The America That I Know


It’s election season, and I have been listening to the candidates talk. What I hear, makes me sad. Every candidate seems to point out the flaws and the terrible things about our country. It sounds like America is a terrible place to live.

I know much of it is rhetoric, and I know that we, as a country, have our flaws. But I also know that there’s a reason people are willing to risk crossing an ocean on a raft to come here. I know that even now with all our flaws and problems, we’re still a land of opportunity.

Between the TV commercials, the debates and the soundbites on the morning news, I wonder what country it is that these candidates are talking about. Because I don’t think they live in the America I know.

In the America that I know, in times of trouble, friends and neighbors lend a helping hand.

In the America that I know, the neighborhood kids make sure the elderly neighbor has a driveway and walkway clean from snow.

In the America that I know, strangers stop to help a young mom when she drops her coupons in the grocery store aisle.

In the America that I know, my daughter sits at a lunch table filled with her friends – a girl from Ethiopia, a girl from Malaysia, and a girl from India.

In the America that I know, there are people who make racist remarks. And there are more people who point out the injustice and wrongness of those remarks.

In the America that I know, there is human trafficking. And there are ordinary men and women fighting to stop it.

In the America that I know, people open their wallets to help others in need – whether it’s ringing a bell at Christmastime or funding relief efforts in Haiti.

In the America that I know, people volunteer their time to help kids learn to read, to help adults learn English, to help the homeless learn an employable skill.

In the America that I know, people can exercise their freedom of speech (although we could all learn to do so a bit more gently).

In the America that I know, little girls can grow up to be anything they want, including president of the United States.

In the America that I know, the biggest kid on my daughter’s hockey team stands up for the smaller guys (and girl).

In the America that I know, people are generally decent and hard-working.

In the America that I know, the older couple on the street keeps dog biscuits on hand for the neighborhood dogs (and the dogs come knock on the door to ask for them).

In the America that I know, most peoplee are all just trying to get along, live in community and build a better life for themselves and their families.

Nothing about our country is perfect, but the America I know is much different from the one our candidates for president seem to live in. In this election season of turmoil and discord, let’s remember that for every one thing our country could improve on, there’s another that we do well. Let’s remember that it’s not our politicians that make America; it’s the people. We are America. Let’s find the good things in the America that we know.

What does the America that you know look like?

What Do We Tell Our Kids About the Election?


Usually, I love election year. I love to watch democracy at work, and I enjoy sharing a civics lesson or two with my kids.

This year, my girls are 13 and 15. It’s a perfect time to have great conversations about how democracy works. We should be discussing candidates based on their stand on the issues. We should be having conversations about character and leadership.

Instead, we’re discussing what qualifies as sexual assault. We’re talking about email security. We’re having dinnertime talks about “locker room talk” and infidelity.

And, like so many parents, we are struggling to help our kids understand that these are the two people we have to choose from for president. I find myself wondering how I explain to my girls that the person who will be the next president will be missing all of the moral ingredients that I’ve been trying to culture and grow in them.

I sit and ponder how exactly I tell these two girls whom I have raised to be strong women of character that one of the candidates for president just demeaned all women and pretty much said he could do whatever he wants with women because he has “power.”

I have talked to plenty of parents who are struggling with the same issues. Instead of civics lessons, we’re having basic moral lessons during this election. We have R-rated debates. We have name-calling and egoism. It’s frustrating as an American, but it’s more frustrating as a parent.

So, here’s what I’m telling my girls about the election. Here’s hoping it might help you, too.

  1. Everyone sins. Both of these candidates aren’t perfect. They have both done some despicable things. God loves them anyway. We should be praying for them to recognize their need for God in their lives.
  2. Power corrupts. Machiavelli said it best when he said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The pursuit of power can make you do things and say things that are abhorrent. When people become blinded by power, they can’t see the mess they are making in their wakes.
  3. Character still matters. Even though these presidential candidates are lacking in character, it does still matter. Character is the only thing that will help you hold a steady course. When you are lacking in character, when you have no rock to base your life on, you will end up saying and doing terrible things.
  4. God is still in control. No matter who wins the presidency, God is still on His throne and is still in control. Our collective free will may leave us with a poor choice for president, but God can use anything for His purpose.
  5. We have survived bad presidents before. This country has survived corrupt, character-less presidents before. The beauty of our system is that the president does not have absolute power.
  6. Our country needs prayer. Our presidential candidates only reflect the heart of our country. These two were voted to be the nominees, which means that our country had no interest in  nominating people of character. We need to be praying for our country daily.
  7. Objectifying women is wrong no matter who you are. This is not a conversation I thought I would need to have when it comes to the presidential election, but our sons and daughters need to hear this over and over again in light of the events of the past week.
  8. I don’t know who I’m voting for. I’ve been honest with my kids about the fact that I can’t vote for either candidate. My conscience won’t let me. So, I may not vote for president. I may vote third party. I may write in my dad. I may draw a big smiley face on my ballot. I don’t know.

These are not the conversations I thought I would be having surrounding the democratic process of electing a president. But they are the conversations that we need to have with our kids.


Reflections on the First Day of School

first day of school

It’s just me, my computer, my water bottle and the Olympics this morning. It’s quiet for the first time in three months. The dogs are taking some well-deserved naps. I’m catching up on some neglected tasks.

It’s the first day of school here, and for the first time since the end of May, I’m looking at a calendar filled with days without my kids. I have lots of projects to work on, a house that really needs a good cleaning and work that needs to be done. But right now, for this moment, I find myself doing a bit of reflection.

This morning, I sent an eighth grader and a high school sophomore off for their first day of school. The morning was a whirlwind. Hair to be done, lunches to be made, advice to be given. But now, in these first quiet moments in months, I realize that I only have five more first days of school.

I am incredibly proud of the young women my girls are becoming, but we have left childhood behind in this house. For the first time, I sent two teenagers to school. My child who would only wear graphic T-shirts and comfy shorts has graduated to a skirt and vest. My daughter who has never liked change faced her first day of school with confidence and a smile.

So much has changed since that first day of kindergarten 10 years ago. And as we face the few years we have left with our girls, I find I treasure the time I have with them more. Don’t get me wrong, there were days this summer that I pulled out the calendar and counted the days until school started. But, mostly, this year, I found myself enjoying the days of summer without the distraction of school or sports. And, so, I find myself a bit sad to see school start this year.

As I reflect on our summer and this first day of school, though, I wanted to share this: Whether it’s your first first day of school or your last, take a long look at your kids and savor who they are in this moment. Because who they are in this moment may be part of who they are in the future, but they will never be this particular person again.

Whether you’re in an easy season with your kids or a difficult one, take a moment today to thank God for who they are today. Identify the traits that your kids have that are positive and thank God for each one.

And, dear mommas, savor this moment here at the beginning of the school year. Because these moments fly by, and as excited as we are to see our kids becoming who God wants them to be, we can’t recapture the moments once they’re gone.

Making Sense of the Senseless


For the past two days, I’ve sat at my computer wanting to write, but not knowing what to say. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. That’s how I process things. That’s how I make sense of the world.

But how do you make sense of the senseless? How do you explain it to your kids when you don’t understand it yourself?

A guy walks into a bar… Sounds like the beginning of a good joke. Except what happened in Orlando when a guy walked into a bar was no joke. It was a slaughter. It was senseless. It was horrifying. It was evil.

My kids are teenagers. They have grown up in a post-9/11 world. Unfortunately, the idea of someone walking into a bar and shooting 100 people is not as unusual to them as it should be. Their perception of the world has never been free of the threat of terrorism. They don’t remember a time when you could visit the pilots of an airplane in the cockpit. They don’t know what it’s like to be at an event with a large crowd of people and not at least have the passing thought that it might make a good target for terrorists.

Because that’s the world we live in today. And that makes me sad. It makes me sad for my kids and sad for all of us. Because our world is one where hate thrives. It is a place where one person’s hatred of another person’s beliefs or choices or religion can result in the slaughter of innocent people.

So how do we help our kids process the senselessness and the hopelessness inherent in these acts of terror? How do we help our kids find the hope in the situation?

We start by remembering the words of Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is the God of hope. This is a long game, and we know who wins in the end. Hope endures, light shines because God brings hope. Hope is found in a tiny baby in a manger. It’s found in a young man nailed to a cross. Hope shines out of an empty tomb.

Make no mistake. Every single life that was taken in that bar in Orlando was precious to God. It doesn’t matter what they believed, what they did or who they were. God loved them as part of his precious creation, just like He loves you and me. Their senseless massacre broke God’s heart.

And it should break ours, too. While we help our kids focus on the hope that is found in knowing that God triumphs in the end, we also must be careful to help them grieve the tragedy of the moment. Because the biggest danger in this post-9/11 world is that we and our kids become immune to the immensity of these events. We can start to view them as just another attack. Just another death.

We want ourselves and our kids to never lose sight of the fact that whenever hate causes someone to take a life, it’s an immense tragedy. It is Satan grabbing hold of this world and announcing that he has no intention of letting it go.

And it’s our job to shine light into that darkness. It’s our calling to help where we can. It’s our responsibility to pray without ceasing for the victims, for the families, and, yes, even for the perpetrators. Because the only way we raise kids who can see the good through the evil, who can find hope in the hopeless, is to make sure that the things that break God’s heart are still breaking ours.

So, today, talk with your kids. Remind them that God is still in control. Talk with them about the reality of evil in the world. Grieve the senseless tragedy of the moment with them. Then find a way to help. Pray for all those affected. Hold onto the hope. Because in this dark moment where it seems evil has triumphed, hope is the most important thing left.

A Birthday Prayer for My 13-Year-Old

Birthday prayer

My baby girl turned 13 yesterday. She’s officially a teenager.

There’s something about having your youngest child enter her teens. Childhood in your house is officially over. You’ve got five years left until they’re 18.

When my girls were babies, people told me the time would fly. I didn’t understand then what they meant. Sure there have been long days, hours, even minutes, but the years have flown, and I’m now the mom to two teenage girls. My job is less hand holding and more pushing out of the nest.

It’s become a tradition for me to use this space to offer up a birthday prayer for each of my girls on their birthdays. So, this one is for my sweet baby girl as she turns 13.

birthday 13

Embracing Your Season


The sun is shining, and it’s warm here today. We’re probably still in for some more cold weather, but it’s clear the seasons are changing. Spring is on its way.

My writing in this space has been sparse lately. Those little girls in the header picture at the top of the page aren’t so little any more. They’re growing up fast, and I’m trying hard not to miss it.

Because just like winter turns into spring, there are seasons in life. And in this season, there hasn’t been a lot of time to write. There hasn’t been a lot of time for me to even breathe, much less dream my own dreams.

You see, in this season, my kids have needed me. My husband has needed me. And my calling has been to minister to them.

And sometimes, that calling can seem small. They’re only three people in this very big world. I could reach hundreds or thousands if I was blogging regularly. But those three people, they are my first calling. They are the people God has said to love first.

And that’s hard sometimes. Honestly, some days if I have to help do one more algebra problem or one more 7th-grade project, I feel like I might just lose it. If I have to take my older daughter to one more doctor or sort through one more day of girl drama, I just might create my own drama. And if I schedule one more date night with my husband to have it be interrupted by someone at his work scheduling a 7 pm meeting on Friday night, I might throw my phone across the room.

But this is the season I’m in. This is the season where my family simply needs me more than they have in a long time. We’re juggling a kid who has had multiple medical issues in the past year, a middle-schooler struggling to find her place in this world, and my husband’s parents who both need specialized care. None of that leaves much time for writing and dreaming and creating.

Am I selfishly ready for this season to pass? You betcha. I want to write and dream and create. I want to chase my own dreams. But there is going to come a day when my house is empty and silent. The bus will go by my door, and no one will come running home to share their day with me.

So, if my calling right now is to focus on the other three people in my house, then that’s what I’ll do. Because as sure as winter is changing into spring, this season will change into another one.

When God calls us to a season, he does so for a reason. We need to embrace the change. Just as winter brings the fun of sledding and snowmen, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, spring also has it’s great moments — the first daffodil, Easter and warm weather. Our seasons in life are like that, too. Each will bring challenges, but they will also bring some perfect moments, moments we would not trade for anything in the world.

If God is calling you to a season that seems to be leaving the things you want to do behind, remember that He’s calling you to that season for a reason. It may be that things you want to do require that you walk this path before you can walk that one.

Whatever the reason, embrace the season you’re in. There are beautiful moments to be found in it.

When You Don’t Know What to Do

God knows 1

I have this daughter. She’s 12. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s compassionate. She’s stubborn. She’s challenging. She sees the world through a lens I don’t have and marches to a beat I don’t hear.

And she is, oh, so hard to parent. She makes me think hard every day. She makes me question whether I’m doing the right thing every week. She makes me pull my hair out at least once a month.

And she makes me want to hold her tight and hug her hard every single minute. Because this world is tough when you just don’t quite fit. When your heart wants to do the right thing, but it’s a struggle to find your spot. When no one else seems to see the world quite the way you do.

As her mom, I want her to be everything that God designed her to be. I want her to be the beautiful, compassionate, joyful person that I see not nearly often enough. I want her to examine the world through that lens that is so uniquely her own, so I can find out just what she’s going to do with that perspective.

I have often said I would like to live inside her head for just one day, so I can see the world as she sees it. Because the world she sees, I think, is very different from the one I see.

I love all of that about her, but it makes it so very difficult to parent her. It makes it hard to know what to do when she has problems at school. How do you encourage her to fit in when the things that make her not fit in are the very things that you know are going to serve her well in the future? How do you decide if the struggles she’s having are important for her character or simply unnecessary and a change would be good? How do you know you’re doing the right thing for this child who is so very different from you?

You don’t. You don’t know. You may never know.

All I can do for this child of mine is pray hard over her. All I can do is wipe the tears when they come, deal with the frustration when it erupts, and hug her close and let her know she is loved by both me and God — even when she is at her most unloveable.

The only thing I can do is take comfort in the fact that God knows.

God. Knows.

He knows her better than I ever will. He knew her before she was formed. And He surely loves her more than I can.

And He is the source of wisdom. So, when I don’t know, when we don’t know, what’s best for our kids, we have to go to the one who knows them better than we do. We have to lay our concerns and worries at the foot of the cross and let God carry those burdens.

Because He knows.

He knows what to do when we do not.

When You’re Too Tired for Christmas

Christmas struggle

Christmas is in four days. My house is decorated. My kids are excited. And I am tired.

This year has worn me out. 2015 has been a long, hard slog from January to December. Every time I thought we had conquered the mountain in front of us, we reached the peak to find a taller mountain behind it.

Illness after illness has hit our family hard. Stroke, meningitis, thyroid, liver. You name it. We had a taste of it this year. This year has been so tough that both my daughter and I completely forgot she broke her hand in October. You know it’s been a rough year when broken bones don’t even make the Top 10 Events of the Year list.

And, yet, there have been moments in this year that I wouldn’t trade for the world. The precious perspective that my 14-year-old has gained embodied in the words she said the other day, “Just think, six months ago my biggest worry was staying on my soccer team. That doesn’t even register now.”

The shared moments with my husband where we tried to tackle the mountain together, knowing that when one failed, the other would pick them up.

The intentional moments with my 12-year-old created because she simply needed some time with her mom.

Because in the midst of the trial, in the midst of what seems like never-ending struggle, there is beauty. God is creating a better perspective, a stronger family and a sheer reliance on Him.

So, as I sit here four days before Christmas, I am reminded that the very first Christmas was probably the end of a very long year for Mary and Joseph. Unmarried and pregnant in a culture that had no allowance for that. Miraculously pregnant, but with a story no one would believe. I imagine Mary and Joseph felt very alone and very afraid. They knew God was creating something wonderful, but they were the only ones that knew it.

Two young people, teenagers, really, on the road to Bethlehem. No place for them to stay. A baby on the way.

And, yet, God created beauty out of the struggle. The savior of the world was born. And in the midst of their joy, I’m sure Mary and Joseph struggled to see the plan laid out for them. I’m sure they were scared. I’m sure they were often uncertain about what to do next.

God creates beauty out of chaos. His plan to save the world started with two young people having a baby in a cave in Bethlehem.

And, I’m reminded this Christmas, that if God can do that, He can make something amazing out of the crazy that has been our year.

So, this Christmas, if you’re struggling to just put one foot in front of the other, if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember this: God specializes in making great things out of difficult times. Jesus’ birth is proof of that.


The End of Me

End of Me

The FTC requires that I tell you that I received the book The End of Me for free in exchange for a review, and I was compensated with a gift certificate. The opinions in this blog are my own, and I would never recommend something to you that I don’t love myself. With the formalities out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

The past six months have been tough. I’m beginning to feel a lot like Job. They have looked something like this: meningitis, throat abscess, tonsillectomy, broken hand, hyperthyroid diagnosis, liver issues, ER visit, father-in-law has a stroke, and the dog sprains his ankle (yes, that can happen). The last four happened last week.

And that’s just the major stuff. We’ve also had school issues, relationships beginning and ending and the normal, everyday drama that comes from having a 12-year-old and 14-year-old daughter.

Several weeks ago, I started reading The End of Me by Kyle Idleman, which was sent to me by Family Christian, and it spoke to me. It spoke God right into the midst of this mess we call our lives right now. It stopped me in my tracks and made me realize that I truly have to get to the end of me before Jesus can truly use me in the way that He wants.

There are no easy answers in this book. My life didn’t immediately become hunky-dory as evidenced by the nightmare that was last week. I am truly at the end of every bit of strength and sanity I possess to make it through tomorrow.

But what this book made me realize is that I’m of no use to God when I’m trying to do everything myself. I can’t be effective as a wife, a mom or in ministry if I’m doing it on my own.

The End of Me made me realize that I have to truly mourn my sin and follow Jesus’ example in humility if I want to have any effect in the kingdom of God. I also have to let God work even through my weaknesses. God requires authenticity, He wants us to lay our ragged, worn out, I-don’t-know-what-to-do selves at the foot of the cross so He can showcase His strength through our weakness.

Kyle Idleman uses the Beattitudes to discuss the beauty of truly mourning our sin, the importance of humility, and why we need to be authentic. He shows that the upside-down logic of the Beattitudes has the power to change the way we see the world.

In the second half of the book, he uses Jesus’ encounters with others as examples of how God can use us in our weakness and our imperfection. From the parable of the great banquet to Saul’s encounter with Jesus, he vividly shows how when we get to the end our ourselves, God can then use us in a mighty way.

Reading this book didn’t make my life perfect, but it offered perfect perspective on the idea that God can only truly use me when I come to the end of me.

When You’re Not “Fine”


This space has been empty for a while. Life has been crazy — some of the good kind of crazy, and it seems like more of the bad kind. I’m kind of to the point where I’m almost afraid to get out of bed in the morning to find out what new crisis is going to erupt.

I’ll be honest, it seems like every time I open a door or turn a corner in life lately, there’s been something unpleasant behind it. Very little about this life seems easy in this season.

I would love to write a blog post telling you that when we’re in the hard season, all we have to do is rely on God and everything will be fine. That sounds great, but it’s a lie.

You see, anyone who tells you that things will be “fine” when you’re going through a rough season is wrong. Those tough seasons in our lives sometimes leave us in a place that is far from the place we started, the place where everything was “fine.” Those tough seasons often mean we lose something — a loved one, our health, a marriage. When we come out on the other side of a tough season, we are changed. We are different. And we may not be “fine.”

Am I saying that God doesn’t have everything under control? No. I am saying that God’s plan is never for you to be “fine.” It is for you to be in a place where you can see Him and share Him. It is for you to be in a place where you have to rely on Him. It is for you to be in a place where others can see Him in you.

But that place may not be easy. It may not be fun. And it most certainly might not be “fine.” But one thing you can know for sure is that no matter what that place looks like, no matter where it is, God is there, too.

That’s the truth we need to cling to in the tough seasons — that God is there. He’s not asking us to go anywhere He’s not willing to go, too. And though we may shed many tears and even spend time shouting at God, He’s there, He loves us, and He’s walking with us — even when we don’t think He is.

There is something to learn in this season. There is growing to be done. And when this season passes (and, honestly, I hope it passes soon), I’ll be on the other side a different person than I was before this season began. But I don’t want to be “fine.” I want the lessons I’ve learned and the person I’ve become to shine brightly for Jesus. I don’t want to be “fine.” I want to be His.