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.

my comment section. my call.

I wrote a blog post last week called “hi. my sons have long hair. now watch your mouth.” It was about my sons having long hair, yes. But at its heart it was a thought piece on how as adults we need to think before we speak to children. Something about this post connected with a large audience and it has been shared thousands of times.

As the number of shares grew, I was very prepared for commenters who disagree with my stance or who wanted to offer a different point of view. I was actually looking forward to it. I enjoy hearing varying opinions, I love intelligent conversation, and I learn so much from people with a world view different from my own.

The reaction to my post was overwhelmingly positive, but inevitably I began (and will probably continue) to get comments from people who think I am a terrible person for letting my sons have long hair. And they made sure I knew exactly how they felt. Not only did they go to extremes to let me know how they felt, they also missed the entire point of my post.

As I read a comment from one such person, let’s call him Bill, using the most colorful language possible and calling my sons names that would make Miley Cyrus blush, I was once again reminded what a gross place the internet can be.

I also felt sorry for Bill who found it necessary to rip other people apart with his words. I don’t know Bill, and he doesn’t know me. Maybe he is actually a really nice person, maybe something I said hit a chord with him and made him defensive, maybe he was having a super bad day, or maybe he just genuinely hates it when little boys have long hair. I will never know. But what I do know for sure is that, no matter what, my comment section will never be a gross part of the internet.

It can be a place for encouragement, education, support, debate, disagreement, polite confrontation. Sure. All day every day I will be okay with that. I invite it. Let’s talk. Like adults.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time I have received comments that stopped me in my tracks and reminded me how public my writing can become. I write a post in the privacy of my own living room and then suddenly the entire world has access. It is overwhelming. And scary. And really sort of incredible. I made a choice to share my thoughts, my opinions, my life, my family. It is not a choice that I take lightly and I understand what it means.

The evils of the internet are real. So is the amazing, life changing power the internet has to create community and relationships and conversations that never would have happened otherwise. I choose to embrace that reality and I understand making that choice means also dealing with the uglier side of the blogosphere.

However, I do not have to let people say whatever they want whenever they want without any repercussions. Enter my decision to put a comment section policy into place for this tiny little blog. I’m a huge fan of the New York Times comments policy and after reading it I realized how necessary it truly is to moderate the conversation in the space I am responsible for. I want to help guide wonderful conversations, not enable internet trolls. And by putting it into writing I don’t have to explain it to every single commenter who begins to cross the line, I can just link them right back here and ask them to comply or find another site to stir up trouble on. My hope is that this policy will make reading my blog an enjoyable experience for the overwhelming majority of my readers who are here for all the right reasons.

johnnyandginger.com Comment Section Policy

  1. Valid email address required. All commenters must provide a valid email address to leave a comment. This address is never made public and will only be used if the need arises to contact you in regards to a comment.
  2. Zero tolerance policy for abuse. Comments that contain profanity, obscene language, personal attacks, or bullying of any kind will be deleted immediately. Repeat offenders will be blocked from commenting permanently. End of story.
  3. Difference of opinion welcome. Commenters are welcome to disagree and discuss topics relevant to the post in a civil and respectful manner. If a conversation spirals into an abusive place the comments will then be deleted.
  4. Relevant links allowed. Please feel free to leave a link in your comment to a relevant blog or article. Links to irrelevant sites will be deleted.
  5. Editorial discretion. I agree to manage the comments on this page by these guidelines but reserve the right to make exceptions when necessary.
  6. Have fun. I love the internet and its potential for community. Enjoy your time here, learn something, meet someone and join in the discussion.

You guys, I’m gonna be honest. There is part of me that gets so overwhelmed worrying about each comment and each person who disagrees with me and tells me so in less than classy ways. Sometimes I think maybe I should just pack it up and move off the grid. And then I remember how my life has changed for the absolute best thanks to the community I have found on Instagram and Facebook and in this crazy blogosphere. The truth is that the beautiful is so much more amazing than the people who try to ruin it for everyone. So if you’re dealing with unkind strangers online and wondering why you even stick around, remember that there is a richness and a rawness and a depth of community here that wasn’t even possible not that many years ago. It isn’t perfect but let’s use the internet as a tool to spread love and community and a couple more cat videos. Or maybe just the first two.

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