The First Noel (thoughts from a lonely Christmas)

img_7206

This Christmas it will be just the four of us at home. No traveling, no family visiting. And while we (of course) will miss time with our extended family, we’re more than a little excited to have just the four of us. To form traditions and snuggle and stay in PJs all day. To explore our new city and to serve our neighbors. To make cinnamon rolls and start a new tradition of fish and chips for dinner.

Brandon and I will celebrate twelve years on December 31. And in that 12 years, we have only ever spent 1 Christmas Day with just us, in 2011.

On this particular year, Christmas was on a Sunday. Since we were sticking around, we volunteered to sing the special music at church. We chose The First Noel. And while it wasn’t particularly meaningful to us at the time, it became deeply meaningful to me in the 6 years since.

Why? Well let me back up a little bit.

This was the Christmas before Jamie was born. It had been 5 years since we had first started trying to have our first child. And we were spent. tired. defeated. As we approached that day, we were filled with great longing and sadness. We were exhausted emotionally and my body was exhausted physically.

And one might think (and they would have good reason) that this was the wrong year to choose a quiet Christmas with just the two of us. And it wasn’t our first choice. Brandon’s grandma had passed away earlier that fall and the expense of extra travel meant we didn’t really have the funds (or vacation time) for the Christmas visit. And, if we’re honest, we weren’t emotionally ready for what the Christmas would bring. We missed his grandma and we were grieving her. We were also grieving the four different adoption situations that had looked possible, only to fall through (at various places in the process). We were sad. If we we’re honest, we just couldn’t handle the questions and the pity and all the things.

So we stayed home. We had a quiet and lovely Christmas Eve with my brother and his wife. And then Christmas Day we made plans for it to be just the two of us.

And reflecting on this day, Brandon and I have realized something. This is where our hearts began to heal. On that lonely Christmas we found the hidden beauty of Advent. When you are longing and waiting for something that may or may not come anytime soon, it’s easy to lose hope. And we knew that we could either find God in the midst of where we were or we would crumble under the weight of it. We were too weak to make much of a choice at the time, instead God descended to us. He found us in our overwhelming exhaustion and weakness and He gave us his presence. He soothed our hearts and held our grief so tenderly. And suddenly we began to understand the magic and mystery of that Bethlehem night…The night when God’s people encountered the savior that they probably didn’t think was coming anymore.

He met us. He cradled us. He loved us. We didn’t know at the time, that Jamie was going to be born a few short months later. We didn’t know that God was preparing the answer to our prayers. We didn’t know that a woman sat miles away taking such good care of the baby in her belly. She didn’t know what her future held either. But she made the most selfless and loving choices. I imagine she was scared, but I also like to imagine that she held the same peace that God gave to us. That month of December none of us knew how the story would unfold.

And as I sit here 6 years later with tears in my eyes, now mom of two beautiful children, I just can’t help but thank God for that Christmas. For the tears. For the pain. For the longing and even for the loneliness. For God descending to us and covering us. For giving us a glimpse and a deeper understanding of his coming, of the beauty of the Incarnation…that the Savior of the World would come to the broken and the weak.

And so I leave you with the lyrics of that beautiful hymn.

The first Noel the angel did say 
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; 
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, 
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. 

Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, 
born is the King of Israel. 

They looked up and saw a star 
shining in the east, beyond them far; 
and to the earth it gave great light, 
and so it continued both day and night.

 

img_7237

 

 

Advertisements

When the story finds you

File Oct 29, 2 37 01 PM

Fort Tryon park is incredibly beautiful. 

Today I got a few minutes to myself. So, I sat on a bench in Fort Tryon park with my daughter’s tulip pen and my son’s hedgehog notebook, and I took a stab at some things.

I’ve been wondering lately if I have anything to say — anything unique to contribute to the blogosphere.

Over the last few years, my self-confidence has taken a beating. Four years ago, I arrived in our new home in Arkansas full of purpose, full of God’s goodness. I was tired and spent but happy. I had a beautiful 18 month old and a wonderful husband. We were greeted by family and community.

We were an hour from some of our dearest friends and we had a holy sense of where God had us.

And the four years we spent there were full of good things. We brought home our daughter, we bought our first house, Brandon launched a huge project. We had college students in our home, we hosted holidays and community group. Our children made sweet friends. Our son learned to ride his bike. We did valuable work. We had the best neighbors ever and made wonderful new friends.

But, dear friends, I was crumbling. I struggled to find my place. And in the midst of a PCOS diagnosis and a few different health issues — I watched myself slip away. I smiled and I made friends–but I couldn’t give my whole self. I taught and I mentored but I felt increasingly alone.

And all the while I lost weight and then I gained weight. My hair began to fall out, my pain increased. I cried (oh, how i cried!!). I cried because I was lonely, I cried because of pain. I cried when doctor’s couldn’t give me answers. I cried when the answers became a little too overwhelming. I cried when my hormones wouldn’t let me do anything else. I cried when I wasn’t invited. I cried when I felt overwhelmed.

I began to forget things. I felt like only a part of myself.

And I resented our home.

And as someone who processes by writing, I was in a hard place because I couldn’t write about it. I didn’t want to wound the people that I loved and I didn’t know how to talk about this all without it.

For many months I blamed that place for my unhappiness.

But while that context brought a lot of hard, it wasn’t to blame.

The last six months in NYC have brought breathing room. And I have begun to embrace the broken pieces of me. In Arkansas I had come face to face with my faults. I sunk into depression. But without a community around me to point me to help, I retreated into myself.

 

I saw my weaknesses daily. And I felt rejected because of them.

And while a lot of the hard was beyond my control ….I am coming to terms with my own responsibility.

I made it hard for friendships to form. I made it hard for my husband to love me. I made it hard for people to get to know the real me.

 

All that to say, here’s the punch line.

When we arrived in Arkansas I had begun to find my voice. And four years later, in losing myself, I am finding my message. And it’s one woven in brokenness. And it’s one that isn’t all for the public.

Some of it is for my husband. Some of it is for my kids and my dear friends and family. And some of it is for you, my dear readers. And I don’t really know where all the pieces live just quite yet. And I’m doing my darnedest not to jump ahead.

Because now I find myself in a city I never imagined but have already come to love… building community with a diverse and incredible group of people.

People who have already challenged and acknowledged my gifts and abilities. People who have stretched and challenged me. People who have asked me to minister in ways I haven’t been invited to in awhile.

I have already stepped out of my comfort zone.

And I’m happy. Not because I’ve found any magic bullet but because I came to the end of myself, I survived, and I am now walking forward in God’s grace towards whatever He has for me.

And I realize that none of that is really a punchline, and maybe that’s because there isn’t one…yet. Because maybe this is when the real adventure starts to get good. Maybe.

So, thanks for reading. You guys are swell. I realize I come to you with a lot of personal revelations and I appreciate your journeying through them with me. And for anyone wondering how the O’Brien 4 are managing…here are a few snapshots.

Oh, and for those who have prayed with me for J and have prayed for our family as a whole…goodness, gracious I am so thankful for you.

So enjoy.

 

Oh…one more very important thing. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a whole lot of people.

To the dear friends formed in Arkansas – I am so thankful for you. For fancy dinners and kid’s birthday parties and afternoons by the pool. 

To those girls who came into my home each week and invited me to speak and to love you and to mentor you – I am still incredibly honored and blessed by you. So very proud of the women you have blossomed into an the adventures you have gone on. You were a true lifeline.

To the women who wrestled and talked through Race and Reconciliation with me. I am still learning from each of you. Seriously. 

And to Pediatrics Plus. I wasn’t with you for long and sometimes I worry that I did more harm than good. But I am continually thankful for the opportunity you gave me to work and to use my gifts. To mess up and to fix it. To lead and to guide. You deepened my understanding of the value of a soul. And I am forever changed by the good work that you do.

  

It came in like a wrecking ball…

Okay, that’s a bad title. I’ll admit to that. But there is something tender I’ve been processing for a while. And, well, I may just be brave enough to write about it. Or, you know, I may not. We’ll have to see.

IMG_5277

Brandon and I parent two amazing children. There is not a single day that I am not thankful that I get to be a part of their story. That I get to be the one to hold them and love them and encourage them and direct them. That I get to build never-ending Lego creations and pillow forts. That I get to kiss boo boos and talk about being kind to each other. I love being their mom. So much that it frequently makes me cry.

But, there is also not a day that goes by that I am not acutely aware of the pain with which their story began. Because I was not their first mother. I am their complete mother, but I am not the only and I am not the first. (And I would appreciate no one arguing with me on this point. I don’t tolerate disparaging words about birthparents).

Lately I’ve been having a recurring nightmare that one or both of my kids are taken from me. And it has nothing to do with the “dangers” of the city. No, I feel way safer in a city than I feel out in the middle of the country (just ask Brandon). 

And to an extent it is a normal fear for any parent. Except our family was not formed in the “normal” way. If the world was not a broken place, my children would not have needed my home. Therefore, their pain is the reason I am their mother. And more than 5 years in, I can’t even write that sentence without tears.

IMG_5269Now, for our beautiful, spunky, brave daughter we have pictures and stories and actual real people who made a brave decision for her good. We have evidence of love in the midst of the brokenness. We have people she will meet and talk to and hear from one day. And her story begins with pain but it gets to redemption a whole lot quicker. But the pain. The pain is still there. Don’t think for a moment that it’s gone away. She and her birth family feel this pain.

IMG_5268

But let me tell you about my J. My sweet, amazing, beautiful boy. His pain is different than Eliza’s. And his pain sometimes bursts forth with quiet intensity that knocks us off our feet.

Our sweet boy left a whole network of friends back in Arkansas. Friends he loved. Friends he would boss around (let’s just be honest about that). And friends that loved him just as much as he loved them. Jamie didn’t lack confidence. He had it in abundance. He made friends out of strangers everywhere we went. He loved deeply and fully. He couldn’t get enough of people. He had a quiet confidence.

And then we changed his whole world. And, guess what? He loved it. Because if you know my son, you know that he LOVES adventure. And this adventure came with more time with mom & dad, and with airplanes and subways and buses…all the things he loves best.

But one day on the playground (the one right by our house) another kid was quite mean to Jamie. And that combined with the total life change was the spark for trauma to come crashing in. Since that day, something has changed in my boy. What was once confidence is now hesitancy. What was once peace is now anxiety. What was once a plethora of friends is now a mom, dad, and little sister.

Now don’t get me wrong, J is still creative and adventure seeking. He is still brave and willing to try new things. But now he does not approach other kids to become their friend. He does not leave his sister’s side at the playground. He meets his world with anxiety.

Photo Jun 16, 2 18 24 PMAnd on more than one occasion I have rocked my baby boy to sleep while he wept. And this is not my J. Except that it is. My beautiful boy has pain so deep that even his own mother forgets that it’s there. Until it comes in and wrecks us all.

You see, for a child who is formed with pain and trauma…this is how they handle their world. Our job as his parents is to teach him how to handle feelings that are too big to express. Feelings and emotions that 5 year olds just shouldn’t have. And, friends, don’t get me wrong. I know that a lot of this is just the nature of change. I know that boys are emotional. But I also know that this is something deeper. Because our journey together started with pain: My pain, their pain, their birth family’s pain. And there is far too much evidence that shows how this sort of pain totally devastates a child.

And, can I just be honest for a second? Society doesn’t make it easy for adoptive parents. Seriously. Society sometimes makes this all WAY harder than it needs to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I like society. We get along. But I’m becoming weary of the way our family is so openly questioned.  Whether in Arkansas or New York City (or everywhere in between), we are viewed with a little more skepticism. Our motives are suspect. Our methods are scrutinized (down to the type of music we play for our children). We are watched.  And don’t even get me started on the comments. Well meaning or not, everyone has an opinion about our family and for whatever reason they feel free to share it. Many are positive. Many are intentionally not and they are said loudly enough for us to hear and to field disapproval. Because of our family’s makeup, we bear the weight of a lot of agendas. And sometimes it feels like too much.

So what do I do? I weep with my strong boy. I weep that he will have to answer more difficult questions than many of his peers. I weep because he won’t even have to question his identity on his own…society will do that for him. He will have to account for decisions beyond his control. And I feel his anger and his frustration. I share it with him. Because that’s my job.

And I trust that this too shall pass? Why? Because we’re facing it. And it’s messy and hard and difficult, but we’re handling it.

So where do we go from here? I’m hoping to write a blog post very soon with a lot more practical advice and do’s / do not’s for people. But, in the meantime, here are my two pieces of advice for two different groups of people who didn’t ask….

  • Fellow parents of kids from hard places: Stop what you’re doing and grieve with your child. Seriously, hold them and cry with them. Listen to them. Even a 5 year old can tell you what they need (which is why I’m about to stop this blog posting and play Legos). And, reach out to your surrounding community. Emotional breakdowns don’t come up naturally in conversation, so it can become isolating when it happens. Don’t let it be. Text those who get it, text those who may not “get it” but love you best. I waited too long to do this but when I finally did, a flood of encouragement came in. And while they didn’t offer practical “fix it right now” solutions (those don’t exist anyway), and while many of them may not have understood, they made me feel less crazy and gave me permission to just cry it out and then to take the next right step.
  • Those watching from the outside (i.e. friends or family of those with adopted kids): Listen to the concerns being offered. And just let them be concerns. I can’t tell you how many times well meaning members of my community have tried to explain away my concern by downplaying it…it leads to more isolation, not encouragement. The times people listen, and simply allow me to be worried. Those are the times I leave encouraged. Also, unless you are a very good friend or family member…it’s probably best not to comment. I have never ended a day wishing I’d had more comments from strangers about the makeup of my family. When in doubt, just smile and move on.

And, so, I have full confidence that this story ends well. Because it has already been so good! So today and tomorrow we will take one step forward and rejoice in the small things. We will make cookies. We will stare right back at those people who stare at us and we will speak with boldness (and kindness!) to those who question us. And, above all, we will give grace to all because we all have missteps. We will continue to laugh about the fact that our skin is so beautifully different. We will talk seriously about how Jamie will have to behave differently than some of his friends (not just because of his color but also because of mine).

And we will continue to enjoy our family. We will build forts, visit museums, try new foods, make new friends, and continue to explore this beautiful city we have the privilege of living in.

Because what’s the answer to the brokenness? It isn’t ignoring it. It’s choosing joy in the midst of it. It’s choosing mercy right in the mess. And that’s where Jesus is, friends. Right there in the midst of the mess.

IMG_5271

My Husband is not the One for me.

img_5620.jpg

It’s true.

Now, before my friends and family start worrying about the future of the O’Briens, maybe I should back up.

When I came to college, I was determined to meet “the one.” I was on the lookout for the man God created for me. The man who would be my partner for life. The only one in the entire universe that I could be happy with. The one who had been formed and molded in his mother’s womb in order to someday be my husband.

But, after a few failed relationships I came crashing into the truth that there was one problem…

This man. This “one”…

Well, he didn’t exist.

I was dating Brandon at the time that I finally came to this realization. A few weeks after a very honest conversation with a professor, I said yes to Brandon’s proposal. And a breezy 11 months later (long engagements are the absolute WORST), we were married.

10 years later, I have never been more in love with my husband. I plan to be married to him for the rest of my life. I love the life we have created. I love our family. I love my partner.

But, I don’t believe that God created him just for me. I don’t think he is the one my whole life was leading to.

Brandon is just a man. He’s a very good man. A smart man. A creative and resourceful and caring and encouraging man. He’s loyal and honest and tender and compassionate. He is absolutely hilarious.

But he’s just a man.

I firmly believe that Brandon could have been happy with any woman he chose.

I believe I could have been happy with any man that I chose.

(assuming, of course, that they were equally committed to their faith)

We aren’t together because the universe wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re together, because we chose one another. We love God deeply, we are committed to serving Him our entire lives, and we see in one another the possibility of doing that together.

We fell in love and we love doing life together. God is active in our midst, in our home, in our family. But it’s not because this is the only way it could have been. No, it’s because this is just what God does. He takes two imperfect people who are committed to one another and he makes a family.

Okay, so now that I have that out of the way, I have something else I need to get off my chest.

cropped-2014-06-17-14-06-27.jpg

I do not believe that my children were created in order to be my children.

We weren’t destined for one another.

And I can’t even count how many times people have said this to me.

Here’s my beef…

I do not believe that my God caused my children and their birth families pain in order to give me a child. Similarly, I don’t believe that God gave me infertility in order to teach me a lesson.

Instead, I believe that God brought something beautiful out of the pain. What a world marred by sin meant for bad, God used for good.

What a body devastated by brokenness couldn’t do…God did in a way that only he could do.

And here’s my point in all of this. I believe the beauty of our God is that He brings beauty out of ashes. He brings victory out of failure. He brings wholeness out of brokenness.

Our family is whole. But not because we were always intended for one another from the beginning.

No, I think this whole thing could have worked out very differently and still just as sweet.

Our family is whole because that’s what God does.

 

 

But am I enough?

 

2016-02-11 15.39.23

The past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted. It’s been one of those seasons. Every night I’ve been woken up 2-3 times. Sometimes for my baby just needing a quick pat. But, more often than not from my almost 4 yr old having night mares.

He’s scared and calls my name. I go and pat him and sing to him and pray for him. Then I get back in bed in a heap of exhaustion. And eventually, at about 5 a.m. he ends up in bed with me. I swore I’d never be that mom. But, when your child is terrified, you do what comforts them.

And, in the end, when you’re waking up every 2 hours, you do what allows you to sleep.

So, the past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted.

That is, when I’ve been able to go to sleep.

But I haven’t been able to fall asleep. Despite my exhaustion, my mind and my body are conspiring against me, and sleep does not come. I lay there for 2 hours awake. Thinking, imagining, praying…

(Disclaimer: Before anyone offers any medical advice, there are valid, medical reasons I can’t fall asleep. My doctor knows. We’re working on it. 😉 )

In these painfully quiet, frustrating, and exhausting moments a question circles my mind.

Can I do this? Am I really enough? 

Jamie has needed me more lately. He’s needed more attention. He’s needed more affection. He’s needed more time. He’s needed more discipline. More boundaries. More snuggles. More eye contact. More mercy. More compassion.

He’s needed more me. 

And I fail continuously. I fail to see the need behind the tantrum. I fail to see the desire for connection behind the disobedience. I fail to hand out mercy as much as I hand out consequences.

I fail. And, as I lay in bed for a few hours every night, tears fill my eyes and I wonder if I have the strength. If I can be all that he needs.

Am I really enough? 

Until last night.

Last night, I got in bed. I laid awake. I cried. I got discouraged.

And then I heard another voice. A voice that had been missing. A voice that I desperately needed.

A voice that has felt distant, separate, far away.  

A still, small voice that simple said:

I see you. 

And as I got up early with my alarm, earlier than my tired body wanted, it echoed.

I see you. 

As I sat under a blanket and drank my coffee…

I see you. 

As I read my Bible (we’re in Leviticus these days)

I see you. 

And, as I heard the pitter patter of little feet come down the hallway…

I see you. 

Friends, I don’t have some grand treatise this morning on motherhood. No advice for those who are in similarly exhausting seasons. No grand theologies to carry us through.

Just this simple truth: Our God sees us. He knows us. He’s with us. He’s in the messy. He’s in the complicated. He’s with the sleep deprived and the well rest. The encouraged and discouraged. He’s there in the mundane and the knock your socks off.

If I’m honest, there’s a lot of life right now that has me questioning whether I am enough. It’s not just motherhood. And I need this truth more than ever.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 

He sees us.

(And He also gave us coffee. 😉

2016-02-12 10.37.17

 

A New Dream for the New Year…Kind of.

2015-12-26 09.56.41

It’s January 10th and I’ve been struggling with how to process this new year. In so many ways I am eager, excited, encouraged and energized for the coming year. I sense God’s leading in ways I have never before. I see his steps for me more clearly than I have known before.

But, if I’m honest friends… I’m exhausted. Absolutely, exhausted. Tired…could fall asleep at any moment…just. beat.

(Parenting young children can do that to you.)

But it’s not just the kids. When we first moved to Conway I wrote about how I was trying to learn to live fully and completely here. Brandon and I felt convicted to stop making plans of what our future could hold and start living fully and completely in the now that God has given us.

And we have begun to see God’s hand in amazing ways.

But, while God called us to live fully and completely here. He hasn’t let us settle. He keeps directing our attention to something else. Something beyond our imagination, something we can’t even see yet. I believe God has given us a godly restlessness. A restlessness which allows us to both live fully here and ready for what’s next. A restlessness that, if we’re paying attention, points us toward the Giver of all good things.

But, a restlessness, that’s kind of exhausting.

 

2015-12-31 10.10.35Brandon and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary on December 31. For maybe only the second time in our marriage, it was just the two of us. It seemed appropriate for us to dream about what our lives would look like 10 years from now.

And, honestly, neither of us had much of anything to say.

And, that sounds terribly unromantic and depressing. But, I’m not saying we are unhappy. Or that we don’t have ambitions and dreams.

No, Brandon and I are wonderfully content and happy with each other.

And we have more plans for our future than most people, I think. (Planning the future is my love language. )

But, here’s the thing…

We could never have dreamed what we are doing now. We could never have written how our family would come together. We couldn’t have planned the course the last 10 years would take.

No list could have gotten us here. No strategic plan could have articulated the reality that we live in.

In fact, as we looked back over the past 10 years we laughed that almost every single one of our plans didn’t work out the way we planned it.

So, moving into this new year. Moving into our next decade together. We’re not making many plans.

Now, we’re continuing to study. We’re continuing to minister. We’re continuing to enrich. To professionally develop. To be mentored and to mentor others. We’re working to grow in our faith, to make plans for our children. We’re continuing to budget, to schedule, to discern, to parent… We’re going to Europe in June…

But, we have no idea where the next year, 5 years or 10 years will lead. We just don’t know. And, we’re learning to be okay with that.

We’re learning to move forward with our hands open. We’re learning to trust when things don’t look how we wanted. We’re learning to plan expectantly for the unexpected. To dream for that which we could never imagine.

And, we’re still learning how that works. But, each and every year, we are loving it more and more.

Happy New Year, friends.

Year of the Bible

Our church (newlifechurch.tv) has decided that 2016 is the Year of the Bible. What does that mean exactly? It means that everyone is going to be reading through the entire Bible in 2016. And everything–sermons, life groups, Little Life, Kid Life and youth–everything revolves around the reading.

I’m incredibly excited about it all. And I’m incredibly excited that I get to be a small part of helping families do this together.

And, if I’m honest, I’m more than a little bit daunted by the task. What do I mean? I’m a mom of two young kids. Finding 45 minutes to an hour for extra reading every day…well it can seem less than possible. (I’m currently writing this post while my 3 yr old sleeps on my shoulder 🙂 )

2015-12-29 13.22.31

And, if I want my family doing this together… well I’ve got to be creative. Right? My three year old can’t exactly read through Leviticus with me, right?

Which brings me to my topic for today. How in the world does a family read through the Bible together?

Being a parent is hard. It’s exhausting on the good days and it can seem down right impossible on the bad days. If you’re anything like me, you wrestle with a lot of guilt associated with your parenting. Am I disciplining them correctly? Do they have the right car seat? Is this pediatrician best? Should I have made them keep taking piano lessons?

And, when it comes to spiritual things, I think a lot of us struggle to know where to begin. I know I do.

 

 

You see, one of the challenges of parenting is that we major in the mundane. And it can be hard for us to feel like we are instilling anything terribly important.

And now we’re being asked to read the entire Bible this year and to do it as family. And for many of us that seems just intimidating enough that we don’t even want to start.

And this is where I want to meet you today. Over the next year we are going to be throwing lots of great family ideas your way. We’re going to be giving you suggestions and we’re going to be letting other families show you how it’s going for them.

But I’d like to back it up and keep it simple today.

Here’s what I want you to know: There is beauty in the mundane and you can do this. Your child can do this.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to start a little messy and uncomfortable. But you can do this. We can do this.

One of the best things you or I can do for our children is to actively pursue our own relationship with God, and let our children watch us do it.

So, in the month of January, I’m going to give us one job. The hardest thing about this goal is establishing the habit. So this month, we (as parents) need to establish this habit of being in the word. Being diligent.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: How does this fit into my family life?  Choose a time that you know you can keep. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning, maybe it’s at night before bed or during nap times. It may mean waking up earlier or turning off the T.V. Maybe you need to find audio recording of some books to listen to when you’re driving or working out. Find whatever works.

Establish the habit.

With one special instruction: Let’s do this in a way that our children can see. It would be easy for us to do our reading when our children aren’t around to distract us. And we do need those times.

But our children cannot ask about something they don’t see. And we can’t expect them to develop a habit we don’t show them first.

So, January is all about us establishing the habit. But with our children in mind.

Want to go further? 

  • Blessings. Each week, choose a few verses to use as a blessing over your children. Pray it over them at bedtime or before school. Tell them where you found it.
  • Let them read with you! For older children and youth, consider having them start this habit with you. They probably can’t read it all, but they can definitely do a part. Whether it’s the Old or New Testament, Psalm or Proverb, lead them to start a small piece. In the coming weeks, we will be point you to some great resources for your kids. If you are at a New Life Church campus, talk to your kid’s pastors. They’re going to have some great suggestions.

Friends, I think we can all do this. And I’m going to put my own family on the hook. The O’Brien family is all in. We’re eager and excited. I don’t expect it to go beautifully every time. In fact, I expect it will be a little rocky. But we are committing to do this as a family and to let you see it. Which means we will be posting the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout the year at #yearofthebible

And we’d love for families from every campus to join us. Let us see how it’s working for you. And let us be encouraged by your diligence even when it doesn’t go well.

At the end of this year, our children may not be Bible experts. But my prayer is that they will know without a shadow of a doubt that the Bible is life-changing. That it’s worth reading for a lifetime.

So, dow does a family read through the Bible together? We just do it.

And we trust the Holy Spirit to take care of the rest.

(For more information about resources throughout the year: http://www.newlifechurch.tv/daily/)

A pair of basic brown flip flops.

Today, dear friends, I suffered a loss. One month ago, we brought home a new dog from the shelter. She’s awesome, her name is Romy and we love her.

Before you worry, she’s still alive.

But, today she chewed up my favorite pair of flip flops. Obliterated them, rendered them useless. After 8 years of wearing this more than any other shoe in my closet, they’re gone. I’ll be honest, I was definitely bummed and a little sad. The struggle is real.

Now, while most of you may not understand the depth of my grief over this beautiful pair of basic brown flip flops, I’ve got someone in my corner. Jamie, our 3 yr old, really felt where I was coming from. He hugged me, patted me on the back, and talked about how sorry he was that my shoe was gone. He was sad. Truly sad.

And this got me thinking. I think we could learn a lot from Jamie’s response. Not about shoes, mind you. I mean, it’s a pair of shoes. And, if I’m honest I loved them so much because they were cheap AND lasted 8 years. But they will be replaced. They’re no big deal.

So, if not about shoes, then what?

What I loved about Jamie’s response is that he was sad purely and completely because I was sad. He has no attachment to the shoes. (If he had his way, I would wear my bright red heals every day.) No, this wasn’t about the shoe for him.

This was about his mama. His main love.

When someone around us is grieving, we often try to first put ourselves in their shoes, in order to muster up a reason to grieve. Or, we offer commentary on the validity of their grief. Or advice to avoid it in the future.

Whatever we do, why isn’t our first response to just feel sad. Why? Because someone we love is sad. End of story. Who cares about the reason? Who cares if we understand?

In the end, isn’t this what the grieving among us really want? They just want you to come alongside, admit that this sucks, and allow them to cry. Will there be time for advice? Sure (though not as soon as we often think). Space for empathy? Absolutely. Room for commentary? Well, probably not.

But the first thing that needs to happen is grieving with those who grieve. Mourning with those who mourn.

And our preschoolers among us, can probably show us exactly how this works.

One of those days…

2015-08-10 07.47.55

Today wasn’t my best day of motherhood. I was impatient, my words were unkind, I was distracted and not terribly merciful.

There are many evenings that I sit down and am exhausted. Tonight, I’m absolutely exhausted and a little bit defeated.

Parenting is hard. There’s no way around it. Kids, even little ones, can push buttons you didn’t know you had.

This week has been short on sleep. Jamie had a nightmare early on and the nights sense have been complete with 2-3 hours awake trying to calm him.

No sleep for any of us makes for impatience for all of us. Jamie hasn’t been his normal, flexible, full of joy self. And Brandon and I are not at our best.

And it’s in these moments that I am so thankful for new mercies every morning. It’s in these moments that I am longing for a chance to try it all again.

And I’m learning to be okay with imperfect days. Because as discouraged as I am about my record, I am so incredibly thankful for the gift of my two munchkins. So thankful for their silliness, their laughter, their intelligence and flexibility. I love how they run and hide when i chase them and how they love to tackle their daddy. I love their thick curly hair and endlessly long lashes. I love the shade of their skin and their bright eyes.

So tomorrow morning I will make muffins, I will hug and kiss boo boos, soothe worries, comfort my anxious child, play with my babies, enjoy my children and do my best. I’ll read parenting books and blogs and try all the things.

But for tonight, I’m going to sit in the sadness. Honestly, I think we run from sadness all too quickly. Like I said up above, parenting is hard. And if we don’t embrace all the feelings that come with it, then I wonder if we’re in danger of missing something.

I am hopeful that tomorrow I will do better.

And for now I am going to continue to watch old videos, cry a little, watch Arrested Development and hug my babies before I go to sleep.

Good night, friends. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon. A few things have been brewing and I’m eager to share them.

What’s Next?

For the first 7 and 1/2 years of our marriage, Brandon and I were consistently waiting on the next thing.

It wasn’t because we were discontent. No, we were in grad school and trying to start a family. And with every degree that one of us earned we discussed our next step. And with every decision made about infertility measures or adoption pursuits, we learned to wait for the next thing.

So, while we were fully invested in the people in our midst (and in our church family where I served as Children’s Minister), we were also consistently applying for and pursuing multiple opportunities.

And we were waiting. At our best, it was expectant waiting. On hard days, it maybe sounded like frustration. And at our worst, discontentment ruled the day.

But, overall we didn’t mind so much. We loved where we were and we loved dreaming about what was to come.

Then “it” finally happened. In January of 2013, we felt like a change was imminent for our family. And, in what can only be described as a “God thing,” we felt a very clear leading to move to Conway, Arkansas. We say it was a God-thing because I suggested in. And it was fairly unlikely that I would have suggested a move to Arkansas on my own. (Nothing against the state, but it wasn’t terribly familiar to me).

And, having grown up in the state, Brandon had never felt a deep desire to return. Don’t get me wrong, he loves his home state and missed it. But he had never imagined himself moving back.

Simply put, Arkansas had never been a part of the plan.

So we began to prepare for a big move. That July, we packed up our belongings and drove 12 hours to our new home. I, with the toddler (who screamed the whole way) and Brandon, in the moving truck with the cat.

Within a few months Brandon had gotten a new & incredible job, we bought our first house, we bought a car, we reconnected with old friends and are making new ones. I taught my first college course and picked up some writing jobs. Brandon planted a garden. And now we’ve been here almost a year. And in that time, so many of our dreams have come to fruition.

But you know what? It’s hard to shake that whole, “What’s next?” feeling.

So we are learning to live in this new place fully invested. Honestly, we don’t know what the next 5, 10 or 20 years will hold. But we do know that God has called us here for this season. And part of living fully where we have been planted is letting the “What’s next?” question remained unanswered for a little while.

And, that’s hard. But also good.

Speaking for myself, it’s not totally natural. But I’m learning. Slowly, but surely, I’m learning.