Better yet

My Sam,

You know how much I love going on early morning beachcombing excursions during our family reunions.  Those are precious times to me, not just because of the quiet of the morning, but because of the thrill of discovery.  As soon as the dawn breaks, I get the hermitcrabfirst peek at the overnight activities of sea life and marine birds.  Do you remember the year that all the baby sand sharks were temporarily trapped in the large tidal pools by the inlet?  And the time we found a skate in a similar situation?  What about all the hermit crabs skittering around in the shallows?  Or the terrapin turtles holding their heads above the surf?  Bliss.

But my favorite things to find have been shells. The most spectacular finds have been truly unique.  And of those, these two remain the most striking for me.


This is the shell of the summer of 2014. It was the first shell I had ever found like it, and to me, it was the most exquisite find imaginable.

The summer of 2014 was a particularly joyful time in life.  That winter, I had shed work life and traded it for homeschooling.  I spent each day cheerfully homemaking, reconnecting with you, my spunky eight-year-old, and reveling in the hope that we could have more children.  It doesn’t get better than this, I thought.

Fastforward four years…

This summer is a particularly reflective time in life.  In winter, I welcomed healing and rest after a long season of physical and emotional demand.  Each of these summer days, I awake swaddled in the knowledge that Beer-lahai-roi* (The God Who Sees Me) provides my every need, and knows my every thought.  I am caught up in the current of the remarkable journey He is leading your dad on.  I am secure in his promises for you – my precious love –  that even now, God is knitting together all things for your good.  There is no better life than this, I think.


This is the shell of the summer of 2018. Though I had found others since, the size, brilliance, and heartiness of this shell struck me as the most beautiful one yet.

During the years between the summers of 2014 and 2018, I certainly found some beautiful shells while searching the shore.  But they all seemed dwarfed, imperfect, or lackluster compared to my first standout find.   Our life in these in-between years (I don’t have to remind you) might have been described as the same – on a good day.

But even as we struggled in those difficult four years to trade our worries for supernatural peace, our failures for joy, and our sorrow for anchored trust, God was working.  He was building.  He was restoring.   He was anticipating.  He was providing.  He was carving out our path and helping us take every step.  He was replacing the most beautiful thing I could imagine before, with something unimaginably better.


Two shells

May this bring you great hope someday,

Your Mommy

When You did awesome works that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled at Your presence.  From ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God but You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.  – Isaiah 64:3-4

*Read the story of Hagar and her encounter with “Beer-lahai-roi” in Genesis 16

Wisdom or Fear?


I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by.   Today, some notes on a very personal struggle with fear.

When you are young, wisdom and fear speak in unison for so long that it can be hard to hear their individual voices.  Don’t touch – hot!  Stay away from the edge, you could fall.  Don’t go hurdling down that hill on your bike.  Don’t talk to strangers.  Say no to drugs.  Don’t hang out with that crowd.  Don’t drink.  Don’t drink and drive.

But at some point, you have survived to adulthood and the voices are no longer speaking in unison.

Wisdom:  It is time to move on.
Fear:   I don’t go places I’m not familiar with.  I’m staying.

Wisdom:  That door just opened.  You should walk through it.
Fear:   What if it leads somewhere bad?  Just walk on by and ignore the open door.

In a heart to heart with your dad a few years ago, we shared the things we are most afraid of.  Strangely, my greatest fear has been that we would have some financial catastrophe – or make a big mistake – and be completely bankrupt.  His response was, “Really?  That’s your greatest fear?  Why?  Where did that even come from?”

The last year’s events have inspired the search for that answer.  Traipsing through my own history, I came upon a crack in my long-held values.   Through the tinted goggles of recent events, I am surprised to see that what I have historically boasted as Wisdom, was often just Fear, smartly dressed.

(Wisdom!  Fear!  I’m separating you two.  And I want to hear both sides of the story.)

Fear – of financial failure – started when I was itty-bitty by praising my frugality.  “You should be proud of yourself for not spending your money today,” Fear would say.  But as I became more friendly with Fear and listened to it all the more, it’s voice began to change.  Even as I write, I wrestle with Fear, who is reminding and judging me for any mistake I have ever made, every over-priced candy bar I bought at the checkout line, every time I paid ATM fees instead of driving across town to my bank.  Fear calls me lazy.  Fear tells me to be ashamed.  Fear says I am wasting my time if I am not contributing financially.  Fear sneakily spurs me to judge others.   Fear calls me undeserving of gifts.  Fear accuses me of being reckless.   Fear tells me to stop in my tracks before I make one. more. mistake.   I notice now that a piece of me is frozen, at the command of Fear.

Last week, I gave Fear the floor and I said some things that I regret.  Today – glorious today – I am giving Wisdom a chance for rebuttal.

Wisdom:  You stand here, on a precipice.  Looking over the edge, of what life could be if you could find the courage to leave Fear behind.  Behind you is land of sparse vegetation and the path is narrow.   You have gone only the places Fear has permitted.    The land deep below is filled with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valley and hills, a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing.   That is where you are called to go.
Me:        Fear wants me to stay where I am.
Wisdom:    You have stayed long enough at this mountain.

Me:        I’m not sure I know how to leave Fear behind.
Wisdom:    Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and strength.  Perfect love casts out fear;  love always protects, always trusts, always hopes.

Me:   Fear, you’re going to have to sit this one out.
God:  Ready to fly?  (I’ve been waiting for this moment.)

My sweet girl, when you find Fear, call it out and send it away.  “For God did not give us the spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Fearless today,

My inspiration:  Deuteronomy 8:7-9, Deuteronomy 1:6, Deuteronomy 6:5, 1 Cor 13:7, 1 John 4:18

You’re my favorite thing about every day

Sam Bug,

Today is my birthday!!  I am feeling reflective today, not just on my life but on ours.  I’ve been so enjoying watching you grow that I was startled by the upcoming road sign that reads, “Adulthood – 9 years ahead.”  How could we be half-way to that landmark so soon?

Road sign

I wonder if either of us will remember how we spent sunny homeschool afternoons reading in the hammock, or how you have begged me for hours to spin you on the makes-me-sick-to-watch merry go round.   I hope you forget the way I have groaned for the last 4 years as you learned to tell jokes.   But, I hope you will remember a heaping handful of my parenting mistakes so you feel like a rockstar when you are a mom – and you will be an amazing mom someday.

At least once a day lately I find myself saying, “I never want to forget this moment.”   When that happens, I try hard to tattoo it into my mind in full glorious detail.

Yesterday’s moment was the monkey-in-the-middle game we played as long shadows faded into dusk.  You were literally foaming at the mouth with excitement.  Your dad and I threw the football back and forth while you squealed and giggled, barely getting any audible words out.  You, only child, have been content to be the monkey for the last [nearly] 9 years.  In fact, the few times you got the ball, you have given it back to us.  Today, though, in a Samantha first, I missed a catch and you beat me to the ball – fair and square,  you were just faster than me.  Then, instead of handing it back, you said with smoothly fabricated sympathy,  “Awwww.  Did you want this?  Here, you can have it back.”  You seemed sincere so I reached out for it, just in time for you to snatch it away.  “Ohhh.  I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” you said, with convincing remorse, “I didn’t mean it, here you go.”  And you snatched it away again!

Master humor….Check.     Growing up too fast…..Check. Check.

You are my favorite thing about every day.


Not My Best Skill Set.

Dear Samantha,

For the first time in my life, I am struggling with feeling useless in the face of the task before me.  Maybe useless is an understatement.  Picture…hmmm…a fish on a bicycle.


I had a chance to explore this feeling further when our weekend projects came to an abrupt halt.  (Anytime that happens it is usually expensive and highly disappointing.)  Nonetheless, I was all revved up to accomplish something so marched across our yard clutching an industrial trash bag, intent on picking up the flood litter that was strewn about our 40 acres.  I gazed across the horizon, settled on a small expanse where Samantha used to swing, and set to work.   It is a daunting job, but I was tired of feeling useless.  What’s more, my “can’t help with” list had exceeded my “can do” list, and it picked at me like a record skipping in my mind.  So I decided just to focus on what I can do.  Something little.  Something anyone could do.

photo-3Alone with the soundtrack of the wind in my trash bag, I let myself feel the frustration of being ill equipped for rebuilding a house.   I can’t lift the things I used to lift a decade ago.  I have never even built a dog house – let alone a people house.  I am a teacher, an entrepreneur, and (as you have encouraged me) a fairly good writer.  I am NOT a carpenter, a mason, or a plumber.  Yet this is my journey!  I believe in my heart of hearts that nothing is purposeless.   So what do I do with my talents that are ill-adapted for this job?  And how will I ever develop all the talents that I need to succeed on this path I am on now?

What I thought were my original ideas started to seem awfully familiar. Gradually emerging from my memory was the story of Moses – a shepherd, a man “slow of speech and of tongue” – who God chose to lead a nation of His people.   Moses supplied a long list of reasons why God picked the wrong man for the job.  I can relate!  God listened [patiently] and replied:

“Who gave man his mouth?  Who makes him deaf or mute?  who gives him sight or makes him blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go, I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” – Exodus 4:11,12

Moses and I both thought our respective tasks were ill suited to our talents.   He too, questioned whether he was strong enough to stand up to the voices of discouragement and opposition.  I imagine that we both believed the task ahead to be too big, or maybe we simply wanted God to pick someone else.  No such luck for either of us.  Instead, God promised to fill our talent-gaps along the way.

After an hour or so, the segment of property that I had carved out to clean up was looking mighty tidy and I was feeling outsideourtalentsenergized.  It feels good to work hard and to face what lies ahead.  As I took in my surroundings and the flattened earth that awaits a house, I decided that it must be here, when we are working far outside of our talents, where God’s most powerful work happens.  The blessings in your life too, Samantha, will come from watching the impossible happen not just in spite of your inadequacy, but because of it.  In your weakness, God’s great work can shine.

My answer to myself and my advice to you on what to do with mis-matched and missing talents?   Let God’s work unfold.  Look for it.  Expect it.  And share it!   God’s words personalized for you – “Now, go, Samantha, I will help you with what to say and do, and teach you what you need to know.”

Incubating the new talents God has planted in me,

P.S.  To anyone reading this who might feel sad that I was picking up trash all by myself, please don’t!   I will gladly accept all the help I can get this fall at our trash pick up party (stay tuned for details!), after construction stops for the year.  Until then I just do it to blow off steam 🙂   Sometimes a girl just needs to be alone with her trash!


Further encouragement:

Hind’s feet on high places, by Hannah Hurnard
Much-Afraid had been in the service of the Chief Shepherd, whose great flocks were pastured down in the Valley of Humiliation. She lived with her friends and fellow workers… Read more

Read the first 5 books of the bible in 10 weeks with YouVersion.
Until last year, I had never read these books straight through.  What an epic journey!  I highly recommend it.

When the voice lies to you

Tsam discouraged 2o my amazing, beautiful, smart Samantha,

Yesterday you told me about the voice in your head.  The one that harps on your mistakes and calls you worthless.   The one that tells you, “great job, you messed up again” and “you’re never going to figure this out” and “just give up.”

In that moment, I had the privilege of telling you the simple truth.

That voice is lying to you.

And it is doing so LOUDLY.  

So loudly, in fact, that you have had me yelling over it for weeks.  I found myself screaming things like, “Look at my face!  I am not upset with you!” or,  “Listen to me!! You have done nothing wrong!” and, “I love you so much!!!”

After not too many days I realized how ridiculous I sounded, so I stopped.   That’s when I heard it – the voice.   It was full of lies.  Unoriginal ones.  Picking on an elementary school girl over spelling rules and capitalization.  Despicable.  I can’t believe I didn’t recognize it sooner.

I felt an uneasy mix of heart-brokenness and relief.  I have been fighting a losing battle with the voice in your head.  The voice has been taking over our classroom and our life.  But it stops today.  This voice has already been defeated.  The battle plan has already been written and tested.

I looked intentionally through your eyes, into your heart and spoke slowly.  “If the voice isn’t telling you that you are amazing, that you are beautiful, that you are smart, or the like, then it is lying to you.”   It was a powerful moment.  I half-expected thunder.  But in that quiet space where we lingered, I hope you felt what I felt – Truth was rising and the voice was shrinking away.

sam encouraged

“Everyone has a voice that tells them they’re not good enough.  I do, Daddy does, everyone does.  I can take on MY voice, but I can’t defeat YOUR voice.  It’s yours to conquer.  Only you can be in charge of it.”

Your eyes were big with worry, but you were listening.  I did my best to keep my voice even and calm as I explained the plan.

“In fact, it has already been defeated FOR you.  So all you have to do is claim it!  And do you know how you do that?  You defeat it with the truth.  Because lies can’t exist in the presence of truth, and the truth always wins.”

You were full of questions.  “How do you know it works?   What if it doesn’t?   I hate it, I have to make it stop!  It feels like I am being attacked in my head.”

I pulled out your bible verse journal and dusted it off.  “You are going to start memorizing all the things that are true.  They have already been written in a love letter to you, in the bible.”  I thumbed through to the next unfilled journal page and at the bottom gleamed this verse:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…think about such things.  Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

“I have to cut it out and tape it to my wall so I can remember it!” you exclaimed, digging through your desk for scissors.

“You’re going to do that, and better.  You’re going to tape it to your brain so it sticks forever!  And when you find yourself in need of it again, it will always be there.  And trust me.  You WILL need it again.”whatever is true

Courage to correct little mistakes comes from the same place that  you will find courage to fight your greatest battles in life.  It rises from confidence in the truth that you are amazing, beautiful, smart, and so much more.

Amazing. Beautiful. Smart. and So Much More.

Never quiet in my love for you,

P.S.  I, for one, am glad to have the privilege to start this discussion at eight, over 3rd grade spelling, instead of at sixteen over your no-good boyfriend (wink).

Some resources that I was glad were “stuck to my brain” before starting this discussion:

The Armor of God, teaching ideas for children

“Truth Box” with God’s promises, personalized for you

Solid Joys, daily devotional by John Piper, “The Window of the Heart”

Secret 13: It’s okay to be a little broken.

shell thumb 2Whahooo!!   I just submitted this essay to the Secret 13 Essay Contest, an extension of Ruth Soukup’s book, “Living Well Spending Less: 12 Secrets of a Good Life.”     If my essay is chosen as a finalist, we will be entered to win an all-expenses paid cruise!!   I will certainly keep everyone posted.  Now, on with the letter….

Secret 13: “It’s okay to be a little broken.”

My little Sam Bug,

By now I am sure you realize that life’s “oops” moments are not a singular event, but a recurring one.  Some are preventable and some are completely unforeseeable, but either type of crisis can paralyze us, and keep us from engaging in the beauty and excitement that is around us.   For me, Secret 13 is about accepting my broken circumstances and living the good life anyway.   If you are reading this for encouragement someday, I hope you see a little bit of your story in mine…

Fall 2014
I walked through the sand at a near frantic pace as the sun rose.  “This is the last day, there has to be one here,” I said out loud as I scanned the beach.   A few months earlier, along the same piece of shore line, I stumbled upon the most perfect, big, conch shells – one each morning.  But now, nothing!    Hot tears rolled down my cheeks.  “I don’t understand,” I whispered.  DSC_0373

I really thought I needed to find a perfect shell that day.   It had been seven weeks since the flood that destroyed our house, and two weeks since the rotting leftovers had been hauled away leaving a gaping hole where our home once was.   I wanted some symbol of assurance that everything was going to be perfect again.  I wanted something beautiful to hold on to.   And, of course, I wanted all that very specifically in the form of a shiny, flawless, (preferably animal-free), conch shell.

In my last steps off of the beach that day, I found it.  I ran my fingers along the mathematically perfect swirls and pulled it out of the deep sand.   But as I turned it in my hands I saw that it was – gasp – broken!  I sighed heavily and let that word sink in as I gently lowered it to my bucket, pasted back on my happy face, and steeled myself for the road ahead.

In the weeks that followed, I rarely thought about that shell, which made a quiet home on my kitchenette window sill.  I was busy homeschooling you and keeping your life as normal as possible, making our new temporary camper home functional, preparing for a house rebuild, and settling on the reality that there is no “fund” for an isolated natural disaster in which a single desert home is destroyed by an unprecedented flash flood.  We simply pressed on.

January 2015
Fast forward to the new year.  I stumbled on this verse last week, just grazing through the bible, looking for an encouraging DSC_0026verse of an entirely different kind :   Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’  -Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)

I actually laughed out loud, which was probably a devotion-time “first” for me.   I let that one roll around in my head before declaring inwardly,  “Cute.  But not what I’m looking for.”  I kept reading on for the kind of encouragement I wanted.   I was specifically looking for the verses that assure you treasures, proverbs that promise wisdom as a reward for hard work, and something vaguely about fairness.   No luck, so I brushed it off and moved on with my day.

Isn’t it funny how unwanted, yet important messages just keep weaseling their way into the spotlight, until “not what I’m looking for” becomes impossible to ignore?    Our days had been getting worse lately instead of better and the weekend culminated in a doozey.  Burst pipes,  major equipment failure, growing expenses and sleepless nights.  The last straw was when I swiped my favorite coffee cup off the bench.  Chunks of the sharp pottery flew across the garage.  Broken.  Your dad and I, without looking at each other, agreed that we were done for the day.  We cleaned up a few things, but eventually just let things be and trudged up to the camper to listen to Sunday’s podcast, the one we missed because of projects gone awry.   DSC_0024

Clumsily bumping around, we peeled off our muddy boots and outerwear.   I started the message and we slumped down in our chairs as we heard, “Turn with me now, to Isaiah chapter 43.”  What’s this?   I bolted up and hit pause.  With new energy, I blurted out what I had read earlier in the week.  We laughed together and agreed that chapter 45 was sure to be included, and we should probably listen on.    I joked that all I wanted was some encouragement, but it appeared that we were in for a lesson instead.  I feigned frustration, rolled my eyes and pushed play expectantly.

As the speaker continued, I began to hear through my own history, the message that was meant for my heart.   Memories flooded back of the time I walked on the beach this fall, searching for the perfect shell and finding only a broken one.  I saw the house as it was crushed and reduced to five dumpsters of debris.  I watched my coffee mug shatter in slow motion across the garage floor.  I heard the words, “It’s okay to be a little broken.”

I laughed out loud to myself again.  What pot could tell the potter it’s a little lumpy?  Or that this edge is too thin and fragile?  What pot screams to the potter, “I am ugly!” or  “Please hurry!” or “I am broken!”   Let me tell you.  This crackpot.

(It is great consolation to me – and maybe to you – that I’m not the first one in history to make this mistake and probably not the last.  Isaiah was written hundreds of years B.C., and despite many chances for this little tidbit to get lost in history, still it remains part of the bible today.  I’m guessing it wasn’t just for me.)

In the days that followed, I approached life with an altogether lighter attitude.  Yes, there is still an overwhelming amount of work to be done and a never-ending stream of new bills to pay.  Yes,house after it will be hard, things will continue to go wrong, schedules will fail and trusty equipment will break down.  But, I have discovered these two more important truths.  1)  The stories I know don’t end with brokenness – they end with redemption.  They end with something amazing.   2) I don’t want to give up the Good Life that is happening all around me while I am wallowing over the crack in my shell or pining for happily ever after.  So what is the alternative?  Decide that it’s okay to be a little broken.  And keep moving forward.

All my love,

For my mom, my sisters, and all the women in my life, who not only help me to endure through times of brokenness, but inspire me to see it as a beautiful part of my journey. 

Making the best of things


Some days, you say things that startle me.  In a good way.

You had a sleep-over at your friend Penny’s house during the holiday break.  You loaded yourselves up with makeup, sang karaoke, and got out every doll and accessory in the house.  Just what I would have expected from an 8-year

Dinner, though, was quite a surprise.  (Penny’s mom, Marilyn, told the story best, but I will do my best to retell.)  You made a few no-holds-barred comments like, “Wow!  Marilyn!  Your green bean casserole is NOTHING like my mom’s.  I love it!  My mom’s is way too spicy, but this is perfect.”  Tonight’s beans, mind you, were straight from the can.  “And the cranberry sauce – woah.  That is amazing stuff.  My mom’s is terrible!”  Again, straight from the can.

Marilyn was amused by your gushing over her un-extravagant fare.   And given your total honesty, it seemed like good timing to get a truthful answer about our lifestyle of late.  “How is life in the camper?” Marilyn asked matter-of-factly.

“Living in the camper?  It. is. AMAZING!  It’s the best place we’ve ever lived!”

Back up, what?   Amazing?   The BEST place we’ve ever lived?  I am stunned.   I have been thinking about it ever since…

I like the camper too.  It is luxurious, and cozy.  It has a washer and dryer (tears of happiness!).  We have fun here.  We laugh here.  We look forward to coming home when we have been away.   But it is most certainly not the best placed I have ever lived.  Nor would I say “amazing”.   Puzzling.

I cannot help but wonder if it is a question of contentment.  Perhaps you have everything you need in a way you have never experienced?  Maybe you are thriving on being reminded daily that we are loved, taken care of, thought of.  Are we acutely aware of how much worse things could be?  It might be that writing thank you letters each week has helped you to adopt an attitude of gratitude?  Is it possible that your happiness is rooted in something much deeper than your circumstances, already, at just 8 years old?

Or perhaps green beans and cranberry sauce from a can were just so alarmingly good that your entire world began to radiate.  Either way, while I have been merely making the best of things (canned food and camper living included), you have been making them “AMAZING!”  I am humbled and inspired.   And you have my word – green beans from a can, here on out.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,DSC_0975
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if [Happy], he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
What if [Happy], perhaps, means a little bit more.”

-adapted from Dr. Seuss’s, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Love you most,