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A Forest of Weeds

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June 3, 2016

My feet fell in a steady rhythm as I pushed the sidewalk behind me on another sunset run. Cool evening air and long shadows make me a fair weather runner this time of year. My feet were light, but my heart was unusually heavy, so I pounded on hoping to outrun my thoughts.

I came around the curve on the sidewalk where tall trees give way to wild prairie flowers and I stopped. Truthfully, my heart and thoughts paused long before my feet when I saw the scene stretching out before me. Instantly, I realized why my heart felt heavy. The weeds in my life- the messiness, the unknown, the what-if, the worry- had grown into a forest of giants right before my distracted eyes.

I needed a fresh perspective. I know to fix my eyes back on the One that puts all other things into their rightful place, but I needed to stop running and do it. So I bent low and tilted my lens to capture this moment of unraveling life and abounding grace.

 

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Then I stood up and pointed my lens behind me to see the shadows of what was compared to the Source of Life right in front of me. The weeds went from light blocking giants to light covered paths in my hindsight. Even my shadow covered their blooms. We say God is good, but it can feel shallow and trite. We say God is in control, but we worry and fret our words and emotions. What if we don’t like His plan? What if it hurts? What if we have to watch those we love the most suffer? Is God and His plans still good?

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It depends on our perspective. It’s not what if, but why. Why do I trust during uncertainty? Because God knows and sees. Why can peace be my constitution when fear threatens? Because the deepest, truest part of me is more than a conqueror. When mole hills begin to look like mountains we can stand up on a Rock that doesn’t move, and see from a higher perspective. We can fix our eyes to what’s right under our feet and let weeds look like giants, or we can tilt our perspective up and out to see a bigger, eternal picture. Our hearts can’t beat for eternity just yet and our eyes cannot envision it today, but hope knows it and faith perceives it, even when our earthly senses cannot.

Let’s run our races to strengthen and nurture our faith senses; the eyes to see and ears to hear God both in and above the weeds. There’s no place to low or too high where we can outrun God’s love. He sees it all with eyes fully lit of eternity, and offers it to us grace-by-grace, one eternal perspective moment at a time.

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever”. 2 Cor 4:18 NLT

Be the Sister

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May 26, 2016

“Go make it right with her.” It’s my most popular mom-ism lately. We’re one week into summer and my three daughters are squaring off over everything from sharing a coveted pack of gum to whose responsibility it is to haul in the slew of riding toys left in the cul-de-sac after dark. No object or opinion is safe from swift sisterly accusations at any given moment. This morning it was a 4” stuffed toy dog that through my two youngest into fits of kicking and hysterics. I was tempted to remove the dog, but it wasn’t really the dog’s fault. I was tempted to remove the children, but it was raining outside and some people might frown on inclement weather parenting tactics. The only remaining choice was to remove myself, so I laid ground rules and stepped away. They had to make it right with each other. That means, address the other person’s specific hurts with apologies and accept forgiveness as well. After all, I’m raising daughters today, but I’m raising sisters for life.                                                                                                IMG_1915I’m a mom raising up daughters who will go on to be someone else’s best friend, my grandchildren’s aunts, someone’s sister-in-law, a college roommate, teammates, leaders, employees…More importantly I’m raising sisters: my girls are sisters within our immediate family but also sisters to future friends and family as well (to my children’s future in-laws, you’re welcome). My parenting goal is to raise up girls into women who know the influence and value they have within relationships. Life is fuller and richer when we know our role and live with purpose. As daughters of God we have a sisterhood because we share a common Heavenly Father with anyone in God’s family. This sisterhood comes with certain responsibilities and honors. What defines a sister?

For starters…

Sisters love confidently and generously

Sisters don’t care if your room, house, or life is a mess

Sisters sit by your side during mundane hours

Sisters are quick to laugh and cry with you

Sisters hold each other accountable

Sisters show up

Sisters cheer you on when you doubt yourself

Sisters stand by your side when life hurts

Sisters remember

Sisters say sorry and expect the same in return

Sisters can’t wait to tell you about their latest find

Sisters live with a holy confidence for themselves and others

Sisters celebrate when you succeed

Sisters understand seasons and minds change

Sisters talk with their Heavenly Father on their sisters’ behalf

Who comes to mind when you read this list? Who are the people in your sisterhood? Have you let them know how much you appreciate and treasure them lately? Be the sister you want others to be for you. Relationships are never perfect, but the best ones are so worth it all.

 

Unseen Broken

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May 17, 2016

Last weekend I spent Mother’s Day talking to a couple thousand of my closest friends at Heartland Community Church. The idea for the message I shared came from two places: First, the heartwarming childhood memories I have from my grandma’s garden. Second, from this question I asked God back in February,

God, what do I do with my unseen broken?

Every painful experience, hard memory, bad decision, selfish ambition, broken relationship tucked away inside my ‘heart’– We all have them, right? Those experiences and memories we’d rather keep buried in the dark because it’s not who we are anymore? However, like weeds in a flower garden our unseen broken will eventually manifest itself into our words, decisions, perspective, emotions, beliefs, and thoughts if we just ignore it. Then what do we do? If we claim to be Christians, how do we live out of the freedom, love, and joy Jesus gives us and be authentic about what’s going on in our heart and mind?

So, I asked the question and here’s what I’ve been learning…

Our Unseen Broken is like a seed. Seeds soften and break open so they can grow new life. When we break before a grace-giving, all-loving, all-knowing God He transforms our broken places into new life, rooted and growing in Jesus. Growth takes time, roots grow in dark places, and new life looks fragile in the beginning but we can have an eternal perspective of our brokenness and see it as a starting place for the lasting work God is doing in us each and every day.

God transforms our unseen broken into new life

Full Mother’s Day sermon HERE

I concluded the Mother’s Day sermon with a story about the ultimate Unseen Broken, sin. Here it is. It’s God’s story, but it’s our story too…

I began today with a story set in a garden and I’m going to finish with a story set in a garden, but this time it’s God’s story and it all begins in the Garden of Eden, where a piece of fruit broke open and sin entered God’s perfect world. It was a brokenness that went unseen, under the surface planting itself in every ounce of creation breaking apart the whole, perfect relationship God had with His children. To everyone and everything that could not see the big picture it looked like a total loss, brokenness beyond repair. But God spoke of a Hope that pointed His children towards something they couldn’t see with their eyes, but had to trust Him in their hearts. He had a plan to make all the brokenness whole once again…

But it would take another garden and this time we see Jesus, God’s only Son, here on Earth as one of us yet still perfectly God, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s face down praying, sweating blood, feeling sorrow to the point of death. He’s breaking for us.  He is about to take on the Unseen Broken of all of Creation—the very seed of death, that was planted in His beloved world, back in that first garden and He was going to let it break Him. Jesus who had no brokenness in Him took on yours and mine and my kids, your family, my parents, your parents…we all carry it in us and He took it all. God uprooted it out from its hiding place and laid on Jesus on the cross and He died taking our punishment to His grave. Our broken savior was buried in a dark place, and on the third day it was from that exact place of brokenness where Jesus rose to new life defeating the power of sin, our ultimate unseen broken, once for us all.

There is nothing in you or about you too dark or too broken that God, the great REDEEMER, cannot bring to new life again. Ask Him. Invite Him in. Follow Him. Grow in Him. And see for yourself if you won’t overflow in thankfulness for a God who brings new life from broken places.

Redefine Your Joy

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March 26, 2016

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When He has the choice and freedom to leave?

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 1b-2

“for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Does my definition of joy contain the verb strengthening? Jesus’ does. Nehemiah’s did.

How can I redefine joy in my life? If joy is my strength, does it make following Jesus while carrying my own cross any easier, perhaps lighter?  or does it just make it all worth it? Jesus lived the latter and spoke against the former.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24

Easter reminds me that I have a lot of quit in me. When times get tough I start looking for the exit. Satan tempted Jesus with the exit and Jesus slammed the door in his face. This Easter I want Jesus’ joy to be the defining factor of my strength.

The joy on the other side of the grave was irresistible to our Heavenly Father’s heart. His kids’ eternity was on the line. The joy on the other side of the cross was irrefutable to our Holy King’s perfect justice. His Kingdom swayed in its balance.

It is finished. Case closed. Joy unleashed, for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring it to the Table

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March 25, 2016

They sat as brothers around the table in the upstairs room. The meal spread out before them on a rough, hewn table; cups filled with deep red wine to accompany their meal of remembrance for a time when God was faithful to rescue His people. They had gathered for one common reason, but each man brought something different to the table.

IMG_7468Peter, he brought self-reliance. He was a devout follower and friend to Jesus, but he spoke words of confidence in his own ability to stay by Jesus’ side and fight to the death. Peter brought self-reliance to the dinner table and ate with the Lord of all creation.

Judas sat down to the table with hidden greed and fear. His inner darkness reclined at the table with the Light of the World.

The other disciples brought pride and self-righteousness to the upper room. They all walked in with dirty feet to be cleansed by their spotless Savior.

What about you? What do you bring to the table? Picture yourself climbing a steep and narrow stairway to the upper room. At the top of the stairs your eyes do a quick scan of the seating arrangement. Surely a seat out of Jesus’ direct line of sight would be best because getting too close means He may see through the façade you’re using to cover your sins. He’s bound to realize halfway through the meal that you don’t belong at His table. That you’ve brought things too complicated, too messy, too far gone to fix. What if He asks you to leave? What if wIMG_6122hat you’ve brought to the table isn’t good enough? You tried again and again, but all you’re bringing to dinner is failure.

It takes faith to sit down in Jesus’ presence knowing He knows. Everything. His invitations are always offered in full and complete grace.  Since He knows what we’re bringing to His table before we even accept the invitation, we can literally rest assured in His presence. There’s isn’t one thing you can bring to Jesus’ table that’s outside of His capable, saving grace.

Jesus loved you first. Jesus sought you out.

Jesus invited you in. You are His guest of honor, Prodigal Child.

Come to the table.

Click HERE to read more about Jesus’ last supper.

 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 

John 15:9-11

What is your Emotional Color Palette?

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February 27, 2016

Within the context of a day I can cover a lot of emotional ground and not realize the toll it takes until I lay in bed at night with a numb heart. I used to think numb emotions resulted from lack of caring, but over the years I’ve realized it results from too many unresolved and unrecognized emotions. Like mixing too many paint colors at once, I just end up with a brownish muck color.

IMG_9495I mastered this art of color mixing as a kid living in an adult world. The emotions were too big for me to handle, so I mixed them up…good and bad, and moved on. It was survival of the one who cared the least, and I won. That mode of operating served me well for a long time. I could rock cool and detached emotional status like a pro. However, there’s nothing cool or loving about being a detached wife or mom. It’s just not an option if I wanted a healthy, thriving family. There’s nothing attractive about being a detached friend or sister, it’s hurtful to others and keeps me from experiencing authentic relationships. I woke up in my late 20’s and knew I needed to be retaught how to feel again. The bright side is that since this is a learned self-defense mode my heart defaults to in order to avoid painfully ‘feeling all the feels’, that means I can relearn a new, healthier way of approaching emotions too.

I started recognizing my emotional red flag. It’s when muted, muck brown is the color of my heart. My head knows I have too much to be thankful and joyful for and, honestly too much valid sadness to feel nothing at all. I wind up with a heart clogged up with a tangled knot of vacillating muddy emotions. Can you relate? How do you gauge your emotional health? Have you seen this color wheel of emotions? I don’t know about you but I want to authentically feel appropriate emotions for life’s situations. Angry when I should feel angry, sad when I should feel sad, happy when I should feel happy… What are your emotional red flags where unhealthy or unresolved emotions dictate your perspective and responses?

I want to feel emotions like colors, bright and recognizable. Blended emotions naturally happen and they create beautiful combinations on life’s emotional color paleIMG_6862tte. Many of my most treasured moments are blended hues: love with fear, bittersweet, sad and hopeful, excited yet afraid, scared and determined…but mix them all together and I get an unidentifiable puddle that’s nearly impossible to work with. Where do I go from there?

I take my muck-covered heart to God and get painfully honest. The book of Psalms refers to God as a place of refuge (I counted 8 times but maybe more?). King David who often talked about God as his refuge needed a place for both physical and emotional safety. RiIMG_0718ght now the refuge I need most often isn’t a physical but an emotional one. Every year of marriage, each daughter born, every move (14 so far), and through the waves of life I am learning to seek emotional refuge in a safe place where I’m neither condemned or manipulated. Anxiety and worry don’t like to sit still, so I sit myself down in God’s presence and wait for the muck-brown to wash away. Every time (it’s been years now) I sit down with this intent I get back up with a sense of freedom and release. I experience the truth that God is the ‘strength of my heart’ (Psalm 73:26).

Emotions aren’t wrong or bad unless we give them more control than they deserve. The paints are never meant to dictate the brush or the hand holding it. When surrendered before God, emotions step back to their proper place as beautiful, vibrant colorful expressions of our heart.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ~Psalm 73:26

 

IF: The Dominoes Fall

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February 9, 2016

I nearly fell out of my chair.

Two days ago I sat in a sea of women in Austin, TX far from my Kansas City home when God’s love nearly rocked me out of my seat.

It was as if I was a character in a story; a story that isn’t mine to write but one where I was playing a supportive role in God’s Great narrative, and for whatever reason He chose the IF: Gathering as his primary setting.

We sat in the Austin City Limits auditorium on Saturday afternoon with thousands of onlookers from all over the world watching Amena Brown Owen reveal the location of her surprise visit to an IF: Local. When the reveal went up on the screen I couldn’t believe my eyes…

It was one year ago, at IF:Gathering 2015 when I found myself with a bird’s eye view of the entire Austin experience hearing one of the clearest directives from God I’d ever known possible beyond The Bible. His message was unmistakable, “Tell your story. I am for their freedom; not just their freedom from today but their freedom from years, decades, and generations past.”

OK. Super easy. Uh-hm. Who and where, God?

It was a weekend I’ll never forget for many reasons and I left Austin knowing something in me had been transformed. God gave me a glimpse of His presence and purpose in this world, for His daughters, and in my life that I cannot shake. I wondered in the weeks following if the glow would fade off that experience or if the ordinary days would lull me back into my old faith patterns, but it didn’t and it hasn’t.

In fact, in June of last year I received an unexpected email from a church looking for a keynote speaker for their upcoming women’s retreat; three sessions over the course of two days on the topic of “Remain” from John 15. Was I interested? This would be the most content I had ever been responsible for and it was a lot by any measure for one person to take on for their first key event. What they didn’t know is that I had been praying for an opportunity to “tell my story” since that February day, and their invitation was an answer to a very broad and bold prayer.

Last November, after months of prayer, preparation (and mild moments of panic) we gathered for a weekend retreat that could only have been designed by an all-knowing and loving God. The stories of the women who attended are not mine to tell, but I saw God move in ways that still leave me amazed and in awe.

Like all great stories, God has woven surprise tie-ins into this plot. You see, during the third and final teaching session of the Remain Retreat, I shared through tears that God laid this message of freedom on my heart to share last February at a gathering called IF in Austin, TX. The moment I sat down, the Event Coordinator stood up to the microphone and explained to us all that it was during their IF:Local on that same exact day when she walked over to her church’s Women’s Director with this idea from God to gather their women that very next November. We cried, we laughed, and we wondered at what kind of God orchestrates that kind of beautiful plan for His daughters. We don’t know why He chose the IF: Gathering as His moment to speak so clearly to us both and bring about His plans like He did, but we marveled at His goodness in it all.

Fast forward to IF: Gathering 2016 two days ago when I about fell off my chair…

Here we are, again nearly 2000 of us in Austin, and thousands upon thousands around the world sitting in Saturday afternoon’s session watching the big screen to see where in all the world Amena Brown ended up surprising an unsuspecting IF: Local. To my shock and delight…they announced she was in the Kansas City area, my town! But further more…she was at THE VERY church–the EXACT same IF: Local Church–where God had sent me to “Tell my story” at their November retreat.

What in the WORLD, God??

Seeing their joy and excitement come through on that screen, watching their women’s director receive the attention for being the Jesus-loving woman she is, was almost more than my heart could handle. Ever since that November retreat when I came to know those women as sisters I have prayed and prayed for God to continue to do mighty works in and through them. Seeing their faces on that screen two days ago…well, I cried, I laughed, I marveled at a God that would orchestrate such joy for His daughters.

It’s been a year since God told me to tell my story, and I am, but I know even more than ever before that I am just a small part of His Greater story. Our stories, no matter how big or seemingly small are significant because Jesus is our Redeemer, and He lives in and through us. My story of freedom in Jesus is the domino effect for your story of freedom, and so on, and so on, and so on…His Kingdom is on the move in the hearts and minds of His children one redeemed story at a time.

Are You Free to Fight?

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February 1, 2016

We’ll fight for what we believe is true. The more personal the truth hits, the deeper we’re willing to go in our battle to defend and uphold it. Think about every hot-button issue you are willing to fight for whether that be in a one-on-one conversation, joining an organization assigned to the cause, writing about it, teaching about it, sharing or ‘liking’ social media campaigns for it, or even the ultimate sacrifice of our safety and very life fighting preserve the truth. What injustice flies in the face of your deeply rooted beliefs? How are you willing to fight for it?

IMG_4523A couple weeks ago I spoke with a group of women about what it means to be battle ready in your faith and fight from a place of victory. In this teaching (unedited video linked HERE [I come on about 2 min in]) I ask 4 questions to get us thinking about our ability and  motivation to fight our battles…

  1. Are you Aware?
  2. Are you Awake?
  3. Are you Armed?
  4. Are you Active?

When The Bible became personal when I started asking hard questions about life and truth. Who is God and what does He say is true? What does that mean for my life? I’m 17 years into unraveling those answers, but the core of what I learned hasn’t changed; God is my perfect Heavenly Father and Holy King, Jesus is my Savior and Redeemer, He says I am His daughter and kingdom rep here on Earth…and His because of His grace, I am free and eternal freedom lightens every earthly burden I’ve ever carried. 

Jesus made a fighter out of me. He took a disengaged, misdirected kid drowning in self-reliance and showed me what God-reliance looks like. It looks like love, mercy, surrender, humility, forgiveness, jGod will catch every doubt you throw and hand it back to you in a promise.oy, and hope. They were things I didn’t know actually existed beyond movies and novels. When I discovered their existence in a life of God-reliance, I knew it was worth fighting for.

However, the more I know God the shorter my fuse has grown for things like worry, anxiety, stifling rules, hopelessness, perfectionism, our own failing willpower, depression, regrets, and fear of death. On the other hand, my understanding and empathy for the people suffering in and from them has increased significantly. Because of the freedom I know, I’m able to fight for the freedom of others with the weapons God has given me (Ephesians 6). Freedom from those areas is personal to me because I know every one of them by name, and have lived chained to them by one degree or another. If I can be free, so you can you.

Galatians 5:1 says, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  Freedom is a personal experience. It’s something that’s meant to be exercised and enjoyed. God’s definition of it means it’s been done on our behalf, and we can receive the gift and use it accordingly. Fighting for the freedom in others isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege and honor.

It’s time we get honest, go deep with our questions about what we’re willing to fight for, and throw caution to the wind. God will catch every doubt you throw at Him and hand it back to you in a promise. 

 

 

Willing to Fail

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January 12, 2016

Is it too late to say Happy New Year? January needs all the happiness it can get, in my opinion. I love new beginnings: unsharpened pencils, that first sip of a steamy chai latte, new journals, blank canvases, new years, new seasons, and new opportunities…

2016Today’s word of the year is yesterday’s resolution. I love the spirit behind it that we all want to make the most of our days. We want to live with intention and integrity, so we boil down our heart’s cry and choose one word. One word to rule them all…for 12 brief months.

This is my 5th year of choosing a focus word…available, commit, yes, ready, and now 2016 is willing. It’s all my previous years rolled into one humble, surrendered, determined word. If it’s from God then I’m willing. If not then I prayerfully wait or move on. I’m willing to struggle, willing to work hard, willing to fail trying, willing to prioritize, willing to be organized, willing to be joyful, willing to serve, and willing to follow God anywhere.

It’s risky to be willing, but I’m willing to risk for the right things. How do I know what the right things are? Sometimes I just don’t. Living by faith involves a lot of moving forward without all the answers and clarity. Blame it on Abraham. He started it.
With faith leading the charge in my willingness in 2016 I also have three questions I’m filtering life’s decisions through in order to willingly prioritize and organize this year:

1. Have I prayed about it?
2. Is the struggle worth the reward?
3. Do/Would I want my daughters to do it?

I’m willing to ask myself the hard questions and answer honestly. I haven’t always been able to answer all three of those questions sincerely. No is a hard word to hear from ourselves. It’s an even harder word to accept from ourselves.

Do you know what my favorite part about the word willing is? Perfection is not the point. To be willing simply means to be inclined to act. Sometimes we’re active in our waiting and other times we’re running faster than we ever thought possible. I’m willing to do both with joy.

Are you willing to make 2016 be the year you too were willing? What would change if you did?

 

 

Missing Out on Mother's Day

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May 7, 2015

I only knew her four and a half years. She taught me to say shush instead of shut up because “It sounded much nicer.” That’s how most memories of my mom are, just momentary glimpses into the kind of person she was and wanted me to become. She died in July of 1985 from cancer. Four and a half years together means we celebrated five Mothers Days as mother and daughter. I don’t remember any of those celebrations but sometimes we learn more acutely by what we don’t remember in life than by what we do. Here’s what I know to be true…

Those closest to our heart will remember what and how we loved. Achievements, ambitions, failures, big moments, routine days all take a back seat to loving well those who matter most to us. One of my last clear memories of my mom alive was her correcting me and dishing out a “and I mean it” spanking from her sick bed in our suburban home. I don’t recall what I did exactly, but I do remember knowing full well I had gone too far. I have three daughters and my youngest is almost five, so I know the only reason she leaned over and used her precious energy on her ornery little girl was because loving me well meant wanting the best for me in the long run. Having a mom unable to get out of bed was zero excuse for poor behavior; not having my mom for the rest of my life would be no excuse for poor behavior either. She sent that message loud and clear. Sometimes a parent needs to do the hard thing to teach their kids the right thing. I’m guessing it literally did hurt her more than it hurt me. We’ll have a good laugh about it in heaven some day. In truth, it’s made me a better parent. She did the hardest thing by setting aside her needs for mine in that moment, and I can do hard things too. I pray I too can set aside my own needs and comforts for others. I pray my girls remember me as a mom who loved them enough to tell them the truth and expect their best even when it’s tough.

My mom knew she wasn’t going to be around to see my brother and me grow up. I don’t know how we spent our final Mothers Day together because so many of those days were filled with doctors, hospitals, and eventually hospice but I know she loved being a mom and she loved us well until the day she died. I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow missing and missing out on having her here, but I know her love is being passed on through me to my own kids and that’s a beautiful way God allows me to experience her each day.

My Mother’s Day gift to myself (besides that blue purse I’ve been eyeing) is to remember that I had a mom who loved me well and do the same for my own girls. I can’t do everything, I definitely can’t do anything perfect, but I can love them in the hard and easy places of life like only their mom can.

Happy Mother’s Day

One proud mama (note to self, get better pics uploaded).
Moms love it when people take their pictures while they have a crying baby on one leg and a clingy toddler on the other, right?? 🙂