Safety or Fear?

It has been a long time since I posted. It is funny how I am always thinking of things I could blog about, but then often don’t get past the initial outline. Partly because I don’t take the time to sit down and work on it (since my sit-down-and-work time is pretty jam packed with tasks already), but partly because I am afraid…

That is weird, right? Why should I be afraid to share my thoughts? Why do I worry that people won’t assume the best of me if I try to share? I mean, I see myself as a learner who always has more to learn; I consider myself a moderate politically—yet I am afraid that if someone finds out one piece of my perspective or views, they will construct a whole image of me that is more based on their concept of “what people who hold that view” are like, than on who I actually am.

Well, our culture today…(Stay with me a minute, now, don’t roll your eyes – I am going to consider culture, not blame it). As I was saying, our culture today is fascinating. As has become very clear, we are in a time of extreme polarization in our country right now. We all know that social media is not helping with that either. We often live in little echo chambers, drawing in articles that will affirm how we already think, “yelling” at people we don’t know and assuming/assigning them bad motives so that we can keep our concept that we are “right” and they are “wrong”; we are “smart” and they are “stupid”; we care about people and they only care about themselves and their own interests. It doesn’t seem to matter which perspective you are coming from; this is how both sides are training themselves to feel.

It can feel like we are stuck with a choice: either (1) stop engaging and isolate or (2) keep engaging and risk constant judgment and critique. I personally am not a fan of either option, and I believe there has to be a third way. Part of the reason I think the choice is a false one is that, while on the surface it looks like a choice between “safety” and “fear,” both choices (with this framing) tend to lead to unhealthy fear.

img_3499.jpgChoosing isolation might feel safe at first, but by rejecting deep relationships, we reject both relational joys and relational skills. That inevitably leads to fear. I want my children to know how to engage in healthy disagreements, not seek to avoid them.

Yet, if in my relationships I avoid topics that feel touchy, I model a lack of depth that leads to isolation. Isolation means we neither feel known nor let people deeply know us. As a result, a narrative of fear plays in our heads: “what if my surfacy friend finds out something about me he doesn’t like and then rejects me? Then I will be even more isolated…” In addition, if we are a parent or mentor who has chosen the path of isolation from culture, we have a second current of fear: Will my children follow my example and fight culture’s influence too, or will they get sucked in by culture and therefore pull away from me?

On the other side, choosing engagement can also be dominated by fear. We might be afraid of misunderstandings – of people not assuming the best or really trying to understand us. We might be afraid to express our thoughts or to ask questions—even in a wondering kind of way—because people might label us backwards or stupid or uneducated or even bigoted.  Sometimes we try to make up for this by choosing a false form of “safety” based on displays of “power.” It may manifest in defensiveness, biting back with words, or just pulling into a deeper echo chamber, which is another form of going into isolation after all…

I think the better choice—a “third way” so to speak—is to choose engagement, most deeply in more personal contexts. It is to expect that we can have a real human connection across difference. It is to believe that, even if someone else is pre-disposed to make assumptions about me, I can choose to still assume the best about them and seek to build connection.  Quite frankly, this usually involves not focusing on social media so much, but intentionally engaging in my neighborhood, at my kids’ schools and activities, with students on campus—places where I can actually be vulnerable, be a listener, humbly serve, and share my heart and passions. Focusing on what I have in common with people is what draws me into this choice. We are all unique and creative human beings, made in the image of God; we all long for connection and affection; we all want to be part of something meaningful and impactful. Even if we think the solutions to our longings are different, we can connect over the longings themselves, and then go from there.

I was just recently in Washington DC on a trip for work. DC is certainly a very polarized place right now, to put it mildly. But it was fun to get into real conversations with people from different sides of the political divide. IMG_20190507_193842283_HDR

In one particular conversation, my new acquaintance and I had a rare opportunity to delve beyond the normal assumptions about the views of the other. In this case, it was a conversation about “religious freedom.” In fact, we simply named the labels, addressed them head on, and then went beyond them. We talked about how real people are so much more complex and don’t fit those labels. It turned our conversation into a dialogue about what it could look like to assume the best and not just push people into our boxes for them, but rather invite them to paint a picture of their passions and their complexities. Even though it didn’t change the fact that the labels have and will continue to dominate the landscape, I left encouraged. My heart was hopeful because I had made a real connection.


A quote at the MLK monument in DC


I am confident that God calls us to pursue this path of gracious, respectful, yet vulnerable engagement; not hiding what we believe or think, but speaking it with grace and respect.  The Apostle Paul says that for those who follow Jesus, it was “the goodness and loving kindness of God” that saved and changed us (Titus 3:4), so we likewise should “be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2) and our speech should “always be gracious.”  In addition, the Apostle Peter says that, even when we engage directly about religion, sharing why we have such a deep hope in Jesus, we should do so “with gentleness and respect,” and combine it with “doing good” (1 Peter 3:15-17).

I like to listen. Yet I still have much to learn.  Do you want to engage too?

Light in Darkness

I have been thinking a lot about light and darkness lately. It is certainly relevant this time of year as we think about Jesus, as the light of the world, who came into a dark world to bring light and life and hope.

Our pastor recently described hope as a “pinhole of light.” It is not being imaginative and grasping at wishful thinking, but rather is seeing that there is reason for hope because certain things are true. For example, if we know God as compassionate and just and good, we can place our hope in Him and his promises.

When things are hard, what is good and life-giving shines all the more brightly. We appreciate what we have more when we know what it is not to have it—when we can recognize that certain things are not what we are entitled to, but blessings. This principle applies both to things and to relationships. The deepest relationships I have are not formed through perpetually positive interactions, such as watching movies, saying nice things, or even going on “epic vacations” together. If connections are kept at the safe “surface-level,” I find that there is still a fear in the back of my mind – “what if they find out about the real me, warts and all? What if they see that my life isn’t as perfect as it looks from the outside? Will they still want to be around me?”

In contrast, the moments of connection, understanding and love after sharing hard, deep thoughts or experiences together are what help me to feel known and loved. When my close friend sees that I am struggling with wisdom in parenting a certain child, and that I am broken over how my pride and failings can get in the way of parenting the way I want to, she can affirm that she understands and cares for me in the midst of that struggle. She can also rejoice with me as I take positive steps in improving my patience-level, she can pray with me as I take the long term view and keep pressing on, and she can help me feel safe and accepted even with my imperfections. A relationship like that brings rest and peace.

This kind of peace is exactly what the Gospel of Jesus Christ demonstrates.  It is the message that God sees us in all our messy imperfections and with our selfish desires, and loves us. He knows us fully and deeply, and yet does not run away or say we are not good enough or reject us as inadequate. Instead, he does so much more than even a great friend can. He sacrifices himself for us, takes on the record of our inadequacy, and pays for it. Out of love for us, he gives us his perfect record, saying we are forgiven and accepted, not because of what we have done or will do, but because of what he has done. He takes our shame and grants to us honor, calling us his very own children.  He communicates to us: “now live well, loving and serving people whether they deserve it or not, not so that you are accepted, but because you have and do experience that kind of love and acceptance from me.” We do not deserve it, but this love and acceptance of us “while we were still sinners,” brings a kind of peace that permeates us, inside and out.  It is a peace that cannot be found anywhere else.

Jesus is the light of the world. Amazing, profound, life-altering light.

Talking about God…

You know how so many people think that topics you should avoid in conversation include religion, politics and sports? And this is not confined to the US. When I lived in Mexico long ago during a semester of college, I had a Mexican friend that I hung out with quite a bit remind me of this social norm (there, you especially avoid arguing about your favorite soccer team). He was surprised that I didn’t follow the norm very well. Well, I am not well-versed on sports teams (I think I am more like the Lego Movie citizens who just say “gooooo sports team” because it is what you are supposed to say). I have to admit that I don’t care enough about professional sports to work on that deficiency (sorry sports fans).  As for politics, I’m not going to go there…but I do care about what people think and why. IMG_1561

But I really do enjoy conversations about faith.  I love to hear different perspectives; I love to hear why people believe what they do, and what their questions are—whether related to their own faith or different faiths. I love to learn about how culture can affect religion and religion affect culture. I also love to share why my faith is so important to me, and how it causes me to value people and want to be a learner for life. I love to talk about Jesus – an amazing person and a polarizing figure throughout history. Real talk. Spiritual conversations don’t have to lead to tension and taking offense—it can just be sharing life. And sharing life is a huge step towards feeling known, connected, and cared for.

This summer, on our Portlandia summer mission, we had the joy of taking public transportation around Portland to a variety of college campuses to talk with students about their spiritual backgrounds and perspectives. We also had the opportunity to engage with the houseless of Portland and a wide range of other Portlanders by serving with different nonprofits—coming alongside them to learn how they care for and serve the poor in a big city. In addition, the staff ran training times covering topics ranging from how to study the Bible, how to use certain evangelism tools, being a learner in cross-cultural contexts, and even learning about the racism in Portland’s history.  I did a training on the importance of both Grace AND Truth in relationships – something I care a ton about. In addition, we had some great connection time in smaller discipleship groups with just a few students, and some one-on-one mentorship times.  Jeremiah and I traded off and on watching the kids, so we could both participate in the summer mission as much as possible.

I really enjoyed some of the spiritual conversations I had around Portland. So many of the people I talked to—albeit from incredibly wide-ranging experiences and backgrounds—were not phased at all by the topic of religion. In fact, they seemed to enjoy sharing their perspectives. I’ve decided that, overall, people like talking about what they think. They are thankful to have someone take an interest in them and their thoughts (in a deeper way than a facebook “like” or a rant), and to have a respectful conversation, even if it involves a difference of opinion.

There were, however, many days that I just stayed with the kids because Jeremiah was on campus and helping to lead trainings. We sometimes went to parks or checked out Buttes to hike around, or walked to Safeway for groceries. Or we did crafts, played games and read books at the house we were staying at. In that way, it wasn’t that different than a summer at home. Whether at home or in Portland, I also like to talk to my kids about life and faith. It is just part of our family’s mode—we talk to our kids about deep life issues, and think about how our faith affects how we view the world. It just feels normal—processing life with them, asking questions, considering why things are the way they are and what the Bible and Jesus have to do with our day to day lives. I certainly don’t have all the answers.  But conversations don’t have to have beginnings and endings all the time… I take seriously the concept in Deuteronomy 11:19, where God says to his people that they should speak of Him and His teachings in the midst of life (“Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”).


It is fun and right to make spiritual conversation normal and applicable to our lives, not confined to a certain “Bible study time” or church on Sunday. When it is in the midst of life, it means it is also in the context of my mess-ups as well as theirs, and we are able to truly talk about why I believe Christianity holds such a hope-filled message that is for imperfect people NOT trying to posture their way into religious superiority, but accepting God’s amazing grace.

In the same way, why should it be weird to talk about spiritual things with friends? I want to know more about how my friends process life. I don’t want to stick to conversations about weather, career, and kids’ activities. I want to feel real connection. So lets choose respect and seek to listen and understand one another; lets avoid ambivalence and judgmentalism.

Fantastic Fun!

I know that I am often quite serious here on our blog. But I do want my friends to know that our lives are in fact full of silliness and laughter. Every day, I laugh with joy at the blessings God has showered on me. When scripture says that “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), it is so true!

The kids each make me laugh in their own way. I love how unique God has made each of my children—their gifts and their personalities are so precious and amazing. Here are a few pictures that barely begin to capture their joy, creativity, and adventurous spirits.

We have so many adventures with imagination at home, around town, and when we can take time away from busy daily life. I love seeing these kids be kids, while at the same time growing in love and character.

We had fun exploring the wetlands together near Sacramento, climbed trees in Pleasant Hill, and Isaiah got to release baby Salmon (called Fry) into the Sacramento River.


Super Sibling Silliness!


Watching taxidermy of a Condor wing at UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day


Yogurt Ice Cream! Yum!

Love and weariness…

I love deeply. I want to fix things. I have learned, however, through my journey of life so far—including authentic friendships, mentoring college women, and doing foster care—that I have very little power to “fix” anything. Yet love and sacrifice continue to be powerful, most clearly shown in the example of Jesus himself (the ultimate of both love and sacrifice—leading to life out of death, and hope for so many). Love and sacrifice are possible for us normal humans too, however, and enable transformation. But life is messy, and tiring.

I have been reflecting lately about just how common abuse and suffering are, even just in the sample set of people that I have personally known and interacted with. I know so many women who have suffered and experienced things I wish I could just pluck out of their life story. Yet there it is—part of their story—a glaring wound. It can feel like cracks in a mirror that they keep looking into, preventing them from seeing their beauty and preciousness.

When I keep hearing about stories of physical and emotional trauma, mistreatment, manipulation, loneliness, racism and intimidation, I get troubled and weary to my core. I have a deep trust in God’s sovereignty and compassion, and that gives me hope that will not be extinguished, but I can’t help but get overwhelmed at times.  It is like a blanket of numbness and uncertainty, causing me to feel inadequate to help the people I love to process the consequences of traumatic events in their lives.

I firmly believe that to most effectively serve and care for someone, it is crucial to understand his or her story; I must listen and hear.  Doing so humbles me, helps me to grow, and gives me tremendous compassion as well as love and friendship as I enter into both ups and downs with my friends. Over the years, I have often felt over my head in terms of how to give advice as a friend or mentor in a variety of scenarios.  My eyes have been opened to a greater level of brokenness in our world than I ever knew of growing up in my sheltered environment.

I desperately want to help the people I love to find healing from wounds that have been inflicted on them by others or that come out of deep internal struggles they have. I believe that God’s Word has wisdom that will help, and I love to share the wisdom that I find there. Yet even as I share, I try to always do so with love, respect, and a willingness to learn. I am constantly a learner and always have more to learn, about life, culture, trauma, etc.  So I want to walk with my friends, and encourage and remind them (and myself) to pursue a path of hope.

The only long term hope I really see and have is grounded in the fact that we have a God who cares. Jesus in fact experienced pain relationally and physically; he knew rejection and sorrow. Jesus’ love led him to the cross, to take on the judgment for all our wrongdoing, so that we could be forgiven and have new life in Him.  It doesn’t erase hardship, but gives us life, strength and hope.  He gives us an identity in Him and in our future with Him, not in our circumstances. The Bible presents a unique picture of health that is grounded, not in “overcoming” out of one’s own strength, but in receiving the gift of forgiveness, healing, hope and strength from God.

2 Corinthians 4:16 says “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

What does all this really mean for my day to day, however, since the concept of hope can feel very elusive? I think resting our identity in the Lord can help us embrace and pursue “adulthood.”  So what does it look like to be an adult?  Well, the end goal (which I pray and hope for both my children and the students I work with) is to be a person who is confident in who he or she is (I will use she here).  Her identity (for a follower of Jesus) is grounded in how God sees her; she knows she is made in His image and sees herself as equally valuable to other humans, despite broken aspects of culture communicating otherwise. Because she knows God’s love, she is sensitive and caring towards others, even when they don’t deserve it. She is willing to go out of her comfort zone to seek to understand and love others different from her.  She is able to submit to authorities in her life (such as a boss, or even a peer in a position of authority) because she knows that a role or position doesn’t change her value. She doesn’t hide from pain and sorrow, but walks through those things with others and with the Lord, knowing that strength is found in trusting God in the midst of struggle, not in ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t matter.  She takes responsibility for her growth and for how she reacts to what people do to her, even if they are mean-spirited and trying to demean her (this is not taking responsibility for them, just for her reaction); she forgives freely and loves sacrificially.

This picture is not a life of ease, but it does involve peace, growth, and love.  I freely admit that I do not live it this out perfectly in my own life, because of my struggles and failings; yet knowing God’s steadfast love and grace in my life enable me to believe that following Christ’s example in these ways is what will lead to joy and life. I am thankful that I don’t have to be perfect, because God’s love is not based on my performance, but on His work and His goodness.

Psalm 145:8 “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

And so we love, and will not grow weary in doing good.

It’s Official

Today was our family’s second adoption day!  I thought about calling this blog post “We are complete.” Then I realized that might sound a bit too much like my happiness is defined by having a certain number of children or by achieving an official legal status. That isn’t true. I was content with 3 birth kids; I was content with 4 kids, including one beautiful adopted four-year-old girl;  I didn’t need more.  But God had more in mind. I am rejoicing, however, in the “official” culmination of much waiting. God led us to our precious Laticia—who we cannot imagine life without—and then he brought Shylee into our lives, an extra blessing! Our littlest one is now a Kepner.  We just had our adoption hearing today, and our little (almost two-year-old) is now Shylee Grace Kepner. That is the first name she has had since birth, but a new middle name and last name. She has been with our family for over a year, but now she is truly “adopted.” Her identity has shifted from one family to another. This doesn’t mean her past or her birth family are no longer important—they will always be part of who she is. It just means that her identity, her security, her deepest place of belonging, have shifted. Both Laticia and Shylee joined our family officially in 2017: one in January, one in December. It has been quite a year!

Because Shylee was not legally ours until now, we have not been able to share our story of how she joined our family with many of you.  I will not tell all of her life story here.  That is her story—it is for her to share as she grows and embraces it, just as Laticia’s story of her past and what it means to have joined a new family is hers to share. I merely want to share how God has indeed shown our family (and me personally) much “grace” in how he brought her into our lives.  It is an amazing story: a story of answered prayer and miraculous healing.

We first heard about Shylee (without knowing her name) in June 2016. We just knew that our foster-to-adopt daughter had a baby sister, and she was not in the foster care system.  My heart was touched, and even though we were in the throes of helping our new, precious 4-year-old adjust to our home and family, I started praying that we would get to meet the little sister, and that she might even join our family.  I felt a little conflicted about wanting that, because, as a foster parent, I had learned to authentically wish the best for birth families. Yet I also believed it would be best for Laticia and for “baby sister” to be together.  Although I don’t usually pray for specific dates or numbers, God placed on my heart to pray that she would join us by December.

Then, at the end of July, 2016. I received a text from our state adoptions worker on Laticia’s case (since we had only had her a few months at the time), saying that her baby sister “was declared legally deceased last night…she was then resuscitated and is being kept alive by machines.” My heart sunk. I was driving in the car with Jeremiah at the time, coming back from a CPR recertification class. I immediately wrestled with the idea of disappointed hopes. Why would God allow this precious little baby to die? How could that be the end? I had felt so confident that I was supposed to pray for this little one – this wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out! Then my heart went to how broken the world is—there is so much tragedy and loss everywhere! So many parents experience the pain of loss—this wasn’t even my child, and yet I felt a small piece of that pain. Tears sprung to my eyes. But I just couldn’t believe she was gone. Jeremiah and I prayed for a miracle. We prayed that her brain would be spared, despite the lack of oxygen and the damage to her little body. We prayed that she would be healed and that we would still be able to bring her home if that was God’s plan.

We prayed and we expected to hear more soon… I have to admit, however, that fear also sprang into my heart, even as I prayed. What if she already had brain damage? What if she was permanently disabled? Was I still prepared to open my heart to her if that was the case? When we first pursued adoption, we had said we were open to a lot of risk, but not known severe disabilities.  I already felt stretched thin with four kids, homeschooling, and working part time.  Would I be able to handle the upheaval of our lives? I felt like I had no way of knowing; no concept of how to prepare… I pushed it aside. I must pray, and trust God to give me the grace I need to face whatever decision might come. Right now, this was a battle for her life—I didn’t want to focus on myself and my fears. “She needs you, God. Please heal her. I need you God—help me to trust and to hope.”

For several weeks, I kept my phone on me, expecting to hear a call one way or the other. All we heard was she was surviving so far.  My thoughts constantly went to her – the little baby I had never met or seen.  Maybe she would be close to being released, and they would need a foster family? I knew our name had been shared. No more news. We had no way of getting more info; we just waited and prayed. We didn’t tell the kids anything…

Months slipped by. Could she still be in the hospital? Did the county really have our name? Then we heard “not looking good. She probably won’t make it.” Yet we didn’t believe it. We kept praying. We heard rumors of other results of the infection that had taken over her little body. I kept fighting in prayer, but my thoughts went to “can she have quality of life? If it has been this long, how could it be possible that there isn’t severe damage?” As we confided with a few people the situation, they counseled caution. “You don’t know what you might be getting into. You have to think of your other kids too… Don’t say yes before you know more.” In fact, a doctor we mentioned what we knew about the situation to said “that does not sound good.”

I wouldn’t give up; I continued to plead with God to protect her, to heal her. Although it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and we couldn’t really let many people into knowing what we were dealing with (due to confidentiality), over time God gave me peace. He seemed to be saying to my heart—“I will give you strength for one day at a time. Trust me.” There was no promise of healing, no rose-colored glasses, just an expectation of future grace, one day at a time.

Towards the end of October, we finally got a call from the county. We finally knew her name – Shylee. They said she was likely to be released in the coming weeks, and asked if we were interested. The woman on the phone didn’t have much medical info for me… But I said “yes, we are interested.” How could I say anything else? I was invested – God was going to provide and guide us each step. We immediately went into a crazy re-licensing process—ultimately unnecessary confusion since we had not yet finalized Laticia’s adoption and were still with our agency. But hey, it got us to fix up a few more things in the house, and gave me something to focus on that I could move forward in, since I felt so helpless to move anything forward otherwise. We also told the kids about her, and they started to pray that she could join our family and that she would be OK. It was so sweet to see the faith and passion of little Laticia as she prayed each night for the sister she had never met.


We finally got permission to go see her in the hospital Nov 8. She was 10 and a half months old. We met some of the nurses that had been caring for her, heard more about her medicines, feeding tube, physical therapy. Trying not to feel overwhelmed, we went to her room. She was sleeping, but woke up, and we got to hold her. I had been expecting a tiny baby—she was not tiny. But it was an amazing feeling to put a face to the “baby sister” I had prayed for for 4 months already. She was visibly wary and uncomfortable. There was one main nurse she really relaxed with and smiled for; the whole nursing staff said she sure had a strong will… I resolved to earn her trust. We were invited to a medical meeting the next week, and then began to really visit in earnest. At least one of us visited almost every day for about 2 weeks. We took the kids to meet her at the hospital.  It was the first time Laticia had ever met her sister; I watched her face closely as we walked into the playroom, wanting to read her face and remember the moment.

Amazingly, some of the students from UC Davis involved in our Cru movement volunteered weekly at the Children’s Hospital, and knew Shylee before we did. I even had started to mentor one of them as a new follower of Jesus who was so excited to grow in her faith. When I mentioned the situation to her when we were sharing prayer requests, we realized that she already knew Shylee. She had taken her to the playroom at the hospital and sat with her. She loved her! In fact, she had made a beautiful drawing and sign with Shylee’s name on it that was on her hospital room door when we first visited. I still have that sign. Another student we knew was also there and knew Shylee—what a blessing! God was caring for her in so many ways.

We thought Shylee would be released one weekend, so Jeremiah rushed home from a conference he was attending. But then it was another week before she was actually released due to medicines and adjusting to the new G-tube they had just surgically put in. We knew there was potentially a long road ahead—she refused to eat or drink much, wouldn’t lay on her tummy, or crawl at all, and seemed to either be pretty quiet or screaming.

This little one had been through a lot. Yet it was a miracle she was alive and moving at all!  God had been gracious indeed. We brought her home on Nov 25, 2016, the day after Thanksgiving. As I was thanking God for Shylee, I also had to marvel at the fact that he had truly answered my prayers from back in June that we would have her by December, with amazing specificity. It was as if he was confirming once again to my heart what the Bible indicates: “I am in this with you.” “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

The kids immediately embraced the goal of teaching her how to crawl and eat. That first night, all four of them crawled in a circle around her on the floor, as she turned her head to stare at them.  In addition, each one of them would pray—when it was there turn to pray before dinner or before bed—that she would learn to eat and crawl and walk.

As the weeks went by, the safety and security of our home and our constant affection began to have an effect. She stopped screaming inconsolably at night and started to lean towards us instead of away; she began to reach for toys beyond her immediate reach; she started to lay on her stomach without screaming; she started to pick at food and took some liquids from a spoon.


Then it was like she took off developmentally. It was truly amazing to watch. She started drinking out of a bottle and began to eat finger foods.  In a matter of months, she went from sitting to crawling to walking. By the summer, she was experimenting with balance, stepping onto and over little bumps over and over, like it was her favorite thing in the world. Once she mastered that, she tried jumping and climbing. Now she can do a somersault and the splits on command, and tries to imitate anything the other kids do. We are well beyond food worries, now having battles over whether she will eat her veggies before she gets more “cra-cka” or other favored item.

In May, when we had gone several months without using the feeding tube and were past flu season, the doctors removed the tube. At that time, I went back to the hospital to visit the nurses. I walked in and Shylee started walking around the hallways, pushing and climbing into the little toy cars that they use in the walkways. The nurses were amazed and started calling the therapists and others, saying “you have to come see this.” I treasure the memory of their excitement, their laughter, their joy at seeing her doing so well. They had cared for her for months, not knowing what would happen. Then the head nurse asked if she could take me up to “the tenth floor” where she had been barely kept alive with the machines for so long. She said “they have to see this.”

So Shylee pushed the toy car into the elevator as we followed the nurse up to the tenth floor. I hadn’t met any of these doctors before, but they had saved my daughter’s life. We met one, who called another, who called across the street to ask another to come, who called someone else. They all stood there watching her in amazement. They said “thank you” for coming back. “We never see this.” “This is amazing.” I met a male nurse who looked at her and said “I sat by you so many nights,” and a female doctor who said “You gave me so many gray hairs.” So many people knew her—she had been with them, though never really alert, for about 2 months.  I don’t even know how to describe how touched I was by the experience. I was amazed, with tears in my eyes. Before I even knew Shylee—when all I was doing was praying for the unknown baby—these doctors were caring for her. God had taken care of her and used so many amazing people in the process. Their reactions also deepened my awareness of just how much of a miracle her recovery is! And that causes me to praise God—some things are just supposed to lift our eyes to heaven.

As time goes on and Shylee’s HUGE personality is a fixture in our home, it is easy to forget where she came from. It is easy to forget that she is a miracle! God brought her from death to life, and then from life to flourishing. We cannot explain it; we did not deserve it—it is just a pure and simple gift of God.

This is particularly profound for us because we believe it is a picture of what God does for us spiritually.  God has a beautiful plan for human flourishing, and yet we are so broken from our own failures and the hurts done to us that we can’t see or find it. We look to so many other things to try to fix it—we want to control our lives, we want to dull the pain, we want to overcome. But we can no more fix ourselves than Shylee could decide to heal herself and get off the machine that was both breathing for her and pumping her blood through her little body. She was almost dead physically; we are dead spiritually. God had to heal her physically, and he has to give us new life spiritually.

And what Shylee’s story makes me think of more than anything is the kind of life that God wants for us. He didn’t just heal her. For those of you who know her, you can see already that she doesn’t just live—she lives life to the fullest. If she could step over something, she will balance on it and jump off of it! It reminds me that God doesn’t just want to give me life, but abundant life (John 10:10). God doesn’t just forgive us; he gives us Christ’s perfect record when we believe in him and receive his gift (Rom 3:21-26). He doesn’t just love us; he adopts us as his children. He doesn’t just want us to survive, but to “abound in hope” (Rom 15:13).

By grace we have been saved.  Praise God for his abundant grace!

Of Bed Bugs and Real Disasters

I feel a bit numb. I can’t fully explain it. It is one of those things that comes on gradually, as you slog through life and enjoy little moments here and there, but generally don’t get quite enough sleep and don’t really process the things going on around you, both at your micro-world level and in the big picture of this country and the world. Maybe others can relate…

It started by ending our summer and starting school. I was ready for school on the one hand—excited to get into a different routine; excited for three of my kids to head off to the local public school (biking to school is so fun and way better than driving to multiple schools like last year). Yet I was not ready for school on the other hand—I hadn’t prepped much for homeschooling my oldest through 6th grade, and somehow it feels weightier than 5th grade. Not to mention the new curriculum the school district has for language arts that felt a bit overwhelming at first (I like to do things right, and it had a lot of pieces to figure out). Anyway, we were going to get into a routine.

Then I found the bed bug. I had been experiencing bites all over my arms and legs (mainly on one side) for a few weeks, and had started to wonder, but kept dismissing it—our house is clean; our mattress is not old… But I know a lot more about bed bugs now than I did then, and those things really are irrelevant. Anyway, Jeremiah was gone that night—trying to help address the carpenter ant problem up at my extended family’s cabin (ironic)—and I woke up at 3 in the morning and started to rip apart the bed. There it was: a flat brown bug. I screamed inside my head, grabbed a tissue, smashed it, and put it in a plastic bag. I set the bag up on the top of the dresser, where it sat, tormenting me. I looked over at the bed. I didn’t want to touch it. I didn’t want to carry the sheets to the washing machine in case one dropped somewhere else in the house… I went to my computer and of course looked up bed bugs. Sure enough—I knew it was what I had found. Aaahhhhh!

What followed were two weeks of utter chaos (in my little world). There were the normal things: adjusting to school routines, legal work picking up, preparing to start the Fall Quarter of ministry on campus at UC Davis, etc.  And then there was the bed-bug related things: sleeping on the couch and staying out of our room as much as possible; just to be extra cautious, moving everything but furniture out of not just our bedroom, but every bedroom in our house.  We put all our stuff into black plastic bags and let it sit in the sun or in a hot car for at least a day. Luckily (providentially, really), it was the hottest possible week for September, with temperatures between 100-108 most days. That meant that I didn’t really have to worry about any of our stuff being contaminated. Then the exterminator came and sprayed the rooms (thank you to those who taught us about wise budgeting and emergency savings). I was thankful to have it done; but the paranoia took longer to wear off…


Then came the task of moving everything back into the house. Ugh. It all took forever.  I tried to help the kids stay upbeat by talking about all the positives – a fresh, clean start; getting rid of things we didn’t need; re-organizing. And I had to admit that God did bless us in the midst of it all, between the hot weather and the opportunity to take stock of all our unnecessary stuff. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad.

Yet it had thrown me off. It stressed me out to have so much chaos around me—the emotional state of moving without the excitement of being somewhere new…  I felt bad that it was affecting me so much. I felt bad that I was so focused and consumed by my micro world problems.  Who really cared?

Meanwhile, in the real world, so many more important and painful things were raging—hurricanes wiping out neighborhoods and devastating cities; flooding completely destroying homes; insensitive and hurtful rhetoric bashing people because of their perspectives on certain topics; gunmen destroying lives for seemingly no reason; friends going through relational trauma.

I wanted to engage. I tried to engage by reading about needs and praying for others, by serving where I am in little ways. I spent time with the Lord and tried to process how to help in view of the natural disasters. Those things have been good, but they haven’t totally taken away my worn-down feelings.

I don’t think it is all bad to be in a season of weariness. It isn’t the same as lacking joy. I can be tired and feel the weight of the world’s troubles, yet remind myself of the profound truth that God is both with me in my personal struggles and aware of the pain and brokenness in the whole world. I can remember to not put too much weight on my temporary troubles and focus on thanksgiving, and yet not deny that it has been hard. I can allow myself to process and grieve, and bring my full self to the Lord.

After all, the Bible tells us:

  • God cares about us as individuals, saying that he numbers the hairs on our heads (Lk 12:7) and values us more than the birds and flowers that he also takes care of (Mt 6).
  • “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145: 8-9)
  • Jesus said: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)
  • We are to humble ourselves before the Lord and cast all our anxieties on Him, “because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7)

I know that my troubles are minimal, but they help me to understand and have compassion on those who must be facing the numbness on a whole different level. I am praying for them. And I am clinging to hope in the midst of this troubled world; I am choosing thankfulness to the God who cares.

A Mother’s thoughts on Racism, Culture and History

I have a strong case of “I don’t want people to misunderstand me, so I will stay out of social media.” And that leads me in most cases to stay silent. But I realize that I can’t stay silent all the time. I have to engage. I have to stand for love and truth and compassion.  My heart is crushed by the hatred and anger that I see in this country. I am sad that I am seeking to raise my 5 children, including two bi-racial girls, in such a polarized culture. I feel completely inadequate to help them navigate it.  I don’t feel like I have enough wisdom or knowledge; I know I am white and have had power and privilege that I did not deserve—privilege that I didn’t even see for so many years, but took for granted.

Some things should be obvious: Racism is Wrong—flat wrong. It is sin. Hatred is wrong. Jesus equates it with murder. And sadly, it results in murder, as we just saw in Charlottesville. It makes me so angry when people who claim to know Jesus judge others out of their blind hatred, ignorance, and pride. I am shocked when I hear that some white supremacists claim to be Christian, and yet they think and act the way they do. My prayers are going out daily to the families of those who were injured in the act of terrorism by a white supremacist this week. We must condemn extremists like this.

But we must go farther. We must not hold the concept of “racism” as something only white supremacists do. I hear so many people say “I am not a racist,” and then post a nice article on Facebook displaying disgust at the horrible acts going on to prove it.  Yet if we are going to heal as a country, we must do more. White people and people of privilege must humble ourselves and ask ourselves what assumptions WE make and what ignorance WE have about the various “others” around us. I still have so much to learn about many cultures that are represented in the town I live in. When I see someone from a different background than mine do something that I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with, I need to have enough humility to realize that much of my perspective is culturally informed, not informed by any true “right” or “wrong” standard.  As a Christian, I do have the Bible as a standard for guiding me to the truth, and I do believe it gives some clear moral imperatives—but those are not embedded in any one culture, and they don’t encompass things like how you should express yourself or sing or wear your pants or decorate your home or eat. Even as a “non-racist” white person, I still must humbly realize that my narrow perspectives and my ignorance can lead to prejudice and judgment if I am not careful. I must realize that the way I say things can really hurt people and lead to more division and misunderstanding between races and cultures.

Yet it also makes me sad when people try to overly politicize these real problems and horrible acts, and use them to label political parties as a whole. Lets call out hatred as evil, but not use it to label a whole group of people.  I am not Republican or Democrat—I am a follower of Jesus; THAT is my primary identity, and that is all I need to condemn racism as abhorent.

Individual people are messy and complex. Unfortunately, in our sound bite and “yell at the other side” culture, we often don’t have enough space, time or trust to seek to distinguish between principles that should be straightforward like “Racism is evil,” and details that are harder to simplify, label and dismiss.  For example, the backgrounds and nuances behind the motivations of people who choose to affiliate with certain political parties are incredibly complex. Even as an Independent, I am afraid of getting labeled on Facebook; Hence, my largely silent Facebook life.

If you know me, you know that I am a woman of nuance. I love seeing both sides. There is a reason that, as a lawyer, my career started by working for a judge for two years. I love to listen to both sides and really try to understand. And you know what?  It is almost always complicated when people are involved.

My experiences in life since that first legal job have only confirmed this. Participating in foster care and adoption have made it all the more real for me.  The foster kids I have had in my home do not have bad people for birth parents.  Every birth parent I have met and known loves their kids. Even when I have agreed with a judge’s decision to not return a child, I have been sad right alongside the birth parents, because there is such tragedy and loss in their lives. So often it is because of patterns set into their lives early on that were out of their control, launching them on a painful and destructive path. Knowing that humbles me and gives me compassion.  It is a simple and irrefutable truth that abuse and neglect are horrible and wrong; we must protect kids from the hurt and damage that results.  Nevertheless, in the reeds of Family Court cases, it is incredibly complex how and why these kids’ birth parents ended up parenting the way they did.

Our polarization and problems in this country are similarly complex.  Racial hatred is inexcusable, and we must condemn it strongly every chance we get! Yet the history that led us to where we are today is incredibly complex. As I studied US History with Isaiah this past year during home school, we listened to a great lecture series from The Great Courses that drew out those complexities well. We had so many good conversations about how different groups of people thought during periods in our country’s history, and why they were blind to other groups’ perspectives. There are many people in our history that make my skin crawl to read about (e.g., Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson). If I am honest, our current President often makes my stomach lurch too. That said, many, many more of our historical figures had both a lot of good and a lot of bad about them—even many of our heroes.

I think the solution is to teach MORE history. We must realize just how broken we are as a country, and that it is nothing new. Especially as a white person, I must not neglect to teach my children about the atrocities done to Native Americans. I must teach them about slavery and the fact that precious people were treated as less than human, beaten and abused, and denied even the chance to pursue justice. I must tell them about the horrors of Nazi Germany, when those in power brainwashed a whole people to find it acceptable to seek to wipe out Jewish people and experiment on and murder the disabled. I must tell them about how fear during WWII led people in our own communities to imprison Japanese Americans. I must teach them about the murders, beatings, fire hoses turned on peaceful protestors, and myriad of examples of voter intimidation that happened during the Civil Rights movement when my parents were growing up.  And I must teach them that—even in my lifetime—I have seen governmental structures perpetually disadvantage groups of people, and have seen fear lead to the mistreatment of Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, Native Americans and others.  So much of our history is tragic. But we must learn from it. We must remember what humanity is capable of so we can call people to intentionally avoid it. We don’t have to guess at what hatred leads to—history shows us. If you really study history with thoughtfulness, you cannot help but realize that we are not so different from the people who made all these mistakes—who believed lies, abused power and privilege, and sinned against their fellow humans.

Lets fight against racism and evil, and as we begin to plumb the depths of these problems together, lets seek to remember that we are broken people, each in need of compassion and grace.

With my whole heart

I generally just always feel busy – and summer is no exception.  With 5 kids home all day, I will say our home is not a tranquil, quiet place. But it is fun.  Yet, from my mommy perspective, there are always more things to do—more housework, more laundry, more planning of summer crafts for the kids, more trips to the pool or to parks, more reading I haven’t gotten to, more legal work for Cru, etc. The kids each want special time with me—‘play with me,’ they say…. They want more; I want more.

Yet, I have been learning to be content with what I can give and with who I am right now in the midst of my circumstances. I was talking to someone the other day and they asked me “How do you balance everything?” I said something to the effect of “not very well,” which is what I usually say. But then I added: “Even if I can’t do everything as well as I would like, I try to do each thing with my whole heart.” I hadn’t really thought about how to say it, but that is what came out. And I think it does express what God has been teaching me in many ways: Contentment is not in getting more done or doing things just right; it is in being fully present and thankful for God’s gifts in each moment.

It is like I am finally internalizing what I tell my kids to do: “Don’t focus on what you don’t have; be thankful for what you do have.” I am clearly not a mom who has it all together, but I have so many moments of connection and laughter with my kids. Even if my one year old dumps over the piles of laundry I just folded, she also hums, dances and generally jumps around while she makes a mess, bringing the rest of us much joy and laughter. Even when my 5 year old overreacts to correction, she ends up resting with me and giving affectionate cuddles. Even if the kids argue over which lego minifigure they each get to play with, it is only happening because they are being so creative and making up imaginative worlds together. I am blessed!

This less-stressed-out attitude is perhaps evidence that I am, bit-by-bit, learning to receive God’s grace more readily—that joy-filled, love-grounded, hope-rooted grace. How could I have ever pushed it away? And yet I did…and still do sometimes.

I want to keep doing each thing with my whole heart, without comparing to what others do and without imagining what I could do “if…”

Proverbs 12:25, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine, But a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Emotionally Driven…

Fake crying… I was sitting on an airplane earlier this week and I heard it. The little girl behind me was doing a good job getting her mother very worked up and very stressed out. I could tell she was trying to do so, but I wasn’t sure at first what it was she really wanted. Now, I have practice recognizing fake crying – one of my daughters is very good at it as well. But I generally don’t fall for it. I mean, I am kind-of a softie: the kids can get me to drag on the bedtime routine and I fall for it. “Mommy, can I tell you one more thing…?” Nevertheless, I have little tolerance for the fake crying. I often try to reason with my daughter when she does it. I know, reasoning with 4-5 year olds is limited, but I try anyway. Jeremiah agrees it is good to talk to our kids with real, complex thoughts, but he continues to think that I often try too hard…and he is right.

Anyway, so I keep using the refrain “now, remember that we want to help you and take care of you. But if you use fake crying, then it makes it harder for us to believe you when you really need help. Like the story about “The Wolf who Cried Boy” that we read at the library…” (Yes, you read that right; it was a twist on the normal story). Or I use another refrain “Sweet girl, we really want to practice speaking truth in all things, even the little things, because it builds trust, and leads to blessings in relationships.” Or another refrain: “Do you want people to do that to you? Let’s treat people how we want to be treated…”

Funny, right? When we say these things to children who are emotionally driven and in-the-moment focused. Logic doesn’t really sink in when emotional or reactive reasoning is going on. But perhaps if I keep repeating it, she will remember someday. And she does. They all do. But it usually feels like someday doesn’t come soon enough…

Well, a matter of minutes later, I see what the girl on the airplane wanted – she wanted attention; she wanted control.  After her mom got up with her, she was happily walking up and down the aisle, singing to herself, with her mom trailing behind, the amused ‘isn’t my daughter cute’ look on her face.

I can’t help but think about how we adults also fall prey to reactive reasoning (and/or emotional manipulation…) to get what we want, even if it means treading on someone else in the process. I tend to assume that with kids, it is not malicious—they are just no-holds-barred-self-serving. It is sinful, but not malicious. That is probably often true with adults too—but we bear more responsibility, and should seek to put others’ interests above our own.

What can reactive reasoning look like for adults?  I am no expert, but here are some of my musings. I think sometimes it can be the look that says, “how dare you criticize and offend me,” instead of humbling ourselves and recognizing the kernel of truth in the criticism. It might be assuming someone was objectively wrong for saying something that we don’t like (offending me/us), instead of assuming the best, believing the person has the right to express his/herself, and seeking to understand where he/she might be coming from. It is pouting or avoiding another person, trying to make her feel guilty, instead of being honest and letting her know that her choice hurt you. It is getting angry and blaming others for the consequences of our own mistakes.

Now, this can show up in face-to-face relationships (I have in fact done it to Jeremiah in various ways). But it can also show up in the digital realm (e.g., scary political pontificating and bashing on Facebook). It can also occur across racial, cultural, ideological or even theological lines, as Christen Cleveland so aptly points out in her book Disunity in Christ.

The problem is that if we are using reactive reasoning, it feels threatening when someone tries to break into our reactive reasoning with logic, so we can react by belittling or marginalizing him or her instead of listening and seeking to understand. My daughter does this quite well. When I try to place logic into her moments of emotional frenzy–such as giving her wisdom about how to make a better choice next time, she often gets the steel-like look on her face that indicates she is either going “all bad” on herself, or getting ready to kick or hit anyone who comes near her.

Unfortunately, we can’t overcome this way of thinking by just trying to. Our pride and selfishness go too deep. We need help! We need the Lord to help us. We need the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit in us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. I always tell my kids to “Ask God for help when you are frustrated, so you can remember to use respectful words instead of your body.” But we (both kids and adults) need help to even remember to ask. What a pickle.

I think it starts with choosing humility. Following Christ’s example. Christena Cleveland mentions a statement from the movie Music Within in her book, said by a disabled person when talking about how to help people care about the disabled. He says “You don’t need to change how they see [differently abled] people. You need to change how they see themselves.” Disunity in Christ, p97. Now I haven’t seen the movie, but it is a powerful thought; one that is really tied to the heart of the gospel. Instead of always trying to blame others for our pain, or trying to feel better about ourselves by devaluing others, we need to see ourselves as we truly are.  To value Christ’s sacrifice, we have to see our need for it. Jesus says he came to heal the sick; we have to know we are sick. We have to know that our reactive reasoning is coming out of our brokenness, not out of the other person’s actions.

I turn to God’s word to help me remember who I am and just how much help I need.  Romans 5:8 says: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There is no room for pride. Pride just leads us back to the law, which we cannot measure up to, and which enslaves us in guilt. But if I compare and put others down to boost myself, that is what I am doing; it doesn’t lead to happiness, and there is a deep rooted guilt that we then try to suppress if we refuse to confess it. That is not what God wants for us. Galatians 4:9 says: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

As in many cases, coming back to the Greatest commandments as Christ taught them also helps. When we “Love God” with our whole selves, by focusing on him, we can’t help but see ourselves more accurately. When we see ourselves more accurately, recognizing that we have tremendous value because of who we are in Christ, not because of our own greatness, then we will “love others” better. It will overflow out of us, and we will want to understand and care for others, no longer defensively trying to draw lines around ourselves.

I am thankful that “in Christ,” I am a “new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17). He is still doing the work in me, and I have a long way to go, but I praise Him that HE is the one at work. So I can say with the Psalmist “the Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps 27:1).