Category: Motherhood

Every Day Christmas

As a kid on Christmas morning, I would gaze at the pile of papered packages beneath the tree, searching for the big one—with my name on it. Biggest was best, of course, and so I would spot it, pick up the oversized gift with my child size body, and place it at my parents’ feet. I perched and pleaded for my turn to unwrap the promise contained within the bright and festive Christmas paper.

Our first year in Orange, I learned that St. John’s does “big,” well at Christmas time too. Big crowds pack in to worship within an ornately decorated sanctuary, aglow with strings of lights and candles, colored by brilliant stained glass windows, and humming with breathtaking music. St. John’s also does big outreach events for the holidays, things like hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas for kinship families, Project 23, and Operation Christmas Child. I love all these things, and more, about my church.

When I first came to St. John’s, I just stood in awe, taking it all in— all the vibrant ministries, all the worship opportunities, all the talent and history. I came from a small church, where I was the big fish, and at our new church, I wasn’t sure of where I fit in.

But like a God who would send an infant to a manger in Bethlehem, to make his grand appearance, I found my place at St. John’s enfolded in the humble and gracious fabric of its people.

On Ash Wednesday this year, we received word that our daughter, Elyse, had a rare auto-immune disease called Juvenile Dermatomyositis. It quickly spiraled, and a week later, Nathan and I cradled our 18-month old in the hospital, so weak she couldn’t walk or lift her head.

By God’s grace and provision we were able to get back on our feet, and with treatment, Elyse has been doing remarkably better. But, on Mother’s Day, a pipe burst in our bathroom, leaving our family of four displaced from our home for three months.

I thought I would find my place at St. John’s on a platform, but little did I know I would find it within the space of my greatest vulnerability and need.

It was in these circumstances I experienced St. John’s story through eye to eye relationships, through humble and heartfelt generosity, and the love that spills into the cracks of ache, like a trickle from the altar.

In my deepest pain I encountered the sweetest mercy, through loving home cooked meals that tasted like grace. The Haiducs can make a mean lasagna. One day a box of “busy bags” showed up from an army of St. John’s moms, with toys and crafts that lifted Bree’s spirits and kept her busy, and scraps of Bible verses to keep me going. One day a bouquet of dandelions and ingredients for smoothies was dropped on our doorstep. A check arrived in the mail to meet the amount due for an overdue hospital bill. The Friendship Quilters made a quilt sewn and tied with hope and prayer for our Elyse.

I shared on Facebook one day that Elyse’s sun sensitivity had gotten worse, and two days later, someone showed up with a princess parasol for her. While the teachers at St. John’s gathered hand drawn Bible verses and other inspiration in a book, for our family. Classes of kids drew cards of encouragement, and bowed their heads in countless prayers for a baby girl they knew only from pictures.

When our house filled with water, St John’s families showed up with towels, and buckets, strong arms, and hot boxes of pizza. As we tried to get our house ready to move back in, two high school students from church, volunteered to watch our girls, as a St. John’s life group of 6 people arrived in work clothes, to vacuum, mop, and organize.

I love big gifts. This year I’m thinking about getting my girls a Barbie doll house to unwrap on Christmas day (Shhh! Don’t tell!). I love sitting in a magnificent, century old church, and feeling small, as I join my voice with an overwhelming chorus of worship. But lately, God is helping me to appreciate small gifts too. He’s giving me eyes to see the small gifts of handmade love and outstretched hearts that tell the story of St. John’s through community, and relationships.

I think thats the story God was teaching us with Christmas too. Instead of a big platform, God sent his son in the helpless package of soft, baby flesh—displayed for shepherds to worship in a wooden manger surrounded by livestock. Immanuel, God-with-us, came to Earth completely dependent on relationships, for a mother to love and nurture, and a Father to guide. Jesus began his ministry by becoming close friends with twelve other men, by touching, by healing, and by serving people.

Tonight I’m grateful for my baby Elyse. I’m grateful for every smile, for every step she takes, and when she twirls, I watch in awe. I’m grateful that God uses babies to remind us of who He is. I’m grateful that, through her, God has taught us what St. John’s is all about—God sized love—in human packages.

So I guess this Christmas, the question I’m left with, is how do I continue the story?

Can We Stop and Sit Together?

This morning I sit, like a fixed point in the center of a storm of distraction. My house is messy, I still have a project due, and my girls have been watching a show–maybe longer than they should. But my heart feels full of so many things I want to share with you. I wish time and kids would allow for me to sit and savor conversation with you over hot coffee that grows cold, because there’s too much to say between us.

Lately I’ve felt tired. In this marathon of life we’re on, I feel like we’re in a season of endurance. Our fight against Elyse’s JDM isn’t following the easy arc we hoped it would, we’re back in our house and yet so much is left undone.

I’m not naive to think we’re alone in these struggles. Everyone has some sort of battle they face on a daily basis, whether its cancer, rebuilding a home that was disassembled by flood and fire, or fighting back the darkness of anxiety and depression. Maybe its just overcoming the small annoyances life throws at you, like to do lists that never seem to get done, or small disappointments that add up, and grow burdensome, like the loose change in your wallet.

Sometimes the biggest struggle we face is isolation and weariness–the feeling like there’s too much to do and we’re doing it alone. Sometimes we feel like nobody sees how much work we’re putting in. Sometimes we just wonder if anybody sees us, if they really care.

If we were having coffee, I would put my hand over yours, I would look into your eyes and tell you: I care. Others care too. I just think that our culture has become so bogged down with performance, that we’re all battling this fog of busyness, the fog of being seen, but never really feeling fully known., 

Maybe this isn’t you. If it isn’t, that means you need to pull others out of the fog. Take them to lunch, listen to them, and encourage them.

We all have the weapon to fight back the fog, and it is love. Love quiets the raging voices, love calms choppy waves of uncertainty, love transforms gnarled nail shaped wounds into marks of sacrifice and forgiveness. 

If you’ve forgotten how to love well, if you’re feeling too alone or weary, I invite you to visit your local classroom. Its a place you may have to kneel, ask questions, get messy; but in this place you will forget yourself enough to let joy overtake you. Are you ready to hear where it is?

Its in the park, with wood chips in your shoes and dirt under your nails. Its in a classroom that smells of syrup and play dough. Its on the floor with toys strewn around you, and gleeful screams in your ears. Surround yourself with children, and let them remind you that life is about reckless abandon, its about reckless love. Because a child’s love breaks through the walls of isolation and apathy.

I get lonely. I feel like everyone knows who I am, but few people know me. It feels like too much work sometimes to invest in friendships when my life takes so much work as it is. But when I need to feel known, when I need to take a break from the pressure to perform, I get on my hands and my knees and let my daughters climb all over me. They knock down all the walls I’ve been putting up around my heart, and remind me that love is easy, if I just let it in. Love is loud, and messy. Its hands on. Love shows up and knocks people over and disarms them with tender grace.

So when the world feels like a confusing place. When we feel alone and unknown, lets love like we dance when no one is watching. It means throwing open our arms, closing our eyes, finding the joyful rhythm, and throwing ourselves in. God will always catch us. 

There’s an awkward silence between us now. Tears in our eyes. We both feel like we’ve been a little too vulnerable. We stand up, we hug each other–the kind of real hug, where we really hold on and squeeze our arms tight. We look at each other and smile, then head for the door–ready to keep plodding forward, ready to face the day knowing that we’re not alone.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  Hebrews 12:1

Loved over Perfect

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I want to walk the fine line of perfection.
I want to be one way- until I lean too far in one direction, and then I overcorrect, leaving me dizzy with indecision and insecurity.

They call it happy medium, like there’s a measurement that amounts to that, but I’m realizing that its a constant balancing act. The moment I think I’ve got it down, my illusions comes crashing down as I face my false reality.

I think this is a dance we do as parents, as spouses, as kids, and at work, with our friends and even with people we don’t really like. Pretty much, as humans, we can try to walk life’s fine lines.

As I look at the scattered pieces of false realities and loose ends, I’m challenged to look at the fragmented beauty right in front of me.

Shakespeare writes in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He asserts with bold certainty that life is scripted and predictable, as we continue to go through the same lines and choreographed movements like a carefully directed play.

But God gave us free will. He gave us the ability to move and speak and choose as we wish. When we choose the right thing purely, its beautiful and organic, and right. When the right thing is forced it rings false,
like a dripping sweet compliment or a forced apology. And that is why God made us people that are freed by his love, that freely choose to love.

Love isn’t a carefully marked path, but a stumbling journey of trying, and failing, and keeping on moving, even if you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction. The life that God calls us to isn’t a pin straight line of truth, but blind steps of trust and obedience. Never as a mere pawn or player in a prewritten play, but gentle steps that unfold our own stories.

These stories aren’t measured by their perfection or our performance. No, these aren’t stories reviewed by critics or competing to be on a bestseller list. Each story is God’s love story to us. As we fall, and get back up, as we doubt, and trust, and hide and seek, and find, our stories unravel into a picture of forgiveness, of redemption, and of imperfect progress.

I will never walk the tight rope of perfection as a mom, as a wife, a friend, or any person. So instead of training my steps to fall in perfect line with who I think I should be, I land in the soft place of grace, where I am restored and reshaped. Instead of placing impossible expectations on myself, I can live loved. Loved by God, loving myself, so I can pour love into the world around me. Because when I’m loved, being perfect doesn’t seem so important.

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love”

How to Be Content

BE

“Dove,” she crooned in her sweet baby voice.

“What? Dove? No, what did you say?”

“Dove, dove, dove,” she insisted, pointing at the mantel above the fireplace.

I thought my 18 month old daughter was pointing to the small wooden bird standing there beside the carved books, shaped in the letters “B,” and “E,” for each of my daughters. But, was it possible? I don’t remember even showing her a picture of a dove, and for goodness sake, wouldn’t she just say bird?

She was getting frustrated now, gesturing wildly, and saying the word again and again, gaining more and more confidence, “Dove, mommy. Mommy! Dove!” 

I stood and picked her up, carting over to the direction her chubby finger pointed. I left some distance from the bird, to see if she chose it herself. She lunged with open hands toward it, and so I plucked it from the shelf and handed it to her. She cradled it and gazed at it lovingly “:Dove.”

I could have missed it. This gorgeous moment with my daughter as she dazzled me with who God is creating her to be. I could haver hushed my baby’s persistent babbles, and swept her up to rush her to bed, and misplaced this moment like a doll’s lost shoe. For some reason, tonight, I lingered, and witnessed a fragile miracle.

Earlier as I sprayed and wiped my counters as my girls busied themselves with preparing a meal in their play kitchen, I prayed out loud, “God show me where you want me to be. There are so many things I love and long to do, but I want to be present with what you’re asking me to do right now. If its being the best mother and wife I can be, then help me to find joy and fulfillment in that.”

You see friends, I’ve been falling into the trap of gazing at other people’s grass. I want to do something impactful with my life. You know, something with a flash and a bang. Lately I’ve been thinking if I didn’t have the responsibilities before me, then I would have time to do something, more significant. Cringe. It sounds worse on a page before me, but sometimes I need to face my ugly truths to be delivered from them.

We all long for significance. To be known. And often in our culture of mega blogs, self publishing, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, we think the way to prove our worth is to be known by a thousand of our closest friends. We have platforms, and events, we want more likes, and shares, and followers. Church ministries count the number of heads to measure impact. We want to be fabulous, popular, right, knowledgable, and valued instead of simple, humble, open, seeking, and small. But when we look to be known in the way our world packages it, we can miss being known by the person right in front of us.

Life on life, hand in hand, sip by sip, we find that the heart of what we really crave is in the sweet moments wrapped in friendship, and motherhood, lost in moments we rush by looking for the next best thing.

This afternoon I met a friend for coffee and told her secrets. We watched our kids dig in the dirt and plant imaginary seeds.

I came home and danced with my girls. Watching Elyse learn to move again is a tiny wonder. Bree copied my goofy dance moves and helped me make waffles for dinner. 

And each moment was significant. It was beautiful, and small, real, and meaningful.

I long to be known, but then, time and time again I hear the dull thump of a hollow dream as God reminds me that nothing else but Him will fill me. 

The dove is in the story of Noah’s ark. It returns to Noah with an olive branch to show him that there is dry land. The dove represents peace to show God’s reconciliation with man after the flood. The dove is also the form the Holy Spirit takes over Jesus during his baptism in the Jordan. A dove could be another bird, but in the Christian faith, it isn’t. Its because of faith, that we see something more- we believe in more.

Elyse could have seen a bird but she didn’t. In a simple wooden bird, she saw a dove. I could chalk this up to a weird coincidence, but I don’t. I see my baby girl reminding me that I am already known, and I see God using a simple moment, to remind me that He is in our midst- among clumsy ballerinas, golden brown waffles, and a carved blue and red dove- perched beside the word “BE.”

A New Reality

 


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Its not often that I’m without words, but recently I have felt quiet and contemplative. The two words that have been on my lips most, are a diagnosis I struggle to pronounce, let alone understand: Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM).

These last few days since we’ve been home have felt like I’m underwater holding my breath. The same house, the same rituals and to do’s, the same family, but a very different reality.

I’m preparing myself to emerge back into the world with Elyse. It almost feels like when we introduced her to the world as a newborn, watching her every move with careful optimism, wanting to keep her within arms reach.

When you see her it might seem like you’re meeting any 18 month old toddler, her belly pooched out as she marches with a proud waddle. She makes one word declarations, wearing the world on her face with exaggerated expressions. When you see her, she’ll probably say “Hi” three times with her wide smile. You’ll notice her face is fuller and less blotchy,  her big wide eyes reflecting her enthusiasm, the shadows beneath them hint at tiredness . She might make wide circles around you, gaining momentum and confidence with each step as she clucks and coos with glee.

In these moments we get to celebrate life with her as it should be, an energetic baby enjoying and exploring the world around her.

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At home we also deal with another, new reality.

Each morning and evening we give her Prednisone, a steroid with undesirable side effects such as insomnia, weight gain, aggression, blood sugar changes, osteoporosis, and stomach upset. To counteract unwanted effects we give her Calcium, Vitamin D and Zantac. Prednisone suppresses her immune system so we have to protect her from being exposed to unwanted cooties- meaning avoiding crowded enclosed places or large groups of children. 

Because the sun can worsen the effects of JDM we need to avoid the sun during peak hours, and be vigilant about protection. E is embracing the hat as her new accessory.

Elysehat

Once a week, we give her a shot that is a chemotherapy drug called Methotrexate. We have to wear gloves to avoid contact with the very liquid that we inject into our baby’s skin. This is designed to work with the cortisteroid to quiet the overactive immune response that is attacking her skin and muscles .

The needle is tiny and the dose is very small.  Though difficult, we agree these are the steps we need to take right now. After 30 minutes of practicing on fake plastic skin, Nate played the brave daddy and gave her the first injection (I played the pregnant for 9 months card).

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Once a month we will go to the hospital for Elyse to receive a 6 hour IV drip of Intravenous Immune Globin (IVIG) which is a lot like a blood transfusion, but IVIG is made up of the plasma of up to 15,000 blood donors. Our nurse calls it liquid gold. I keep telling Elyse that it makes her sparkle.

E gets to play with a Physical Therapist twice a week until she rebuilds muscle strength and mobility, She thinks its pretty cool to have a personal trainer that gives her undivided attention, and beach balls.

E will have good moments, and moments when she is uncomfortable and fatigued. We hope the good days will be more and more. 

We’re still taking time to absorb our new reality; to figure out how our lives will be the same and very different.

Right now the words Juvenile Dermatomyositis taste bitter and unnatural. The doctor confirmed she’s the youngest child he’s seen with JDM, as the average age of onset is 7 years old.  I know that God lets us taste the hard things in life to help us appreciate the good. As we learn about suffering, we learn more about love. There is no turning back from this road that we’re on, and so we will trust God through this journey. We will celebrate God’s goodness; we will taste His fullness as you feed us; His faithfulness as you pray for us and walk beside us;  we will grow to understand how wide and how deep, how long and how high His love is, as we love our daughter, knowing somehow He loves her even more.

John9:1to3

 

Love In The Details

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Mommy where was I when God made the world?
You were a promise in the stars.
Mommy where was I when you were a girl?
You were my imaginary friend.

Mommy where was I when you married daddy?
You were the blush in my cheeks and the dimple in daddy’s smile.
Mommy where was I before I was born?
You were the flutter in my tummy.

Mommy when I grow up where will I be?
You will be God’s answer to someone’s prayer.
The best friend with a box of tissues and good chocolate.
You will be the pink cheeked bride,
and the Mommy wrapping her hands around a growing belly.

Mommy where will you be?
A hand to hold; an ear to listen.
The point of your chin, the curve of your brow,
Bedtime stories, eskimo kisses,
“I love you mores”, And flowers dressed as dandelions.

Mommy we’ll always be together?
In all the ways that matter.

 

How Babies Are Made

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Two people wanted a moment to last forever,
So they curled together in the shape of a heart,
and made a promise,

No matter what happens, for this moment, we aren’t alone,

Some people carve their love on a tree, to watch it grow.
But they planted a seed to grow something new.

And in their frail whispers and uncertain moments,
God with his great power used small intimate hands,
to gently knit together an answer to their questions,

A growing promise that breaks through the temporary into eternity.

And as they whispered to one another a question “I love you?”
He said, “Yes,” with a gift of love, a baby; a girl; a man; a name,

A branch that shoots from a stump, and burgeons into a wild green tree.
Reaching its feet deep into the Earth, Stretching its fingers up into Heaven.

Elyse 1 hospital

Christmas Blues

 

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My daughter was playing with the felt heart on our advent calendar. She held it up, closing one eye to inspect it in the ray of sun filtering through the window.

“Look mommy, this heart means love.”

“Yes, because love came down at Christmas time.”

“Where is love Mom?”

“In Jesus”

“But how can I see love?”

“Hmmm…I see love in the Christmas tree we put up together. I see love in the pictures of us on the wall. I see love when I look at you. Can you find love in this room?”

“I see love in the water in that cup on the table.”

“Why is that?”

“Because we need to drink water to live…right mom?”

“Absolutely.”

The conversation I had with my three year old reminds me that I’ve been going through the motions of Christmas, but I’ve been forgetting the most important part, the love. 

As a busy mom, I can go half the morning without downing anything but black coffee. My body eventually reminds me it is desperate for water, with a foggy brain and pulsing pain at my temples.

I’m terrible at drinking quickly. If I was ever challenged to a chugging contest, I would forfeit, because, my body doesn’t even know how.  Chugging hurts my throat and makes me feel suffocated. So, when it comes to water, I’m forced to drink it slowly, sip by sip. 

Love slows me down too. When I live in love, I sip up each moment with relish. I don’t realize how desperately I needed it until I start to take it in.

Its easy to go through the motions of Christmas without the feelings. Sometimes we hope that the feelings will catch up somehow. We can feel dried up and numb of emotion, or flooded with unexpected melancholy and sadness. Its not always easy to teach our heart to feel the right emotions- it can misbehave like an unruly child. But love is patient with us. It sits there and waits like a glass of water on a table, ready to be picked up and sipped in.

Jesus didn’t wait for ready hearts to come onto the scene. He certainly didn’t wait for a room twinkling with candles and strung up with garland and lights. The stars and stable were enough. Announcements didn’t go out, Bethlehem was busy and bustling with a census. No, shepherds and livestock would do as an adoring audience. He surrendered himself to the care of a scared new mom who cried out in pain and felt the sharp sting of love mixed with uncertainty and fear, pure awe and wonder. Jesus came down as love that first learned to breathe, and suckle, to eat, and toddle, walk and talk and live as our flesh.

So easily, I simplify love as the warm fuzzy feelings. I want to wrap Christmas in tinsel and tradition, and happy thoughts, but the truth is Christmas is about a Savior who patiently endured pain and struggle to be among us. True love is enduring the good and bad, and the tedious to be with someone. Love is waiting and walking alongside someone. 

I can find love in decorating a Christmas tree, or the happy snapshots of memories as a family. But my daughter reminds me that its in everything. Its in shedding tears as you say goodbye to your brother, or dad, and hold out the hope that one day you will share a table with them again. Its in watching those you love grow older, its in forgiving, and washing dishes, in sitting with the pain of loss and still getting up to make breakfast for the family. Love is quenching our thirst, our need for more than what this world can offer. Love waits for us patiently. It puts on our flesh and learns to walk with us. Yes, love comes down in an infant, is lifted up on a cross and buried in the earth. Love rises again, to draw us home. Love sustains, it fills us up, it overflows and it quenches our thirsty souls. Love makes everything complete.

 

 

Gratitude is a lot Like Raspberries

 

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I hesitate to take the thin plastic container from the fridge. I bought them for eating, but then there’s the matter of rinsing them clean. They’re not always the easiest fruit to snack on either. Somehow my kids find a way to spread the pink juice on their fingers and around the corners of their mouth. My grown up toddler smashes them on her tray and then runs her sleeves in it.

Raspberries. They’re even spelled differently to emphasize their explosive nature. They look like innocent pink clumps, but under a bit of pressure they burst. Eating them is a sensory overload of texture and taste. Tart, sweet, crunchy, juicy, messy…yes…raspberries.

This morning as my kids popped them in their mouths, pleasure spreads like gratitude, all over their hands and faces…

Finish reading this post over at Fresh Hope for Mental Health!

 

I’m More Like Jonah than I thought…

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Her quilt swallows her tiny body. A large pink gingham mouth envelops her head to reveal her three year old face.

“Mommy I’m afraid.”
“What are you afraid of?” I bend down and kiss her brow, creased with a comma.
“I’m afraid because Jonah keeps getting swallowed again and again, because he doesn’t listen to God. He keeps ending up in the whale’s belly.”

My trained words respond “No.” “No honey, the whale spit up Jonah,” but in my head I’m shouting “Yes.” Exactly yes. That is the truest thing I’ve heard all day.

As my body sits there with her, my mind is deep, deep underwater, in the warm, dark, damp insides of a giant fish.

I’m afraid. I’m unsure, and my mind is lonely, but my body is flooded with touch and affection from two little bodies. My mind feels overwhelmed and bored. My heart feels lost and found, and achingly empty and spilling over full, all in the journey of a day.

My body puts away laundry, washes dishes, and cleans sticky hands and faces. While my thoughts float, and dip, and sink into the noiseless depths of obscurity, weighed down by fear and questions.

Do I love my children enough? Am I going to be enough of a mom to form them into good people? Am I the wife my husband needs— the sister, the daughter? What if my people weren’t mine anymore? Or worse, what if I blinked and they disappeared?

These questions flood my mind and steal my identity. I become a hungry whale that swallows and fills myself up with people, and approval, and validation. So full, and sick, and empty again.

I turn out the lights in my daughter’s bedroom and find my way to the living room in the darkness. I fold my body into the corner of the couch. A lamp seems too bright for my mood. The wind whips the branches of the trees and rain beats a dramatic tempo overhead. I wake up my sleeping computer and pull up the story of Jonah and the whale. I read these words from the Bible. Funny, I never noticed them before.

“Notice all through this story that, although Jonah was God’s servant, he was always thinking about himself. God protected Jonah and saved him, not because he was such a good man, but because he wanted to teach him a great lesson.”

A heart turned in on itself is rendered useless. I think of my fifteen month old, how she wobbles from foot to foot, eyes affixed on her bloated belly as she walks into whatever is right in front of her. Sometimes I am so unsure in my own skin that I clumsily stumble through the world, oblivious to the needs of others, rendered useless by my own fears and insecurities.

As I read these words about Jonah, they resonate with my soul. Maybe I keep entering into the same dark places so that God can teach me a lesson too. A lesson about how to resurface. How to look up.

But maybe a fish’s belly is where I need to be sometimes too. In the depth of uncertainty, to be alone with my creator; letting Him form and reshape me.

I think about how God himself entered a woman’s belly to reshape the world- and I crack a smile like the moon. My daughter is smarter than she knows.