Reclaiming the Village. A Motherhood Journey.

ACS-0227Pregnancy was nine of the hardest months of my life. Times three. Miscarriage marks my soul and our beloved tiny one waits in heaven (read his story at #losingzion). Motherhood is my greatest joy and a daily reminder of my brokenness and my humanness. A public showcase of the very best and the absolute worst parts of me.

I love cosleeping, but I miss actual sleep.

I love the creativity of my boys, but I don’t love the hurricane of projects and toys and snack crumbs they leave in their wake.

I want to be the free range mama that my heart admires, but I tend to be more of a helicopter.

I love the friendship my boys have and I wouldn’t change it for a thing, but sometimes I have to plug my ears because the volume, all the volume.

I could not be more proud to be a boy mama through and through, but sometimes I still walk a bit more slowly past the little girls section at target and wonder if I’ll ever get to shop there.

I am in awe of the powerful bond that exclusively breastfeeding all of my boys created, but sometimes I miss my body being mine.

Do I cringe writing those things? Yes. Do I know some people will read this and their heart will agree with every word? Yes. Do I know someone reading this will have struggled with infertility or struggled to breastfeed and be hurt that I would say there are things about motherhood that I don’t love, that I struggle with? Yes. Does that make me want to delete this post? Yes. But I won’t.

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The beauty, and the pain, of motherhood is that every single journey is unique. One of a kind. Incomparable. But what do we do? We compare. We assume. We judge, ourselves and others. We look at others to gauge if we’re doing this thing right. We secretly congratulate ourselves when the kid throwing a tantrum in the grocery store isn’t ours. And when it is? We assume everyone must think we’re the worst mama in the world.

Motherhood has lost its grace.

Let me say it again.

Motherhood has lost its grace.

We have lost our grace.

For ourselves and for others.

Why?

Because for so many, motherhood has lost the heart of the tribe and has become another form of competition. If we can prove we’re doing better then the mama over there, then we can feel better about the places we know we’re failing.

Friends. Mamas. We can do better than this. We need to do better than this. For ourselves. For each other. For our daughters who will grow up and become us. For our sons who will grow up and marry someone like us. For all of us.

And it starts by agreeing that each of our stories are wildly unique, and deeply important. When we know there is room for all of our journeys, then we can stop comparing and we can start linking arms and walking this path together. Learning. Teaching. Encouraging. Guiding. Loving. Living. Together. A tribe as it was meant to be. A sisterhood that changes everything.

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There is nothing more powerful than the heart of a mother. Wherever you are in your motherhood journey, whatever your story looks like, keep writing it. Don’t doubt it’s validity or it’s power. No one else’s story takes away from the importance of yours. We’re in this together. Don’t ever forget that. #savingsisterhood

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Confessions Of The Most Anxious Mama

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A quick glance at this photo and all you might see is a bossy baby trying to tell his mama where to take him, and a mama wearing too many layers and with way too much hair to call Florida home in the summer. Then you would probably scroll on past. Nothing spectacular to see here. But hold on a second! I would want to scream at you. Don’t you see it? Don’t you see underneath all of that ordinary there something overwhelmingly spectacular? No? Look closer. I promise it’s there.

See, this photo was taken at Disney Springs, outside the House of Blues concert venue. My husband, and myself, and the cutest third wheel in the world were about to see Johnnyswim in concert! Hashtag dream come true. In case you’re not familiar with all things Disney, there were approximately one billion people walking around, the concert venue was overflowing, and I was there. 

Let me say it again.

I was there. 

And I had the time of my life.

When you’re a regular person I know that doesn’t seem like anything to think twice about, let alone post on social media about. But if you’ve known me for a while you know that it’s actually an enormous deal. 

I have battled an anxiety disorder for my entire life but during my first pregnancy it became a horrible panic disorder. 

I had constant panic attacks all day long.

I didn’t leave my house except for doctor’s appointments.

I didn’t drive (for three years!)

I couldn’t go into stores without having a panic attack. 

I couldn’t sit in a movie theatre without having a panic attack.

I couldn’t watch anything stressful on tv or talk about anything remotely intense without having a panic attack.

I couldn’t be alone without having a panic attack.

I couldn’t be away from my husband without having a panic attack (He played a lot of video games that year. And never once complained that I was basically holding him prisoner in his own home. Now that’s the man of my dreams.)

I spent every single second of every single day thinking I was dying. 

I spent my days researching anxiety treatments and seriously considered inpatient treatment.

I was convinced that this was my new forever.

I was not living. I was barely surviving. I was broken and lost and embarrassed and ashamed and too scared to do a single thing about it. 

The story is long, the healing came, because Jesus.

One day we can sit over tea and I’ll tell you all about it. 

But my words today don’t need the details. They are here to address the heart of the matter.

Whoever you are.

Wherever you are.

Whatever your battle.

I see you.

And I beg of you.

Do not give up.

I will forever battle anxiety as it is part of my story, but there has been so much healing and there is so much hope. My life today is one I never could have imagined hiding under my blankets and sobbing the deepest sobs while begging Jesus to let me be free from fear for just one moment.

I had forgotten what that freedom felt like. 

We all have our battles, and I’m not here to tell you exactly how healing will happen, or when. I wish I knew and if I did I would shout it from the rooftops for you. Because when you’re in the thick of a battle for your life, one of the most difficult realities is having no way to know when it will end. When the storm will cease. When the clouds will part. When the light will come back.

But my friend.

It will come back. 

So do not give up.

When you can’t believe it will ever change, hear my words. It will.

When you can’t believe that hope is worth it, hear my words. It is.

When you can’t see past the curtain of your own pain, hear my words. Healing is coming.

When you wonder if life could ever overflow with joy again, hear my words. It can. And it will.

You are stronger than you think, braver than you know and whatever your fight you were created to overcome it and tell your story so that others may find comfort and hope and joy through you. 

Climbing my mountain started out with counting the tiniest daily victories.

I got dressed today! 

I walked to the end of the driveway and back! 

I went to the grocery store with my husband today! It may have only been for ten minutes and I may have hated every second of it, but I was there.

I went an hour without feeling a panic attack coming on.

I went a whole afternoon without a panic attack.

I cleaned the house today.

I laughed today. And I really meant it.

I told myself I can climb this mountain, and I’m starting to believe it might just possibly be true.

And on and on. Friends, it can feel humiliating to look at those things as victories. I had to radically change my mindset and ask Jesus to pour his grace upon grace upon grace on me. I had to believe that I was worth the work, I was capable of the healing, and that struggling with mental illness did not mean I was less than. 

Did you read that last bit and cringe just a little?

Read it again.

Struggling with mental illness does NOT mean you are LESS than. 

Say it out loud. 

Every single person on this planet struggles with one thing or another. We all have our stories. And yours is so vitally important. Don’t be afraid to share it, you never know who might need to hear they’re not alone. 

And if you need to hear that today, please know it’s true.

My life today may look joy filled to you, but that did not come without years of prayer and healing and one thousand doctors visits and diet changes and on and on. This life is possible because I chose to not give up even when it felt there was no hope. So if you need a touch of hope today, look at this photo, know I went to that concert and didn’t feel a single bit of anxiety that night, and know that you will have your own version of this photo in time. 

If you’re struggling to believe that, then I’m believing it for you today. If you want to share your story with me, I would be honored to hear it and I would be committed to praying for your healing journey and your hope story.

Go climb that mountain friend, the path is difficult but the view from the top will be worth every step. 

a diagnosis.

In one of my dad’s last sermons he said, “anger and sorrow, joy and hope, can be intermingled.” These are words I have clung to, desperately at times, easily at times, but forever I have held them tight. We have been on a three year journey with Johnny’s health. It came almost immediately following a seven year journey with my chronic illness and when Johnny’s health issues began I don’t think either of us had any idea what we were headed into. I believe that was the grace of God. What started as occasional and mild symptoms that seemed like exhaustion from parenting little ones, or possible burn out from being a full time caregiver to his chronically ill wife, symptoms we assumed would pass with time, rest, more vegetables, an earlier bedtime, has turned into much more.

When you are dealing with a chronic illness, often the severity of it is lost in the gradual worsening of symptoms. If one day you are running a marathon and the next day you can scarcely drag yourself to the bathroom, that would be alarming indeed. But when it takes weeks, months, even years for your illness to progress it can somehow become terribly normal. Slowly energy fades, more days are spent in bed than out of bed, symptoms increase and you adjust to a “new normal” that tricks you into thinking this is just your life now. You manage symptoms instead of searching for answers. You make it to bedtime and then prepare to do it all again tomorrow. Survival mode isn’t meant to be permanent but chronic illness makes one forget that.

For the past three years I have slowly watched my husband’s heath deteriorate. Slowly, stealthily, so gradually that I have to fight to remember that this is not who he is and that when healthy he is energetic and vibrant and full of life. He is also the most generous, servant hearted, loving, funny man I know. He is still all of those things even in his illness, but so much of his joy has been stolen.

Over the past three years we have seen countless doctors. Read endless blogs and articles. Searching for what we could be facing. Johnny has swallowed thousands of pills and supplements. We have tried medication. We have sought out experts of every kind, Medical Doctors, alternative health care providers and more. Each had a different answer for us, a new treatment plan each time, some threw their hands up in defeat, and some tried to tell him it was all in his head and he should learn to manage his stress.

Hope is difficult to cling to when answers don’t come.

Doubt creeps in when hope slips away.

Yesterday, after a particularly disappointing month with what we thought were answers and then they turned out to not be answers after all, we decided to visit a doctor a few hours away who specializes in complicated chronic illness cases. Johnny has spent the vast majority of his time in bed since New Years Eve and enough was enough. We didn’t have the money, or hope, we needed, but what else could we do? Desperate times and all that.

Yesterday everything changed.

Yesterday we got answers and a lot more questions.

Yesterday we were handed a true diagnosis.

For the chronically ill patient, as hard as diagnosis day can be, it is also a celebration, a milestone, a turning point. It means the enemy has a name, the fight has a direction, and the suffering might just possibly become healing. When you’re handed a laundry list of health issues you can formulate a plan and find purpose in your days. No more waiting. It’s time for battle.

Yesterday we were given the following diagnoses for Johnny:

* Active epstein barr virus (this one we did already know about, but it was a confirmation)

* Active HHV 6 (a virus almost 100% of people acquire as a child and then it remains in the body, dormant, but can reactivate later in life and cause a myriad of issues)

* Parasites (which I literally saw with my own eyes in his blood under a microscope. Very disturbing and also a lot like 7th grade science class.)

* Autoimmune dysfunction

* Chronic Lyme Disease as well as FIVE other tick borne infections (ticks carry multiple types of infections and most Lyme Disease patients are infected with several of these tick borne co infections.)

When I said it was laundry list, obviously I meant it.

We knew many of these things were possibilities, but to type them out and look at the list is overwhelming to say the least. We are concerned about and addressing everything, but are most concerned about the Chronic Lyme Disease diagnosis. We have experienced the impact of Chronic Lyme on many people we love and care about, most notably with our beloved Burd family and we know this is not a disease to take lightly. We are prepared to fight hard and do have access to many different treatment options for the Lyme, co infections, as well as the other diagnoses.

While right now we are not looking for further treatment recommendations, we are asking for your love and prayers as we know this is not the end of the journey but the beginning of perhaps the most trying part of the process.

Lyme disease is difficult to treat, and because we believe Johnny was likely infected during our last All Access tour on Long Island over three years ago (as that is when his symptoms began) he has been infected for a while and we do not know exactly how far his illness has progressed. We have been asked to do further testing to identify more of that information. We are also exploring the options we have with a few different doctors,  but we are grateful that there are Lyme literate doctors within driving distance of us, as many Lyme patients have to travel great distances to find a doctor who can understand and treat their disease.

We know the power of prayer, we know that our God can heal whether through miracles or treatment, and we believe that Johnny will be fully restored so that he can enjoy this crazy beautiful life we’ve been given in a way that he hasn’t been able to for the last several years. Would you join us in praying? We are hopeful but weary. The words of my dad’s sermon are ringing in my ears. I’m angry and I’m sad, but I will not let go of the hope and the joy that comes even during trials. And I will fight with every single ounce of my strength to get my husband his life back.

We are so grateful for our people. For our tribe. For our ministry and leadership who are so gracious and understanding and patient with us as Johnny works hard when able but often a half day of work knocks the wind out of him for the rest of the day. Or week. We are so lucky to have friends and family who would do anything for us. We feel your prayers, we have this whole time. We are sorry we haven’t shared more along the way. It is difficult to know how and what to share when you yourself don’t understand what is happening. But now that we have a set of diagnoses, and are working towards a treatment plan, we will keep you updated as much as we are able. Thank you for your grace with us and for believing with us for health. I have claimed and prayed over 2018 as our year of THRIVING. I still believe it is possible. And would love for you to pray that word over our family in faith.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We love you all deeply. We need you desperately. And our thankfulness for you is beyond words I can find. And we all know I’m hardly ever left speechless.

xoxo,

Kelsey for all of the Koslowskis

one decision.

Often when I catch a glimpse of my husband from across the room I can’t help but shake my head in amazement at the thought of where we were and where we are today. Our marriage, our children, our ministry, none of them would have existed if the man I love had made one different choice twelve years ago.

 

While I was a young single woman serving as a missionary, you can bet I would have laughed in your face if you told me that my future husband was currently on the streets of a major Canadian city using and selling drugs. Impossible. Right? Someone probably would have needed to remind me that my Jesus specializes in the impossible. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.

 

My husband, Jonathan (or Johnny, but never John) was born in Alberta, Canada. He was raised by wonderful parents who loved the Lord and loved Johnny and his two older brothers. His dad was a North American Baptist pastor and Johnny grew up enjoying church, knowing Jesus, wrestling with his brothers and having an altogether lovely childhood. But as he got older he began to ask some tough questions about Jesus and faith and eventually decided that if he had been born into a family who practiced a different religion, he would have automatically been of their faith. He wanted to make his own decisions about what he did and did not believe so he tossed Christianity aside, bought a big book on world religions, and read.

 

As he searched he found that religion after religion seemed empty and meaningless. Which left him drowning in unanswered questions and aching for a place to belong. Around the same time he was invited to his first rave. That night, and the decision to go, led Johnny down a dark and difficult road that threatened to steal everything from him. He dove headfirst into the drug scene, partying for days on end, taking any and every drug that was offered to him, then eventually selling drugs so he could continue to purchase drugs for himself. His only goal was to constantly be high.

 

I could tell you story after story of times that he was nearly killed or arrested.

 

He should have been.

 

It is a miracle straight from heaven that he wasn’t.

 

He was surrounded by friends overdosing or going to jail or being killed. He was in a car accident he shouldn’t have been able to walk away from. He was stopped, questioned by police and somehow let go. He was risking his life every single day to get high and oh was his future bleak.

 

But Jesus.

 

Johnny likes to say that Jesus gave him mono.

 

I like to say Jesus saved our life.

 

Because indeed Johnny did get hit with a terrible case of mononucleosis. He couldn’t get out of bed for over a month and during that time his body was forced to endure not only mono but also the withdrawals and detox that come with quitting drugs cold turkey. One day while he laid in bed bored, long before smart phones and mindless game apps or Netflix could pass the time, his dad came to his door, handed him a bible and offered a simple challenge.

 

Read one Proverb a day.  

 

And for some reason, I believe it was the endless hours my mother in law spent on her knees praying for her baby, he picked up that bible and he read a Proverb a day.

 

And just like he always does when we allow him to, Jesus showed up.

 

The simple word of God, the truth that is found on the pages of the bible, the wisdom of the Proverbs, it began to soften the heart of a 19 year old kid who had tried so hard to find a different way. And now he had a choice to make, a decision that would forever shape his life and so many others. As his health returned, would he put down the bible and return to the life he had grown addicted to? Or would he let the truth set him free?

 

I rarely allow myself to ponder the what if’s. But when I do, I find myself totally overwhelmed by what is.

 

My husband allowed Jesus to claim his heart once again and he walked away completely from the life he had lived for over two years. That one decision completely changed both of our lives forever. And to think I didn’t yet know his name.

 

Shortly after becoming sober Johnny applied to a missionary training program with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in New York, the very ministry that I just happened to be on staff with. Go figure, right?

 

Even after nine years of marriage, when I think about what had to happen for my story and Johnny’s story to become one, I am overwhelmed by the goodness of Jesus to fight for each of his children.

 

A friend of ours put it this way, and it perfectly describes the man I call husband. After praying for Johnny she looked at him and truth spilled from her mouth.

 

“If I didn’t know your story I would never guess what you walked through. Some people have a difficult past and you can still see it on them, feel it on them. But you. You walked through so much darkness and I don’t see a single bit of it when I look at you. Nothing. When I hear your story it’s as if you’re talking about someone else. You are a completely new creation.”

 

One decision to open his heart up to the all consuming love and healing of Jesus Christ. Now the man I share my life with is the most compassionate, kind, humble and servant hearted man I know. He loves the Lord with all of his being and has dedicated his life to sharing Jesus with the nations. He is the husband I could never begin to deserve and the best person in the world to teach our boys how to be men.

 

He is the reason I will never underestimate the power of one decision.

 

He is my constant reminder that Jesus doesn’t believe anything or anyone is impossible.

 

Nearly a year ago our journey led us to the first Sunday service at Grace Clermont. Our family has found a home at Grace, and as I watch Johnny serve on the ops team or in graceKIDS, I am overwhelmed by thankfulness for a God who doesn’t give up, a husband who made the choice to change his life, three boys whose very lives are a miraculous testament to God’s faithfulness and a church that will help them own their faith from the very beginning.

 

 

 

an open letter to the first trimester.

dearest first trimester,

i’m here because someone has to say it. you suck. like a lot. you make the sanest of women go completely insane. i hear you denying it. i see your coy smile, your whispered promises of the most magical miracle nature has to offer. i’m drawn in by the promises of the pregnant lady glow. i wish i could say this is the first time i have fallen for your charms. but that would be a lie. you keep women so wrapped up in pregnancy announcement ideas and promises that the nausea will go away before you know it, that rarely does anyone call you out. but it needs to be done.

i started planning for you months before you showed up. i counted days, tracked ovulation, held my breath each month waiting for my period to crush my dreams. then when my period showed up i secretly breathed a tiny sigh of relief because as desperately as i longed for a baby, a little part of me was thankful for one more month of freedom before the first trimester took over my life. then came the month where my period was a day late. probably nothing. just an off month. then two days late. i finally grabbed my box of thirty dollar pregnancy tests, because the insanity has already begun and i automatically assume that more expensive means more accurate. sneak a test into the bathroom for the first morning pee. take the test. the fancy digital kind. prepared for two words. after the three longest minutes of my life only one word stares back at me. PREGNANT. wait what? then i take approximately twelve more pregnancy tests, different brands and varieties, just to be sure. i’ll never be able to send my kids to college now, but at least i am almost positive that i am indeed pregnant.

excitement and horror intermingle and i think i might be sick. flashbacks to my first and second pregnancies cripple me with fear. why would anyone voluntarily make themselves ill for anywhere between four to nine months? oh right. me. because i love my babies. but it wasn’t until this exact moment that i remembered how desperately i hate being pregnant.

the next two weeks are a blur of waiting for the worst to come and praying maybe i’ll be one of the lucky ones this time. one of the ladies who gets to say, oh nausea? well one time i felt a little sick when i skipped lunch but then i ate a cracker and felt brand new! but i know i will never be one of those.

i feel like a storm watcher tracking tornadoes in oklahoma. no one knows when the next one will hit but everyone knows it’s coming.

it starts with the underwear check. no one wants to say it out loud but every single mama who has recently peed on a pregnancy test, and gotten that big fat positive, checks her underwear for blood every single time she goes to the bathroom. and sometimes goes to the bathroom for that purpose only. like two hundred times a day. it’s crazy. and insane. and it’s part of being a mother. because we already love that tiny microscopic life so damn much that the fear of losing that child is already a part of who we are. sometimes we make it through that season of fear and get to the ultrasound where we see a heartbeat and know all is well. for now. sometimes we never make it that far and hearts break and grief is our journey.

around ultrasound time, or for me long before that time, the exhaustion and the nausea set in. for most of us, the exhaustion is all encompassing and the nausea makes daily life nearly impossible. i see women online doing crossfit or running marathons through their pregnancy and all i can think is, someday i’ll have the energy to shower.

slowly my life becomes filled with rice cakes and ginger candies and peppermint tea. i lose weight. i lose the tiny bit of muscle i had. i scroll through facebook and instagram and envy my friends who are out in public and interacting with real human beings. i throw up basically always. this time with kids old enough to follow me to the bathroom, the one with the lock that doesn’t work. i throw up daily to a soundtrack of, “mom! can i have a snack!” “mom when you’re done throwing up i really need to show you something!” “mom can i sit on your lap?” and on the really lucky days they both crowd around and lean over my back while yelling, “I WANT TO SEE YOUR THROW UP!!!!” i want to scream at them. i want to tell them to get the crap out of the bathroom. but each time i try to speak i just heave and throw up more and more. so with all of my dignity gone they discuss the size and color and volume of my vomit. while i wipe sweat from my brow and remind myself that this is so going to be worth it someday.

you see, my dear first trimester, over four pregnancies, i can say with confidence, you are one of the worst experiences of my life. you have put me in the hospital multiple times just to keep enough fluids in my body. you have made me so physically weak that i could hardly stand. you have messed with all of my hormones and caused me to have debilitating panic attacks so severe i was positive i was dying. you have forced me to miss out on multiple weddings for some of my best friends. you have secluded me from real life for months at a time. you broke my heart when i lost a baby i loved so deeply. and i am only one person. i have heard countless stories from other women who have braved your horrors multiple times. each story is unique but almost always with the same theme. you are hard. you are often miserable and long and too often heartbreaking.

you are the worst.

but you bring the very, very best.

suffering through you brought me my boys. choosing you once again gave me the gift of my baby who i never got to hold but who forever changed our family. today marks the first day of my second trimester with our tiny rainbow baby and i mean it with all of my heart when i say i hated every second of you this time around also. but i chose you. because i needed you. you are awful. but deeply important. and the truth is, i would choose you all over again a million times.

we all would.

every mama i know. some who hate you as much as i do. some who have suffered loss after loss after loss. some who face debilitating health issues themselves. some who invested every single penny they had to endure you. some who still dream daily and ache just as often, because they long to have the chance to hate the first trimester as much as so many of us do. some women i love never personally lived through a first trimester themselves but another women somewhere else in the world did, and then my friends suffered through days, weeks, months, of waiting, hoping, and living through a different kind of first trimester just to hold the babies.

it starts long before we ever hold our babies.

the second the dream of being a mama enters our hearts, we are preparing for the first trimester. the second. the third. a lifetime of loving someone more than ourselves. a lifetime of worrying and fretting because that’s what we do. a lifetime of joy and heartache and trials and triumphs. a lifetime that is so very worth every single thing we have to walk through.

so the truth is, dear first trimester, i will never love you. but i would endure you a thousand times if that is what i had to do.

being called mama is so many dreams come true.

but know this.

i screw up every single day. i fall short. i am terrible at consistency. i lose my patience. i forget to play. but my prayer, and i’m certain this is the prayer of every mama reading this, is that every single day i will love better, laugh louder, forgive easily, admit my mistakes, and live a life worthy of my children’s respect.

happiest mother’s day to each and every mama heart out there. no matter where you are on your journey, you are uniquely designed to love in a way that only a mama can. and it is okay to hate the first trimester. or all of them. it is okay to struggle and ask for help. it is okay to mess up and apologize. it is okay to admit that it takes a village. because it does. and it should.

what makes mama’s so amazing is that motherhood is one of the hardest jobs in the world. it takes all we have and then asks for more. and the amazing part is that we would all choose it again and again. every. single. time.

marked by miscarriage. finding unexpected beauty in grief.

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There are things, as a writer, you cross your fingers you’ll never be able to write about from experience. When one of those things happens you know you have to write it down, because that is how you make sense of the world, but oh how you don’t want to read your own words. Today is that day for me. And with all of me, I wish it wasn’t.

Four weeks ago we found out we were pregnant with our third child. The day before Thanksgiving our beloved tiniest one was scooped up into Jesus’ arms without ever filling mine.

When I first realized what was happening I simply sat on the toilet. Time standing still. And whispered to myself. “Oh no. Oh no. Please. Jesus. No.” I sat there a long time. Knowing that if I moved from that place, I would have to face a new chapter in my life. One I didn’t want to read.

Then almost immediately I began telling myself how ridiculous I was. It was so early on. Countless people have suffered greater losses. How could I cry over someone I never knew? This world is such a mess, my problems pale in comparison.

And then the gentle voice of my Jesus. One person’s suffering is not to be measured against another’s. My grief is not less real because in my mind some else’s grief seems bigger. More acceptable. More deserving of tears. My pain isn’t invalid because I never kissed the perfect cheek of the child we dearly loved and had dreamed of for so long.

And so, because this is part of our story now, and because I believe too many women feel they cannot grieve publicly for a child they never held, I will tell our story. I will share the words I wrote in private, never thinking they would be shared. Because pregnancy loss needs to be talked about. The lives we carried need to be celebrated. And our tears need to be cried because the journey through sadness leads us to healing.

Below you will find words I wrote in the moment that our hearts broke. I pray they will offer others the freedom to grieve. And if my story connects with your heart, dear mama, please know that in our weakness, he is strong. May his praise ever be on our lips.

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Sharing this photo is outside of every comfort zone I have. But from day one this space has been for sharing the real version of our life. Not just the pretty moments or the perfect days. So here it is.

I took this photo, and wrote the words below, the morning I miscarried. I couldn’t hide the sobs, and Hudson wouldn’t leave my side. He made faces, told jokes, drew me pictures, cuddled up, and let me cry. I took a photo for my husband. {See how sweet our boy is?} But I ended up capturing heartbreak, and love unwavering, all in one painful image. It’s hard to even look at. Yet it reminds that we are always better together. Even when we’re just letting someone we love cry as hard as they need.

“At 2:30 this morning I went to the bathroom. I was spotting. I laid in bed most of the night drifting between sleep and praying for a miracle. I crawled out of bed to face the truth that my baby is no longer this side of heaven.

I woke Johnny, who in a fog of sleep struggled to understand. I gave him facts. Cramping. Blood. I’ll call the doctor. I was scared to feel so I treated it like business. Then we sat silent. I felt it coming. Feared the words but had to say them.

I touched my aching stomach and whispered, “my little baby.”

And the tears, they came.

A flood of grief coursed over my body and took my breath away. My sweet little one. I’ll never see your face or watch you grow or hug you so tight. Oh how deep that ache is. How sharp the sorrow. It seems there aren’t enough tears in the world. My husband held me tight. Let me feel it all. And he prayed. The perfect words. The hardest words.

“Jesus we love you. We trust you. We love this child who will be ours forever. We want this baby here but are so jealous he gets to meet you first.”

His words were simple. And true. And words I never wanted to hear.

When glory comes, we will meet the child who has forever marked us as parents of three. But until that day we grieve our loss while we celebrate heaven’s gain. Because the risk you take in loving someone with reckless abandon and all of your heart, is that someday you might have to say goodbye. Maybe even before you’ve had the chance to say hello.”

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Truth be told, I was tempted to not share this story with you until I was pregnant again. I wanted my story to have a happy ending and the guarantee of dreams fulfilled. I wanted to say, see! God is so good because he gives us the desires of our hearts! I wanted to take a picture of a tiny baby bump and I wanted to tell you to never give up.

And then I remembered that it’s not about what I want.

My Jesus is good and he is faithful and he loves to overwhelm us with beautiful things. But he also knows we live in an imperfect world and he does not promise us perfection. In fact we are guaranteed hardship.

So the real question is this. Do we believe that, even if the dream we have clung to for so long never happens, He is still good?

It’s easier to say yes then to mean yes. And that’s okay. God can take our questions, our fear, our anger, our screaming, our tears, our four letter words, our silence. Because we serve a God who grieves with us and for us. He does not promise a perfect and pain free life here on this earth. But he does promise we never ever walk alone. So every morning I wake up and choose to dream and pray and hope for another sweet baby to fill my arms and call me mama.

And if not, if it never ever happens. I will say it even if my voice shakes. He is still good. So, so good.

motherhood. it isn’t what you think.

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Motherhood is quite ordinary. My version is anyway.

It’s yoga pants and dirty dishes and diaper explosions. Motherhood is meal planning and mountains of laundry and a soaking wet floor during bath time. It’s being on duty every second of every day, never sleeping soundly ever again and being kicked in the stomach, by tiny feet, all night long. It’s cuddling a feverish toddler instead of mopping the floors. Motherhood is first steps and first dates and first jobs.

Motherhood is grainy selfies in the mirror with no make up on because your life isn’t glamorous but it is your own version of perfect. And that’s worth documenting.

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Motherhood is exhausting and overwhelming and magnificent.

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Motherhood is deeply personal and wonderfully unique to each woman.

Motherhood is a woman working two jobs and going to college online so she can take care of her little ones. It’s tears cried for the lives of babies lost or never held. It’s heartbreak in the doctor’s office when fertility treatments fail again. Motherhood is a mama flying across the globe to hold her three year old baby for the very first time. It’s a second grade teacher bringing snacks for her students who she knows didn’t have breakfast at home. It’s an auntie playing pirates because they asked so nice, how could she resist?

Motherhood is faithful. Motherhood is brave and courageous and strong. Motherhood is compassionate and gentle and home. Motherhood is a daily battle for patience and grace and joy.

Motherhood is love.

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Every woman is writing a story, and in each story motherhood will look different. But whether a woman has twelve kids or zero kids isn’t the point.

The point is that every woman was created to give life.

The unending capacity for deep, life-giving love, is not only given to women who bear children. It lives in all women and is integral to every single relationship we nurture.

Where a woman plants her love, beauty will grow.

So, the simple truth is this…

Motherhood is the quiet place in a woman’s heart whispering that her love will change the world.

So today, on Mother’s Day, I’m choosing to celebrate all women and the gentle, compassionate, stubborn, and fierce way that we love our people. It’s a world-changing sort of love, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.

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to the teenager who just drove 60 mph down my street.

Hi.

I know you don’t know me.

In fact you were driving so fast I doubt you even saw me fly out of my front door trying desperately to catch a glimpse of your license plate so that I could call the police.

Yep. I’m that person.

I grew up. Got old. Became a parent. And now I’m out to destroy all of your fun.

Because here’s the thing. Your sort of fun? It gives me nightmares.

I was shaking as I watched you tear recklessly down my street with no regard for your own life, let alone the life of anyone else.

Let me tell you something I doubt you ever considered. Lean in and listen real close.

While you were taking a joy ride through suburbia, there was a three year old on a tricycle and a five year old close to outgrowing his training wheels, riding down the street.

I heard your souped up engine revving. I knew how fast you were going before I sprinted to my front door. I saw your used Pontiac for a split second. I heard your unnecessarily loud bass. And I caught a glimpse of you and your buddies having the time of your life.

You didn’t have a care in the world.

Can I ask you a question?

How would your world have changed if my five year old son, his name is Ezra by the way, had ridden off the curb? What could you have possibly done if my three year old, his name is Hudson but I call him Tiny, had disobeyed his daddy (as he sometimes does. I mean he is three after all.) and darted into the street?

You would not have been able to stop.

My world would have shattered because you thought you were invincible.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I was seventeen once. I get it. I know it feels like nothing can stop you. But that’s a load of crap.

Every single choice you make has a consequence. That freedom of choice is one of the most incredible and beautiful and terrifying gifts in this life.

Your choices determine your future.

Your choice tonight could have ended someone else’s future. And your own.

I know I said I wanted to call the police on you. And part of me still does. But if I was given the option I think I would make a different call.

I would call your mama.

Because even though you managed to piss me off in two seconds flat, once I knew my babies were safe, I had a thought.

You are somebody’s baby too.

Every single kid in that car is loved by someone, probably lots of someones, and if I were your mama or your aunt or your grandma or your fifth grade teacher, I would want to know you were being an idiot.

So I could slap some sense into you. (Not actually slap. Relax. It’s a figure of speech.)

I know you feel a freedom in being a teenager, probably almost legally an adult. But it’s only fair that you know the truth. It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 21 or 45 or 73. You don’t ever get to stop being somebody’s baby.

Ezra and Hudson will never stop being my babies.

And tonight you helped me realize something. As they get older, become teenagers, start driving and dating and owning smart phones. As they search the world just to find themselves. I do not want to be the cool mom.

I always thought I would be the cool mom, but I just realized how desperately I don’t ever want to be her.

I want to be the mom who makes sure parents are home before my kids go to a friend’s house.
I want to be the mom who asks nosy questions and makes her sons talk to her.
I want to be the mom who holds her boys to the highest standards when it comes to how they treat women.
I want to be the mom who takes away driving privileges if I find out my kids are speeding through neighborhoods.
I want to be the mom who is aware of what my kids are doing online.
I want to be the mom who doesn’t look the other way when her kids act the way society says kids will act.

And if all of that makes me the least cool mom ever? That is fantastic.

Because I know that my boys were created to be amazing men and it is the greatest privilege in my life to be able to guide them on that journey.

And you, dear speeding driver, I believe that for you too. I don’t know you. Or your story. Or who is championing you along the way. My prayer tonight is that someone is. And my guess is that if I were to call your mama or your daddy, and tell them how reckless you were tonight, that you wouldn’t see your beloved Pontiac for quite some time.

See as parents, no matter what the media says or how they try to pit us against each other by talking about parenting styles and discipline tactics and organic vs non organic food, the truth is that we all know parenting is the single hardest job one could ever take on and we need each other.

I hope when my kids do something stupid (as they inevitably will) another parent loves them enough and respects me enough to call me. And I will do the same for them. Because it takes a village. A really freaking big village.

I don’t think you’re a bad kid. I think it’s quite possible you’re a wonderful, funny, intelligent, compassionate kid. You would probably call me ma’am if we ever met and I would tell you never to call me that again. It’s one of the things I like least about the south.

But tonight? Tonight you made a bad choice.

I am so thankful that for today the worst thing that happened is you left skid marks on my street.

But what about next time?

I’m crossing my fingers that there isn’t a next time, but make no mistake. If you speed down my street again I will jump in my minivan and I will follow you to your house. I will knock on your door.

And I will tell your mama everything that happened.

Because every mama deserves the chance to keep her baby safe.

Safe from others. Safe from themselves. Safe.

We can’t protect you from everything. But we spend every single day trying our very best to do just that.

Help us out, won’t you?

Sincerely,
The owner of the voice you heard screaming at you from blocks away and the mama of these two babies.

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a portrait of sisterhood: rhonda and rachel

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When I decided to begin the series, A Portrait of Sisterhood, I knew the first love story I needed to share was Rachel and Rhonda’s. I work, and do life, with these two beauties. Their friendship has spanned decades, has walked through joyous mornings and the darkest nights, only to become stronger for of it. They have vibrant marriages and some of the most wonderful children you could ever meet. Rhonda has four girls, Rachel has two sons (plus a third in the adoption process), and the joy in these kids is palpable. They are such a testament to the way their parents love them.

Their story is the perfect way to launch this series. To know Rachel and Rhonda is to love them, like a lot. These two love well, laugh hard and when you’re around them it feels like home. They possess courageous spirits, they love so deep, and they embody the heart of sisterhood. I know you’re going to love them as much as I do.

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A Portrait Of Sisterhood: Rachel and Rhonda

Okay ladies, what was your first impression of each other?

Rachel: When I was 16 years old my boyfriend asked me to go pick up his best friend’s girlfriend from the airport. I had never met her and all I could think was I don’t know how I feel about this. But I picked her up and we went to Taco Bell. Our first conversation ever was about how disgusting Taco Bell truly is. It bonded us together immediately. We laughed the entire two hour ride home. By the time she got out of the car I knew I loved her.

Rhonda: She was one of the people you meet and right away you feel safe and comfortable. You don’t really have to think about it, it just happens. That was us from the very beginning.

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Since a lot of people reading this don’t know you ladies personally, tell me which celebrity or character the other reminds you of.

Rhonda: Easy. Angelina Jolie is one of the most beautiful women on earth and I love her heart for adoption. I always think that Andy and Rachel are like the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of our community.

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Rachel: Okay, I think Rhonda is like Cinderella. In the new movie there is a part where Cinderella’s mom says, “You have more kindness in your little finger than most people have in their whole body.” I have never known a moment, even in the hardest of times, where Rhonda was not kind. Life could be going crazy around her, maybe someone is being anything but kind, but she still chooses kindness. She exudes love. 

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Tell me a favorite memory of your friendship.

Rachel: When I was 18 we both went on a trip to India. I was really sick. There were a couple of times I thought I was going to die. I was in the hospital and… well how graphic do you want me to be?

I love the grit. Be as graphic as you want.

Rachel: Okay. I was in the hospital and so sick. They gave me a colonoscopy but didn’t put me under. Then they needed a stool sample…

Rhonda: I saw the inside of her.

Rachel: Yeah. That’s true. They needed a stool sample and I couldn’t do it because I was so sick. She literally picked it up…


Rhonda: I grabbed it with my bare hands. I was like we need that! We need it!!

Rachel: Yep. They needed to test it. So she did what I couldn’t do. And the whole time I was in the hospital she never left my side. Ever.

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Rhonda do you have another memory to share?

Rhonda: There are so many but that story emphasizes a place where you can be raw and you can be vulnerable and you can be broken but you can still be safe. When everything is falling apart but that person reminds you who you are and doesn’t leave. I feel like that’s the way our entire friendship has been. We can call each other and be really real in the moment and when one of us is weak the other one is strong. And when we’re both weak we cry out to God together. There are so many times that I’ve thought, thank God I get to share that with Rachel. Because just getting it out and knowing she’s praying makes the weight dissipate. We have gone to hell and back together many times, but we have also celebrated the victories. When you’ve been in the pit together, the mountain tops are more beautiful. I’m always inspired. I feel like when Rachel is attacked she comes back with her best material. There are so many times that I have been in awe of her.

One of my favorite stories about Rachel is from several years ago. She was having the hardest time when they were living in Michigan, it was terrible. I think it was the lowest she’s ever been. She was driving down the street in the middle of winter and saw a homeless woman on the side of the road with no boots. She was wearing her favorite boots so she pulled over, gave the homeless woman her boots, and walked back to her car through the snow,wearing only socks, and drove away. That’s who she is. That’s what comes out of her at the lowest points.

Rachel you have two sons who were adopted from South Korea, and now you’re in the process of adopting your third son. Each process has been long and incredibly difficult, how has Rhonda helped to carry you through?

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Rachel: Ahhh. I’m going to cry. Okay. With my first son, Tysen, it was really hard, and her prayer and support helped get me through. But with our second son, Pax, there were so many times I felt like I couldn’t come to work, I felt like I couldn’t do anything because there was a constant battle. We didn’t even know for sure that he was going to come in the end. We had fought for this child for years and the thought of him never being home with us was too overwhelming.

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One day our adoption agency called and said that the officials on the Korean side were calling everyone they could possibly find in country, who might be connected to our son, to see if they wanted him. This was two years into our process with him and I had no idea it was even a possibility. I got off the phone and I remember thinking, this must be what a miscarriage feels like. Am I losing a child right now? I called Rhonda right away, I couldn’t even talk I just burst into tears. She stayed on the phone, and let me cry. I even went in the bathroom and threw up. When I came back she was waiting on the phone for me. After it was all done, she was still there.

And that’s just one example of the three years we spent fighting for our son and Rhonda was always right there with me. I would not have made it through without her.

Rhonda: I was actually overdue pregnant with my youngest while Rachel was in Korea waiting to find out if they would be able to bring Pax home. It was almost like my body wouldn’t go into labor until there was a breakthrough with Pax.

Rachel: She told me, “I will not go into labor until Pax is yours.” I kept telling her that it could be weeks. I almost lied to her and told her we had him so she would go into labor. But then we really did get him and the first thing I did was call Rhonda and tell her she could go into labor now. And she did.

Rhonda: I did. I had Wren immediately.

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Rhonda your third daughter, Amiah, has special needs. How has Rachel helped to carry you through the challenges that have come as a result?

Rhonda: The day I found out that something was wrong with my baby, the first ultrasound where they knew there was a problem, I was alone. My husband was teaching, I couldn’t get ahold of him immediately. So I called Rachel. At that point they were saying she most likely had Down Syndrome, and when I told Rachel she was ecstatic. She raved about how they are the most precious and sweet children. Her opinion and perspective was what I needed to hear and it comforted my heart so deeply. She was right and she spoke what I knew in my heart to be true.

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Then throughout the whole process of my pregnancy with Amiah and her actual diagnosis of Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, Rachel walked with me. Neither of us had spent much time around the special needs community, we didn’t have family members or close friends with special needs. We had compassion but not experience. Then suddenly our eyes were opened to an entire vibrant world we hadn’t realized was so beautiful, all thanks to Amiah. Together we gained a heart for this community and when I felt like I was supposed to start a special needs ministry at our church, Rachel came with me to help. She just came. Not because she had to. Because she wanted to.

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Tell me about a time that your friendship was put to the test, how did you walk through that?

Rhonda: We haven’t had any major conflicts, but there has been distance when our lives have taken us to different places. Sometimes physical distance can create distance in a friendship but there is something about our friendship that has kept us tight knit. We have never drifted apart even when we’ve lived far from each other.

But we have said things to each other that are really really honest, really risky, and we can get away with it. I can say things to her that no one else can and she can say things to me that others wouldn’t.

Rachel: Even when there was physical distance, we always made a way to get plane tickets or to call or text regularly. We make each other a priority.

Rhonda: And you know that call you need to make when you’re in the depths of despair? We have always known we can make that call to each other no matter what. We don’t have to walk that struggle alone.

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So, what does sisterhood mean to you?

Rachel: I have walked through a lot of struggles in my relationships with women in the past several years. Those difficult relationships have made me want to be even more of a true friend to the women in my life. I want to protect them. I want to protect their marriages. I want to protect their children. There are so many terrible things that happen in our world between women, how we treat each other, how we compare ourselves, how we compete, and on and on, so when I have a friend in my life I want to treat her with the deepest love and most faithful friendship.

Rhonda:  I love people. I can’t make it without sisterhood. I won’t make it. If I’m in a situation for too long where true sisterhood and real relationship don’t exist, something inside of me starts to die. I need those deep connections and those safe places. And I need to be that for other people too. I actually get homesick if I’m in a situation for too long without that. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. So often we hear people talk about their loneliness and it breaks my heart. I know that sisterhood is one of God’s greatest provisions for us as women, to combat loneliness, but we have to choose it.

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You are both part of a movement within our ministry called Brave Love. Is there anything you want to share in regards to your passion for this movement?

Rhonda: Brave Love is sisterhood. It makes sure to chase down the coldest hearts and says that no heart is too hard to go after, to love, to pursue. Brave Love risks everything and allows vulnerability and brokenness. It’s how we were created to love as women. But so many of us are wounded and hurt from past relationships. Brave Love challenges you to fight for sisterhood even when you feel too weak.

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What would you say to women who feel so hurt by past friendships that they no longer want to pursue sisterhood?

Rhonda: There is no breakthrough without sisterhood. To heal a heart hurt by sisterhood we need each other. If we give up altogether then we miss a whole aspect of what we need, of what God has provided for us. It’s a risk to put yourself out there after being hurt, but it is how you will find healing.

Rachel: I also think it’s an opportunity every time you walk into a room and feel uncomfortable, wonder what she is thinking about you, and your insecurities rush in. You can run or you can choose Brave Love, choose sisterhood. If you see past the outer appearance of a situation and search for the true heart of a woman you have an opportunity to break down walls and to fight for friendship.

Rhonda: Yeah, I was thinking how as women we are life bringers. We get to bring life to each other. There is life in our relationships but that also means we have the power to bring death. After experiencing that difficult side of sisterhood, it can be scary to open yourself back up again but that part of God’s imprint on us, to give life, is huge. We need each other, we need to lean in. It’s worth it to step out and try again. It’s worth the risk.

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a portrait of sisterhood.

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For a long time there has been a dream living in my heart. This post is just the beginning of seeing that dream come true and I could not be more excited to share it with you.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece called, Five Reasons To Fight For Sisterhood. I shared my story of resisting true friendships with women and my journey toward realizing how desperately women need each other.

With everything in me I believe that women were created for community. I know we were designed to do life side by side.

But so many of us put up walls. We feel the need to protect ourselves from other women. Experience has taught us that other women are the enemy. We compete, compare and judge.

Comparison is the poison that devastates community.

And to be honest, I’m over it.

We can do better.

And it starts right now.

The battle cry behind the “A Portrait Of Sisterhood” series is simple.

In a world where we are bombarded by stories of broken relationships and remnants of sisterhood, we need to hear some love stories. This series will feature interviews and photographs and videos of real women telling their friendship love story.

These stories do not paint an idealistic portrait of sisterhood. They will showcase the real, the raw, the struggle, the brokenness, the healing, the restoration, the redemption and the power of sisterhood.

I believe that as more and more women read these love stories, a movement of women realizing that sisterhood is worth fighting for will be born.

I believe we can save sisterhood and my hope is that these stories will be a catalyst for that change.

Tomorrow I will share the first portrait. The love story of two true beauties that I have the honor of doing life with. Rachel and Rhonda have fought for each other and walked together through some of the darkest storms of their lives. They have advocated in hospital rooms for each other, given away the shoes on their feet and raised some of the most amazing kids I’ve ever known. And they’ve done all of this with joy and determination and side by side.

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I’ve shared a quick sneak peek of their story in the video below. Watch it, fall in love with them because they’re wonderful, and come back tomorrow to hear their whole story!