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What I’m Reading: Summer Edition

When I share What I’m Reading every few months, I pay closer attention to which titles I’m drawn to, which genres I typically gravitate toward, which authors I admire.

I’ve discovered that I haven’t always been a very balanced reader. So in an attempt to bring a little harmony to my bookshelves, today I’m sharing 3 Memoir, 3 Fiction, 3 Christian Living, and one BIG book for the entire family this summer.

three M E M O I R

On Writing, by Stephen King

This memoir offered a faint glimpse into the life of an American icon. After a serious accident that left him wheelchair bound for weeks, King wrote the section titled “On Writing.” I lifted some of the finest writing advice off these pages.

Space at the Table, by Brad and Drew Harper

Authored by an evangelical theologian and his gay son, this tender yet heart-breaking memoir is full of unconditional love and the deepest kind of hope. What a brave book! The conversation Drew and his dad began has followed me long after I read the last page.

Undone, by Michele Cushatt

In this highly relatable memoir, Michele Cushatt tells a beautiful tale of embracing unfinished progress, accepting the undone-ness of real life, and learning to see beauty in upside-down places.

 

three F I C T I O N

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

I could not put this book down. Chris Cleave is a master at demonstrating the strength and resilience of the human spirit. You will fall I love with these characters, especially Little Bee. My favorite quote in the entire book: “Our stories are the tellers of us.” (Little Bee)

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

In this historical fiction, Cleave juxtaposes the uncertainty of love with the cruelty of war, then demonstrates with poignancy that, in the end, love is stronger than war. The Author’s Note at the end brought tears to my eyes; the novel was inspired by Cleave’s grandfather who died during the writing of the book. Though he never read a word of it, it is a beautiful tribute to the way love restores all that war steals.

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict

Marie Benedict answers, through fiction, the questions in the life of Albert Eistein’s wife, Mileva Maric. The enchanting story reveals the humanity of one of the greatest physicists who ever lived and the brilliant mind that was hidden in the shadow of his pride and fame.

 

three C H R I S T I A N   L I V I N G

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

This was such an important book for me. Goggin and Strobel gave me a better understanding of what power is and what it is not. This is an important book for all believers, I think.

Introverts in the Church, by Adam S. McHugh

Introverts in the Church celebrates the introverted way, especially in an extroverted culture. McHugh reveals the quiet yet uniquely profound mark every introvert leaves on this world. If you are an introvert or you love an introvert, this is a must read!

Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, by Lysa TerKerust

This is such an intelligent and profound book on the topic of rejection. Lysa introduced me to the concept of “living loved.” And what I love about Lysa is that she doesn’t just tell us why living loved is so vital, she shows us how… on every single page.

 

one for the whole F A M I L Y

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden, by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark

I love this book for all ages because it tells the gospel plainly through story. One big story from Genesis to Revelation, one big story of love. You’ll love the gorgeous, modern illustrations, and you’ll walk away with a fresh understanding of the gospel message.

 

Thanks to all who shared your favorite Memoir last month! Be sure to check out my Good Reads page for more of my favorites.

4

How to Leave a Legacy for the Next Generation

Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Psalm 119:90

I reach for my thesaurus—not the app on my iPhone, but the paperback copy in the desk drawer beside me. The scent of time hits me with such sudden nostalgia that I set the book down to savor the memories.

I need a word, a more descriptive word than the one I’m trying to use this afternoon, a way to articulate on paper what I only know by heart. I pick it back up, flip to the back, and run my finger down the page until I find it.

The word is purpose.

I’m consciously aware today that God moves on purpose. With these pages yellowed by years, He reminds me that He has a purpose. A purpose handpicked just for me. He has one for you, too.Roget's Pocket Thesaurus

The thesaurus belonged to my maternal grandfather, Pop, who went to be with Jesus in January of 2013.

He wasn’t a writer, but he was a learner through and through, and this Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus served him well.

He also left behind a pocket bible, which he read through many times, cover to cover.

My grandfather loved words, but He loved God’s word most.

Towards the end of his life, my grandfather suffered from dementia. In the nursing home, he was known for belting out hymns (sometimes a little off-key) to anyone who would pull up a chair and listen. The music seemed to ease his dementia, at least for a little while.

I spoke with my grandpa for the last time on Christmas Eve, our conversation a precious gift from God. I got to tell this story at his funeral a couple weeks later. Pop didn’t talk about the pain he was in that day, even though I could tell he was hurting. He didn’t recognize me as his granddaughter that day either.

As his mind began to fade, he lost sight of loved ones, but he never lost sight of God.

My Maternal Grandparents

As I crouched down next to his chair, I told him I was praying for him. He thanked me as tears filled his eyes, then he began to tell me about his God.

Pop told me that he talked to God all day and all night long. He said God had never once failed him. My grandfather went on and on about how much he loved the Lord, and how even though it seemed to him that He was being silent, he knew God was listening.

As I recall this story today, I realize something I’ve never considered before. My grandfather didn’t know who I was that day; I was a stranger to him. Though this reveals the heart-breaking effects of a broken mind, God is redeeming this memory in such a beautiful and purposeful way.

At the very end of his life, my grandfather didn’t miss the opportunity to share Jesus with a stranger.

I was that stranger. Until he took his last breath at ninety-two, my grandfather recognized his responsibility to pass on the good news of Jesus Christ to the next generation. These words beautifully depict my grandfather’s heart.

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18

My paternal grandfather—whom we also called, “Pop”—passed away six weeks before my twins were born. Because of the high risk associated with a multiple pregnancy, I wasn’t allowed to fly. I regret not being at his funeral, but I heard all about it. How the line of those who loved him and came to pay their respects was this never-ending ribbon of tears, old and young, friends and strangers. And children. So many children.

So many hearts broke when my grandfather left this world. If you knew him, you’d call him a jokester; but you’d also understand how much he loved Jesus. Pop was a breath of fresh air. He loved telling people how much Jesus loved them.

He was a teacher, a deacon in the same church he and my grandmother attended for over forty years. My grandmother still serves faithfully in the children’s ministry, loving and caring for the most precious in God’s kingdom.

My Paternal Grandparents

For his eightieth—and last—birthday, our family made Pop a memory book filled with personal notes and photos. My grandmother wrote that she knew at age sixteen that he would be the love of her life, and he was. She thanked him for putting his relationship with Jesus before her.

My grandpa made time for people, but he made time for God first.

I have two things that belonged to this grandfather as well. I use them every time I sit down to study and write. A burgundy Unger’s Bible Dictionary with a cracked spine and Matthew Henry’s Commentary in one super heavy massive volume. They remind me of the loved ones before me who understood the beauty and the power of the word of God.

bible resources that belonged to my grandfather

My grandfathers were leaders of their families. Perfect? Hardly. Though I still want to view them as superheroes, I’ve lived long enough to know they were human. They made plenty of mistakes, but their own personal relationship with Jesus affected my mom and my dad who raised me.

My parents’ faith is rooted in the previous generation.

My parents became followers of Jesus and followed His plan for their lives (ours as well) by taking the word of God to a place with no light. They currently serve their local church, and my mom and dad constantly encourage me to pursue my passion to communicate God’s story. Before my grandpa’s resources sat on my bookshelf they belonged to my dad.

God speaks repeatedly in His word about training up the next generation, about training our children, and communicating His love.

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Psalm 78:5-6

my bible and my grandfather's bibleI underlined this verse in my bible the week I found out we were pregnant with our third child.

Today, as I stare at that date in the margin, I think about how both of my grandfathers were gone by that time, yet the way I am raising my children—including this youngest and fiercest one of the bunch—has been directly affected by those who came before me.

Next to my Pop’s bible, which still bears evidence of his penmanship, my own bible sits open. Tears fall quick and without warning as I wonder which of my own grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) will clutch my bible one day.

My heart swells for those who will follow, for the ones here long after I’m gone.

How do we leave a legacy? How do we impact the generation to come in small, intentional, everyday ways? God is answering my questions through the lives of my grandfathers.

My grandfathers loved God, and they loved people. It was evident in every aspect of their lives. They served God by loving everyone within reach. My grandfathers were learners and leaders and communicators of grace. They were disciples of Jesus who loved His word.  They valued companionship with God and believed in the power of prayer.

How To Leave a Legacy

My grandfathers both recognized their God-given responsibility for the generation to come.

One of God’s most precious gifts is this tender responsibility He places in our hands. God positions us in families and churches and schools and neighborhoods and circles of influences on purpose. He’s given each of us a unique responsibility to equip the next generation, the one that begins underneath our roof and stretches far beyond.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Eight Words I Hope My Kids Say About Their Mother

Sometimes a momma needs a day to remember, truly remember, that all those little things aren’t quite so little after all. It’s easy to let big things sidetrack us and run us off the road every now and then.

I stumbled across these words penned by David, the man remembered for his heart. A man after God’s own heart. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about this shepherd boy’s upbringing.

As the youngest, he was overlooked by his own father. His brothers were threatened by him, so they insulted him and made all kinds of wrong assumptions about him. But David had a solid faith in God, and God chose Him to be king.

David recorded these words in Psalm 116:16: “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains.”

“I serve you just as my mother did.”

Eight Words I Hope My Kids Will Say About Their Mother

These eight words may not sound all that profound. They will no doubt mean a whole lot more if you have a mom like mine who planted seeds of faith early in your young heart. Maybe it’s isn’t your own mom but another woman who’s had a significant impact on what you believe about God today.

Or maybe that mom is you, passing down the love of Jesus as best you know how.

Scripture doesn’t mention King David’s mother’s name. I’ve looked. I’ve searched, but it’s not there. David’s mother was a significant part of God’s redemption story, and we can be, too. These eight words tell us all we need to know.

Behind this God-fearing man was a mother’s enduring faith.

When we’re tempted to believe we’re doing everything wrong, let’s remember that what matters most in this life is that we point our kids to Jesus, whether they’re five or fifty. My mom demonstrated her faith, one simple act of love at a time.

My mom mothered us like we belonged to God but were entrusted to her care.

My mom chose hard things over trendy things.

My mom showed me how to love in spite of differences.

My mom spoke the name of Jesus over me whenever I was afraid.

My mom let me ask questions she didn’t know how to answer.

My mom is still ok with saying, “I don’t know.”

My mom aligns her life to the Word of God.

My mom prays.

My mom doesn’t hide her tears.

My mom has demonstrated how God can use suffering to strengthen a rock solid faith.

My mom applauds my accomplishments but celebrates me.

My mom wholeheartedly believes that if God is with me I cannot fail.

My mom worships Jesus unashamedly.

My mom listens.

My mom says, “I love you,” and “I’m sorry.”

My mom forgives.

My mom taught me that mommas don’t have to be perfect, because Jesus already is.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women in my life!

I serve you as my mother did.

To the mother with the child whose heart’s been hardened by this world and all its brokenness:

Jesus sees you. He knows this hurt. If you’ve grown weary under the weight of this world’s crazy expectations, demands, and heartaches, don’t give up; give it to Him. Our God can do so much more than we could ever think, ask, or imagine. None of your love will never be wasted in His hands.

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I Am Not the Mom I Used to Be

I love how a simple connection with someone can push you headlong into something deeper without even asking your permission.

Like, at a birthday party, how a random question and your off-the cuff answer can simultaneously surprise you and force you to accept the bittersweet truth that you are not the person you once were.

We were deep in conversation about the mother of all topics: scrapbooking.

Six years ago, I had reached my peak as a digital scrapper. I had the latest software and people paid me to teach them how to make beautiful books out of all their precious memories. Some very trusting people asked me to make books for them. I loved every single part of it.

“Are you still scrapbooking?” she asked me.

The simple answer to her simple questions is: No, I haven’t touched any of it in at least two years; the more complicated question she didn’t ask is: “Why not?” That’s the question I asked myself on the way home.

I’m slow to process, and I always think of what I want to say days after the conversation. But this is how I’d answer that question today:

I am not the mom I used to be.

Scrapbooking, in so many ways, helped give me the courage to tell my story. In the same way that teaching fifth graders gave me confidence to lead women of all ages, scrapbooking has been foundational to my calling.

That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but I am a firm believer that God uses anything and everything for our good. And scrapbooking was so very good for me.

The journaling aspect helped me sift through the many parts of a story and decide how those parts fit together. Scanning thousands of images on my computer gave me perspective.

I found it both thrilling and challenging to choose just one word to describe a moment. (I still do!) Then I’d usually explain it all down to the letter in about 100-200 words in a teeny tiny text box, just because.

I met so many good friends and mentors through this hobby of mine. I can’t deny how it prepared me to begin a blog nearly seven years ago. God seemed ok with me doing my thing on that blog for a spell, but I’ll never forget the day He gently reminded me that it was His.

All of it.

The story I thought I owned—yeah, that’s His. My time, my life—even my fears and failures—all of it belongs to Him.

So, here I am… so much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t.

I’m still writing, taking my lead from Him. I’m still doing my best to connect with others using what He gave me. I’m still struggling with the reality of a daily surrender. I still question, and I still doubt.

So, what’s different? I’m more ok with this thing not being about me.

That casual conversation at the birthday party with that precious girl who knew me way back made me realize something huge: I was scared back then.

I would have never in a million years admitted that to you privately or even out loud at all, but I was terrified I’d get it wrong.

Overcompensation fed my fear that I was never enough.

Between my perfectionist, approval-seeking nature and my belief that infertility had disqualified me and made me late to motherhood somehow, I tackled every single challenge, every moment, every part of being a mom with such intensity that it exhausts me to even reminisce about that girl.

Oh, I still struggle. I’d never want to paint a picture that I have arrived or I have it all together, because I don’t. Just ask the people who really know me. Ask the ones living under my roof.

I think I’ve just come to accept myself… flaws and all. I’m good with here, and I’m good with now, and I’m good with the way God continues to change my heart. Because however broken I am, I’m also His.

In the past five years, more than anything, I’ve come to understand more of God’s grace—what it is and how badly I need it. I’ve learned how important it is for my kids to hear me say, “I’m sorry.”

His grace covers my mother fears, my mother failures, and my whole entire mother-load.

No, I’m not scrapbooking anymore, but I’m still sharing my life, my story. I’m still committed to my people. I’m still learning about God’s grace. But my desire to measure my mothering has lost its appeal.

Scrapbooking is a beautiful and meaningful hobby, and not everyone suffers from the same kind of striving that I do, so this is just me being honest… about my struggle.

Scrapbooks were my go-to tool to measure my kids—their growth, their development, their lives. It was my tangible measuring stick of me as a mom.

I’m done chasing some unrealistic poster-expectations of motherhood. These days, I’m clinging to God’s immeasurable grace. Let’s just say, heaps of grace, or as my son says, “pant-loads”! (Borrowed respectfully from his favorite book, Dragons Love Tacos)

This third child of mine will one day realize that while her brother and sister have a book with almost 100 pages for every year of their life up to age four, the journal I kept on her nightstand as a newborn has dates that lapse over a year.

But, I hope all my children experience the effects grace has had on my mothering… that they feel the warmth and ease of grace’s touch and see the courage it takes this momma to accept grace as she clings to Christ.

Grace gives me the courage to be the mom God says I am.

God is still working all this out in me, and He’ll continue to the day I see Him face to face. I pray Jesus never stops rescuing me from myself. Five years from now, I can only hope that my heart will hold even less of me and so much more of Him.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Most Helpful Way to Encourage Someone Through the Pain of Miscarriage

Under a crisp, periwinkle sky, she flings both arms into the air with her head tilted way back so that her curls dangle in the breeze. She loses herself in unhindered abandon, lifting ear-splitting squeals and small chunky arms and every bit of childlike wonder to feel the movement of the wind.

With everything in her, she yells, “Wwoooooooooooooowwwww!”

Beaming, she gazes up at the towering pear tree, lost in her own toddler world. Leaves dance on thin, clustered branches. Their vibration creates a melody that takes me back in time.

Seven years ago, I sat in the same spot I’m sitting today, while my husband and my dad moved fresh earth with shovels. I watched as deep holes emerged, overwhelmed with all the grief I couldn’t figure out how to bury.

Back to back miscarriages had ripped my heart open and my world apart.

The two worked quietly, and I was thankful no one could read my thoughts. When each hole was deep enough, they dropped a tiny, frail pear tree low into the ground and filled in each of the three holes with the same dirt they had removed.

The trees were memorials, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to remember this pain. More than anything, I wanted to erase this part of my story, pretend I was living someone else’s. I wasn’t sure my faith was strong enough to keep trusting in a good God.

I named the babies we never got to meet. Only God and me know their names. I can’t even be sure whether the babies we lost were girls or boys, so I just went with my mother instinct on that.

I picked a girl’s name for the first. The second miscarriage was a double loss, and though I can’t know for sure, I imagined in my heart a girl and a boy. I assigned each tree with its respective name very matter-of-factly. I started with the first tree and went on down the line. A girl was first, then another girl, and next to her on the far end, the boy who would have shared the same birthday with his sister.

Today, as I watch my tiniest daughter fling her arms up into the breeze, amazed by those singing heart-shaped leaves, my heart is overcome by the silent version of the word she is yelling. Wow.

The Most Helpful Way to Encourage Someone Through the Pain of Miscarriage

Those trees have endured a hurricane and a drought, and whenever the wind blows, they sing.

Though they represent all we’ve lost, I can’t get over how much they resemble the family God’s blessed us with all these years later. I wonder why I haven’t ever noticed this before.

The two trees closest to the street are nearly identical in size and shape. The other, unprotected by the side of the house, is much smaller in comparison. I couldn’t have predicted this when I assigned names to each one. Back then they all looked alike.

But in His time, God gave us a boy and a girl. My Jake and Lillian share more than a July birthday; both have their daddy’s long and lean genes.

Many more years skated along before He gave us our third, a girl we named Anna Joy. It took seven years for me to see it this clearly—His goodness, His blessing, His complete reversal of all I lost.

Like a mirror I momentarily glance into, I see my deepest pain producing a reflection of profound joy.

A friend told me last week that seven is the number of completion. I have my own wow-moment right there in the same place I cried a million tears all those years ago, and a thought crescendos in my mind: God’s story is one of reversal.

Eternal life instead of the death I deserve. The Prince of Peace taking my place to make peace with God on my behalf. An upside-down kingdom where the weak are strong and the poor are called blessed. A kingdom where we’re all invited to be small and things like character and hope are born out of impossible suffering.

Today I think about the woman who could plant a forest in her backyard, and sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of my story.

Chances are, you have a friend or loved one who’s lost a baby, too.

Right now she may be flinging her arms in the air with a different three letter word on her lips, because God doesn’t let us fast forward through the years to see the rest. Instead of wow, she might be yelling, How? Or Why? She might be silently mouthing, Huh? Or praying one word over and over and over: God, God, God?

Watching someone close to you endure a miscarriage feels incredibly helpless sometimes. Look up the word miscarriage, and the very first synonym you’ll find is failure. When babies die before they’re born, it’s cold, hard evidence that we live in a broken world with broken bodies that fail.

I remember failure tightening around my neck like a noose, choking hopes and dreams, squeezing out life until Jesus reached down and rescued me. His word became my place to stand and His promise my only hope. God used the stories of others to remind me of His faithfulness.

The most helpful way to encourage someone through the pain of miscarriage is to tell your story.

Tell your story—not in an attempt to relate and make yourself feel less uncomfortable; tell your story, because your story reveals the heart of God.

Even if your story doesn’t include miscarriage, you’ve probably at some point in your life had to come to terms with the fact that you need God. We’ve all struggled, experienced loss, felt hopeless and alone. Listening to stories of God’s faithfulness helps us remember that He is good and trustworthy, and that He grieves with us.

When I was four months pregnant with our third child, a friend asked me to meet with a girl who longed for a baby. There was no way to know for sure if she’d ever conceive.

I asked if she had mentioned the fact that I was pregnant… and showing. She told me she had and that she was convinced my story would communicate hope. I wasn’t so sure.

Growing bellies were sometimes overwhelming back when I was waiting. I questioned whether this girl I’d never met before would be more hurt than encouraged. I almost said no, but something made me go.

It was easy to share what God had done in my life. Heart-breaking pain seemed to unite us somehow in that quiet corner of the coffee shop. Later in the parking lot, when we said goodbye, I awkwardly crossed my arms over my belly.

I’ll never forget what she said to me.

“Don’t you dare cover up your miracle,” she implored, with hopeful eyes and a gentle smile.

I hadn’t even realized that’s what I was doing. Too concerned I’d cause her pain, I missed how my story had done exactly what my friend felt it would: communicate hope.

No one benefits from hiding God’s goodness. Stories can’t be photocopied and mass produced, because they are uniquely personal.  Every story tells a greater story; it doesn’t end with us.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but Love guarantees to heal hearts and write wow-endings that are uniquely beautiful and personal. We all get the wow-ending, because in the very end, Jesus is coming back.

Our stories are powerful—and often, all we really have to give—so don’t hold back because you don’t know where someone else’s story is going. God knows.

Your story lets God tell His.

Yes, miscarriage has made its mark on my story, but even in the pain—especially in the heartbreak and sorrow—God spoke His truth over my life: Love never fails. My body failed more than once to carry a precious life into this world, but God’s love has never failed to carry me through difficult times and times of joy.

Our stories are all so different, but every story is authored by Love. And Love will remain long after this world and everything in it fades away.

Kelly

 

For those who grieve…

I wrote this post for those who wonder how to encourage someone through the pain of miscarriage, yet I know there’s a chance that you are grieving your own loss today.

You are not alone.

No words can adequately explain or even ease the pain you’re experiencing. My prayer is that you find comfort and hope in the following words. 

What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

Allow grief to do its deep heart work. Don’t be tempted to say you’re ok when you’re not. Find a friend you trust, and be honest with her about your pain, your anger, your struggles and questions. Invite her to just sit with you and not say anything.

Find ways to experience closure. Planting trees, naming babies, or setting up some other kind of memorial acknowledges something was lost. It is such an important part of the grieving process.

Seek out a Christian counselor or a support group, like Hannah’s Hope.  Many churches offer a counseling and support classes. Hannah’s Prayer Ministries offers an online support community.

Start a thankful journal. Nothing produces joy quite like a thankful heart. Someone I love suggested this to me just days after we planted those trees.  I didn’t quite understand the power of gratitude back then, but time has a way of making hazy things beautifully clear.

I’ve written a bunch about my own journey through infertility and miscarriage. You can read more of my story here. Most of  all, I hope you know today that Jesus loves you dearly.

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Four Questions I’m Loving This Fall

Listening is hard.

Just take note as the conversation unfolds at your own dinner table this evening. In our house, one kid raises her hand the entire time her brother is speaking.  She waits her turn to speak at school, so she truly believes this is polite. The other one finishes his sister’s sentences and can’t seem to understand why this gets underneath her skin.

When conversation becomes waiting our turn to speak or finishing someone’s thought, I think we have lost something fundamental in the way we communicate.

Listening is a demonstration of how we value those around us.

I used to think I was a pretty good listener, but then God invited me on a crazy adventure called HER STORY, and I’m discovering how difficult listening really is. He is slowly turning this story-teller into a story-listener, and I’m loving it.

What I'm Loving: Fall Edition

When I began interviewing women who had a story to tell, I knew each one. I knew her story, too. Or so I thought. Listening unbiased to someone you know really well is so much more challenging than listening to someone you just met. This entire process has helped me pay more attention to the questions I’m asking.

Whether you’re conducting an interview or chatting with a friend or introducing yourself to a stranger, questions bring depth and purpose to ordinary conversations.

Questions allow us to tap into that sacred space beneath the surface.

In The Listening Life, Adam McHugh writes, “Listen to the voice of the Spirit while you listen to the other person. Don’t listen for what truth or insight you should speak to them. Listen for what questions to ask.” This is a slow and gentle process, but an important one, I think.

Since we could all use a little conversation make-over, I want to share four questions I’m loving.

Four Questions I'm Loving This Fall

These questions have added insight, depth, and beauty to everyday exchanges in my home and in my community. I am just now beginning to see how much I’ve been missing.

  1. Instead of “How are you?” try asking, “How can I pray for you?” This one even works well with strangers.
  1. When you think you know exactly what the other person is saying, ask this one: “Can you tell me more about that?” This question gently draws out what’s underneath that first layer of conversation.
  1. “What do you need right now?” has the capacity to completely alter our most precious relationships.
  1. Adam McHugh says a listener’s best friend is the “why” question. Rather than disagree, relate, fix, or solve, let a “why” question jump-start a better conversation. Here are some examples:

“Why do you hold that belief?”

“Why is that important to you?”

“Why does that bother you?”

“Why did that hurt you?”

“Why do you feel that way?”

As our questioning improves so will our listening.

Questions offer a simple way to communicate that we care while reminding us that we have so much to learn. Better questions will revive our dinner table conversations and breathe life into our everyday connections.

Do you have a favorite question you like to ask? I’d love to hear from you…

Kelly

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What I’m Reading (and not reading) This Fall

What I'm Reading: Fall Edition

It’s taken me years to learn how to abandon a book and not feel guilty.

Usually, the reason I put a book down isn’t because the author and I have different views. I think reading books from a variety of authors gives me a better perspective. It doesn’t change my view; it actually deepens my beliefs, because it challenges me to think deeply about why I believe what I believe.

Sometimes, it’s just not the right season, but most of the time, I’m just not in the author’s audience, so I struggle to I relate. And it’s ok to move on.

Today I’m sharing six books I love. Two others didn’t make the list, because I didn’t finish reading either one of them. Though there’s no guarantee that you’re going to love these as much as I did, I think there’s always value in sharing what you love with someone else—especially when it comes to good reads.

So without any strings attached, here’s what I’m reading this fall:

What I'm Reading: Fall Edition

{Christian Living}

Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me, by Alexandra Kuykendall

Alexandra Kuykendall devoted nine months to this experiment deeply rooted in finding joy in her current season. She focused on a different aspect of her life for an entire month and kept a journal of what worked, what didn’t, and what she learned in the process.

In the preface she lays the ground rules: “In this experiment we’re going to hang out in the element that is. Not what we could be, should be, or wish were true about our lives, but what actually is…. Because God gave us each one unique life. Meant to be lived out in our actual situations.”

The chapter on passion spoke most of all to me. Something shifted inside me as I underlined these words: “I balance the belief that God has made me for both mothering and whatever that passion might be, with the ‘do what only you can do’ decision-making grid…. I can do my best to make plans, but truly, if I was made to do something I must figure out a way to do that something now, even if a little at a time.”

I love Alexandra Kuykendall’s realistic approach in not implementing all the things all the time. Loving My Actual Life inspired me to make a list of my own experiments I want to explore, because it just seems so intriguing.

{Spiritual Growth}

Unashamed, by Christine Caine

The lavish grace Christine has for herself as she tells her story stood out to me immediately in Unashamed. She explains how renewing our minds involves replacing our thoughts (as well as the enemy’s lies) with God’s thoughts.

When I look back at certain seasons of my life, the thoughts and attitudes I have towards myself are often filled with judgment, frustration, and embarrassment. Christine’s way of telling all the parts of her story through a redeemed perspective reminds me that God has only ever looked on me with love.

He loved me at my very worst—that’s the essence of the good news.

For the past year, I’ve been meeting with a group of girls. Woven throughout every one of our stories is this common thread: we believe Jesus came to free us. As I read Christine’s story about her journey to freedom these words sprung right off the page: “Freedom comes when we see ourselves as God sees us!”

{Self-Help: Creativity}

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown unpacks essential guideposts for whole-hearted living. She believes cultivating things like authenticity, a resilient spirit, creativity, play, and meaningful work involves letting go of something else. For example, to implement rest, Brené says we must let go of productivity as self-worth.

To further explain this theory, Brené and her husband made a list of practical things that make their family work. They asked themselves a simple question: “When things are going really well in our family, what does it look like?” Sleep, healthy food, meaningful work, family and close friends made up their “ingredients for joy and meaning.” They discovered that the things they were working toward did nothing in terms of making their lives fuller.

I got curious about how my own joy and meaning list would compare with my to-do list and my to-accomplish list. This simple exercise brought a sense of calm and much needed refreshment to my very busy season with little ones. I learned that I, too, am living my dream in ways I hadn’t even considered.

{Memoir}

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home, by Amber C. Haines

This book was an important one for me. Amber Haines put into words everything I have felt my whole life. She helped me understand my longing to fit in and find belonging. I never would have defined these cravings as homesickness.

She is honest when she describes the church as the place she felt least at home.

“I wanted intimacy and belonging with the people of God but still had trouble reaching out because I saw in us all a deep dissatisfaction. I was chief among the dissatisfied, and reaching out to the dissatisfied church didn’t make sense….

She was beginning to see the church as “the kingdom of the dissatisfied powerless.”

Wild in the Hollow helped me navigate my own unrealistic expectations of community. I recognize how the constant desires for community, intimacy, and relationship can become an unhealthy searching for satisfaction outside of Jesus.

God used this book to rekindle my love for the Church—the same Church I’ve held responsible for hurting certain people in my life, the same Church full of broken people who need Jesus, the same Church God calls His beloved Bride.

{Spirituality}

Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor

When God draws us into darkness, it is unique to what He wants to teach us. Yet the ache felt our hearts is similar. Darkness can be uncertainty or silence. It can be a debilitating affliction- physical, emotional, or spiritual. Darkness can be isolating and terrifying.

But darkness is often a catalyst for growth.

In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor eloquently describes how she has grappled with this mystery. She points out that God spoke from darkness, one that is both “dangerous and divine.”

We all possess this inherent fear of the dark, but Learning to Walk in the Dark encouraged me to consider my own view of dark emotions, like grief, fear, and despair. Through her research, Barbara concludes that there really are no dark emotions. She says we just have “unskillful ways of coping with emotions we cannot bear.”

Learning to Walk in the Dark has helped me lean into the discomfort of the dark. I am beginning to see that when I acknowledge the dark, I rely more heavily on God. The more I lean into Him, the more I discover how much I don’t know. And that’s right where I need to be for Him to teach me something new.

{Historical Fiction}

The Muse, by Jessie Burton

In this fascinating historical novel, two different stories unfold simultaneously—one set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the other told by a Trinidadian immigrant living in England in the late-1960s. The waves made by one painting, and its secret, are felt in a new, yet not so different, era.

These stories remind me of the interconnectedness of all our stories. Sometimes we’re linked together in very obvious ways and sometimes in hidden, mysterious ways.

These overarching questions swirled throughout my mind as I read The Muse: What makes an artist an artist? How does the response to the art impact the identity of the artist? Is art ever separate from the artist? Is there ever such a thing as a whole story?

As an artist as well as a woman, I recognized the familiar undertones of society defining what women can and cannot be. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses in this generation. The Muse depicts this struggle. On every page, I thought of the Artist of all who created every one of us to be artists. Whether we embrace our creativity or not, we were all designed to create—in our own time and in our own unique way.

fall good reads

What are you reading this fall? When do you decide to set a book aside, or do you feel obligated to finish every one you start? I’d love to hear from you…

Kelly

 

 

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The Most Difficult yet Necessary Act of Mothering

I didn’t expect tears on the first day of school. Honestly, I didn’t. But after saying goodbye to my two smiling kindergarteners, my own tears nearly drown me in a sea of unexpected emotion I couldn’t quite explain. I’m sure I wasn’t the only mother having her own private ugly cry from within the confines of her now empty vehicle.

I guess I should have seen it coming.

For the better part of a week, I tried my hardest to get out from underneath the tension of it all. No matter how prepared you think you are, certain moments in life suck the wind right out of you, and I’m learning to accept the normalcy of it.

The Most Difficult yet Necessary Act of Mothering

The moments that take our breath away also make us feel most alive.

I looked up the word kindergarten, because that’s what you do when you suddenly find yourself immersed in a silent house with your own uncontrolled emotion and a toddler who hasn’t started running her mouth just yet.

The German word, kindergarten, literally means “garden of children.” The word is rooted in kindness. When I kiss my girl and my boy goodbye each morning, I can’t get this picture out of my mind. I have an unsettled awareness that feels a whole lot like waiting for seeds to grow.

The seeds, no longer in my grasp, are tucked deep within the dirt where real growth will take place. I can’t see evidence that they’re growing just yet. I can’t protect them or hold them; all I can do is watch and wait. This is part of their journey, and it is part of mine, too.

So much of motherhood takes place in life’s waiting room.

Shadows of the unknown loom large and scary overhead in these moments. When I pray, an answer comes in the form of two simple words. Let go. I cringe every time I hear them.

From those first steps across the kitchen floor to the ones down the aisle in a pretty chapel, letting go initiates every new season in a mother’s life. Our role is to let go and let those seeds fall into place. It is the most difficult yet necessary act of mothering.

On days I feel particularly uncertain or even unwilling to let go, I rehearse this truth: Seeds must be planted in order to grow. Though the sower must provide water, sunlight, and good soil, the sower has very little to do with what happens underneath the surface.

The dark, unseen territory of growth belongs to God.

Paul used this same analogy in his letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:7) As moms, we nurture those entrusted to us.  Taking our instruction from Him,  we teach them the best way we know how. Who they grow up to become is God’s business.

Some days I remember this well, and other days I want to kneel down and dig until dirt cakes underneath my fingernails. I want to feel the assurance and comfort and control of those seeds in my hand again. I want so badly to believe it’s all up to me.

Digging up seeds in an attempt to ward off change only interrupts the beauty of God’s design.

I’ve been telling myself a few things when my fingers start to get that itch to dig. Maybe these words will calm your restless fingertips, too, because God knows we’re all in this together.

God’s got this, and God’s got them. Everything He does is always good. Change, though unsettling to any mother-heart, is part of God’s design. Yet there’s such peace in knowing that God Himself never ever changes.

His love for our children is greater than our own. His protection and provision for them extends farther than we can imagine. God’s purpose for their lives is much greater than our comfort zone.

Letting go is the equivalent to surrender, and surrender always leads me back to Jesus. When I think about who He is and all He has promised, I remember that I can trust Him… completely. And so can you.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Miracle I Almost Missed

“I never wanted to walk that road again.” Tears well up in my eyes as I listen to my own shaky voice recount the story about the struggle and the miracle. It’s been quite some time since I’ve watched this four-minute version of my story. I close my eyes and remember the waiting parts, the longing parts, the heart-wrenching grieving parts.

“But, we trusted Him and took a step of faith.” My own words transport me back to a time when two people, hand in hand, took scared steps because He said so.

Watching yourself tell your own story helps you realize what you left out. I love that my story includes an unexpected miracle. But today, I want to talk about the part I’ve never shared.

I want to tell you about the other miracle I almost missed.

When God whispered to me, “I’m not finished here,” I never thought He would ask me to walk the same path I swore I’d never set foot on again. I couldn’t understand why He would ask me to return to a place that had been so painful and devastating.  He could have grown our family another way.

I never, ever wanted to be pregnant again.

It was too risky. I never wanted to experience the grief again. I didn’t think I could endure the weight of the fear caused by all the what-ifs. My husband felt the exact same way. But, God asked us to trust Him. So we went.

Something happened as we went, and I knew I’d never be the same again.

My heart’s response was “I trust you, Jesus.” It made no sense. I knew that I had little to do with what was happening on the inside. Whatever this was about, it had to be bigger than a baby. It had to be about more than just our family.

An entire year later, after many setbacks and failures, we found out that God really wasn’t finished yet. He reached down and handed us an unexpected gift that caught our entire family by surprise: a baby no one thought was possible. Not even me.

The road to pregnancy wasn’t paved with certainty. God didn’t remove all the hurt, but He guarded my heart and used each and every step to change my heart in miraculous ways. He wasn’t asking me to take a step to test my faith; He was asking me to take a step to grow my faith.

Those scared steps I took in faith led me to the sacred ground of transformation.

Our sweet baby girl is eighteen months old now. She’s the miracle everybody sees. She’s the miracle we photograph and measure each month as she grows right in front of our eyes. Every child is a miracle that points us to the Giver.

But a subtle, hidden miracle was taking place simultaneously. This miracle grew out of my absolute and undivided trust in the One who was leading us. It’s the miracle every single one of us who have trusted in Jesus will experience over and over again throughout our lifetime.

Jesus saves us once and for all, but He is never finished rescuing our hearts.

These miracles are so easy to miss. They aren’t measurable, and they’re often complicated, yet they happen every single day in the hearts of believers. These miracles happen as we walk towards Jesus.

Those scared steps I took in faith led me to the sacred ground of transformation.

There is a story about a missed miracle in the seventeenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. Ten lepers met Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. They stood at a distance and cried out to Him by name.

Leprosy was an incurable disease and was regarded as an awful punishment from God. The disease would gradually spread, taking over the entire body little by little. These ten men were begging for a miracle.

Maybe they had heard about all Jesus had done. Maybe someone had told them about another man whose leprosy immediately left when Jesus touched him. (See Luke 5:12-14)

I would have been expecting the exact same miracle that Jesus performed on that guy. For Him to touch me and heal me exactly like He had done before. My request would’ve involved something predictable and controllable.

I would’ve wanted a miracle I could measure.

When Jesus saw them, He spoke words that must have made their hearts sink. I can tell you I would not have known what to do with these six words: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

The priest’s role was to inspect the leper in order to determine if he was clean or unclean. If he was unclean, he had to live outside the city. A leper couldn’t communicate with anyone inside the city, and he couldn’t be touched. To be pronounced unclean was a horrible thing. (See Leviticus 13 and 14)

Jesus told these ten men to go back and stand where they once stood when a priest had pronounced an impossible verdict. He asked them to return to the same place where their reputations were painfully marred. He asked them to return to the origin of their isolation, the place where shame and hopelessness intersected.

Jesus said, “Go there.”

I wonder if they felt like I did when God asked me to return to the place I vowed I’d never again go. Did they weigh the risks involved with putting feet to that path? Did they rehearse their past heartbreak or relive the devastation?

I wonder what made them decide that this Jesus could be trusted.

These ten men went where Jesus told them to go. We don’t when or how or where exactly on that road it happened, but Scripture tells it beautifully: “And as they went, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” Luke 17:14-16 (emphasis added) 

Cleansed. Healed. Two different words that might seem like synonyms, but to the Greek ear, they would have sounded very different. These words were chosen carefully to communicate a bigger story.

The Greek word for cleansed is katharizō. It means “cure, purify,” indicating that the man’s skin was no longer covered with leprosy. The word translated as healed is the Greek word iaomai, which means “made whole.”

Somewhere on that path, one man recognized that his skin as well as his heart had been transformed.

Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19 (emphasis added) He could have used the word cleansed or the word healed, but Jesus used a completely different word, sōzō, which means “saved.” Jesus was saying, “Faith in me is your salvation.”

The fact that this man was a Samaritan was a big deal. Jesus was declaring that salvation was not only for the Jews but for Gentiles as well. Jesus came to save the entire world.

Many Jewish people in Jesus’ day were obsessed with asking for a sign. They were wrapped up with what God could do for them. Like me, they wanted miracles they could measure. The people in Jesus’ day missed that God had given them the greatest miracle of all time. They didn’t understand that nothing else could ever compare to all we’ve been given in Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we act just like them.

That day He met the lepers, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. He would ride into the city on a donkey and crowds of people would hail Him King. Many of those same people would cry, “Crucify Him,” by the end of the week. He was on the way to the cross to make an impossible situation right. He was on His way to restore broken hearts and pave the way for us to be made new.

The miracle begins when a heart plagued with mistrust makes the choice to trust Him.

If a leper’s condition improved and he was pronounced clean by the priest, a sacrifice was needed to restore him to the community. When Jesus spoke to the man who returned, He was revealing His authority. Jesus is the Great High Priest as well as the sacrifice. His blood is the only thing that can cure our leprous soul.

But Jesus doesn’t stop with cleansing us. He walks along the muddy path with us. He never, ever stops miraculously healing us from the inside out.

Only one out of ten recognized the miracle. Nine missed it entirely. I don’t want to be part of this statistic. I love to share how God grew our family and did the impossible, but what I cherish most about that path He led us down is how it changed me.

Trusting Jesus changed me and will continue to change me until the day I meet Him face to face.

When I think back to those words God whispered to me more than three years ago, I sense a whole new message. “I’m not finished here,” meant He would grow our family, and He has been so faithful.  But as I stare at the words on my screen today, I realize that He also meant He wasn’t finished with me.

Let it be said of all us: They trusted Jesus, and a miracle happened as they went.

Jesus loves you,
Kelly

 

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What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was the only one.  My husband thought the social gathering would be good for my soul.  I knew better, but agreed to go anyway.  In a crowded, boisterous circle of acquaintances and strangers, I listened from a distance, unable to contribute to the conversation.

Infertility and heartbreaking loss had taken its toll on my heart.

Two women shared their personal experiences with moldy sippy cup lids while a third offered her fool-proof solution for barring off this kind of unwanted fungal growth. All I heard was that familiar lie:

You will never belong here.

What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

I didn’t know if my kitchen cabinets would ever hold sippy cups, and I didn’t know if my body would ever carry a baby like it was supposed to.  It had been years and hope was slipping out of my empty arms. The scars from my most recent loss were anything but healed, and there was nothing tidy about the emotions spilling out of me. I made eye contact with the hostess as I quickly mapped out my exit plan. My eyes pleaded with her, Please understand.

“Take me home,” I whispered to my husband when I found him outside with the rest of the guys. Confusion settled into the space between us.  He was still unaware that we were the only childless people at the party, and I was surprised that this made me jealous. When he realized my request was more of a plea, we said our goodbyes and left.

I needed to be heard.

On the car ride home, I tried to explain.  I expected him of all people to understand. He had experienced the same devastating loss, yet instead of uniting us, it was pulling us in opposite directions. I was terrified that the strain of it all would rip us right apart.

I quit speaking to God that week- just picked up silence and wore it like a cloak. Months passed before I realized that my anger couldn’t run Him off or push Him away.

One day in desperation, I picked up His Word, and the ground of my heart shifted as love and grace and truth seeped deep into the cracks of my dry and parched faith. It was that same day I realized what I wish I had known years before.

God is the only One who will ever truly understand.

Hannah was a girl just like me.  Her story begins in 1 Samuel chapter 1. Her husband took another wife when it became clear that she was barren.  Her name was Peninnah. This one short verse sums up the circumstances Hannah found herself in:

Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 1 Samuel 1:2b

Year after year, Hannah watched this other woman give birth while she secretly wondered if she was somehow disqualified. Our culture today unknowingly isolates women struggling with infertility, but in Hannah’s day, it was seen as divine judgment.

Tension began to grow in Hannah’s marriage. Elkanah, her husband, didn’t think Hannah’s childlessness was that big of a deal.  He didn’t understand why she was so miserable.  He provided for her and he loved her more than Peninnah, the mother of his children.  But all of his efforts couldn’t change the fact that Hannah’s heart was splitting in two.

Hannah took her broken heart and laid it bare before God. But this very private prayer made in a public place brought more painful misunderstanding. Eli, the priest, witnessed her lips moving silently as she poured out her pain to God and mistakenly thought she was drunk.  As if her anguish was not enough, Eli’s accusation was piercing and misguided.

Hannah’s reaction that day in the temple grabs me every time.

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” 1 Samuel 1:15-16

She didn’t use harsh words when Eli misunderstood her pain.  She didn’t shut down, and she didn’t retreat.  She simply told the truth. She knew her grief was misunderstood, and she also knew she could never expect anyone to truly hear her and she didn’t expect anyone to understand. Peninnah couldn’t, and neither could Elkanah or Eli. God is the only One who understood Hannah’s pain and longing, and she wasted none of her effort trying to pour out her pain anywhere else.

It causes more pain when we take our broken hearts to anyone other than God.

It causes more pain when we take our broken hearts to anyone other than God.

In my own struggle, I was a slave to the expectations I created for everyone around me.  I wanted others to understand how I spent sleepless nights wondering if I was being punished. I wanted them to realize that I prayed daily for God to remove my longing if He was not planning to fulfill it. I wanted them to see the guilt that plagued me when my grief prevented me from celebrating with those whose families were growing with ease. I wanted people to understand the loneliness that settled in between my husband and me as we walked the same path but experienced two very different journeys.

Over the years, God has strengthened our marriage through the struggle. After four years, two losses, and too many failed procedures to count, God gave us a son and a daughter, born just twenty minutes apart.  Four years after that, when we thought the door had closed completely, He reminded us that nothing is outside His reach. Our third child, another daughter, is a constant reminder that He is able.

But even here in this current season, I still find myself holding others to my unrealistic expectations. I want people to respect our decisions regarding medical intervention. I want others to recognize how certain dates will forever remind me of all I’ve lost. I want them to know that even though I have children, infertility is still very much a part of my life. I want people to understand that being overwhelmed some days by motherhood doesn’t imply ungratefulness.

Expectations have only harmed me and strained my relationships. But with every misunderstanding, God draws me to His heart.  He is teaching me that He is the only One who can truly hear my innermost cry. His love alone holds the power to silence all the lies that have held me captive.

We are never misunderstood in God’s embrace.

Hannah eventually conceived and gave birth to a son, Samuel, whose name means “heard by God.” Hannah could not keep her joy to herself.  She prayed silently in her sorrow, but her prayer of praise was a bold and beautiful song to the God who understands. She began by praising God for deliverance from her enemies:

My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. 1 Samuel 2:1

I have always considered Hannah’s enemies all those who misunderstood her.  But her enemy wasn’t Peninnah, and it certainly wasn’t the priest who made a bad judgment call.  Her true enemy was God’s enemy, and he is our enemy, too.  He devotes every waking moment to isolating us so we walk through life painfully alone.

Our enemy wants more than anything to destroy our relationships with each other and with God.

As Hannah continued her song, she noted the reversals only possible through the power of the Mighty One. The weak become strong and the strong become weak; the full find themselves hungry and the hungry find their full; the rich become poor and the poor become rich; and the one who was barren is barren no more! Her song ends with these powerful words:

The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed. 1 Samuel 2:10

“Anointed” is translated Messiah. This is the very first place in scripture that this word is used. It’s how God chose to reveal the beginning of His beautiful redemption plan. Hannah’s joyful prayer gives us a glimpse of the hope found in Jesus. He came to restore our broken bodies and heal our broken hearts and mend our broken relationships. He has already defeated our enemy.

If you are walking the road that’s often misunderstood, find peace in knowing that Jesus hears you, Jesus sees you, and Jesus understands you completely. Take all of your questions and your fears and your hurt to the One who can turn your weakness into strength, your longing into satisfaction, your pain into purpose, and your tears into beautiful songs of joy.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

My Story

A dear friend created this video the summer we found out we were expecting our third child. I was terrified to shoot it, because I struggled my entire pregnancy with the fear of losing this precious gift. I’m sharing it today in case you (or someone you love) need to be reminded that our God can do anything. He is limitless, and so is His love.  Over the course of those nine months, I learned that we can never lose His love.

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