Family Assessment and Brainstorm

Before we get started on the specific steps in Nailing Christmas, use the following questions to assess how Christmas is currently going in your household.  This small step of preparation will help you be even more intentional in your Christmas focus.

Does your family have a Christmas fanatic?  If so, who is it? (You want to get this person’s buy in!)

What is your favorite thing about Christmas? (Build on this.)

Do you have a Christmas non-negotiable? (Don’’t mess with this.)

What frustrates you about Christmas? (Work on reducing or eliminating this.)

On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you with talking to your kids about Jesus?  (Do you need improvement?)

On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you praying with your family? (Would you like to be stronger?)

As you look back over this year, is there a word or a phrase that comes to mind?  (Can you think of any Christmas-y spin on that?)

As you pray for discernment, can you think of any spiritual need your family might have this year?  (Can you create a Christmas theme around this?) 

What do you think has kept your family from NAILING CHRISTMAS?  (Be specific.)

What would NAILING CHRISTMAS look like in your family this year? (Be specific.)

Click here to continue with the next in the Nailing Christmas series.

Born to die

I wanted to blog weekly during the month of December so I could get the content of our Nailing Christmas class into the hands of interested parents.  But I just couldn’t.  There were dark days and hard truths to face first.

My nephew Samuel was born straight into the arms of Jesus on November 26, 2018.  It wasn’t unexpected. He was diagnosed early in the pregnancy with an extremely rare, fatal birth defect.  But still the loss of him hurts deeply and raises so many unanswerable questions. Why must a baby be destined to die?

Maybe it’s a leap but that makes me think of Christmas. The notion that an infant would be born to die is terrifying and incomprehensible–but that is exactly what Jesus came to do.  Isn’t it offensive and insensitive in the face of real grief to celebrate with joy the birth of another doomed innocent? This was God’s idea? How could that be the plan?  How could that possibly be for the best?

And are we even allowed to ask these questions?

God knew it was for the best because he understood our desperation. He knew we were utterly hopeless without Him. Destined to so much misery. Destined to die. All of us. 

Apart from God, we trudge on in this world, foolishly denying our sin and ignoring the unavoidable grave… Until someone we love meets their inevitable end.  Then we startle a bit and rage at God and the world for a while and then go back to our comfortable, willful blindness and charge headlong again toward the destiny of all mankind.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I was surprised this week when I was reminded that even in the middle of our beloved Christmas scriptures we have a paragraph heading: “Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).” DEATH IS EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t discriminate: Rich or poor, young or old, it’s coming. It is our universally cruel, unquenchable, unstoppable enemy.

But there’s good news!  And it has to do with Baby Jesus, born to die–not only just like all of us–but for all of us.  The Enemy that has been swallowing up our loved ones for millennia needed to be defeated.  And only the perfect Creator of Life himself would be powerful enough to accomplish that. God–our loving Father–chose a terrible destiny for His Son in order to rescue us from ours.  Jesus overcame the grave. He conquered death for us. He is the way to life after death! He told us he was going to do it. He did it. And then he raised from the grave to prove it!  

That is something worth celebrating even in our darkest days. So Merry Christmas!

I apologize if this seems like too morbid a post for the holidays.  But I know many people find it difficult to have a holly jolly Christmas because they are deeply sad or grieving.  I hope it helped to discuss death, grief, and hope in the context of Christmas and the victory that Jesus won for us because he was willing to be born to die.  

(1) Did you know that just 100 years ago, ten percent of babies in the United States died before age one (100 per 1000 live births). In 2016 that rate had fallen to under 6 per 1000!  Thank God that this tragedy is befalling fewer and fewer families all the time.  (Source:

Nailing Christmas

©LLB Images 2016

Christmas is coming!

For some readers that announcement provokes nostalgic sentiments and joy so tangible we feel it wrap around us like a soft blanket.  For others, a dread—a cynical, stressed-out and guilty dread—settles over our hearts like a winter fog even while we tell ourselves we should be, “in the Christmas Spirit,” whatever that means.

For most, the approach of Christmas brings an emotional concoction of both extremes.  We know Christmas should be a time of joy but we also admit that in reality, in our homes, it will be a time of added strain.

As Christians, this conflict can be exacerbated by the many platitudes that remind us that Christmas is no regular holiday.  For us, it is a Holy Day: celebrating the coming of our Savior and everything that has meant for us: our redemption, our renewal, our resurrection.

  • Jesus is the reason for the season
  • Keep Christ in Christmas
  • Wise Men still seek Him
  • It’s not about the presents–it’s about His Presence

And on and on it goes. We see these reminders on our social media feeds, on quaint rustic home decor and on bumper stickers in the church parking lot.  These words may function as a guilt trip reinforcing that we aren’t doing Christmas right. We know it’s all supposed to be about Jesus. He really is the reason for the season.  It really is our responsibility as parents to make Christmas less about the presents and more about His presence…but there are just so many forces at work to distract us from what really matters.  The spirit may be willing, but…still.

Is it even possible in the midst of Black Friday sales and company parties and white elephant gift exchanges and school holiday music concerts to make time to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way?  When outside expectations pressure us to have a perfect Christmas, can we really give our families a purposeful Christmas?

What if we didn’t have to conclude each Christmas season feeling like we failed it. What if when December 26 rolled around we could all collectively smile and sigh, “Nailed it.”

It hasn’t been perfect but I want to share with you what our family has done to intentionally focus on Jesus during very busy seasons of life.  We have raised four children less than five years apart.  We later added two adopted brothers to the mix.  We have been as busy as anyone at Christmastime.  But we have continued this one simple practice during the many years of elementary school parties, church pageants, basketball seasons, high school show choir extravaganzas and now the college years. We have created a tradition that continues to give our celebration significance.

I want to give your family a simple template to nail Christmas year after year.  It’s a simple tool that will help your family build a foundation for Christmas that could last for generations.  

The basic framework for Nailing Christmas is the Family Meeting.  Click to learn more…

Nailing Christmas consists of holding a couple of family meetings thoughout the Christmas season.  You are in control–you decide how many meetings, how often you hold the meetings, etc.  Our family does one each Sunday night for four weeks leading up to Christmas.

If you’ve decided Nailing Christmas is something you’d like to try with your family, more information will be available with future blog posts. 

Click here to continue with the next in the Nailing Christmas series.

Thomas, Marissa, Loretta, Jake, Jeremy, Alex, & Lizzy ©LLB Images 2017

Family Meetings

family meetings.jpg

Family Meetings have been a staple in our household.  We have gathered around our table or around the fireplace throughout the years to accomplish a lot of family business.   Anyone in the family is free to call and lead a family meeting at any time. The agendas for the meetings have been quite various:

  • What are we doing this weekend?
  • Let’s plan a family trip
  • There’s an upcoming home improvement project–and what this means for you
  • How do we not spend our entire summer vacation staring at screens?
  • How to change the toilet paper roll
  • Why aren’t people waking up on time?
  • Giving good news–or bad news
  • Let’s talk about adoption
  • How are we doing upholding our family values?

Some of our family’s most important moments and memories have occurred during the course of a family meeting.  We have laughed and cried together as we announced the births and deaths of loved ones, empowered our kids to research their preferred potential vacation activities, taught practical life skills, discussed assorted Bible topics and made major life decisions.

This tool has been a helpful way to keep our whole family feeling informed and unified and loved. It has been a powerful way to bring scripture to daily life application. And it has been a means of really getting to know one another’s individual strengths, preferences, ideas, and goals.

There are three important tips we’ve found for having successful family meetings:

Be Concise

Be concise doesn’t necessarily mean keep it within a particularly short time frame.  It may mean that—but it doesn’t have to.  It just means don’t make it loooooong.  Don’t lecture.   Be aware if your kids are losing interest and wrap it up.  As a parent, you never want to sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown.  When your children are small, their attention spans are also small.  As your kids get older, you may need to be sensitive to their homework load for the night. Make it last just the right amount of time.  Leave them wishing for more not wishing it were over.

Be Inclusive

Ever notice how every group has one person who likes to monopolize the conversation? In your family, you already know who I’m talking about.  They like the limelight and they steal the thunder. As the leader of your family meeting, you have the opportunity to give everyone a turn to participate equally according to their ability.  Pray to become even more aware of the personalities of your kids and try to help draw out the quieter ones to feel involved and included.  This is a great way to teach about personality differences and how to be a healthy team.  Learning to be quiet and listen as well as learning to be confident and speak up are life lessons best learned first in the safety of the home.

Be Positive

Our kids have always been excited to assemble when a family meeting gets called. Some of our family meetings have been just plain fun but some have been called specifically for times of loss or instruction or correction.  If the only time we called the family together was for something bad, then I doubt the kids’ reaction would still be so eager. But even for the “downers,” we always tried to end on a positive note.  A prayer, an encouraging verse, a group hug, a word of praise from Dad.  Make them glad they can trust you to lead the family and make them glad they have each other.  If your family has been struggling lately with…with any of the things families struggle with…disrespectful attitudes, poor time management, ingratitude, etc. it may be time for a meeting. But use your discernment.  It may be time for one of those corrective meetings.  But it also may be time to just play some Twister or go out for ice cream or do something together just for the fun of it.

Life is hard and family life is complicated. Family meetings can help.  I hope this encourages your family to reap the benefits from these times of togetherness like mine has.  Why not call a family meeting tonight?


Sand SlippingLife is nuts.  All of life. Seemingly all at once.

Have you ever been there?  You know, when the totality of life feels out of control.  Where there’s not one mode you can get in where things are in order.  It might not truly be every part of your life, but if a few of the dozens of balls you’ve been juggling start dropping, everything seems sure to follow. Everything that matters is slipping through your fingers. Chaos.

Finances. Physical Health. Mental Health. Spiritual Health. Work. School. Marriage. Kids. Home Maintenance. Car Maintenance. Community. Church. Friends. Extended Family. Nation. World.

Any one of these things in chaos can lead to great personal stress. When you see that several of them are chaotic at once, that’s a personal crisis.

If you are like me and my husband we have two natural ways of dealing with crisis like this:

First and foremost, denial.

Just pretend it’s not really real and hope it will go away or magically improve.  Hey:  don’t laugh or shake your head, you know you do it too.  If we don’t have the energy or extra emotion to worry or deal with it, then we just go with denial for a while and see if that will work out this time.

It doesn’t.  It gets worse.  Ignoring a problem makes it much worse almost every single time. It gets bigger and absolutely undeniable. And urgent.

Someone once said, “Discipline begets discipline.”  That leads us to the second thing we do.  We make a plan.

We evaluate the above areas of life and make some tangible goals at turning the chaos back toward order.  Most of you do some form of this with your New Year’s Resolutions.  In our case, we plan date nights back into our schedule to prioritize our marriage. We plan time off during the year to take care of our needs for rest, for extra family time, for stress-relief. We make a reading list to keep our minds healthy and active.  And so on.

2018 was no exception. A couple of the areas mentioned above were either slipping through our fingertips or seemed about to.  A plan helps us get a better grip.

For example, we acknowledged that we needed to get back to being more intentional with our money. (Because nothing slips through our fingers faster than spare change.)  A plan to stop the chaos. A plan to just get back to basics and live by a budget. A great tool for doing that is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, or FPU.  It was being offered at our church on Sunday nights at the beginning of the year and the timing was perfect for us.

2018-03-11_14-09-10_117We also live with four teenagers at home.  Our two oldest kids are away at John Brown University.  But our four others, aged 17, 16, 16, 15, can cause a little chaos.  Okay a LOT.  There are some challenges and opportunities we face as an adoptive family that are, ummm–atypical.

So, Once Upon a Time (yesterday), we were getting ready to leave home for FPU when one such challenge/opportunity arose.

As we were walking out the door, Boy Child asked to watch TV while we were gone.  My husband investigated Boy Child’s current screentime usage and found that he was trending at twice the daily allotment of phone time we had set for him.  So the answer about TV for the night was an emphatic, “No.”

Actually, it was way nicer than that.  It was, “If one of your sisters turns on the TV while they do their homework in the living room, then you can sit with them and watch too.”

Then we left.

Granted, knowing what we know about how a simple NO response like that can lead to a quick emotional meltdown in Boy Child we probably shouldn’t have left.  But we were doing what we do.  Remember Step One above?  Denial?  Out of sight, out of mind.  Let’s get the grown-ups out of here and on to “our thing” which will bring Financial. Peace. Amen.

We weren’t halfway to church when a text came in from Girl Child (see extra comment below).***

“Well, Boy Child made Other Girl Child cry– really bad…  We just want you guys here…”


I don’t think we hesitated a second.  We turned around and prayed all the way home.

We prayed for wisdom. We prayed for reconciliation. We prayed for our family values of Love, Truth, & Joy to be restored in our home.

Our family’s Christmas theme this year was Peace.  The first of the weekly advent lessons we had on peace referred to the Christmas Truce of 1914.  At the most basic level, peace is the absence of war.  Our goal for our family on this night was simply to cease fighting.  All of the chaos would not instantly become perfect order, but if we could have a truce, that would be a success.

When we got home, we worked it out together.  We hugged and listened. We shared some feelings. We read some Bible. We all agreed to try harder to love and not hate.  Pretty basic family-type-stuff. We achieved “truce,” or in other words, “success.”

Just before going to bed, Other Girl Child (the one who had been hurt and crying) thanked us for coming home.  She said, “Instead of Financial Peace….you chose Family Peace.”

Crying Face on Apple iOS 11.2gulp. sniff. sniff.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Step Three is so important. Actually, it’s should be more like Step ½.  It should precede all the others. Prayer.  We pray for our family every day.  The prayer for wisdom on the drive home was not a reactionary response because of the crisis. It was a continuation of a conversation we keep having with the Lord about how to best disciple these precious souls He’s entrusted to us.  And He frankly loves to turn our chaos back into order for us. He loves to give us peace.  But He is the source.  He is the answer.  He is the Peace.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…

(Ephesians 2:14 NIV).

So if your life is a little (or a lot) nuts: by all means (after denial fails again) make a plan to improve things. But don’t forget the One who will graciously give you the answers, the wisdom, the ability to see a way through.  Have a talk with Him about it.  He promises He won’t let you slip through his fingers.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10 NIV).

***I just remembered while writing this blog that we had pulled the car over to the shoulder to investigate a strange noise when this text came into my phone. I don’t believe I would have seen this text until after we had already picked up a person who needed a ride to and from FPU, at which point it would have felt “too late to go back now.”  I haven’t heard the mystery noise in the car since.  #GodThing.

See Him There.

new-years-day-2910931_960_720New Year, New You!

By the time of this writing, most of us have either forgotten or given up on the sincere resolutions we made for the new year.  My only resolution was to spend New Year’s Day brainstorming and planning and working up the courage to actually, eventually resolve something.  But nothing went as planned on New Year’s Day.

Our two eldest kids left at 5AM to fly to Atlanta for the 2018 Passion Conference.  They called us early in the morning to let us know they’d landed safely.  That was the end of things going smoothly for them (and me) on January 1.

Long story short, the only funds available to them was their dad’s debit card.  However, Marissa used an incorrect PIN one too many times and locked that card.  We called CapitalOne customer service to unlock the account only to discover their CREDIT services department was open on the holiday but not their DEBIT department.  The card would be useless until the next day.  What’s in YOUR wallet?

The kids were meeting friends whose flight was significantly delayed.  Not being old enough to secure a room on their own,  they planned ahead and reserved the accommodations through a 21-year-old friend.  Her flight ultimately didn’t arrive until much later in the evening, after the conference began.  They had nowhere to go. They had no way to pay for food, transportation, or lodging.

Did I mention they were 860 miles away from home?

I spent the entire day trying to help.   I was eventually able to successfully wire some money to a check-into-cash type place in what the kids would call a “sketchy” part of town.  The knowledge that Jake was walking alone in the dark from sketchy neighborhood to his hotel with a couple hundred bucks in his pocket was disconcerting, to say the least.  Do you see how even the solution was causing me anxiety?

I didn’t enjoy my holiday.  But do you know what?  The kids did. This was an adventure. They were far away from home and finding their way.   To quote Marianne Williamson,

“Children are happy because they don’t have a file in their minds called “All the Things That Could Go Wrong.”

During their downtime, they played cards. Once Jake got the money I wired, the hotel clerk INEXPLICABLY allowed him to check in and–pay with cash.  They later walked to Philips Arena, sang their heart out with Crowder and Passion Band.  Levi Lusko encouraged them to worry less about the things of this world and instead focus on the world to come.  🙄

Then they crashed at their hotel after an exciting and inspiring night with thousands of other college kids.

But when I laid my head on my pillow that night I thought of how I had wanted to start the year off “right.”  New Year, new me.  Instead, I just felt like same old, same old.  Same old life of stress and worry. Same old reluctant acquiescence that I’m not in control of anything. Same old responding with fear instead of faith.  That sense that It Will Never Change.  and I Will Never Change.  I’m tempted to despair.  Oh, mercy.

In mercy, God brought words to my mind. Old words. Lyrics.

“When Satan tempts me to despair…”  Then what?

Oh, had I been tempted to despair!  Tempted so well I dove right in.  Headfirst (because it starts with my thoughts) and swimming in it, submerging my heart! In years past, I’ve been known to stay in that pit and wallow.  I don’t want to wallow in 2018.

“When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within; upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.”           (Charitie Lees Smith)

What should I do when tempted to despair under the weight of an entire day worrying about my kids’ “helplessness”?  Look upward. See Him there.  See Him where? There on the throne.  Sovereign as He’s always been.  See Him where? Walking on the water, defying fear and gravity.  See Him with the mourners, the broken, the sinners, the anxious.  Bringing the dead back to life.  Saying, “Fear not.”  See Him working all things out for good.

See Him in a hotel worker’s willingness to give the kids a room.  See Him in their joyful hearts, whiling away the hours playing cards in a hotel lobby.  See Him in their safe flight.  See Him in the hearts of my kids whose highlight of the entire year is attending a conference of Jesus-loving and Bible-believing young adults.

If I don’t see Him and I look simply at the initial circumstances of New Year’s Day, 2018 got off to a pretty abysmal start. I spent the day fretting instead of trusting.  Not my finest hour. But I can’t let Satan tempt me to despair.  Tomorrow is another day…His mercies are new every morning.  See Him there.  Where?  See Him in the sunrise.  As always.

Happy New Year.

2018-01-01 at 07-09-40-2

Sunrise, January 1, 2018.



Looking Back: A Dozen Years of Kids Camp

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2016 Kids Camp

In the Christian culture you hear a lot of buzzwords like: multi-generational ministry, ministry in the context of relationships, servant leadership, discipleship. Kids Camp packs all those concepts up in an old duffel bag and delivers them with a bang into one amazing, “relevant,” “transparent,” “missional” community. If you want to “make a difference for the kingdom” and “experience personal spiritual formation,” plan ahead now to take vacation time next summer and volunteer at Kids Camp.

Kids Camp has been a significant part of our family’s life for twelve years. Jeremy and I first volunteered at Kids Camp in 2005.  The twins were three years old. Essentially we raised our kids at camp. As soon as any of the kids were old enough to serve, they have: first as gophers and then as counselors. Camp is a unique way for families to create memories together, while serving together, in an atmosphere that is like a family vacation.

My official and non-descript title has always been Camp Lady. From the beginning that meant being one of the “up-front” people trying to make camp fun and funny for the campers and counselors alike.

Gradually my role and responsibilities increased from being simply a fun camp personality to more of an administrative and leadership role including planning, writing the camp manuals and leading the annual training of all staff.

Then things got serious. When Pastor Mick realized and informed us that kids would spend more time being influenced at Kids Camp than they would throughout an entire year’s worth of church children’s ministry, we got an urgency of the life-change and eternal impact that camp could and should be making.

Camp stopped being mostly fun and games for me at that point. The focus was still on the kids and giving them an amazing camp experience, but communicating the urgency and uniqueness of this spiritual opportunity to all the staff became my passion. “How to Lead a Child to Christ” became a crucial part of staff training.

2016-06-27 at 12-09-15

Jeremy’s adopted bunk 2016

We began asking non-counselor staff to “adopt” a bunk: to get a list of kids in one bunk and commit to pray for them by name all throughout camp. Staff members might choose to sit with their adopted bunk at lunch, play with them at the pool, or just get to know them better by observing on the challenge course.

The camp speaker began to focus even more on a clear presentation of the gospel and giving opportunities for every child to accept or recommit to Christ. Nightly chapel messages slowly built up this message to the kids: Something is wrong with the world and with each of us. We need saving. There is a Savior for us.

On the third night, the gospel is clearly presented and kids are asked to make a decision for Christ. Private discussion continues with their counselors afterward. During that discussion time, the rest of the staff gathers in the chapel and prays for each camper, each counselor by name and asks for their salvation. The Spirit moves powerfully through the unified prayers of the staff: middle school gophers and church elders and nurses and pastors and moms and dads pour out their requests before God.

2016-06-28 at 08-09-59

2016 One Camper’s Story of Salvation

God has consistently answered those prayers with many children asking Jesus to save them and to be their forever friend each year at camp. Many of the high-schoolers who now come back to camp each summer to serve, first made a decision to follow Christ as little children at Kids Camp.

In addition to the eternal difference camp has made in many children’s lives, camp is also an incredible opportunity for growth for maturing disciples. It’s the ideal place to learn patience, endurance, grace and trust. People become more real and relationships become more genuine.

Perhaps my favorite display of authenticity is in worship. My husband Jeremy has been the camp worship leader for just as many years as I’ve been Camp Lady. I have watched him transform a group of tired, disengaged, uncertain boys and girls into an enthusiastic crowd of Jesus Freaks. To watch the kids (and counselors, and all the staff) jumping for joy, shouting God’s praises, and dripping with sweat one minute and then to see eyes closed, hands raised in reverence the next…Well, it’s a miracle of God and those are my sweetest memories of all.

The friendships and memories made while serving at camp, as well as the knowledge that kids have found Jesus there, will always make Kids Camp a highlight of my life. As I retire from this role, I’m so humbled to have been a part of such an amazing and fruitful ministry. As the torch is passed on to a younger (and more energetic) generation of leaders, I pray that Kids Camp will continue to grow in its effectiveness as a tool to make an eternal impact for everyone involved.

For more information on how you can join forces in this incredible Eastern Iowa ministry, please visit my church’s website: New Covenant Bible Church.

The Road Not Taken–a Marriage Metaphor

Autumn Path

Recently a group of young parents asked me and my husband, “How do you keep your marriage strong–especially in the second decade?”  This followed closely behind the question, “How did you teach your kids financial responsibility?”  It’s so cute that they thought we did either of those things very well.

I’m an English major, thus weird about things such as actually liking literature.  I even enjoy reading poetry too.  Are poets even a thing anymore?  They used to be the soul of the culture.  Now, I guess we have Lady Gaga, so…  For an English major I can sure get off topic quickly.

Anyway, one of my all time favorites is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.  You can scroll past if you’re gagging.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…That is the problem.  At least when it comes to marriage.

We have had some rocky patches in the past 22 years, to be sure. But when discussing our marriage, the metaphor I used was walking on a path.  When our marriage is happy and close we are walking on the same path.  We are facing one life together, with the same goals and challenges, hand in hand.

But there are times we have found ourselves walking on two paths.  Parallel paths, mind you–both trying to get to the same place (Happy Future), both pointed in the same direction.  But there’s enough distance between us that we aren’t quite unified. There’s a hedge or a ditch or maybe even a barbed-wire fence in between.

So it is easier to remain separate.  And it’s also very easy to justify staying a bit disjointed because after all, we are both going in the same direction (Happy Future!).  Hopefully somewhere down the lane there will be a break in the hedge, a miraculous bridge over the ditch, or a gate in the fence and we can reunite then. Don’t you think your marriage is too important to hope it’ll get fixed on your next anniversary getaway, Valentine’s Day or church marriage conference?  Plus it’s too painful, day in and day out to settle for holding hands over a barbed wire fence.  Your shoulder starts to cramp up and then there’s the barbs.

But trouble really sets in when we discover that our paths have now begun to diverge in this yellow wood of life. His path has turned toward work, deadlines, finances, volunteering, meetings, stress, and more responsibilities than he has time in the day to fulfill.  And “perhaps” my path has curved in the direction of my concerns: the kids, the kids’ schedules, the kids’ futures, the kids’ relationships, the kids’ health, buying the kids’ food, cooking the kids’ meals…

I actually firmly believe that obsessing like that over the kids is not a healthy way to be a mom, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. But maybe that’s what some other moms are doing?  What I really obsess over is what happens next in the Harry Potter series I’m finally reading. And when the temperature is going to break 70 degrees.

Nevertheless, my husband is not the parent primarily concerned with the kids’ stuff and he’s certainly not in the leastwise concerned about Hogwarts.  And I’m not really “up on” syntax, data mining, legacy codes or system analysis.  So I don’t particularly like his path.  He doesn’t have the luxury to hop over to mine.  Because money.

If we continue down our individual ways for long, it becomes increasingly difficult to merge.   You can’t even see each other after a while!  You aren’t heading toward Happy Future any longer. Then what?

There are really only two options and neither one is convenient. And both are time consuming.  And really difficult. And chances are you got into this mess because when the yellow wood of life got super busy and super stressful it was simply more convenient and faster and easier to stop investing in your marriage and lazily let your paths diverge.

But at this point, this far apart, the only two options for your marriage are:

Option 1. Grab your axe and start hacking your way toward each other through the woods.  This involves thorns and scratches and an axe, so I highly discourage this option.

Option 2. Retreat. Go back (maybe way back) to where your paths diverged.  Humbly meet back there, find out (through talking!) what made you start going it alone. Probably this will involve a date night. Maybe a series of date nights. Maybe a few evenings up past midnight talking on the couch.  But it’s crucial.

Why?  In our marriage we are motivated to do this work for a lot of big reasons. But also because we remember how much easier and happier life is together. Think about the challenges that would have been unbearable without each other.  Become determined to stay close from now on.  We don’t want a mediocre marriage. And neither do you.

And the one thing that helps prevent us from diverging in the future is having something in common.  It’s really easy after a while to discover that the only thing you share any more is the kids. And also a bathroom. But what about the things you love in life?  Find something you can love together. Every couple is different.  Maybe it will involve reading or exercise or hobbies or travel or volunteering or taking a class or binge-watching Netflix. Whatever works for you–don’t let yourselves stop having something to look forward to doing together.  And put it on the calendar if you have to.

So take The Road Not Taken by so many hurting couples.  Investing in your marriage may seem inconvenient, time consuming and difficult at first.  But it beats the axe.  When you’ve gotten back on the same path: forgive, hug, hold hands and get a move on. Happy Future is waiting for you.

Kiev Mall

Look! Here our shared path recently led us to an underground mall in Kiev, Ukraine!

Ukraine Trip 3 (Photo Dump)

2016-01-14 at 18-39-46This is where I dump 135 photos from the third and final trip to Ukraine. Jeremy left on January 10, 2016 and returned with our two new sons on January 21, 2016.

I will caption the photos as best I can.  I hope these will give you a flavor of the nation of Ukraine and also some insight into what life there was like for the boys.

Arriving in Kiev:

Day 1, reuniting with the boys and beginning paperwork…

Sights of rural Ukraine:

The orphanage: Welcome lunch, signing out Thomas into Jeremy’s custody:

Back in Kiev for more paperwork…

Another day…

Back at the Apartment…

Time to move Alex out of his apartment.

More out and about in Kiev:

Medical clinic and signing Alexander out of school.

A highlight of the trip:  Going to church with Alexander and Thomas

Back at the apartment again:

Medical Clinic again–and an unexpected familiar face.

Farewell Party:  The pastor of Grace Church (Alexei) and many of the people who have ministered to the boys throughout their stay at the orphanage came to say goodbye at this wonderful party. (Everyone wore plaid–because that’s so American!  So sweet.) Good friends.

American Embassy. Shopping mall.  Goodbye dinner at Oxana’s house.

Last night in Ukraine–Off to the waterpark!

Flying to America!

So, by God’s grace, that is how we took two orphaned brothers from the other side of the world and brought them to our family.

As the Lord Himself promised in Hosea 2:23:

“I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one. I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ”


Where You Belong–Thoughts on Genesis 15

 FullSizeRender.jpgI was reading this chapter this morning as part of my daily reading plan. I love this chapter. I love how at the very start of human history faith is what saves us. And how one second after Abraham’s belief is counted to him as righteousness, he questions God with a doubtful, “How can I know it’s true?” And how God’s gracious response to that ever-present human tendency toward doubt is He makes a covenant with Himself while the recipient sleeps. It’s all Him.
But something jumped out at me that I hadn’t noticed before.  After Abraham, the father of the faithful, who was just counted righteous for believing God and then in the next breath says, “Prove it.” After that, God answers him:
“I am the LORD who brought you out…”
When I read those words I don’t associate them with Abraham.  I recall Moses and Israel and the great Exodus from Egypt.  Deliverance from slavery through the wilderness and eventually triumphal entry into the Promised Land.  And an annual Passover to NEVER EVER FORGET, “I am the LORD who brought you out…”
But here we are, hundreds of years before that great Bringing Out, and God is telling Abraham the same thing.  It’s all ultimately His story into which He invited Abraham.  And Abraham’s chapter– it started way back when when God brought Abraham out.
And I thought, that’s just like God, always bringing His people out.  Out from bondage. Out from sin. Out from loneliness. Out from fear.  Out from wherever we don’t belong and leading us into wherever we do belong.
And how can I not also think of our two new boys? They too are being led out and being led in.  This ancient story is made new for their lives.  Everything familiar is in the rearview.  But the future, where God is leading them, as difficult and scary as it may be, is love, and family, heritage and belonging.
And for all of us, it is beneficial to stop once in awhile and look back. Look at our history. We’ve been brought out from someplace and been brought into someplace.  Do we see the hand of God in our bringing out?  Do we trust Him as He is writing us into His Great Story?  Even if at this moment we are in a wilderness?  His story is a story of deliverance. Always delivering. Always moving each of us to where we ultimately belong.

Genesis 15 English Standard Version

God’s Covenant with Abram

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give[c] this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”