “needed.”  It had been a long, chaotic day, and it felt nice to have some mindless fun with my little dudes.  As we were enjoying ourselves in our own little world, a woman approached me and said with a smile, “You still trying for that girl?”

“Uhhhgggg.” I thought.

Of course, I mustered as much kindness as I could in that moment, and gently but firmly spoke the truth (a little annoyed sweetness on my voice): “Oh, I love my boys.”  To which she quickly agreed to the awesomeness of boys.  And after a little small talk, she and I went our separate ways.

This experience is not uncommon now in my life, though.  Having three little boys, all of whom are under five years old, does draw a little attention.  But more than attention, it seems to invite all kinds of comments from total strangers.  The ones that bother me the most are the ones spoken openly in front of my boys about my lack of a daughter. 

Yes.  There are times in life when I have longed for a daughter…a female friend inside my little family.  Yet, at this point, I am so totally and completely satisfied and in love with my all boy reality that the girl-longing has long since passed away.  My heart is so very settled with my massively “guy” reality. 

But, beyond the fact that this personal process of mine is not any stranger’s business, the “girl-longing” comments bother me the most simply because they are spoken right in front of my boys.  My boys, whom I love more than any other humans on the earth.  Spoken as though I would, of course, be dissatisfied with three boys.  Spoken as though there is an incompleteness, a lack with them for me until I “get my girl.”  I do not like strangers hinting toward dissatisfaction over my greatest loves.

So, I always respond with a clear, kind, but firm truth about how much I love my boys.  I want them to hear the truth: I love you and am so happy I have you…my boys. 

The truth is that people are going to say careless things in front of our kids.  Total strangers and those close to us.  About all kinds of things. It is our responsibility, our calling, as their parents to interpret these things with our kids.  To expose things that are untrue by speaking the truth in their presence.  It is one small way that we get to bring the light of truth in a world darkened with subtle deceptions.  Subtle deceptions that we get the chance to counteract in our kids' hearts.


After IF: Not "Feeling" It

I love the IF: Gathering (click here).  I love that I got to go to Austin last weekend to be on location for this year’s gathering.  I was so excited, and I anticipated a powerful meeting with God.  Last year’s gathering was so impactful, so raw, and was the beginning of some powerful life and faith shifts for me.  So, I entered this year’s gathering with great anticipation. 

I walked into the Moody Theater and found a seat at the very, very top of the balcony.  Just being there was overwhelming and my eyes teared up a bit.  God is in this movement.  I’ve felt it from its very beginning.

While the conference began as a very emotional experience for me, the emotions downshifted quickly.  There were Divinely orchestrated connections with other women.  There were powerful moments of understanding more of God.  But overall my emotions were still.  I could feel the emotional and spiritual surge in the room as other women had powerful, life-altering experiences with God, but my soul was still.

That first night when I was back in my room up in the wee hours feeding my sweet baby, I asked God why I wasn’t feeling that surge that so many other women seemed to be feeling.  I opened my heart to Him to see if I was missing something.  What I felt from Him was not a lack in me, as though my stilled emotions meant a lack of spiritual connection.  Instead, it felt as though He was telling me that I did not feel the surge because I actually find myself living in a spiritual reality almost daily. 

I was not experiencing a conference “high,” because I get to experience that life every day.  The conference was bringing forward confession, repentance, surrender, and believing. It was as though He was showing me that this power of connection to Him is accessible everyday.  That for me, going home would not be a process of trying to translate a conference experience into everyday life, but instead I would seamlessly transition from a conference experience of Him to an everyday experience of Him.  That for me, there would be a continuous flow from one to the next rather than trying to pull one into the next. 

So, as I engaged the rest of the gathering, there was a rest in my spirit to simply be there and enjoy my time.  To connect with God…not for a grand experience, but because He is with me always, speaking to me, changing me, loving me…whether I am doing the laundry, changing diapers or singing praise with two thousand other women.

I left “IF” with a gratefulness that He is powerfully at work in my everyday life.  And found myself still calling “IF” my tribe because that is their heartbeat, too: women unleashed in their lives, living full out after God everyday… not just at a conference. 


Circles: A Marriage Picture

If you know my dad, you would know that he is definitely not drawn to the spotlight nor the stage nor any kind of public speaking platform.  But if you know my dad, you also know that when he does speak, it is a time to really listen. 

This past summer, one of my sisters and her fiancĂ© got married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony, and they had asked my dad to officiate the ceremony.  It was the first wedding my dad had ever officiated.  He spoke clearly and directly about this concept of circles.  I hope today to capture what he spoke and share it with you. 

He shared the story of our family.  That thirty-five years ago, he and my mom had joined hands, saying their vows, getting married, and beginning their circle.  He spoke of adding me, their first baby, to their circle a few years later.  He went on to depict adding each of my siblings to their circle.  My parents’ circle: my mom, my dad, my siblings, and me.  Connected.  Holding hands with each other and creating our family circle.

Then he went on to share that a few years later, our family circle opened broader to include my first brother-in-law when he and my sister got married.  That it opened even broader when I married my husband.  He shared about their circle becoming even larger as my sister and I each started having babies.  He spoke to my other sister, the bride, that as she married this husband of hers, this circle was opening to him, too. 

He went on to describe what it meant for us to be in our parents’ circle.  It meant that their door was open to us.  While I can’t remember the exact words he used, the feeling he expressed was an access to my parents, the feeling of being able to walk into their home and eat out of their fridge or to be able to call on them when we need them.  That we are in their circle. 


Then he went on to explain that as my sister and her fiancĂ© were beginning their family that day, saying their vows, they were starting their own circle.  He described them joining hands in their own circle.  He depicted well that as they started their own circle, he and my mom did not have a place in that circle.  That my sister and her husband would always be in the circle that is my parents’ circle, but that he and my mom would not be in my sister and her husband’s own circle.  He explained that while my sister and her husband would continue to have access to my parents, as a part of my parents’ inner circle, my parents respected that they, the parents, did not have that same access to my sister and her husband.  My dad beautifully expressed that he and my mom are not in the inner circle that is my sister and her husband’s marriage and family. 

I loved how my dad described these circles.  There is so much clarity about roles and rights (or lack there of) when family and marriage is explained in circles.  Often, I see “circle confusion” within families, creating relational and emotional chaos, difficulty, and struggle within marriages and families.  Please take time today to reflect on your own familial relationships.  It takes work to guard the circle that is your smaller family.  It takes intentionality to healthily separate from your parents to create your own family circle.  Yet, even the Scripture communicates this idea, depicting the design that a man will leave his parents and hold tight to his wife: creating their own separate circle.  It’s the idea of leaving your parents as the authority of your primary circle and becoming the authority of your own new circle in marriage.

Have you respected these circles in your own marriage, creating your own new circle separate from your parents?  Have your parents and parents-in-law respected these circles? 

If your answer is “no” to either of these questions, how will you intentionally create and guard your own circle?  How will you communicate these concepts of marriage and family to those who don’t respect the circles?

If your answer is “yes” to either of these questions, how have you created and guarded these circles?  How have your parents and parents-in-law respected these circles?

The beginning of Val's and my circle.  A circle we have worked to value and guard.