How Did I Get Here?

Have you ever looked at your life and tried to figure out how the plans you thought were taking you in one direction suddenly ended up somewhere you never envisioned?  I have.  And I didn’t see it coming.

On October 2, 2006, my life changed.  My husband and I were married almost 10 years.  I was a stay at home mom to 3 young kids (ages 7, 5 and 18 months). I thought we had a good relationship.  I loved my family.  Life was simple. When I woke up that morning I had no idea that before lunchtime I would become a widow, my kids would no longer have a father, and my community would face heartbreaking devastation.

My husband committed the Amish Schoolhouse shooting.  My simple, predictable life was over.  I could not comprehend how this man I loved, this man who loved our kids, was capable of killing children.  But there was no way to deny it.  Everyone asked me to answer for Charlie’s choices, but I didn’t have answers.  All I held were broken pieces of the life we built and the promises we made. I felt devastated and desperate, but not without hope. God was our constant, and I knew I could trust him. He had showed me in countless ways throughout the years that he was faithful.  To me, this was much bigger than anything I had faced before, but I knew he didn’t see it that way.  He saw our pain, not from a distance, but from the place where we stood. That day I chose to surrender my brokenness and trust him with something I could not see my way through.

God promised redemption.  And he has kept his promise.  Let me tell you about our journey.  You can see/hear me talk about it in this short video.

And if you find yourself walking a similarly unexpected road, know that the same God who writes his redemption story in my life is writing one in yours.  Nothing is impossible.  His love never fails.

How To Change The World

You can change the world. Do you believe me? The answer to that question comes down to this—the way you measure impact. You don’t have to cross the ocean to change the world. You can, but it’s not required. You don’t have to exhaust your resources to make a difference. You don’t have to post something on social media that goes viral.

Changing the world is simple.

Changing the world happens when you touch one life with the love of Christ. When you touch one life—you’ve changed their world.

Simple acts of encouragement make a huge impact. I know this, because I’ve been the recipient. It’s the conversation when someone looks straight into your eyes and sees all the way to your heart. Their words speak life and touch the ache you’ve felt but have not uttered. It’s the written message read over and over—proof that you’re not alone in this journey. It’s the unexpected gift found at your front door. The contents make you smile. It’s the reminder that God sees and reaches in a tangible way: lifting your heart, settling your doubts, and silencing your questions.

We all need encouragement. We need to know we’re not alone. You can make a huge difference in the life of another simply by reaching out. You can change their world. Would you join me? What would happen if 100 of us touched the life of one other person this weekend with Jesus’ love? What if those 100 were also inspired to reach out to another with the love of Christ? Love multiplies changing the world and we’re all in on it.

You’ve heard stories that tell of the way strangers paid for the car behind them at Starbucks and Chick-fil-A. My eyes light up to hear of love poured out. It’s the most powerful force on earth and takes nothing more than a few moments of simple obedience and courage. Right now, ask God for your assignment. Where will you spread his love? Is your heart beating faster? That’s love multiplied inside you. It’s love that can’t wait to get out. Cultivate willingness in your heart for spontaneous assignments too. You are changing the world—one life at a time.

Oh yes, and watch for the way God returns the gifts you’ve given!

The Grief Train

A freight train ran over me last week.  I saw it in the distance and tried to tell myself that we weren’t on the same track.  I wanted to deny the potential of what was looming on the horizon line.  I wanted to turn the other way so I couldn’t see the puffs of steam getting closer.  I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and hum loud enough to drown out the constant chugging.  I wanted to close my eyes and pretend that I lived somewhere else, in a land untouched by grief and the Christmastime loss of my dad.  I wanted all these things, but they didn’t happen, they couldn’t happen.  While I saw the train coming, I was unprepared for its arrival.

I had no real expectations for Father’s Day, no distinct thoughts about my heart’s well being.  I knew our schedule surrounding the day and tried to allow for a few moments of quiet time.  In the midst of feeling the loss I also wanted to celebrate my husband Dan, who is an amazing father to our kids.  We were going to spend the day together, and host a picnic in the evening for my family.  No big deal, right?  I told myself that I could do this, celebrate Dan throughout the day and honor my dad through the dinner.  Sometimes though, I lie and tell myself that I’m capable of things that are way outside the realm of possibility.  This was one of those times.  I hoped that if I said it often enough, that it would indeed be true.  In the end, a lie is still a lie.

I don’t know the precise moment when the train hit, although I would guess it was pretty much about the time my eyes opened and I took a deep breath of the morning’s gentle air.  I awoke to a day I’d never faced before, my first fatherless Father’s Day.  I pursed my lips and exhaled slowly, reassuring myself that I could do “this”.  I rolled over and said, “Happy Father’s Day” to Dan.  At the culmination of those 3 simple words, a solitary tear went streaming down my face.  I knew that the game was up, my lies were over and this was going to be a very exhausting day.

By 10 am I had applied mascara 3 times, discovering that it’s practically impossible to separate and coat wet lashes.  I wanted to look like my normal self even though I felt awful.  I’m not a “cute crier”.  My eyes get puffy and my nose gets red.  No amount of makeup can hope to mask my emotion.  I discovered this 20+ years ago, but I haven’t given up trying.

The day was filled with activity, some planned and some created.  Constant movement seemed to be my final attempt to hold my emotions in check, when what I really wanted was to throw myself face down on my bed and weep until my eyes shed their final tear.  This approach of busyness was as unsuccessful as the first.

Upon the arrival of this grief train, it parked itself in my station and refused to move.  I pushed and I pulled, but I was no match for the size and weight of this train.  It’s not like I haven’t grieved my dad’s death in the past 6 months.  I’ve spent a lot of time pouring out my heart before the Lord, my husband and friends.   I’ve gone through countless boxes of tissues since Christmas.  I’ve mourned the individual and cumulative loss over our family: it covers my mom, my kids, my husband, my siblings, my nephew, and me.  It’s complex.  I know this well.  What I did not know was that today, the loss would feel fresh and new, as if it just happened all over again.  The train hit hard, pushing me back to square one where a million memories from past days played like a movie reel in my mind.  The past infringed upon my future and spoke of all the things we would never do again.  It was a crushing blow.  My head already understood this, and while it wasn’t fresh there, I was reliving it in my heart as if I’d never felt it before.

Today there was no ability to hide behind the thoughtful processing of this loss on my family.  It was all about me.  This was Father’s Day.  I did everything I could to change the focus, to stay busy, to maintain emotional control, but I felt helpless.  I thought back one short year to a different time.  My dad was battling lung cancer, he was weak from the treatment regimen, but he was here.  I was thankful.  Last Father’s Day we celebrated with his favorite cheese steak from a local sub shop and milkshake to wash it down.  We teased that he could eat as much as he wanted—the doctor’s would love a little weight gain.  The rest of us would have to ration our bites so that we didn’t pack on the pounds.   We talked about “next year” when he would be feeling better and the world would be brighter.  There were so many memories we wanted to make together.  Now, those conversations felt like empty promises, hopeful grasping-at-straws that yielded no results.

As I stood in front of my dad’s grill, making his signature meal—burgers and hotdogs with baked beans on the side, my heart was broken into a million tiny pieces.  Smoke from the grill stung my tired eyes.  I’d finally stopped the trickle of tears that flowed off and on all day.  Now my eyes watered from my responsibility of “head chef”.  I thought to myself, “I can’t win.”  

Dinner was good, dad would’ve been proud.  This year we all laughed that I didn’t quite succeed in replicating his style—my burgers weren’t as dry as his typically were.   On the outside I smiled, inside I sternly reminded myself that there would be no tears during the picnic.

Night finally came; darkness covered me, offering a quiet place to rest my head and cry.  My responsibilities were finished and I was free to weep.   The sorrow and anguish of my soul poured forth, and like the grief train, there was no stopping it now.  I wept for hours.  Dan laid beside me in silent support.

Finally sleep enveloped me.

Monday dawned, my eyes opened and yesterday’s emotion resurfaced.  I tried to shove it away and hoped this day would be better.  To some degree, it was.  I still felt Sunday’s sting and wished that it would go away.  As the day wore on and my emotions remained unstable I had a life-giving realization.  Once again I’ve been looking with eyes of disgust at grief, when really, it calls to me as a friend.  Grief offers the opportunity to validate my feelings and the legacy of the one who has left me behind.  The piercing of my heart reminds me that I’m vibrantly alive; I still have the capacity to feel pain and loss, and this is wonderful.

I knew from past experience that brokenness is beautiful and suffering produces deep peaceful joy within me.  So I yield myself to feel the pain completely and will allow this loss do its complete work.  I will not shield my heart or turn away.  Grief is like a mountain that I overcome only by tunneling through it.  I step aboard this grief train.  I’m not afraid of it anymore.  I see the conductor give the signal—it’s time to leave the station.  Methodical shoveling fuels the engine’s fire.  The resulting steam puffs over my head, the chugging begins its gentle lullaby and my heart awakens to a different perspective.  This train did not come to run me over; it came to take me somewhere.  I don’t know where we are going, but I trust the One who’s in control of the adventure.  There is a mountain that I must go through.  God knows my heart, he sees the pain and he promises beautiful redemption for my pain.  This knowledge doesn’t make the loss any easier, but it promises that loss is not the end; it is the beginning.

As we depart the station and head out of town I settle into my seat.  I look out the window and see familiar places; I wonder how long it will take to get through the mountain.  I lay my head against the glass and close my eyes.  The gentle bumping of the tracks settles me.  Shallow breaths become deep and steady.   I feel a new invitation come as Jesus extends his hand and offers me a place of rest.  He sees my weariness; he knows I need stamina for this trip.  He asks me to close my eyes and lean into him.  Jesus offers safety and peace.  I don’t have to figure it out.  I simply have to trust that he is holding all the pieces in his hand and that somehow he will make a beautiful mosaic out of my tear stained shards of glass.  His rest envelops me, this time it’s different.  This rest does not simply cover my sorrow; it infuses me with strength and a promise:

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” Psalm 126:5 NIV

Joy in a Million Drops of Rain

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the day my word caved in; the great collide between good and evil.  In my life, good is winning.  I’m held within the continual embrace of Christ, who thrills my heart, renews my mind, and restores my spirit in a variety of extraordinary ways.  Yesterday afternoon, as I thought about my journey—the harshness life and death, mixed with the beautiful reality of God’s redemptive plan, I saw a picture.  One solitary page lay before me, a journal entry etched in tones of black on white, the substance of my days, the minutes of each hour.  Drops of rain, my tears, which left a watermark behind, framed the page.  As I considered the analogy of this illustration my heart began to pen a script, the story of my life, in simple stanzas, releasing sorrow, receiving joy.

Upon the margins of my heart etched in a thousand drops of rain,

Frames life and death, black and white, evidence of what remains.  

These droplet ribbons run, as dappled colors collide,

Fallen from green pools of sorrow deep inside.

Tears cascade, meandering upon my face, 

Ever flowing from a seemingly endless place.


And somehow as these tones converge,

I stare in wonderment; joyous glimmers emerge.

For there, flowing forth from salty pools,

Runs a rainbow of gloriously brilliant hues.

His promised declaration covers me,

Permanency gleams, alluding to what will be.


The words he speaks are ever true, 

No shifting, no changing of these 7 hues.

As I linger in the vibrancy of Rainbow’s embrace, 

Death’s shadow departs, vanishing without a trace. 

Gazing once again at the marks upon this page,

My eyes are drawn to beauty, by the One who eclipses pain.

The One who eclipses pain.  This phrase became the anthem to the rest of my day.  Jesus, in his mercy, passes between me and the pain.  He covers me, he heals me, he envelops me.  In the softness of his embrace, sorrow melts away.  I see it no longer.  In past years I’ve learned not to run from pain, but to run towards Christ, anticipating a tangible release of new life.  Always available, he takes the substance of my wound, and in return, gives the essence of true love.  It is The Great Exchange!  He took the weight of yesterday’s burden, painted a picture with it, and released amazing joy.  Redemption displayed in beauty for brokenness.

And so, on this 6th anniversary, the sky pours forth it’s million drops of rain, quite fitting, as He proclaims his poetic life inside my heart. I look, with expectation, toward the pools of color running across my story.  Dappled drops of varying shades—each moment proclaiming redemption, provision, grace, mercy and love, they flow over me washing away the black and white.  As I look in the mirror radiance greets me, beaming brightness, a divine display.  I am adorned with His rainbow, covered by His promise.  My heart knows joy, not trumpeted on center stage at high volume, no, this joy is different.  It is clothed with mercy, in a million drops of rain.

Celebrate This Day

This day I celebrate love: I celebrate God and his redemption over my life; I celebrate the love he has given and those I share it with; I celebrate the simple blessing of this holy moment in time- another day to live and love and learn his ways.  On this day as I celebrate I also mourn.  As one who knows the pain of profound loss and brokenness, I see a similar trail of “Hansel and Gretel” crumbs in lives around me.  The piercing pain of separation defined by living on this side of Heaven: sometimes lost within the depths of the forest; trees so huge they threaten to block the brightest light of day.  It’s cold and lonely in that place and finding your way out takes every bit of strength and perseverance you can muster.  The only reason you keep walking, trudging up hills and through thick brush is because you hear the One who is calling to your heart.  He speaks words of love and life so tenderly that although you can’t physically see him, it’s as if he has taken your hand and is gently leading you. His voice, while not heard is felt.  It says, “One more, just take one more, you can do it; you’re going to find me on this side and then you’re going to see me on the other side.”  And although you don’t know exactly what “this side” and the “other side” might mean, you know that you’re not alone anymore and the forest isn’t so scary as long as he stays with you.  Day after day you walk with his gentle voice and touch, knowing that with each step you’re getting closer to freedom- wide open spaces filled with sunlight, a carpet of soft grasses and flowers waiting to envelop your step, warm gentle breezes wrapping arms of love around you.  You have dreamt of this place and so you press forward.  Suddenly you find a clearing where a solitary beam of sunlight shines directly onto the forest floor; birds dance and sing as they fly through, bathing themselves in pure light.  You linger in it for a little while, soaking it in.  “So this is how it feels?” you say to yourself.  “I want to live like this everyday”, and without making a conscious choice your feet start moving, you’re running now, holding nothing back.  You give every last drop of energy to get free from this forest; exhausted but still you run.  It feels like you’re flying, it’s as if your feet aren’t even touching the ground.  As you look down at your feet you are completely stunned- “I am flying, soaring on wings like eagles!” you exclaim.  Your momentary disbelief and confusion fades quickly as you realize that you’re sheltered in His wings.  It’s a peace so complete and overwhelming that you’re helpless within it.  You wouldn’t want to fight anyway.   It’s better than any sleep you’ve ever gotten, cozier than any bed you’ve ever laid upon.  Finally, the complete exhaustion you’ve known is gone.  The wings of love carry you to the most magnificent place you’ve ever known: beautiful trees spread their branches to shelter you, wide open space just like you’ve dreamt.  There is a lake with clear blue water- fish jump out, glistening in the sunlight; they too are beautiful!  Birds fly high overhead and some dance and sing within the branches of trees above.  There is a peace and stillness similar to the one you felt while flying.  It’s amazing here; the colors are more vibrant, scents are deeper, it’s as if you’re really living for the first time!  There’s a joy and life beating out a song inside your heart that you’ve never heard before, but it’s instantaneously identifiable and so you DANCE!  Your body sways and twirls in a rhythm all it’s own, completely set free.  You wonder at the true beauty before your eyes; as though going through the forest is almost “worth it” just to be where you are now…not that you’d have ever wanted to be in that dark, cold place.

***Friends, that’s what it’s like when half of your heart lives out life on earth while the other half lives in heaven.   You’re trudging through the forest knowing that God is speaking, leading you forward, but not exactly seeing him.  The surrounding circumstances seem to almost overwhelm you and choke out His light.  In my journey I’ve made it through that forest, I found my magnificent place; however there are times when simply the memory of the climb takes me back to the sadness of those days for a little while.  It’s good for me to remember, because then I can passionately celebrate the land in which I now live.  It’s the goodness and love of God that has brought me here.  As I survey the lives around me I see many who currently find themselves in that forest and my heart breaks for them today.  A friend who lost his wife, a family missing their daughter…the beautiful ones who now see His face and behold His glory in Heaven.  Hearts that were tightly connected on earth are stretched…sometimes it feels like too much to bear.  I’m sure there are people connected to your life who have “stretched-hearts” as well and I encouraged you to touch their lives today!  Touch them with the healing LOVE of God.  It’s the greatest way to celebrate…giving of yourself for someone else.  Send an email, drop off a card or gift, ask them to dinner; be willing to listen to their stories and cry with them.  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)  You just might be the very way God will carry them out of the forest and into their magnificent place!

There are many times in our lives that we find ourselves in a forest (or wilderness of sorts) and there are countless people around us needing the tangible LOVE of God everyday.  Today I’m asking you to focus your attention to those missing a loved one, but don’t forget to look around and be “Jesus with skin on” on a regular basis.  We are all called to be HIS ambassadors.


The Power of 1 Word

I met with the board of directors for a local youth center last night, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Their group exists to support, encourage and mentor the youth in their community.  This is based out of the foundational love of Jesus and their selfless desire to make a positive difference in lives around them.  They want to see these kids succeed in basic things- relationships, school, etc., but their vision is bigger than just that.  Ultimately the impact of their time and love has the power to shape and change destiny- and not just the destiny of that individual child, but everyone that child will ever meet.  So now I’m thinking about how this should be my personal desire lived out across the board in my life.  I should be thinking about impacting the lives of those around me in a personally tangible ways every day.  And it’s not like I’m saying that I’ve never given that a thought before- I certainly desire to be those things in the life of my family and close friends; my heart, after all, is that of an encourager.  But what I’m saying is- what about everyone else?  What about my “friends” on Facebook or people I casually run into at school, sports, etc?  How is God calling me to make a positive difference in their lives?  I guess the base level question is, will I choose to give myself to that?  Here is what I know from my own life: 1 word of encouragement or belief can make all the difference between giving up and pressing forward.  I know I touched on the concept of dreams the other day, but I think I need to revisit it for a couple minutes.  This blog is one of those dreams I’ve had for awhile and never actively pursued.  I’ve only been committed to it for 3 days, but it’s been amazing!  I’m loving the ability to express what stirring inside of me, and apparently there are others who like it too…that’s a win/win situation!  I can’t tell you how many people have encouraged me to write in the past couple years, and the credit for what happens here partly belongs to each of them.  I’m sure that one day God is going to remind them of the power of their spoken words and the way that it brought much fruit in my life; by pushing me towards something I couldn’t reach on my own!  So I guess I want to know- what’s your dream?  What’s the thing that’s stirring inside of you, desperately wanting to come out, that hasn’t yet?  It doesn’t have to be a blog, but it could be.  It might be something that you want for your family or for yourself.  I’m not talking about materialistic things, but more like the expressions of your heart.  It might be something you’ve wanted to try for years (like music or art) or something that just popped into your mind yesterday.  Everybody has a dream.  Think about the song in the movie Tangled, “I’ve Got a Dream”.  Rapunzel is singing about the dream she has inside and it sparks the release of dream declarations all around her- some of the most unusual things, from some of the most unusual people!  (I could go down a whole rabbit trail about that movie, but I’ll save that for another day.  I don’t watch a lot of tv, but God really stirs and speaks to me through “kid movies”.)  I want to be an encourager who reaches outside of myself to encourage others to reach their dreams and I want you to join me in that!  What if we each spoke 1 encouraging word of destiny over someone each day…and what if they were inspired to do the same thing?  What would our community, our state, our country, our world, look like if it was filled with people who were motivated to see outside themselves and into the sometimes mysterious beauty in the people around them?  It’s probably not even that hard or time/thought consuming.  All it really requires is for me to be on the look out for opportunity to encourage, if I’m looking then I’m sure to find it!  I want to be a cheer leader 🙂 and I believe, whole heartedly that Jesus is cheering too.  Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us!  If my call is “to be about my Father’s business” then I should be interceding too…both in prayer and out loud!  I’d love to hear your dreams so I can cheer you on, I’ll be listening for your whisper.

Becoming 1!

Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I’ve been thinking about these verses a lot over the past couple months and wanting to understand more clearly and deeply, the Father’s heart on marriage.   We see, through scripture, the comparison between marriage and Christ’s love for the church.   We hear words of unity, respect, love and even submission.  As I’ve asked for His perspective here’s what’s resonating in my heart today.  Marriage is about 2 becoming 1.  There are lots of ways this happens.   It’s about sharing, sharing the same last name, finances, responsibilities and intimacy.  I love sharing my heart with my husband, Dan…I love sharing the little things I’ve been treasuring inside, pondering over, and I love his response.  Sometimes I find myself sharing things I don’t love: worries, stress, frustration; and again, I love his response.  I have seen so clearly the love of Jesus poured out through the love of my husband.  His encouragement, support, oneness- it’s like Jesus with skin on.   Now before you get the wrong idea and stop reading let me tell you the other side of the story.  It’s not all perfect.  We have days just like everyone else, there are times when I’m not hearing Dan’s heart and he’s not hearing mine, times when the stuff that’s in our hearts is better left unsaid.   We are both human beings who rub each other the wrong way some days.  The challenge comes in those moments- will I stop and remind myself that we’re on the same team?  Will I choose to believe that we’re fighting for the same goals and dreams?  Do I want to make the tough choices to call my attitudes sin, seek forgiveness and move on?  Will he do the same things?  More often than not, the pitfalls of marriage don’t come from huge, glaring incidents, but realistically they come from small things that aren’t dealt with; things that are swept under the rug and pile up over time.  So how do I get back to oneness, unity, love, and respect?  In the verses above we are reminded of the words God wrote in Genesis 2:24, that’s where it started- the 2nd chapter of the Bible!  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”   After speaking of unity and becoming 1, there is no place where it is suggested that we, as married couples, divide ourselves.  That just sounds crazy…but don’t I do that all the time?  If I really want to follow God’s heart for marriage and love my husband the way it is intended, then shouldn’t everything I do come from a place of marital oneness?  Regardless of location, I should carry my husband with me through each thought and action, knowing that we are perpetually 1.  Our marriage relationship parallels our relationship with Christ.  Unity in our marriage should flow so completely that God is blessed and Christ is exalted.  The way I choose to love Dan should clearly portray my love for Jesus and in receiving the love my husband longs to give I open my heart to the lover of my soul.  These 2 relationships are set to be complete mirror images of one another.  My husband and I openly loving and giving ourselves to/for each other in thought and deed; and my relationship with Jesus- actively giving myself in love to him, partnering with him in what he is doing and receiving love and intimacy in return.  For me it is counter to what I’ve seen and heard from a world which says that marriage is 50/50, give and take; I say it’s 100/100!  This goes against belief patterns I’ve held my whole life, it’s turned my world upside down.  I see the concept, I believe in what God’s speaking to my heart and I’m working to be the bride that he desires, both for Dan and for Jesus.  Am I there?  Not yet, but we’re working on it.  I am thrilled by the changes I see inside myself, the way it’s impacting Dan and others around me.  Ultimately I know that as good as all of that is, it doesn’t compare to the richness of relationship that Jesus is cultivating inside my heart, right now…as He whispers and I wonder.