A Bartender and a Carrot Cake

IMG_1710 (1)

I sat in the hotel lobby area sipping on my morning coffee, watching the beautiful, golden, early morning light pour in through the glass doors just a half dozen yards in front of me when I noticed him slowly shuffling into the lobby with his walker in the lead. The white hair left on his head trimmed short, once tall, he was now slightly hunched over, the crease from his oxygen line permanently imprinting his face during his sleep, he moved slowly forward. Carefully, he grabbed a complimentary newspaper from the front desk, and setting it on the seat of his walker, for what I assumed was easy transport, he began heading over to sit at the table in front of me.  Sitting carefully down, he opened the newspaper and began to read it.

Newspaper. “Huh, those still exist?” I thought to myself as I tried to focus on my plans for the day. It was my vacation and the possibilities were endless. It was all going to be about me for the first time in a very long time. So, God, what should I do today?

My eyes focused on the man in front of me again and the thought pressed in, why don’t you offer to serve him?

“Seriously?” I mouthed silently. Slowly, carefully, not unlike the older man in front of me, I got up and walked over to him.

“May I get you a cup of coffee?” I asked.

Looking up at me, a small smile on his face, he said, “Oh, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I gave it up when my wife got sick 6 years ago and couldn’t drink it anymore. Don’t get me wrong though, I like the taste of the stuff.”

His smile, big and warm, and inviting.

“Oh, wow. I wish I could give it up, but this mama needs caffeine. Can I do anything else for you?” I asked, trying to avoid thinking about how awkward I felt.

While looking down absently at the paper, smoothing it unconsciously with his hand, he softly replied, “Oh, you are sweet. No, I am good. My daughter will be here soon to have a cup of tea with me. You see, today is my birthday, I am 84… (deep breath and sigh) Yeah, my wife and I used to come here together you know, before she died in November.  We were married for 65 years. Now when I come some things bug me a bit.”

As his eyes grew misty, so did mine.

“65 years? That is incredible. I am so sorry to hear of her passing.” (I briefly pause, quickly searching for some words that might be ok in this moment…) ”That is wonderful that your daughter is coming! Are you going to celebrate?”

Still lost in thought as he looked passed me, my question seemed to awaken him again to the present as he responded, “Oh, yes. Have you met the bartender that is here in the evenings? Well, she is baking me a cake for my birthday today! Yes, do you like cake? She is making me my favorite–carrot cake with cream cheese frosting! You need to come back today at 5 o’clock and have a piece of cake with us!”


I promised I would while wondering if this bartender was really going to bake this guy a cake. What sort of bartender does that anyway?

That evening I was there at 5, waiting and watching, unable to shake this conversation from the forefront of my thoughts. The bartender appeared, a 60ish lady with a warm smile and short curly hair that was covered with a sparkly green St. Patty’s Day hat. As she poured my drink I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Are you REALLY giving a cake to one of the patrons today for his birthday?”

With a chuckle she looked at me and said, “Oh! You mean Sam. Yeah, great guy! He loves carrot cake with cream cheese icing so I baked one up for him last night. Today is his birthday!” My shoulders sagged as I realized she even knew his name and it hadn’t even crossed my mind to ask.

I had no words, so I sat and sipped on my beverage and waited. A few minutes later here came Sam rounding the corner into the lobby area and heading straight to the bar.  I didn’t hear their words, but I watched. After greeting him and pouring him a drink she left to head into the kitchen area. A few moments later she came out with a humble, but delicious looking carrot cake covered with a liberal amount of cream cheese frosting.  As she set it before him with a huge smile on her face I watched as his face lit up too.

I was watching a scene I knew Heaven was applauding.

Humbled, I walked over and asked if I could take a photo for them to remember the moment, and carefully he handed me his cell phone.

Later, the next day, as she hurriedly passed through the area trying to attend to her duties, I put out my hand to stop her. “Thank you for the lesson yesterday on what love looks like.”  And with a knowing smile she looked right into my eyes and remarked, “You are very welcome.”

It was the best sermon I have seen in a long time.


The Death of Shame

Snapseed (15)

I have spent the last 3 years frustrated and angry with my body.  I have asked approximately 1 million questions, all related to the unfairness of it all.  The brokenness, the pain, the setbacks after surgery that have drawn out my “one year rehabilitation” into over 2.  The weight gain — the pounds pouring back on that I fought so hard to remove. The shame over it all has blanketed me like a straight jacket.  Surviving, not thriving.

And then the doctor’s visit that deafens like a 3 ton gong placed just feet from my face.  You have stayed in this space as long as you dare; survival mode will lead to your early death.

I have been here before. It smells, and sounds, and tastes of the same bitterness from just 6 years ago.  Then the scale tipped of 311 pounds of broken and desperate grief after abiding for years in the court of a god named Emotional Eating. How did I get here again? There is so much sameness that the god of Shame threatens to deafen the truth with his distorted lies.

Yes, it is a familiar battle. Yes, I gained back almost all of the weight I once lost.  No, it is not the same story!

This novella is full of never ending physical pain that left me too tired, too unable, and too desperate to carefully choose the foods that I ate.  Survival is not picky. However, the lessons of old did not depart me. I did not bow to the god of Gluttony, I did not tarry at the table of emotional overeating and food disorders.  Not this time.

Unfortunately, that did not save me from the weight gain.

This season has been ripe with lessons, and at the top of that list has been learning the power of genetics and of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Eating a “normal” American diet and being limited in my ability to do physical activity was all that it took to gain back over 62 pounds of the 100 I once lost.

And so, here I am starting over yet again.  I am stepping out of this hard season, and I am done kneeling at the altar to the god of Fear.  The trauma, the fear–it has just been too heavy of a burden to bear, and I refused to carry it one more moment. At the end of December I laid it all down at the altar of the one who instead will carry me.  I share this now, in real time, having no idea how the story will unfold. It isn’t about the scale this time; it is about trusting Him who is worthy and knowing He has me. It is about learning how to eat for my body and allowing it to heal from that which has hurt it.

And it is about changing my vision.

No longer am I mad at my body; no longer will I fight it.  Instead, I am so profoundly thankful. This body pictured here has faithfully carried me through every season of my life.  It has held me together through trauma and abuse. It has carried and birthed 3 beautiful daughters. It has nursed a darling baby girl for 15 months.  It has lost 101 pounds, hiked tall mountains, run 10Ks, survived 6 different surgeries, and endured countless other medical procedures. And now it is healing all over again, faithfully supporting me as I learn more and press into the journey ahead.  Always, always pressing toward freedom, victory, and my God.

Shame had to die.


Persistence Over Perfection

Snapseed (12)

By nature I am a quitter.

Quit the hard.

Somewhere along the line I bought the lie that the dream life was one of my comfort.

Today I looked longingly at the park, blanketed in a thin layer of fog, and ached as I thought back to all the hiking I used to be able to enjoy on its crazy lava rock terrain. How I had gotten to the point where I could run its trails and hike for miles… It feels like a lifetime ago.

I had worked so hard to get there, and now, after the last 3 years, that all seems like it was really not so hard after all. Perspective.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been tempted to quit in this season, often wondering if it was a season or instead a lifetime sentence. I don’t know how many setbacks there have been–too many to count. It has been 3 years of pain, surgery, rehab, and work. It has been wanting to quit a thousand times a day and battling fear. It is hearing my littlest ask over and over again, “Mommy, are you still hurt today?” It has changed me.  And along the way I found myself desperate to quit, for God to fix it all and take away the pain, and if he wouldn’t, then to find some crutches. Crutches, the things you can lean on instead of God.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I wanted to mute the megaphone, all the while believing I was trusting God. This week God pointed out the crutches by informing me of some painful truths, and asked me to stop quitting. The crutches were costing me.

Hard seasons demand change. That I change implies my discomfort, that I grow, that I seek, that I am chiseled and that I trust Him.

The hard keeps me at the feet of Jesus, acutely aware of my need of Him. There is a profound gift there, even when we can’t see it through our tears.

This week I laid down my crutches.

I leaned on Jesus.

Persistently pursuing Him instead of trying to do any of it perfectly. Just as I am, fears, tears, and ugly bits pressing without ceasing into his arms. Persistently pressing my body forward through the squats, the lunges, the walking, the fear.  Perfection implies no mess, but my mess is exactly what he wanted me to offer over to Him. Persistent over perfect, always.

This week was my first week of victory in over 3 years.  It turned out I didn’t need those crutches after all; all they did was slow me down.  He had me. He was and is my perfect strength.


Paradise and the Camp Fire

Camp Fire

“Mom, you have to see the sky!”

I stood in my PJ’s watching the horrifying black cloud crawling through the skyline from our upstairs windows, fear and helplessness overcoming me.

I rushed downstairs and hopped onto my computer to see if I could learn of it’s cause, a fire had begun in Pulga and was rapidly heading up to Paradise. My heart sunk.

Here I sat in my living room less than 25 minutes away from so many who were in danger and there was absolutely nothing I could physically do to help them.

I started listening to the online scanner of the ongoing efforts made by the incredibly brave men and women who were present and I began to pray, fervently.

Tears poured down my face as I listened to the words pouring forth…

Children still at school.

A woman needing assistance who had gone into labor, a high risk pregnancy.

Traffic not moving as the fire raged.

Cars being abandoned.

People fleeing on foot.

Vehicles catching on fire.

Everyone working on just trying to get everyone out.

I felt ill. I thought of every single person trapped in those moments and I prayed again and again and again.

I started to check facebook and began seeing people posting of being trapped around the flames, uncertain if they would make it out. It wasn’t long before the pictures started surfacing of the charred and abandoned vehicles. I was undone and I could not wrap my mind around the reality of the horror.

November 8th, 2018. A date that most in this area will never forget, a date that will be seared into some souls like a branding mark. The day that Paradise, CA burned and tragedy struck.

So many have lost every earthly possession that they had. Too many lost their very lives.

As I write this I am watching as people are walking humbly by with food in their arms, given by a shelter a block from my home. The home we wondered if we would loose as the fire headed toward Chico, our home that still stands, and I am struck again by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. But we are not helpless despite the feelings that may pervade us.

My heart has broken for all of these precious people; my neighbors, my friends.

God can do a lot with a broken heart though.

In fact, I am amazed as I watch so many people and businesses work hard to help, pour, serve, and love in anyway that they are able.

This is the beauty in the ashes.

The stories pouring forth make me weep anew at how beautiful it is when people lay it all on the line for each other.  And so we keep praying, we keep showing up, we keep pressing in, we keep serving, we keep connecting, we keep talking and listening and holding our dear brothers and sisters as the next weeks and months unfold. We give, and we lay ourselves out. We CAN help. While no one person can do everything, together everyone can do something and that is profound.

This is love in the unspeakably hard places.


I Was Such a Liar

Snapseed (9)

Long before the infertility diagnosis I remember begging God for the opportunity to be a mom. I fondly remember my “never conversations” with God and wonder if he was laughing at my ridiculous ignorance of parenthood and myself. I clearly remember praying profoundly dumb things like, “I promise to never take a moment with my kids for granted,” or “I will never be a mom who yells,” or my personal favorite, “I will LOVE EVERY MINUTE, even the dirty diapers and attitudes.”

I was such a liar.  Not on purpose mind you, it was well intentioned, but they were absolute lies.  I truly had no idea what I was saying. It was the uttering of a mad woman in the bargaining stages of grief.

While others are precious about their stories of parenthood, sharing all that they love and how baby Q was potty trained in utero. I will speak to that which is my reality…

Sometimes parenthood sucks. Sometimes it feels soul crushing and unrelenting.

There are moments when I have cried so hard that my eyelids have actually fused together in solidarity, willing me to stop.  I have lost count on the number of times I have raised my voice or at the very least mentally fantasized about duct-taping them to the wall for a well earned time out. I have actually asked God if he made a mistake, sometimes being certain I was more fit for the mental ward then motherhood…though sometimes I wonder if they are one and the same.

Parenthood has broken me in ways I could never have imagined and it has taught me more about the love of God then any other experience I have had in life.

It is also so amazingly good I could weep a thousand years at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.

This month marks my 13th year of actually parenting my village.  And lest you more chronologically seasoned then I should scoff, take note, mine is not a traditional story.  13 years ago, one week apart, a baby and two teens arrived in our home. Separate stories, now forever intertwined.  For the first, I was mom number 3, for the later, mom number 5 and 6.  If we were an old school Facebook relationship status it would read “It’s Complicated.”

For these children I prayed, right?  So it should all play out like the life saving fairytale it is…

Real life is far too dang messy to be a fairy tale.  I don’t care if you have birthed, adopted, or hatched those you parent, it will change you and them.

So as I reflect back on the last 13 years, and all of their drama, here is what I know for certain:

You were never meant to do this solo.  It requires dependency on God. In fact, it requires so much dependency, that you need him for every.single.step. If you don’t allow him to be the navigation system on this journey of love that costs you everything then you will be wrecked and they will miss out.

So, here I am, 13 years later, not living the fairytale, praying this prayer instead:

God, keep my eyes so fixed on you, my ears so sensitive to your voice, that I will know exactly where to place my next step.  May I be so dependent on you that I would not be tempted to think I can do this on my own, for that was never your plan. And may I be ever present of the truth, that if I don’t go to you, the source, that I will have nothing to give, that is will wreck me, and that my loved ones will miss out on the gift that was meant to be….true love. Help me to never forget that this journey, my purpose, is ALL ABOUT YOU, not me. Amen.


When You Are Certain You Are Failing


Another academic year has started and the mommy taxi is always on the go. We are not even a month in and my phone is buzzing me with reminders of who, and what, and how often all the things are happening, and I can find my shoulders tightening. Then there are the curveballs– the colds, the shifts in schedule, the drama because of all the different things to navigate with all the hormones raging, and then there are the children…

I had these expectations for the year. I had goals and dreams and hopes.  And it took exactly 2 days into this school year before I started to watch them crash into the shore line, breaking along that jagged coast that is reality. Sometimes I am truly certain I am failing at all the important things… I feel like I should know better by now, and yet, here I am again wanting to cry into my latte, wondering how it is all going to roll this year if I am already so worn?

Then, I found myself having what I like to call a “come to Jesus moment” with one of my beloved children this week.  You know, when everything gets so real it might even hurt, and often does, because you have to own your junk? We were talking about school and choices and consequences when she asked, “so are you just going to quit on me?”

I had to hold onto my inner black granny who wanted to exclaim, “what you say chil’?”

Instead, I looked her in the eyes and asked, “have you met me?”

She needed a reminder.

I continued, “I will never quit on you. I will never stop loving you.  I will never stop cheering for you. This is forever right here. Your choices, not even your failures, nor your struggles will ever change my love and commitment to you. Period.”

Even when my heart breaks, even when I wanted better for them, even when they hurt me, even when they run from all that is good and true, even if it costs me everything, they will always have all of me–that is what parenthood looks like.  That is what God does with us…maybe I needed a reminder too.

Parenthood has taught me more about the deep, unwavering love of God then any other life journey– bar none.

So, when you are certain you are not enough, when things are messy and broken and hard…

Be quiet, breathe, and know that the most important thing is not dependent on you in any way. God has not changed his mind about you and he never will–even when you fail, even if YOU ARE doing it all wrong.  I gloss over that like it is routine, and maybe that it why I forget it too easily….maybe that is why my kids forget too.

So, like a broken record for my soul ears:

He has me in the midst of all the mess.

He is faithful when I am not.

He is never changing, THAT is why I can breathe…and that is truly amazing and exactly what I needed to be reminded of.


Maybe I need a tattoo to actually remember this…


Time Hop

Rachelle age 15, Ariana age 14, Emily age 1

A photo can act like a time machine set on mute. In a instant it can send you through time, replaying different moments and scenes, sometimes even playing on your senses–but you can do nothing but watch.

Welcome to 2005, near the beginning of our parenthood story. A time of optimism and naivete, a time of hope and hard, and a time when I still didn’t realize I could never be a savior. Of course, at 25, that is NOT how I would have worded it–it would have sounded more like, “If we love enough, work hard enough, fight for enough THEN…the story will FOR SURE have a happy ending.”

Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is not yet the end…

That when hope lies deferred and my heart grows sick that God is still able…

That even though I have no answers to a long list of why’s it is all still worth it.

Sometimes I have to remind myself several times a day.

But woven through the hard is the beautiful–gleaming like Christmas tinsel among the darkened tattered places…

This cheap wally world studio shot is our first family photo. I remember trying to find matching clothes for two teens and a toddler, being frustrated but excited that I even had the opportunity at all.

I remember Ariana and Rachelle allowing me to curl and braid their hair for the very first time–humoring me in my desire to dress them up like dolls (see age 25).

I remember staring at them while the photo was shot, overcome with emotion, and in awe of how beautiful all three of them were. They were not yet officially ours at the time of this photo…that would be a long road…yet they were ours. They were already sealed in our hearts, forever.

I remember whispering to God, “please let me be their mom, let there be no more good-byes, not because I am deserving but because I know the love I have for them only you could create.”

And I remember the whisper of that moment: then you will become a fierce warrior…

and I have been learning how to fight for them ever since.

12 Years Later


12 years ago today I almost died and I would have welcomed it that day.

August 21st, 2006.

Digits seared into my soul–so many digits.

17 weeks, when my water broke on twin A. 18 weeks, when I was asked to abort them. 21 weeks,

August 9th, 2006, the day I left bedrest and gave birth to twin A, a girl, we named Ashley Faith.  Labor stopped.

15 minutes, the span of time I held her, watching her try to breath before she left us.

2, the number of times I gave birth during the month of August, and the number of daughters I had.

24 weeks, Bethany Grace is born alive, but septic, just like me.

0, the number of minutes I held her while she was alive because I begged them to try and help her as they were working to save me.

15 minutes, the length of her life.

12 years and my body still remembers, like clockwork.

I will never understand why.

2, the number of days in the year I let my grief roll, unapologetically unchecked.

September 11th, 2006, the day of their funeral, the day I felt the hope breathed into my soul that one day I would want to live again.

Standing before the smallest soft pink coffin, questioning how I could possibly go on, a song of praise began to stir inside me– defying all reason.

Worship, in every season, in all things?

God poured the words out, into my mind, out of my mouth, and a warmth filled into all of my brokenness. That is when I knew that if I served a God so big that I could sing at my daughters’ funeral, he would somehow carry me through the days ahead. There I stood, for the first time truly understanding how completely powerless I was without God, no more delusions that I could do any part of this journey on my own strength.

He is so much more than…and he is faithful, so very faithful. No matter what happens in the storms, whether he quiets them or guides you through, the point and the gift is that he is right there with you, carrying you, loving you, in all the seconds, forever.

Nothing can touch that, not even death.

So, today, we will remember the two girls that helped me surrender the last of my “self” to the one who is worthy of all of me. We will eat cupcakes. We will cry. And I will once again stand at their grave and remember…this is not the end of the story.


The Hard Place

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  14 years I waited, while hope of ever carrying a child myself grew worn and faint. Yet it steadfastly flickered on–unwilling to be snuffed out.  Three years ago this month God breathed life into her lungs as we heard her cry for the very first time. Hope majestically fulfilled, finally.It was one of the single most incredible moments of my life. It also marked the beginning of a journey through physical pain that I never even dreamed possible.

Hope flickers, still unwilling to die.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  I wasn’t supposed to be a broken mommy. And yet

It is life in the hard place.

The place of questions and fears and battling to hold onto hope and God when you just do not understand.

The hard place.  Perhaps you know it? If not, you will.

It threatens to steal your breath and snuff out the flame of hope.

Somewhere along the way He has drawn me in and completely convinced me of his greatness and his goodness, even in the waiting, especially in the hard. He is it. When he doesn’t quiet the storm, when the pain continues, when wave after wave of hard hits, he still has you.

And the gift?

You see him more clearly in the pain, all ideas of your “god-ness” fall away.  You finally comprehend that you can’t do this without Him. The sweetness of total surrender is now understood because you are certain of your need. Maybe that is the greatest gift in the hard–the pearls of his presence unequalled even in seasons of great pleasure.

I wish there was some other way, but we wander. We are too quick to believe the lies, and to take our eyes off of Him. And so, though it never ever feels like it, maybe it is one of his greatest mercies after all– lest we get so full of ourselves we believe we never needed Him.

My hope remains unbreakable because it firmly rests in Him.  Where is your hope today?


Redemptive Snapshots

Sometimes God gives a reminder of just how big he is and it makes my eyes leak.

26 years ago last month, our second oldest daughter was born in Mexicali, Mexico a month before I turned 12.

Today, her 13 year old little sister in serving in that same town, along with her father and about 60 others from our church family.

I saw this picture, along with a few others and I was deeply moved as God whispered to me again of his unmatched big-ness in it all.

-How he wove us together through all the broken and labeled us forever family at ages that still make me laugh.

-How that then poor 10-month-old, drug exposed, failure-to-thrive baby girl, arrived a week before her big sisters–making her first but not oldest.

-How I was told no and never to becoming mom to all three of them.

-How now that baby with all the labels is 13 and wanting to help change the world–her beginning absolutely unable to trap her in chains of forever.

-How she is wanting to love and serve those in Mexico in the name of Jesus, even as her heart aches with love for her two older sisters.


There is redemptive beauty in this scene, a beauty beyond my ability to completely see or understand, but I see it spilling out like light around the edges.  God’s power, his ability to redeem, his goodness, how he weaves together a story–it takes my breath away. He is the master storyteller.

Sometimes we are tempted to want to pull a string that we don’t particularly like and remove it from the tapestry of our life– but it would change the whole masterpiece.  We are the masterpiece and God has got us– in all the beautiful and broken details. One day we will be able to see it all clearly, until then, I am thankful for the amazing, redemptive snapshots.