To My Daughter on Her Last Day of Second Grade

Thursday, May 21, 2015

To say that I am proud of you would be an understatement.  I am constantly amazed by your sunny disposition and the little writer (and artist and savvy business woman) I see you becoming.  You've taken a tough situation, with a teacher you certainly didn't gel with this year and you stuck it out, reminds me a little of taking a required swimming class the very last semester they actually required it to graduate from college.  I hated it, but it made me more comfortable in the water, taught me the difference between the freestyle and breaststroke, and in the end, made me a stronger swimmer, and yes, I did invoke the backstroke as an integral part of the last swim exam.

Allister, life hasn't been easy for you and me, we've traveled a winding, uncertain and sometimes lonely path together but you have made me the person that I am.   And somehow, by God's amazing grace we're still walking upright.  Thank you for your thoughtfulness, sensitivity, generosity, determined spirit and your compassion for those around you.  Thank you for falling asleep to my bedtime prayers, comforting me as I fell apart over all the bugs in the new kitchen, told me to work out when I didn't feel like it, assuring, "You'll feel better when you're all done," while you sat there and watched your portable DVD player.  Thank you for forgiving words I said this year out of sheer exhaustion and frustration.  

Book learnin' is great, but I see you learning and growing in leaps and bounds in lots of other areas this year.  Yes, I may buy you the Newbery books, but I realize your true affinity lies in comic and Where's Waldo? books and I have bought you some of those too.  Who knows, you may be drawing your own someday.

I love you, little girl with brown hair, blue eyes and a pretty adorable smile.  I can't wait to see what next year holds.   

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. 
Col. 1:9a

Guest Post: She Runs: How Moms are Like Marines

Saturday, May 2, 2015

When I first read Ashley's work, I was blown away--by her maturity, her passion and yes, her good writing.  She works for HOPE International, a Christ-centered microenterprise development organization that helps men and women create jobs for themselves and others in their community. HOPE International’s network provides a variety of services and resources across 17 countries to address the pervasive employment gap faced by those living in poverty, through educational training, savings programs and microenterprise opportunities.

Ashley blogs at, where she aims to make people laugh and cry at her stories while exploring the ways God is restoring us.

It's never too early to recognize the women who hold us together, so today we're featuring Ashley's Mother's Day post.

Please drop her a line!

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When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.
It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”
The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.
My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.
(photo credit: USMC archives)
Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.
My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.
She’s been running toward me my entire life.
My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.
It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.
My belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.No fear in love.
Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.
If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.

The Words of My Mouth

Friday, April 10, 2015

(Inspired by Proverbs 10)

Lord Jesus, may the words of my mouth:

-always reflect your commands
-be a fountain that refreshes another's spirit
-reflect a heart and mind that is discerning
-be prudent, withholding words when needed
-be like choice silver: of utmost worth, sought after and valued
-nourish many, bringing new life to every person within earshot
-flow with the fruit of righteousness
-find favor even in the stickiest situations

There was an incident in the park yesterday, or, what could have been an incident, and somehow, in the midst of ugly words and worthless chatter, the Holy Spirit took over.

I said nothing.

It took everything I had, but I said nothing and as I drove away, I thanked God, for in that very moment, with four little sets of ears listening and four sets of eyes watching,

I said nothing.

The Difference is So Very Beautiful

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Within the span of about five hours yesterday, I met and talked with three people with disabilities.  Each meeting was a gift, but the first one especially so.  Whenever she and I meet "accidentally," I know that God is smiling directly on me.  Her name is Kathy* and she is a quadriplegic, this happened years ago when her son was a baby, and in that process, she went through a divorce.  Imagine: single mom, quadriplegic--overwhelming.  Kathy and I met through a local Bible study.  She is kind, warm, understanding, patient and extremely funny.  It would not be an understatement to say that I love her. And when I say she's God's gift to me, she's like this ray of sunshine.  A few months ago, I was struggling, bad.  She called me and prayed with me and that was it--100% better.

The second run-in happened in the produce section at Kroger. I reached down for the ginger, a young man immediately struck up a conversation about marathons, half-marathons and triathlons--you know, all the stuff I do regularly and know a ton about (ha), maybe he saw my running shoes?  He told me his competition line-up for the Spring, Summer and into the Fall, I was blown away, the conversation was mostly one-sided and that was just fine, I'm not a big talker, but I did notice something different, and when he said that he was the first autistic runner for this Autism Awareness organization, the puzzle came together.  He talked of traveling and competing out West, I asked him about his experience running the Boston Marathon in 2013.  It was fascinating--then Jeremy got pulled away by his job.

A few hours later, I was at my friend's art opening.   She is a photographer and this is her master's project, after that--graduation.  When the artist was younger, she was diagnosed with an astigmatism that has caused her to have worsening eyesight as she has gotten older. This last year she started spending more time at the Atlanta Center for the Visually Impaired, listening to stories, forming friendships, hearing how this community has felt marginalized, and in their words, treated less than human. She was inspired by the stories and decided to make a show dedicated to them, with the goal of bringing the sighted and visually impaired community together. 

At least half, if not more, of the attendees were blind.  My friends and I met a beautiful woman named Gloria who has been blind her whole life and who is a photographer herself.  We visited each one of the works together, I got to know her a little bit, she grew up in Arkansas, she homeschools her daughter.  She told me she didn't get out much, so a crowd like that was pretty overwhelming.  It was overwhelming for me too. She thanked us for letting her tag along; we thanked her for sharing her experience with us. 

It is amazing the beauty that God brings out of physical impairments, I can think of one example after another of the extraordinary things that God does out of physical weakness, (His strength made perfect in our weakness.)  He uses our spirit, our courage, our strength to inspire others, that no, were are not so different and God is using each one of our stories to bring Him glory. 

What an amazing God.

*Names have been changed

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